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Maybe it is time for John Calipari to zag while others are zigging

John Calipari (Vicky Graff Photo)

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.

Here’s why.

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.


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  1. I hope you’re right, Keith.

  2. I think Cal has always been the one who zigged above the crowd.

  3. Keith, I think you are right. I have been saying this since Calipari took over. His one and done scene has brought UK one National Championship, and with all that talent he brought in too. To be honest, Calipari’s teams have made some elite 8’s and final fours, and that ‘s been good. But his system has hurt UK basketball in many ways because it focuses way to much on No. 1 draft picks and the NBA, and not so much on Kentucky basketball tradition, where the main thing is Kentucky basketball, not sending young men to the NBA after one year. This current team could be a test run for what you are advocating, but I doubt it happens. You see, Calipari must continue to feed the beast he has created, and that is signing the top talent. He is getting beat at his own game now. That said, to change his system is not in his DNA I don’t think. It would be good to see him change, but I don’t think Calipari will. Could Calipari take a bunch of very good basketball recruits, but not one and done material, keep them in his system for 3, 4 years, and mold them into a champion, I just don’t see it happening with this man.

    1. Frankly, I liked the One & Done approach when we were winning it.
      I enjoyed the elite players and the new faces every year.
      Kentucky was fun to watch and the players appeared to be really having fun.
      However, now that Cal is getting beat by Krzyshitski on a regular basis, I’m not liking it so well.

      1. I like good talented basketball recruits that want to win championships at UK by staying in the program for 3, 4 years, and understand what Kentucky basketball is all about. Tough hard nosed young men that will defend, rebound, drive the ball, and shoot the three. Young men that can take tough coaching or ride the bench. Yes you need a franchise player now and again, but you better have some experienced players that want to be at UK instead of the NBA.

        1. Cal said it himself at his introductory press conference,
          “I’m here because I recruit the best of the best here”.
          He and the athletic department set the bar high.
          Over the past 4 years, Cal has dropped the ball and he is not delivering what he was hired to do. I’m hearing far too many excuses and seeing far too few positive results.

  4. When Calipari arrived, he opted for the one and done quick fix, and it worked. At least it worked for a few years, but the program has been trending in the other direction over the last 4 years, and I don’t see that trend reversing in the near term.

  5. The new rating system is probably a more accurate statement than a Top 10 ranking. We are not playing anywhere near that ranking and may not even be a Top 20 team at this time. We should have the talent to actually earn that ranking but don’t have enough consistency and BB101 fundamentals efficiency. Cal is still so stubborn and into himself that it is difficult to believe any major changes on the horizon.

  6. Guys I gotta agree if Cal doesn’t change his ways as far keeping the players in the system 2-3 years were going to a Tubby Smith mode may win but don’t produce the champion banner.

  7. Headed in the wrong direction. That is all I need to know.

    The Tubby Era took an elite program and ground into into mediocrity. That is where it is heading again.

    So Sad!!!!

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