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John Calipari stays ahead of the curve in recruiting

John Calipari (Vicky Graff Photo)

By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer

In case you hadn’t noticed the landscape of college basketball recruiting has changed — significantly. Headlines that read “Power Five Conference Head Coach caught on tape” offering huge sums of money to a recruit via his agent, handler, friend or family member to come to that coach’s school are pretty commonplace. Assistant coaches pleading guilty to mail fraud, wire fraud and bribery are also pretty commonplace.

But that’s only one element of the changing landscape. Top 10 high school players are also changing. Even if they aren’t collecting “pay for play” benefits they are looking for schools that allow them to be the star. The centerpiece of the offense. The guy that doesn’t have to play defense if he doesn’t want to. No diving on the floor for me. You know, those guys. The guys that want to always have the ball in their hands and shoot twenty or more times per game.

Those guys are going to schools that aren’t necessarily considered the blue bloods of college basketball. Teams like Missouri, Memphis, LSU and even Vanderbilt. They are spending one year showing what they can do playing a one man game of basketball.

So where does that leave teams like Kentucky that don’t want to pay for players and won’t promise a player a starting spot or twenty or more shots per game? I’ll tell you where it leaves them. It leaves them getting guys in the No.10 to No.30 slots and it makes them have to try to develop those guys in one year to be considered a top ten player.

But a funny thing has happened during the occurrence of all these changes in college basketball recruiting. Players at non-Power Five schools have started looking around in their junior year and realizing they might have a decent shot at an NBA career. That makes them start thinking about where they could go as a graduate transfer to improve their skills, increase their visibility and get to play for an NCAA Championship to boot.

Enter John Calipari. Always ahead of the curve in recruiting. He was recruiting one and dones when everyone else was saying “what a stupid way to operate. I’ll never do that”.  Enter Bill Self, Roy Williams and Mike Krzyzewski. Now one and done recruiting is the standard practice for bluebloods. But John Calipari, being ahead of the curve, realized that while top ten freshman have loads of talent they are seriously lacking in experience and leadership. Experience like “how do we cope with the crowd noise on road games?” or “how do I eat right and spend extra time in the gym so I can improve individually?” Leadership-wise like “how do I help my team mates work together as one unit instead of playing a game of first man down shoots the ball?” 

But Calipari, seeing the hazards of the one and done recruiting strategy, has now made an adjustment. Knowing his teams were missing experience and sometimes leadership he dipped his toe into the graduate transfer market. He came up with Julius Mays. A 2013 transfer from Wright State by way North Carolina State. Calipari was hoping to get great outside shooting and experience for a team that desperately needed it.  He got that but not in the quantity he had hoped for. But Julius proved to be a great team mate and did all he could to help that UK team win. The experiment was a success, albeit a small one.

Now fast forward to 2018-2019 season. Once again John Calipari and his Wildcats need some extra help on the inside. Along comes Reid Travis looking for an opportunity to improve his skills and play for a National Championship. The two get together and magic happens. UK got the inside help they needed along with an experienced leader that is also a great individual. Reid Travis got tremendous competition every day in practice and in SEC games. He also had increased visibility to NBA scouts and played for a National Championship for the first time in his career.

Sounds like a happy ending. And it would be if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s not the ending. It’s just the beginning. Hopefully the beginning of a productive NBA career for Reid Travis and hopefully the beginning of a new recruiting strategy for John Calipari.

With the commitment of Nate Sestina, a 6’9″ graduate transfer from Bucknell, to Kentucky  John Calipari will continue to supplement his team with guys from the transfer portal. He will be able to fill a need once again for an experienced inside player and Nate Sestina will have an opportunity to improve his skills in hopes of creating a career in the NBA. He will also get an opportunity to play for a team that should once again be one of the favorites to make the Final Four and possibly win a National Championship.

So, even with the NCAA threatening to greatly restrict the graduate transfer rule, Coach Calipari seems to have hit on another wrinkle in the recruiting process that could pay big dividends to his teams down the road. It could also pay big dividends to the players themselves. It looks like a win-win for everyone.

