John Calipari: Recruiting Without Prejudice

"My genuine opinion of the Kentucky basketball program is that there is only one and it is top drawer, Park Avenue, and that all other basketball programs in the country think they are, but they are not.  At Kentucky, basketball is a type of religion, such a fanatical obsession that they expect to be national champions each year, and they live and die with each ball game."

"I'm not looking to throw a party for Kentucky, but that is how I feel.  I think it's an honest appraisal because I've seen all the programs, touching them as a coach, a player and as an NBC broadcast commentator ... I have touched all the so-called capitals of basketball, but when it gets down to the short stroke, the only true capital of basketball is in Lexington." 

Al McGuire


Word on the street is; Kentucky basketball fans just want a winner.  They don't want double-digit loss seasons, they don't want anything approaching mediocrity in anything the boys in blue do, either on or off the court.  They demand to be entertained, and the best way for a Kentucky basketball fan to be entertained is to witness their beloved Cats throttle those who dare challenge Big Blue.  It is those types of demands by the fan base who support the Cats with either their dollars through the purchase of apparel, tickets, or donations to the athletic department that are the reason Kentucky basketball stands perched above those who think college basketball is merely a game that young men play.  To Kentucky fans, Wildcat basketball isn't a game, it's a lifestyle, it's a birthright, it's a quasi-religion, loudly and proudly passed down from grandparent, to parent, to offspring. 

Simply put, pity the fool who fails to realize the righteous truth of Kentucky basketball as being all-important to the Commonwealth.  One man, though, whose eyes are open to the realization that UK basketball fans are a serious lot, is John Calipari.

Upon Calipari's hiring last spring, the Big Blue Nation, almost as if on cue, cheered and rejoiced at the marriage of the hottest coach in the land with the most prodigious program in the land.  Thoughts of Final Fours and national championships danced through the heads of all those whose allegiance is sworn to the Cats of Kentucky.  After four years of mind-numbing mediocrity, Kentucky fans pontificated it would take Calipari and his recruiting genius only a snippet of time to bring Camelot back to its former glory and prestige.

But, at what cost?

Winning, rather, winning at the highest level in the new age of college basketball comes with a certain amount of measured risk.  Due to the collective bargaining agreement between the NBA and the NBA Player's Association, struck in 2004 and first instituted in the 2005 NBA Draft, states that in order for a player to be eligible to play in the Association the player must be at least one year out of high school, and at least 19-years-old.  

For various reasons, the Kentucky basketball program has not had to deal with the well-meaning but flawed NBA age limit rule until now -- Former Kentucky head coach Tubby Smith famously refused to deal with street agents, runners, or AAU coaches during his 10 years at the helm of the Kentucky basketball program, which curtailed his ability to successfully recruit the top flight talent to Lexington; Rick Pitino didn't have to deal with these issues because there was no "one-and-done" rule during his tenure with the Cats; and Billy Gillispie didn't have to deal with these issues because he consistently swung and missed on his blue chip (Patrick Patterson and Daniel Orton were not thought to be one-and-done propsects out of high school), NBA-or-bust recruiting prospects.  John Calipari has no such problems, but he does have other issues to deal with.  Issues, that, for the first time, UK fans are being forced to confront.  

Because of the Kentucky head coach's God-given charisma, his player-friendly dribble-drive offense, and the coupling of Calipari with Kentucky, the man in charge has drawn the interest of most of the NBA-level high school talent.  Not only within the boundaries of the United States, but around the basketball playing world.  And elite talent comes with, at times, question marks.  Question marks about academic integrity, question marks about narcissistic agents, question marks about unscrupulous AAU coaches, and question marks about whether a foreign recruit drew a salary while playing overseas.  Instead of the best players in the country (and around the world) declaring for the NBA Draft directly out of high school, now, a college coach interested in luring said talent to his campus are forced to navigate the shark-infested waters of elite prospect recruiting, as well as NCAA eligibility issues that are part and parcel in modern-day top-tier talent recruitment.

Calipari, instead of refusing to recruit those with possible eligibility issues, has taken a tack tilted toward getting the best players possible, while leaving eligibility issues for UK's compliance department (ably headed by Sandy Bell), and the NCAA Eligibility Center to figure out.  And although the NCAA burned Calipari (indirectly) and Memphis (directly) over the Derrick Rose ACT issue, Calipari has rightly opted to press forward in his quest for the next great player for the fanatics occupying Rupp Arena to cheer on.

And, really, would Kentucky basketball fans have it any other way?  No rule breaking, no backroom deals, rather, a winner within the parameters of NCAA statutes, that is in essence, what UK bluebloods want.  And that is just what Calipari is giving the masses in the Bluegrass with his recruiting posture.

Kentucky didn't become the standard-bearer of excellence in the world of college basketball by recruiting mediocre talent.  Kentucky became the 20th century's "Roman Empire" of college hoops by chasing, catching, and developing the best amateur basketball players in the world.  To toss that tried and true (blue) philosophy aside because of the headaches inherent in bringing the best talent to Lexington would be foolhardy, and a sure recipe for the descent of UK basketball into the realm of the once-greats.  Which is not the legacy handed down over the past 70 years from grandparents, to parents, to offspring.  And a circumstance best left to nightmares, rather than reality.

Darnel Dodson News

Marc Maggard, over at True Blue Kentucky, is reporting that Darnel Dodson is no longer on the Kentucky basketball team ... in any shape or form.

Thanks for reading, and Go Cats!

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