John Calipari, NBA Maquereau?

Jerry Tipton, the consummate pot-stirrer and negative ninny, has an article today entitled, "Recruits view coach as lottery ticket," and with the subtitle, "Calipari's willingness to accept one-and-dones a big selling point."  Does that sound complimentary to you?  Not to me, although it does have the virtue of being accurate.

So that's not all bad, right?  Well, not really -- until you read Tipton's set-up:

To hear prospects talk at last week's recruiting camps, John Calipari is selling the NBA more than he's selling Kentucky basketball. And that's what the customers, er, prospects are lining up to buy.

Wait -- you don't know what the French word "maquereau" means in this context?  If you get the meaning of that paragraph, you have certainly figured it out by now.  For the cognitively deliberate, what Tipton is telling us here is that Calipari is pimping the NBA to all these kids, and selling precious little UK basketball.  Furthermore, he is telling us that is exactly what he kids are lining up to buy, just like johns line up for a chance at pretty call girls.

So, ladies and gentlemen of the Big Blue Nation, how do you feel about this?  How do you feel about the idea that Tipton is trying to sell us, that Calipari is really just an NBA pimp wearing a UK polo shirt, along with the implication that the school and the Kentucky tradition mean nothing to anyone except gullible traditionalists like us?  Now, make no mistake -- I understand that Kentucky tradition is mostly lost on today's top recruits.  They don't come here for the tradition, or the pretty girls, or the nice campus, or the great facilities.  Not at all.  Nope, according to the venerable Jerry Tiption, it is John Calipari they are coming to see.  The new Godfather of the NBA player.  The purveyor of Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans.  The Pied Piper of the NBA Draft.

In a way, I suppose that is simply what it has come down to.  In today's college basketball world, winning the NCAA championship with less than three first-rounders on the roster is pretty much a pipe dream, and the one-and-dones are the only more or less bona-fide NBA first rounders out there.  Hence, it is hard to blame Calipari for not going after them.  His job is to win basketball games, and basketball games are infinitely easier to win when you have the best players available on your team -- the tallest, the fastest, the highest jumping and best shooting.

As I have argued before, and quite persuasively I believe, Calipari's Dribble Drive Motion offense is much more effective as a recruiting tool than as an actual offense.  That argument is borne out by the fact that Calipari's most staggeringly successful recruiting classes began shortly after he implemented and marketed it, and market it he did.  And it is also undeniable that the DDM is little more, when it is boiled down to its essence, than a series of clear-outs designed to let players take their man one-on-one.  Great players at the high-school level simply live to do that, and the prospect of playing for a coach that actually encourages that kind of play is almost irresistible.

No matter how hard we want to believe that UK tradition is important to recruits, the reality is that with John Calipari here, UK is playing second fiddle and maybe not even that.  In fact, UK is probably known among such recruits as "The University where Calipari coaches."  That is, and no matter what I think of the way Tipton said it, the inarguable reality of what UK is today.  I'm sure Coach Cal would never agree with that, nor would Mitch Barnhart.  But that's because of the name on their paycheck, not their inclination to candor.

Now, I am also sure that once the players get here, they will generally come to recognize that UK is a wonderful school with all kinds of delightful and extraordinary things to recommend it.  But as far as attracting recruits to UK, it is Calipari and almost nothing else -- UK has no beach, no ski slopes, no California weather, none of that.  Lexington is a smallish town in the middle of a rural state all too often unfairly ridiculed in urban areas for backward, hayseed fans with the reputation of having little else to do other than swill bourbon and go bananas over college basketball. 

John Calipari has clearly established himself as the pre-eminent recruiter in college basketball, and the players see playing for him as a one-way ticket into the draft lottery.  But that perception, so useful to bringing in good players, comes with a cost.  Calipari is selling his NBA cred, not UK.  Why?  Because that's what the best players are buying.

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