Well, not everyone. Remember those coaches I mentioned earlier. The ones that copied Calipari’s one and done recruiting strategy. They aren’t benefiting. But, knowing them like I do, it won’t be long before they are all over the country chasing graduate transfers also. But by then John Vincent Calipari will have already moved on to a different strategy. He can’t help it, it’s in his blood.


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  1. That’s why he’s a master in what he does . He doesn’t promise any recruit they’ll automatically get playing time they got to earn it. I don’t like the OAD thing either , but time has change and that’s the way it is in the college basketball world. I rather watch college basketball than any other sports there is it’s still entertaining.

  2. Calipari used to be the master in recruiting. Now he is just one of a dozen coaches who are in the mix for top talent. All we get now are wings and guards and we don’t even get the best of them. Calipari is at or near the bottom of that dozen in the X and O’s department. That is why we will not make another final 4 much less win another national title as long as he is there. SEC conference and tournament titles are no longer a better than average probability. I think we will do well to win one or the other, every other year until he leaves, which I see happening within 4 more years. I know that all of you Rah Rahs will scream and shout, NO WAY. Time will prove me right and I take no pleasure in that. Its sad that the University and BBN will have to endure it. As for you Rah Rahs, you will deserve every bit of the agony that is now filtering through BBN. Rah Rah Rah!!!

    1. O how unlucky we all are, the Dukeman is back with some more BS. What you are saying here is your hope. We’ll see, and we will confront you all in due time, being the TROLL that you are. In the mean time, enjoy your elite 8 Blue Devils.

  3. Catmandoo your asking too much of how you think of winning it all every year. We did win the SEC tournament 4 years in a row prior to this year. Your the one will be biting your 👅 of all wisdom words you said about Cal. Just take it as it is or move on to cheer another team. Because Cal is here in for the long haul and he will prove you wrong Oh Rah Rah Rah

    1. Cal may continue to be ahead of the curve in recruiting and that is a good thing, but he continues to strike out on his “wants”of top tier big men. Hurt and McDaniel will not be coming anytime soon. Yes, we are still number 2 in recruiting for next year but the misses are continuing to mount. Wonder where we might have ended past year if Zion or Barrett had jumped on our wagon?

      1. I hear Zion Williamson’s name is involved in the FBI investigation. Maybe he got paid to go to the Blue Devils. Kind of hard to honestly recruit against that sort of thing Mike, add that in there in your blasting of Calipari recruiting.

        1. Krzyshitski beady-eyed viper.

      2. Mike,
        You are not allowed to say anything bad about King Calipari, no matter how true it is. It will make all of the Rahs Rahs in here cry until they wet their diapers.
        I love UK and will always bleed blue. In the beginning, I was Calipari’s number 1 fan. It’s Calipari’s continuing failures since his lone national title that have turn me against him. I am not expecting him to win a championship every year, but for $10 million dollars+ every year, we have every right to demand that they be competitive and to not embarrass our university. Its too bad that Trump doesn’t coach basketball. We sure need someone to make Kentucky great again instead of being the perennial (Pup, that means every year) also ran that we have become. Rah Rah Rah!!!

        1. Dukemandoo1000…the TROLL. You are a moron. All one has to do is look at John Calipari’s career record at three different schools. No UK coach in the modern era has done more for UK basketball than this man. Count the accomplishment he has achieved at UK in SEC regular season and tournament championships, Elite Eights, and Final Fours, plus a National Championship. Tell me who could do any better? Are you really that stupid to get on this man’s case? You can say what you like, but everybody on VV’s that follow UK and are honest about the basketball program at Kentucky have you figured out. Your attack on PJ Washington just shows how ignorant you really are.

  4. As far as 2019 recruiting goes, we could be in for a real surprise ending. Everyone seems to be forgetting Allen which I find disappointing. This young man has a very good all around game, and if he can get over the bad luck that has been dogging him, he’ll be a sound contributor. Hopefully, Cal can brush stroke the final pieces of the picture to get our adrenals hyped again…he usually finds a way!

  5. I want to hang a championship banner every year.
    However, I know it’s not a reasonable expectation on a yearly basis.
    I have been critical of Coach Cal at times, but I just don’t see how we could improve upon him. If I was the parent of a top-tier recruit, I would want my son to play for Calipari. My second choice would be Tom Izzo. I would likely disown him if he played for Krzyshitski.

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