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Kentucky Basketball: Coaching One And Dones

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Several elite college coaches weigh in on how it would be to coach a team with multiple one-and-done players.

Andy Lyons

This was linked in the threads yesterday, but I thought it worthy of a comment or two. This is by Eric Prisbell writing for USA Today, and the topic is a question to various coaches: "Would you want to coach a team with three one-and-dones?"

What I find interesting about this is that the vast majority of coaches would love to coach players so talented that they could leave for the pros after one year. The lone dissenter is Rollie Massimino, and I think that’s more due to the fact that he’s no longer in coaching and doesn’t have to worry about a job. It’s very easy to take the moral high ground when you have no self-interest at stake. Just ask Bob Knight about that.

I think Pitino is the most disingenuous of all of them. He says he wouldn’t care, and then essentially takes the same position Calipari does. But this is the part that rubs me the wrong way:

One of the things I enjoy is building relationships with guys, and I don’t want to get to know them for seven months and they move on because I never get to know them.

That sounds harmless, doesn’t it? Even slightly noble, right? But it’s blather, and it’s why Rick Pitino can’t recruit at Calipari’s level. What coach doesn’t want a long-term four-year relationship with one elite player, let alone three?

With this comment, Pitino is telling the kids that it’s all about him. It says to them, "I want my relationship, dammit, and I’m not willing to put your interests before mine. I can’t coach that way."

Pitino didn’t seem to have any problem coaching early-entry players when he was at Kentucky. What changed?

John Calipari can, and does – not because he doesn’t desire the relationship, but because he understands that it’s not about him, it’s about the young men he coaches. That message comes through loud and clear, and that’s why the most talented players flock to Kentucky – not because they’ll be denied a relationships with some college coach, but because Calipari places the well being of the player, and his family, ahead of his own. That’s the kind of relationship everybody wants, one built on personal honesty and not rhetoric.

So when you hear Rick Pitino spout this "I have to have my relationships" stuff, don’t be sucked in by the sweet-sounding platitudes. Yes, it’s always easier to coach a multi-year player – ask any coach. Julius Mays made that point perfectly to Larry Vaught the other day when he explained that some of UK’s players needed to "learn how to be coached." That’s probably the hardest part of any teacher or coach’s job – showing his charges how to accept instruction.

So what Pitino is really telling you is that he’s unwilling to work that hard as a coach, and that’s fine. But be honest about it. Couching it in terms of "relationships" is a little too slippery.

Calipari has it 100% right, in the same article:

First of all, a lot of guys will say (they are reluctant to coach one-and-done players) because they can’t recruit those types of kids. To justify it, they’ll say, ‘I couldn’t do it. I need kids for four years.’ Those other kids don’t want to come and play for you. That’s just how it is.

He’s looking at you, Rollie and Rick. So am I. The truth is, you can’t recruit these players. You are incapable of it. You don’t have the talent, and let’s be honest, it’s all about you, and what’s best for you – not them. Pitino didn’t seem to have any problem coaching early-entry players when he was at Kentucky. What changed?

To recruit like John Calipari, you have to place your future in the hands of a bunch of high-school kids. Pitino has done that before, and been burned – remember the Sebastian Telfair incident that cost him both Telfair and Rajon Rondo? For all I know, that might have been when Pitino decided the high-wire act just wasn’t for him. That year, 2003, Louisville suffered a lot of recruiting misses from high-profile players.

Honestly, I don’t care if Pitino wants it to be all about him, he has a lot of company among star coaches. Pitino’s been in this business long enough to coach however he wants, and if he wants to exclude players for whatever reason, I have no problem at all with that. As the old saying goes, "More for us!" What I resent is his attempt to couch it as something more salient than what it is – pure selfishness.