Kentucky Basketball: Foes May Hate John Calipari, but Recruits Love Him

Search the term "calipari" on Twitter any fine day and you will find many comments like these:

tprysziii:  I can't believe Calipari won again,even after those allegations. I hope he gets nailed.

bkabigting:  I really want to know how calipari can sign ALL the top bball recruits year after year..drives me nuts..he has to be cheating..

TH_Holmes_III : Wth is Kentucky doing to get these recruits?! They now have 3 of the top 10 players coming in. I hate calipari.

z4willy:  Yeah, 200K later. Calipari gets the best $$ can buy. RT @SethDavisHoops: As expected, Anthony Davis commits to Kentucky.

JEDI4ALL:  U.K. 'Calipari Signs $200,000 Dollar Recruit ' Death Penalty Awaits Soon U.K Pro Leage NBADL WOW Can't Understand How The PRES Of UK Allows

In case you have missed it over the last year, ever since John Calipari came to the University of Kentucky, the nay-saying and negative commentary has been building and building.  It reached a near-fever pitch when Terrence Jones switched his verbal from the University of Washington and changed to Kentucky.

But when the Chicago Sun-Times printed allegations that a person connected with the University of Kentucky had agreed to pay the Davis family $200,000 in return for their son's commitment, an article for which the Sun-Times sources were completely anonymous and the truth of which the Davises vehemently denied, the anti-Calipari static around the Internet went to a completely different level.  There was much speculation that the anonymous rumors reported by the Sun-Times were designed by other schools coveting his services to scare Davis away from Kentucky, and vice versa.

If that was the plan, it failed utterly.  Last night, Anthony Davis confirmed to media members that he has verbally committed to the University of Kentucky.  The Sun-Times rumors did not cause the University of Kentucky to flinch, or the Davises to run for cover.  Kentucky now has verbal commitments from Rivals #1 Michael Gilchrist, #5 Marquis Teague, and #8 (and still rising) Anthony Davis.  In fact, some expect Davis to wind up at the very top of the Rivals rankings along with Gilchrist, eventually.

It is almost inconceivable, absent the de-commitment or ineligibility of one of these three recruits, that Kentucky will not wind up with its third #1 recruiting class in a row.  That may not be unprecedented, but it is surely very rare.

I was unable to locate after a reasonable Google search a historical database of recruiting class rankings by school, but I was able to locate RSCI Hoops, which gives us the consensus class rankings since 1998.  Statsheet has further cut these statistics, and here is the best meaningful comparison I could come up with:

From 1998-2011 Top Ten Recruits By School
Team 1998-2009 2010 2011* Totals
North Carolina 13 1 1 15
Duke 9 1 0 10
Michigan State 6 0 0 6
Kentucky 6 2 3 11
UCLA 5 0 0 5





*Rivals only – RCSI not yet available

This table shows the total number of top ten recruits per school (I just included the top 5 schools) and the number of top ten recruits they have managed to sign.  as you can see, North Carolina still has the advantage in total number of top ten recruits since 1998 by at least four over Kentucky. I say that because the 2011 class is far from complete for any team as of now.

But let's see how Calipari has fared vs. the head coaches of the above schools over the 2009-2011 classes:

2009-2011 Top Ten Recruits By Coach
Coach 2009 2010 2011* Totals
John Calipari 2 2 3 7
Roy Williams 1 1 1 3
Mike Krzyzewski 0 1 0 1
Ben Howland 0 0 0 0
Tom Izzo 0 0 0 0





*Rivals only – RCSI not yet available

Same caveats apply as before.  Now, we see the real story of the Calipari era.  Of the 11 top ten players committing to Kentucky since 1998, 7 of them have been recruited by John Calipari.  The best anyone else has done is 3 -- Roy Williams at North Carolina -- and as of now, Cal has more than doubled his total.

Is it any wonder that so many people are hating Coach Cal right now?  Is it any wonder that they assume something nefarious must be going on?  This is a run of recruiting that may well be historic, and there are are at least two more top ten players in 2011 with Kentucky was high on their lists -- LeBryan Nash and Quincy Miller

Could Calipari and Kentucky wind up with 5 of the Rivals top ten?  Given his record so far at UK, it would be risky to bet against him.  Even though many people scoffed when he proclaimed the drafting of five UK players in the first round of the 2010 NBA draft "The greatest day in the history of the program," an argument can be made that from a recruiting standpoint, it was.  It is becoming clear, if it wasn't already, that top recruits see Kentucky as the best and straightest path to NBA riches.

As to the insight of recruits into John Calipari, consider these comments from Anthony Davis:

"Coach Calipari is easy to talk to and he listens to what you are saying," Davis told ESPN recruiting writer Paul Biancardi on Friday in explaining his choice. "(Calipari) will be a father figure to me away from home. He's a demanding coach that will not tell me what I want to hear, but what I need to hear to improve."

...

"It will be nice (playing with Gilchrist and Teague)," Davis told ESPN. "They are very talented and unselfish players, who are about winning, like me."

Of course, young people always say these kinds of things.  But notice what is not mentioned -- Kentucky tradition, the facilities at UK, playing in front of 24,000 every game, being on TV all the time -- none of these things are mentioned.  Recruiting has changed.  Calipari has taken the NBA one-and-done rule and used it like the Pied Piper, tempting players to Kentucky not with cash to families or under-the-table deals, but with a short path to all the riches they desire.

Bledsoe and Orton getting drafted after their first year is a huge selling point for Coach Cal, and that seems to go unnoticed amid all the allegations of impropriety and cash payoffs.  Nobody in college basketball expected those two to wind up leaving after one year, despite the fact that both were highly ranked high-school players.  The impact of the early development of Orton and Bledsoe are likely as powerful as any argument Calipari can use in front of the top talent coming out of high school

In the end, many are going to loathe Calipari and his success at recruiting top ten talent.  It is completely understandable coming from fans of other teams, who covet these recruits also, but can't seem to beat Calipari at a game that is now played by his rules.  Calipari detractors among the sports writing community are anxious to prove that they have been right and Calipari has been cheating all along -- they simply cannot get their heads around the fact that Coach Cal has found an angle that top recruits simply cannot resist.

Of course, Calipari's methodology is not without many land mines.  Top recruits are notoriously the targets of agents and runners, and one need only look as far as Reggie Bush and O.J. Mayo to see what can happen if the school does not carefully vet these players for potential NCAA issues due to the influence of those trying to hitch their wagon to the star.  This is unquestionably the greatest threat to Calipari's reign at the top of the college recruiting world -- recall that both of the times Calipari's teams got in NCAA difficulties, unethical actions by his players were the cause.  Those who refuse to learn from history are often doomed to repeat it.

In the final analysis, Calipari did not need Anthony Davis to cement his reputation as the best recruiter in college basketball right now, but the advent of Davis' matriculation to UK places that plaudit beyond the reach of legitimate doubt.  Coach Cal must now prove that he can take the promise that the skills of these players bring with them and turn it into NCAA championships.

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