John Calipari - The Alpha Recruiter

I have the utmost respect for Mitch Barnhart and Lee Todd. This is entirely due to their decision to hire John Calipari. It took a lot of personal fortitude to own up to their previous error manifest in the hiring of Billy Clyde after only 2 years. And perhaps even more to select a candidate which suffered from the controversies that have dogged Calipari and add him to the target grouping that constitutes the University of Kentucky Basketball Program. In the short period since his arrival, Calipari has replaced Joe B. Hall as my favor Kentucky coach and it's almost entirely due to his recruiting. Sports Illustrated made a passing salute to Calipari in this article about recruiting. It's a good read and I highly recommend it. On the fourth page an encounter between Calipari and Andre Drummond, a prospect in the 2012 class, is depicted.

By the time Drummond's game starts on Sunday, the big names have arrived. Georgetown is there, and so are Connecticut and North Carolina. And then, shortly before tip-off, heads turn as Kentucky coach John Calipari walks in.

Knowing when to deploy your head coach is part of the strategy of recruiting. If you have someone with the reputation and charisma of Calipari, you use him in precise circumstances: when you're sure you want the kid and you want the kid to know it. Calipari settles in directly under the basket. "At this stage," says Wildcats assistant Orlando Antigua, nodding toward Calipari, "it's less about us seeing the kid than the kid seeing him."

Drummond is dominant only sporadically. He's clearly a project, but his upside is too vast to ignore. Any team—NBA included—would be overjoyed to have him. After one dunk Drummond ends up face-to-face with Calipari, and his eyes widen. He knew Calipari was coming, but that's different from seeing him there. After that he seems to run the floor with even more intensity, and who wouldn't? It hardly matters that it's the noncontact period. A big-time coach such as Calipari can have a huge effect on the process without saying a word.

 John Calipari IS the Alpha Recruiter!


Recruiting - For most of my life as a 'Catfan I paid almost no attention to basketball recruiting. Predominantly, this was due to the fact that even in the Bluegrass there would only be occasional snippets in the media about UK prospects until an actual commitment or the list of Midnight Madness attendees was announced. And, even then, it had to be something really big like Kyle Macy transferring in from Purdue, the landing of a nationally targeted McDonalds All-American like Sam Bowie and Winston Bennett or especially the theft of Indiana Mr. Basketball Roger Harden to merit more than a mere mention in the newspaper.


I concede there might have been something on radio. But, radio ... frankly, other than listening to Cawood Ledford, I could not force myself to listen to the crank calling that passed for radio call-in talk shows of the era in order to glean what little actual information they may have had to offer. I knew recruiting was going on, appreciated how crucial recruiting was for the success of the team, but, like watching a duck on a pond, I was pretty much oblivious to what was going on below the surface.


Then Al Gore invented the internet! On the internet, basketball recruiting, the entire drama of the metaphorical life and death struggle for high school talent to which I had previously been insensible, became available as an adjunct spectator sport. To many basketball fans, recruiting has now become the undercard to the season's main event. You could now easily follow the performance of targets in all their AAU glory, see who was taking visits and where, keep track of the gossip and rumors as well as coaching travel itineraries and commitments. It was fun following the various recruitments during the Pitino era but I really didn't get into following recruiting until Tubby arrived. [Most of what follows is from memory so feel free to correct or add to my recollections, I'm sure others have different perspectives.]


In hindsight it seems ironic that Tubby was known as a recruiter when he arrived at Kentucky, first as an assistant and then as head coach. I watched Tubby land Bogans and Stone (1999) only to see Mike Dunleavy, Jason Williams, Carlos Boozer and Casey Sanders go to Duke; Donnell Harvey and Brett Nelson go to Florida; Joe Forte go to UNC and Jason Kapono go to UCLA.  But still the future seemed more than bright. In 2000, Tubby brought in Jason Parker and Cliff Hawkins but we also witnessed the heartbreaking recruiting mis-fires of Chris Duhon to Duke and Darius Rice to Miami. I was ecstatic over Rashaad Carruth in 2001 only to watch Carlos Hurt go to Louisville; David Harrison go to Colorado; Julius Hodge go to NC St.; and James White and David Lee choose Florida. Our best commitment in 2002 was Kelenna Azubuike while UNC reeled in Raymond Felton, Rashad McCants and Sean May and Duke collected J. J. Redick, Shavlik Randolph, Sean Dockery and Michael Thompson. In my opinion, 2002 was the beginning of the end for Tubby.


