By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer
During a press conference Kentucky coach John Calipari was explaining why followers of the Kentucky program continue to see guys leave the program early, struggle to play well against lesser competition and why the program hasn’t been dominating the college basketball scene as it once did during the first five years of Calipari’s tenure.
“I recruit the best players we can recruit and try to help those kids. And if that includes two- or three- or four-year guys, that’s fine. Would I rather do this like I did back in UMass? Yeah, I’d rather be coaching guys (for three and four years). It’s not what the environment is,” Calipari said.
That statement at the end is very interesting. He said, “It’s not what the environment is.”
Leadership guru John Maxwell said “We see what we are prepared to see”.
In Calipari’s case he prepares kids to see themselves leaving for a career in professional basketball after one or two years at the most. They are prepared to see a future that puts them in the NBA quickly. Anything less than that is considered failure by the kids and ultimately by the people that have prepared that reality.
That perception creates the dilemma the program now has — the “environment” as Coach Calipari calls it. Because for the kids, unfortunately, if they end their second year at UK and they are not ready for the NBA they leave anyway. Some like Isaac Humphries play overseas. Others like Aaron Harrison go to the G league and a few make an NBA roster.
But others, since they are prepared by the program to see themselves leaving after two years, do just that. They leave. Like Sacha Killeya-Jones or Quade Green, they pack their bags and head off to another school. A school that welcomes players that want to play four years.
So as each new crop of freshmen arrive on campus, prepared to move on to the NBA in one or two years, the older guys that have been around for two seasons are also prepared to move on. Their playing time diminishes in favor of the new freshmen in town. Their importance to the team also diminishes as the new guys get their chance to “succeed and proceed.”
The message is then pretty clear. It goes something like “for whatever reason you haven’t grown like we prepared you to so now it’s time for you to leave. We need your spot for someone else.” No one in the program comes out and says that but it is still the message none the less.
At their new school they are then prepared to see a new reality. One that embraces players playing for something more than a possible trip to the NBA. They see a reality where they can play for a league championship or a national championship. Or maybe they play to be a better teammate and learn that if they don’t make the NBA it shouldn’t be considered failure.
The reality is that 99.99 percent of all college players don’t make the NBA. But they do go on to have successful careers as entrepreneurs, doctors, broadcasters, bankers or a myriad of other careers that the rest of the world embraces as a successful way to move through life. Some get married, have children and go on to build a life outside of sports. And it’s ok. That’s a great reality also.
So as fans continue to see kids leave the program for an ill-fated ride through the G League or a trip to another school that welcomes five star players who want to play for four years it’s ok to blame it on the environment but just keep in mind that the environment was created by those that run the program and not the other way around.