LEXINGTON — Jodie Meeks occasionally wonders what would have happened had he returned for a senior season at the University of Kentucky in 2009-10, instead of leaving for the NBA after his junior year.
Meeks missed out on a chance to play for Coach John Calipari’s first Kentucky team — a bunch that went 35-3, but finished with a stone-cold shooting night in a shocking Elite Eight loss West Virginia.
It doesn’t take a ‘basketball Bennie’ — to use a favorite Calipari phrase — to believe Meeks’ perimeter shooting would have put those John Wall/DeMarcus Cousins-led Wildcats over the hump.
“I think about that,” Meeks said. “I don’t think we would have lost a game, in my opinion. Sometimes I think, ‘What if I would have stayed? Would my life have been different?”
But Meeks isn’t drowning in regret.
The Norcross, Ga., native was picked by the Milwaukee Bucks with the 11th pick of the second round of the 2009 NBA Draft.
He was traded to Philadelphia late that season, and stayed with the 76ers for two-plus seasons before a trade to the Los Angeles Lakers two years ago resulted in the best basketball of Meeks’ career.
This past season, in an otherwise forgettable Lakers season, Meeks tallied a career-high 15.7 points per game — six points over his career average. His season included a 42-point game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
“I think for me personally it was a good decision, and it’s worked out well,” Meeks said of leaving Kentucky. “I’ve grown up a lot the last couple years, knowing what to do and what not to do, playing with future Hall-of-Famers. And this year was fun for me because I got to expand my game.”
Meeks promised himself when he left UK that he would eventually return to get his college degree. It took five-years of summer school classes at UK to do it, but Meeks stood by his promise. He received his degree this weekend, with a major in business marketing.
“One thing I don’t do, in basketball and especially in life, is take things for granted,” Meeks said. “You never know how long your (basketball) career will last, but once you have your degree, you have it forever.”
While Meeks never got a chance to play for Calipari, the two men have become friends.
“He always tells me that he’s happy for me, and that my decision worked out,” Meeks said. “He tells me that he wishes he would have been able to coach me, but things happen. He’s happy for me, and I’m happy for me, too.”
Meeks was asked, of course, about rumors that have swirled over the past several weeks about Calipari potentially leaving UK to take the head coaching job with the Lakers.
Calipari has emphatically said he isn’t going to leave Kentucky this year. And Meeks, for that matter, may not be back in L.A. He’s one of numerous free agents on the Lakers’ roster.
Still, Meeks can dream ...
“I was excited to think that me could be coaching me,” Meeks said of the Calipari-to-L.A. rumors. “(But) If I was him, I wouldn’t leave here. It’s a great place to coach and play. He has it made here.”
Meeks said he enjoys escaping the big city life, especially for the relative quiet of Central Kentucky.
“It’s kind of therapy for me,” Meeks said. “Here, it’s quiet. Nobody bothers you. If they bother you, it’s in a good way ... pictures, autographs. In L.A., it’s all glitz and glamour, so to get away from that is fun.”
Meeks said he follows the fortunes of the Wildcats closely. And he supports the decision of the UK players from this past season to come back to school.
“The NBA is not going anywhere, and they still have some time to develop on a really good team,” he said. “And next year they’ll have a tough decision to make again.”
Meeks said he continues to be amazed by the reach of Big Blue Nation.
“Everywhere I go, even in L.A., people look at me,” he said. “I went to China, and there were Kentucky fans there, too. I was like, ‘Wow, this is crazy.’ The fans here and around the world are great, and they know their basketball.
“I never took it for granted when I was here.”