By LARRY VAUGHT
For almost three years Kentucky has recruited 6-11 James Wiseman of Memphis. However, it didn’t pay off Tuesday because Wiseman decided he would play for new coach Penny Hardaway, a former NBA star, at Memphis.
Wiseman is not just any player. He’s the top-rated player in the 2019 recruiting class. It’s similar to how UK thought it was in position to get Zion Williamson — remember what he did to UK in the opening game — last year before he picked Duke.
Kentucky coach John Calipari could not talk about Wiseman Tuesday because of NCAA regulations. However, he did talk about recruiting in general going into Wednesday night’s game against Winthrop.
“We’ve had kids that made the decision to come here and it’s played out well for almost all of them. My thing is I want to be able to sleep at night. I want to make sure that I’m telling the truth. I want to make sure that I’m sticking with guys,” Calipari said.
He used Hamidou Diallo, a player who struggled offensively most of last year. Calipari never gave up on him and he’s been a productive player so far in his first NBA season. The coach joked “everybody was going crazy” when Diallo had an 18-point game.
“Knowing what our jobs are here means that we don’t get every kid. We get the ones we are supposed to get. It just kind of plays out that way. It always has. It has not changed my approach to this,” Calipari said. “Now, you know, maybe because of social media, video games and the stuff, there’s not as much on the playground and the pickup. Maybe they do one here that’s going to be easier.
“I come back to the same thing: I have to be able to sleep at night, knowing I’m being honest, not embellishing, I’m trying to be – ‘Here’s what it is.’ And I’m not saying that against anybody else. Everybody recruits the way they recruit, but you have good programs and good coaches and that’s why we don’t get everybody that we recruit.
“We’re not the only ones out there trying to get good players and trying to help kids.”
Even when a team gets good players, the freshman season does not always play out the way a coach or fans might have expected.
Calipari noted that Shai Gilgeous-Alexander made an impact after 10-12 games last year and “became that guy” for UK.
“My hope is that’s what happens with this group because right now, it’s a consistency too now,” he said about his current team. “Like, you can’t just be that every third game. You’ve got to be that guy. I’ve had it where it’s been a point guard, but we had Marquis Teague at point and that was not who he was. It was the other guys, so we’ve done it all kinds of different ways.
“I’m not budging. They’ll be as good as they want to be, and if they keep growing and getting better and they have great attitudes and they really do. We’ve thrown a tough schedule at them. To start, to get rocked and then to come back with the teams that can beat you and then play another team that can beat you, you’re like, woah.”