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Another Perspective on the Klosterman Grantland Article

Recently, Hoboat33 and Glenn wrote pieces discussing Chuck Klosterman’s Grantland article. [Link] Glenn’s point was basically that Klosterman’s hand wringing was much ado about nothing – that Cal’s paradigm for recruiting and putting a team on the court is a natural progression in the changing environment in which college basketball operates. Hoboat33’s point was that there’s NO "change coming" in College Basketball … it’s already happened.

I particularly liked an insightful point Hoboat33’s made:

"Now that other coaches have seen it in action and seen it succeed, regardless of what transpires in the coming week, they will be adjusting their recruiting strategy. Actually, not their strategy but their message (Emphasis added). It's not as if these players come to Kentucky because no one else was recruiting them, they liked the message. After all, Kansas, Duke, North Carolina, et al were also recruiting these players and since many chose UK, we get the label. (Some one-and-doners did go to other schools, *cough* Duke,... *cough*.)"

My point is that there is no way that even so few as 5 schools can realistically seek to build a program around showcasing freshman one-n-done talent … and what’s more, interestingly enough, they don’t want to even if they could.

I’m not trying to say Chuck Klosterman is stupid; but however articulate the Grantland article may be, as Glenn points out, Klosterman wrote it giving full rein to his irrational fears and not his analytical skills. However, giving credit where credit is due, Klosterman’s article IS the first one I’ve read that clearly verbalizes what so many fear will be the result of Calipari having won a NCAA Championship with one-n-done freshmen – that it will herald the end of competitive college basketball…

"There will be five schools sharing the 25 best players in the country, and all the lesser programs will kill each other for the right to lose to those five schools in the Sweet 16. It will skew the competitive balance of major conferences and split D-I basketball into two completely unequal tiers. Final Four games will look more and more like sloppy pro games, and national interest in college basketball will wane..."

If he had used his head, he would have found little in the situation to stoke his fears. As Hoboat33 and Glenn correctly point out, it isn’t as though the top tier programs haven’t been recruiting these ‘top-25’ prospects all along. UNC, Duke, etc. have more McD AAs on their benches right now than Kentucky and they’d have even more if they could get them. There are some obvious realities that the Klosterman, et al hand wringers are ignoring. But first and foremost, the numbers won’t hold up.

The NBA players’ union accepted the minimum-age rule in 2005, during their collective bargaining negotiations. The rule, which went into effect in 2006, first affected the draft in 2007. Since then, we’ve had 41 one-n-done freshmen drafted [Note: I’m a Kentucky fan so that ‘41’ number includes Enes Kanter and always will.], roughly 8 per year. (Calipari has had 8 of those one-n-doners over this timeframe, call it 20% of total one-n-dones … impressive, to say the least.) Another interesting point is that approx. 10% of the one-n-dones weren’t 5-star recruits coming out of high school at all, hidden gems from deeper in their class.

So, as they have since intercollegiate basketball began, programs every year understandably recruit the best players available, but the numbers above suggest only approximately 7 of the top rated 25 recruits of concern to Klosterman will be leaving for the draft – just 7 (Remember, on average 1 of the 8 one-n-dones will not be top 25). And to confuse the issue even more, only 25 of the 41 freshmen drafted since 2007 were ranked in the top-7 of their recruiting class (Scout.com), so coaches can’t just target the top few. Add the impact of Calipari/Kentucky annually getting their 3 or 4 of those 7 one-n-dones from every class, and no opposing coach has demonstrated any ability to interrupt that annual harvest, that doesn’t leave very many of these hard to identify and recruit young men to be shared around to any other programs who might be interested in adopting the so-called ‘high churn’ team model.

That means, if Roy Williams, for example, wants to emulate Calipari/Kentucky’s one-n-done success, it’s of paramount importance that he identify and successfully recruit the correct group of 3 or 4 remaining high school players (after Cal gets his) because, on average, 18 of that class of 25 5-stars will be coming back to their teams. And, just as Shabazz Muhammad and Nerlens Noel appear to be waiting to see who declares for this year’s NBA draft, and who not, before choosing a school, those returning 5-stars significantly impact a team’s ability to attract top-25 recruits from the next class - thereby spreading the recruiting bounty between a greater number of teams, year-to-year.

