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UK Basketball: Is Calipari Still The King of Recruiting?

John Calipari. (Vicky Graff Photo)

By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer

As kids in the summertime we used to find wasps nests up under the eaves of the house or the shed out back and do stupid things like poke a stick up in the nest. Not a smart thing to do and I wouldn’t recommend for anyone at home to try it. But the funny thing is that every time we poked that nest with the stick the wasps would come flying out in a swarm and head straight at the kid with the stick. Every time. I guess wasps don’t liked to get poked with a stick.

And I’m sure you are asking why is any of this relevant? Because it reminds me a lot of the current state of Kentucky Basketball. More importantly Kentucky Basketball Recruiting. Several weeks ago multiple stories were circulated in the media about how John Calipari had lost his recruiting mojo and could no longer bring in Top Five recruits to Kentucky. His 2018 recruiting class was ranked around sixth at that time depending on which recruiting service you follow. Of course Duke was ranked number one. They had already signed the number 1, 2 and 3 recruits from the 2018 class.

Some of those articles even had quotes from potential recruits that had spurned UK in favor of Duke stating Duke was the place to be if a player wanted to be developed and move on quickly to the NBA. Other articles panned Calipari as a complainer and poor loser. Still others accused Calipari of losing his recruiting crown to Coach Krzyzewski and implied that Top Five recruits were no longer interested in UK as the school that could help them get to the next level.

Remember that stick and the wasp’s nest. All those articles proved to be a very effective stick. Right into the wasp nest that was John Calipari’s ego. And boy did the swarm of wasps come out. Less than two weeks after being written off as a coach that used to be able to recruit Calipari received commitments from two five-star players in EJ Montgomery and Ashton Hagans.

Both players are expected to be in the 2018 recruiting class – Hagans will very likely reclassify from the 2019 class — and those commitments immediately moved UK’s class up to No.2 for 2018. And according to Calipari he may not be done yet. Those wasps are still swarming. He is still on the recruiting trail lining up guys for 2019 and evaluating potential uncommitted players – along with graduate transfers – for the current 2018 class.

So the next time you read an article jabbing John Calipari about his recruiting capabilities – or lack therof – remember that stick and those wasps. Because like those wasps it’s pretty evident John Calipari doesn’t like getting poked. The “swarm” of recruiting activity that has occurred over the last few days has proven that.


  1. It doesn’t matter whether Cal has lost his recruiting touch or not. The fact is he still has only 1 national title. Cal does not recruit to win championships. Carolina and Duke will catch KY in national titles before KY catches UCLA. Cal needs to work on getting the 6’8″, 245 lb. grad transfer from Stanford. Next year’s team doesn’t need another point guard, it needs some muscle…Hagans needs to stay in the 2019 class. He also needs to play more zone defense and focus his offense on his bigs instead of his guards.

    1. Bingo BB12. For me as a fan, it is not all about having a No. 1 recruiting class every year, it’s about building a great hard nosed team, and winning national championships. I don’t think the best formula for doing that is playing a floor full of freshmen stars every year. That said, Calipari has brought in so many talented players in the 9 plus years he has been the boss of UK basketball that I can’t keep up with all their names. Look how many he has put in the NBA, nobody else comes close. I don’t give a owls hoot about Duke or coach K and what they do, or who they get. I just want to see UK beat their brains out on the floor. Calipari has done pretty well in bringing talent to UK. Bottom line, Duke didn’t get the job done in March this year either, even with all their stars..

  2. I did some research a few days ago. Calipari has seen about 60% of his recruited freshmen move on after only 1 season. That pattern has been relatively constant over the 9 seasons. However, the first 5 seasons, he had on average 1 sophomore or junior leave the team per year. That has increased over the last 4 years to an average of 2.5 sophomores and juniors moving on, often transferring to other college programs, sitting out a year, and doing well in their new surroundings.

    I believe this is the real issue with Calipari, not recruiting, but the rate of attrition at the sophomore and junior levels because they are what should be the rising juniors and seniors that should remain in the program to anchor the team with experience and seasoning.

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