John Calipari has finally done it. On his 4th trip to the Final Four, although officially it was his 2nd since the UMASS and Memphis trips were vacated, he managed to put together a group of One-and-Done freshmen and win a national championship. Kentucky fans are jubilant and they are looking right at UCLA’s 11 banners and desperately want to overtake that title. Whether John Calipari will get to keep his ring remains to be seen. But, you have to give him credit for one thing…He did what Lorenzo Romar seemed unable to do, which was take a group of young players and gel them into a TEAM. Some people will argue that when you have that much talent, there is no way you can’t win. But, I disagree with that. When there are that many egos on a team, the entire thing can fall apart without strong leadership. Just ask Ben Howland.
In his first season in Lexington, John Calipari brought in his first crop of one-and-done freshmen lead by John Wall, Demarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe, and Daniel Orton. The #1 seed Wildcats seemed unstoppable as they went 35-3 before being upset in the Elite 8 to West Virginia.
In his 2nd season, he brought in his next crop of 5-star blue chippers including Brandon Knight, Doron Lamb, and Terrance Jones. The Wildcats were a lot more vulnerable and they seemed to have trouble gelling together and ended up getting a #4 seed in the NCAA tournament. But, despite losing 9 games that season, they did manage to make the Final Four before losing to UConn. When Terrance Jones announced he was returning to Kentucky, many people were amazed. Now John Calipari would have an “experienced” player to help his next crop of one-and-doners get to the next level.
This year he brought in Anthony Davis, Michael Gilchrest, and Marquis Teague. This group of players gelled much more quickly and began to dominate early. They finished 38-2 on their way to a national championship. How John Calipari is able to continually bring in three or four 5-star recruits every single season is a topic of much debate and speculation. There have been lots of rumors, lots of innuendo, and a heck of a lot of mistrust out there. I for one believe that Calipari has been a cheater in his past, no matter what a Kentucky fan tries to tell me about how he was never “implicated” in those various incidents. And, I do believe strongly that he snatched Terrance Jones away from the Washington Huskies in less-than legitimate circumstances.
However, I do not believe or expect that this title or potentially future ones will ever be taken away from him. That’s because I do not believe he even needs to cheat anymore. Calipari has proven that the one-and-done model can work. He has proven that all he needs to do is convince the best high school players in America to come to Kentucky to form a sort of All-star team, where they will be worshipped like gods by the locals, play one season, attend maybe one semester of classes, win a championship, and then they can go collect their payday in the NBA. Calipari doesn’t need to cheat anymore because he’s proven to future recruits that his system works.
When the one-and-done rule was announced, I was a big fan of the idea. Mostly I didn’t like the idea of so many talented players being removed from the college game to just sit on the benches of the NBA. Perhaps the Robert Swift experience of the Supersonics sealed the deal for me. But, now I believe that perhaps college basketball would be better off if those players just went ahead and joined the NBA. For me, I’d rather follow a lesser player for 3-4 years in college than have a better player only for one. I also hate the idea, like we are going through with Wroten now, that we have to sit on pins and needles waiting for the “decision”. There is already so much drama in recruiting. Can’t we have some certainty once they arrive on campus?
Anyways, it is what it is. It is the “professionalization” of college basketball. John Calipari has found a way to create an NBA farm team within the college framework. So, good for him. Now we’ll see if Mark Emmertt will take this as a sign that things need to be done to clean it all up once and for all. Because, if they are not going to make the players, coaches, and athletic departments embrace the idea of “student-athlete”, then they might as well take it to its logical conclusion and make them paid employees.