So, Roy’s returning recruits, top-25 but not one-n-done, don’t leave for the NBA, begin to pile up on the bench – creating exactly the same circumstance Roy has now at UNC and existed at all top programs prior to Calipari coming to Kentucky, a team on the court composed of mixed recruiting classes. So, while the top tier schools will always compete vigorously to share the 25 best players in the country every year, there is no way that even so few as 5 schools can realistically seek to build a program around showcasing freshman one-n-done talent with an annual recruiting pool of only 7 one-n-dones per class … and what’s more, as I stated above, they don’t want to even if they could.

The thing is, not only is it ‘OK’ with Roy to have his top-25 freshmen return for another year but he much prefers it. Why? Because Roy runs a complex system of offensive and defensive sets that freshman, however talented, find extremely difficult to fully inculcate in only one year. In such a complex system, experience is key.

In addition, the high-churn model leaves a team vulnerable to potential uncontrollable performance peaks and valleys on a year to year basis, totally exhausts the recruiting staff, and — perhaps most terrifying for a college coach — cedes control of an entire season to the vagaries of recruiting luck, a thin bench and the maturity of 18-year-olds. Roy and all top coaches fully understand succeeding under such circumstances is far from ensured. In fact, despite Cal making it look so ridiculously easy, such consistent success is a remarkable achievement. From their perspective, it is incredible that at least one or more of Cal’s freshmen studded teams hasn’t fallen flat on its collective 5-star face.

Further, coaches find dealing with freshmen who not only don’t know the system but lack the physical and emotional maturity of upperclassmen to be wearying and extremely frustrating. As Rick Pitino stated after the Final-Four Louisville game, "You know, (Calipari) probably coaches young players better than anybody in the game. I don’t know if I would ever want to do it or ever could do it, to coach a new group of freshmen every year. Very difficult. Freshmen have a lot of emotional immaturity that you have to get them over before they start working on their physical maturity. (Cal’s) probably done it better than anybody in this game. He gets guys better." [Link]

Remember Calipari’s promotion of ‘The Turtle and the Scorpion’ parable to recruits this last summer on his website? [Link] The underlying message was that prospects should not listen to the things coaches say in their pitch to recruit them but rather examine their past coaching behavior. Coaches may say that they will develop a one-n-done prospect in their system and boost them to the NBA, but will they? Will they change their approach to building and fielding teams to conform to the needs of one or more one-n-done freshman? Cal’s contention was that coaches are fully invested and devoted to their complicated systems that have brought them such success over the years and, even with the best of intentions, will not be able to successfully accommodate the developmental and playing needs of a one-n-done player – that they cannot change who they are as coaches.

Pitino’s above comment lends substantial support to Cal's contention. "I don’t know if I would ever want to do it or ever could do it…" is extremely telling to the extent it represents the mind set of all the top non-Calipari coaches. Whatever 5-star recruits like Blackshear and Behanan hear from the lips of top coaches, their experience is unlikely to prepare them and feature them sufficiently to jump to the NBA after only one year. Assuming top recruits are getting intelligent counseling, if they have one-n-done aspirations (and what top-25 recruit doesn’t?), though highly sought after for their potential contribution by any and all major programs, their realistic options to pursue a defined track for a one-n-done college career are very slim.

That is not to say a powerhouse program might not showcase a superior talent sufficiently to make the jump after a single freshman season like Carmelo Anthony’s from the 2003 Syracuse championship team or Marvin Williams from the 2005 Tarheels championship team - as well as other successful one-n-dones like Brandan Wright, Donte Green, Xavier Henry, Josh Selby, Jrue Holiday, Kevin Love, Trevor Ariza, Luol Deng, Corey Magette, Kyrie Irving and Austin Rivers, but these guys are clear exceptions to the one-n-done production of their respective programs – there just aren’t five schools sharing the 25 best players in college basketball with the ambition of maximizing their single year in college to fulfill their one-n-done NBA dreams – there is only one.

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