As the Big Blue Nation, those still awake anyway, rejoiced Wednesday night at the surprise signing of McDonald's All-America power forward Terrence Jones, I began counting. No, not counting the days until UK's 2010 Big Blue Madness or a much-anticipated Final Four, rather, counting the number of elite high school/junior college prospects John Calipari has convinced to matriculate to Kentucky in his short time in Lexington. Afterall, Calipari accepted Mitch Barnhart's offer to coach the 'Cats on March 31, 2009, merely one year, one month, and 20 days ago.
Although many thought a Calipari/Kentucky basketball marriage would prove to be a lucrative union for both parties, no one could have possibly forecasted such an immediate, overwhelming reversal of fortune for those who root for the Blue. To put matters into perspective, if one harkens back to the hiring of Calipari, one will find a UK basketball program filled with uncertainty -- Which players will leave? Which players will stay? Surely it will take Calipari at least a couple of years to right the ship; a ship quickly taking on water -- These are just a few of the questions and observations put forth by UK fans at the segue from Billy Gillispie to John Calipari.
But now, only a short time later, Kentucky basketball finds itself sitting fat and happy atop the mountain. Ready to take on all comers. And the credit for the sea (of blue) change experienced by the UK basketball program goes to John Calipari and his ridiculous recruiting acumen. An acumen first revealed while at Massachusetts, then honed early on at Memphis, and finally, with the adoption of the player friendly Dribble-Drive Motion Offense midway through his tenure with the Tigers, Calipari blew the lid off the recruiting world.
And the fortunate recipient of Calipari's sharpened skills has been none other than the University of Kentucky. For recruiting, the lifeblood of any sports program, has been taken to a new level by the Kentucky coach, a level mere mortals have until now, never traversed. For proclaiming Calipari the paramount recruiter of the moment seems a given ... an assumption undoubted. The proof ...
Twelve players in thirteen-and-a-half months. And not just any 12 players. Twelve players considered by those who matter to be elite level high school basketball players: A dash of McDonald's All-Americas, mixed lovingly with a dose of Parade All-Americas, blended with a duo of junior college elites. The resulting Calipari concoction is so rich and delicious, a tall glass of milk is needed to dilute the nectar. And when one dares to peruse the peerless list, the sheer magnitude of the collection takes ones breath away:
- John Wall -- Rivals.com No.1 player, Scout.com No.2 player for the 2009 class.
- DeMarcus Cousins -- Rivals No.2 player, Scout No.3 player for the 2009 class. McDonald's All-America
- Eric Bledsoe -- Rivals No.23 player, Scout No.37 player for the 2009 class.
- Darnell Dodson -- Three-star player, rated No.130 by Rivals.com in 2007.
- Brandon Knight (6-3, 185 lb Combo) -- Rated the No.6 player by both Rivals and Scout in the 2010 class. McDonald's All-America
- Enes Kanter (6-9, 240 lb C/F)-- Rated the No.3 player by both Rivals and Scout in the 2010 class.
- Terrence Jones (6-8, 220 lb F) -- Rivals No.13 player, Scout No.8 player in the 2010 class. McDonald's All-America
- Doron Lamb (6-4, 175 lb 2G) -- Rivals No.21 player, Scout No.28 player in the 2010 class. McDonald's All-America
- Stacey Poole (6-5, 200 lb Swing) -- Rivals No.33 player, Scout No.67 player in the 2010 class.
- Eloy Vargas (6-11, 210 lb C/F) -- Rivals No.26 player, Scout No.33 player in the 2008 class.
- Jarrod Polson (6-2, 185 lb G) -- Walk-on from West Jessamine High School (didn't want to neglect the local flavor).
- Michael Gilchrist (6-6, 190 lb F) -- Consensus No.1 player in the 2011 class.
- Marquis Teague (6-2, 170 lb PG) -- Rivals No.2 player, Scout No.3 player in the 2011 class.
The result of such a stupefying windfall of talent is Kentucky's 2009 and 2010 classes being rated the No. 1 recruiting haul in the country, respectively, and with the 2011 class already including the top two players in the land, a No. 1 three-peat is very likely, and unprecedented.
The demonstrable recruiting magic Calipari wields, when coupled with the facilities and tradition of Kentucky basketball, is certainly reason for Big Blue fans to exude confidence with clarity when pondering the future. While giddiness is often reserved for school girls, pardon me while I whistle a happy tune in anticipation of the future and all that it holds.
Which leads us to the next, and perhaps most important question, regarding UK basketball and the eventuality of the above-mentioned court kings donning the uniform of Camelot -- Will Calipari, as he has in the past, be capable of melding the individual, into a functioning component of the team?
We all know egos, especially in the uniquely talented, can preclude a collection of richly gifted performers from allowing the team to reach its vast potential. Wanting to showcase themselves for NBA general managers and scouts, players will oftentimes forsake the team concept for individual glory. We all know this, we've all seen this. But, it's Calipari's preferred offense, the dribble-drive, which aids the coach in tamping down the "me first" philosophy of so many young players. For it's the dribble-drive which allows super star ballers, within the team concept, to display their skills for all to see. And when the dribble-drive isn't feasible, it's Calipari's powers of persuasion, in full vocal force when he is made to preach winning first, individual glory to follow, which ensures the team concept lives.
It's genius in its simplicity, really: Utilizing an offense considered player-friendly, an offense which allows the uber-talented to illuminate the NBA decision-makers to the players' individual abilities, while at the same time fostering a team first attitude. And due to the intricacies (read: drive and dish) of the DDMO, each player has the opportunity to shine. And if the occasional knucklehead emerges, the bench is a motivational tool Calipari is not immune from implementing.
Using the DDMO as both a recruiting tool, and a tool to promote team unity ... why didn't I think of that? Well, thankfully, Calipari thought of it for you, me, and the rest of the bleeders of blue. Where it takes us, though, is for the future to unveil. But the current position the University of Kentucky basketball program finds itself in within the context of the college basketball world, is sure to be a source of envy for the competition, and certainly exciting for UK fans, players, and coaches alike. So hold on tightly, the ride figures to be super-sonic.
Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats!