By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer
There is an old saying that goes something like, “To stay ahead of the pack when everyone else is zigging you need to be zagging.”
Basically it means if someone follows the crowd they can never get ahead of the crowd they are following. They have to do something different. That statement could be very relevant to John Calipari and his perceived lack of recent recruiting success.
With the commitment of Class of 2019 No. 1 player James Wiseman to Memphis and new coach Penny Hardaway, the weeping and gnashing of teeth by UK fans has begun. Most who read this site are probably fully aware that Calipari recruited Wiseman hard for the last three years. If not for the opportune hiring of Penny Hardaway — former NBA star and Memphis favorite son — most believe Wiseman would be a Wildcat today. And then to make matters worse five-star recruit Vernon Carey, another big man, trimmed his list of final schools to three and UK was not on it. And just like that the sky began falling for UK fans everywhere. Or did it?
Let’s think about this with a little more perspective. Calipari has missed on the top five high school players in the country for the last several years including the top player in last year’s class — Zion Williamson who chose Duke.
Knowing that Calipari is the originator of the “one and done” recruiting system means that as an innovator others will catch up with you eventually. Others have. Duke, Kansas, Villanova, LSU — even Vanderbilt — are now all recruiting one and done players along with many other schools.
But here’s where the rub comes in. How many schools have won a national championship by using a predominantly one and done philosophy? The answer is not many.
Looking back at which teams have won titles from the time the one and done philosophy originated until last year’s tournament I can only count two that would be considered predominantly one and done teams. By my count that would be the 2012 Kentucky team led by Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and the 2015 Duke Blue Devils that included Jahlil Okafor and Justice Winslow.
Every other team dating back to the 2010 Finals were led by upperclassmen. Those players had played at least two years and many of them three and four years in the same system. They had a vast amount of experience playing college basketball. They may or may not have gone on to play regularly in the NBA. Most of the roster’s of those championship teams were made up of various Top 100 players and there were many Top 50 players on those rosters as well. But the key is that six of those eight championship teams didn’t not contain multiple Top 5 players that left after one season.
So knowing that championship teams do not seem to be made up of multiple top five one and done players what does that mean to the average University of Kentucky basketball fan. It means that not getting players that are considered a top five recruit does not seem to indicate that a team cannot win the National Championship. In fact, based on the trend over the last eight years it appears that if a team is made up of predominantly one and done players it is relatively unlikely they will win the National Championship.
So maybe as everyone else is “zigging” and jumping on the one and done bandwagon Calipari can “zag” and go back to an old school type team that stays around until they are juniors and seniors. And those teams — based on the past history of winners — might just have the best shot at watching the confetti fall as they are crowned National Champions in early April.