In 2003, recruiting targets Shannon Brown and Brandon Cotton go to Michigan State, Chris Paul goes to Wake Forest and David Padgett goes to Kansas. In 2004, the recruiting gods smile on Tubby - our class includes Randolph Morris, Joe Crawford, and Rajon Rondo but despite his best efforts we still lost out on Malik Hairston to Oregon, D.J. White to Indiana and Darius Washington to Memphis. 2005 - thinking about 2005 makes me cringe ... well, a little bit. Like 2003, in 2005 we sign nobody of note while Josh McRoberts, Greg Paulus and Eric Boateng go to Duke; Tyler Hansbrough, Danny Green and Bobby Frasor go to UNC; Julian Wright, Mario Chalmers and Micah Downs decide on Kansas. Finally, 4-star Jodie Meeks was Tubby's top recruit in his last class in 2006 while targets like Thaddeus Young went to Georgia Tech; Kevin Durant committed to Texas; Greg Oden went to Ohio St.; Brandan Wright and Ty Lawson went to UNC; Duke's class had Gerald Henderson, Lance Thomas and Jon Scheyer. It was over for Tubby.


We all know that recruiting is not an exact science. Many McDonalds All Americans go bust, most don't wind up in the NBA and prospects who had modest recruiting rankings often develop into terrific players. But the perception is that top players on top teams were ranked 5-star coming out of high school and you need to annually restock with that talent to constantly compete for championships. You can say perception is wrong but when you don't bring the pedigree talent Kentucky has traditionally recruited and you aren't perennially competing for championships the argument tends to be very short as your own efforts fail to support your premise. A recruit's decision can turn on innumerable factors, most perhaps under nobody's control. But an Alpha Recruiter succeeds in bringing in a top class despite the circumstances and competition. Everybody who ever spent time with Tubby thought he was a wonderful person but too often his apparently herculean recruiting efforts turned Sisyphean. I don't think anybody can argue convincingly that Tubby wasn't a good, maybe even a great coach but Tubby was no Alpha Recruiter. John Calipari is an Alpha Recruiter.


We've discussed the 2011 and 2012 classes here.


 Follows is the current list of 2013 prospects who have mutual interest with Kentucky as ranked by along with their current list of schools. (If you follow recruiting the summer is never boring.)


1  SF  Jabari Parker (Simeon Vocational HS - Chicago, IL)    6-7/215 

DePaul, Duke, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan State, Northwestern, Oregon State, Purdue, Washington 


2  PF  Julius Randle (Prestonwood Christian - Plano, TX)    6-8/215 

Baylor, Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio State, Texas, Wake Forest 

 3  C    Nerlens Noel (Everett HS - Everett, MA)    6-10/205 

Connecticut, Florida, Georgetown, Kansas, Kentucky, Pittsburgh, Providence, Syracuse 


4  PF  Chris Walker (Holmes County HS - Bonifay, FL)   6-10/205 

Alabama, Baylor, Connecticut, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Ohio State, Syracuse 


8  SF  Kuran Iverson (Northwest Catholic HS - West Hartford, CT)   6-8/190 

Arizona, Connecticut, Georgetown, Kentucky, Louisville, Rutgers, Saint John's (NY), Seton Hall, Villanova 


9  PF  Jonathan Williams (Southwind HS - Memphis, TN)   6-8/190 

Arkansas, Connecticut, Georgetown, Kentucky, Memphis, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma State, Oregon State, Tennessee, Texas 

 24 PG  Solomon Poole (Providence - Jacksonville, FL)   5-11/165 

Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee 


39 SG  Isaiah Lewis (Christ The King Regional HS - Middle Village, NY)   6-3/175 

Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Kentucky, Ohio State 


50 PG  Tyler Ennis (St. Benedict Prep - Newark, NJ)   6-2/175 

Florida, Kentucky, Seton Hall, West Virginia 


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