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Empirical Evidence Kentucky and Calipari are The Best Option for Elite Recruits

We all know that John Calipari plus Kentucky is a recruiting nightmare for every other coach in America. What you may not know is that the hype is validated at every layer of an elite recruit's journey; from winning in college, to being drafted, to getting that 2nd contract.

Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Reload; that is the message Devin Booker had for Big Blue Nation after he and six other Wildcats announced they are moving on to pursue their professional dreams.  The BBN experienced an earthquake Saturday night around midnight when dreams of 40-0 were crushed.  The press conference for all seven constituted the aftershock as literally half the team announced they would not be wearing Kentucky blue and white next season.

Whether or not you agree with some of their decisions, they are lifetime members of the BBN and deserve nothing less than the FULL support and joy from a fan base that took pleasure in watching them entertain us for 39 games this season.

After all, this is what we signed up for when we all went all-in for John Calipari as our coach.  We saw in 2010 the speed with which he could turn a negative situation in a positive one.  We have lived and died by this form of success ever-since.  Last off season we got lucky, seven of them could have gone last year and five returned.  We had our shot at #9 because of that, and while it did not turn out the way we all wanted this year, now it is their time to pursue their dreams...  Godspeed, young ‘Cats and while it is saddening, I would not have our program any other way.

Knowing the mass exodus is upon us, it is only natural to wonder who will be next to be represent the colors of the commonwealth.  Coach Cal has three on board already in Charles Matthews, Skal Labissiere, and Isaiah Briscoe.

Those are nice to have waiting in the wings but replacing your top 7 scorers is going to take more firepower.  A great thing about the recruiting freight train that John Calipari engineers; recruits are increasingly more often waiting until the spring to commit so they are able to potentially punch their ticket to Lexington.

There are currently eight (or more) targets Coach Cal is pursuing, none of which is currently committed.  Wondering whom we would get commitments from got me to thinking about Calipari's recruiting run at UK.  I thought, could Coach Calipari walk into a kid's living room that was not currently considering Kentucky this late in the game, and still get them in the fold?  Cal can sell playing time, exposure, success, and NBA futures... who would not listen to the man, right?

I decided to dig a little deeper and see just how much of a performance advantage Calipari has on other coaches in recruiting.  I wanted to empirically prove that X team was the best for a recruit if you want college success; X team was best if you want to be drafted, X team was best if you wanted a long career, etc.  As a Kentucky fan, what I found out is better than I imagined.

I decided to look first at who had the most players in the NBA, and then I wanted to see which programs/coaches had a long enough track record in which to pull information.  I came to the conclusion that a 10-year period would be a good indicator, that gives enough time for the coach to have NBA players with entrenched careers as well as recent draft pick success.  Over the course of 10 years you become promoted or exposed, you cannot fake success that long.

Heading into the 2014-'15 NBA season, here is a breakdown of the teams with the most NBA players on a roster:

NBA Players

I left UCLA and Arizona out because Sean Miller has only been at Arizona since 2009 and UCLA has had coach turnover as well.  The main point I wanted to drive home is not so much which program is the best, but which coach is.  I included Louisville simply because they are our little brother and love trying to compare themselves to UK, so I obliged.

The reasons a recruit picks one school over another is a layered process with varying factors in play.  The vast majority of NCAA recruits will not have a chance to play basketball beyond college.  In fact, for a high school player, the odds of getting to the NBA are about 1 in 3,333 or .03%.  For those 99% of players, the options come down to location, academic prestige, family ties, friends, and various other reasons.

The six schools above are vying for players who have different dreams in mind, however, the 1%-ers.  Most, if not all of the top 50 players have NBA aspirations.  They have been training their entire lives to get to that goal or recently picked up the game and whispers of future earnings were placed in their ear to drive them.  I can assure you, players of their caliber do not dream of JUST playing for UK, Duke, UNC, Florida, Kansas, or Louisville.

The broad formula most important to these elite recruits are exposure, being drafted, and then getting a shot at that all-important second contract.  The first contract following a Rookie contract is the kind of contract that can change a family tree.

Just look at three former Wildcats recently; John Wall was signed to a 5-year, 80 MILLION DOLLAR second contract.  DeMarcus Cousins, in the same off-season, was signed to a 4-year, 62 MILLION DOLLAR second contract.  Finally, Eric Bledsoe was signed to a 5-year, 70 MILLION DOLLAR second contract.  That is A LOT of reasons to get it right on the front end.


To be noticed, you have to have an audience.  All six schools fit that bill simply by their name and prestige in the sport, with the exception of Florida.  Florida's exposure comes from being a thorn in Kentucky's side and Billy Donovan's success.  The second part to exposure is where Florida fits in, winning.  So, with these six teams, who are you more likely to be promoted properly with, who is more likely to be on CBS and ESPN's plethora of networks?  All charts and information are since 2005.

wins in college

Coach Calipari has more Wins, Sweet 16s, Elite 8s, and Final Fours than any coach on that list.  I think it is safe to say that coming to Kentucky will expose you more than any program.  This year was a microcosm of that; Kentucky was THE Story all season.  ESPN covered their exhibition trip to the Bahamas and broadcast the NBA pre-season combine that UK held.  Throw in the fact that UK has won more and won bigger than any other top program, and I think it is clear where you will be most exposed.


So you picked your school, you were exposed to the nation and had some success, what now?  The next step is to be drafted and make that walk across the stage to put that hat on.  The answer to this one is clear to anyone who has followed college or NBA basketball the last five years, but we will look at it for posterity.

draft picks

Coach Cal is the clear winner here, no surprise, but what is surprising is the level of dominance this is reaching.  These numbers do not include this year and with likely at least five of the seven expected to be drafted and likely all 7 getting a shot in the league you are looking at 31 picks and 35 players in the league over that time frame.  The next closest will likely be 20 picks and 25 players... that is dominance.  In the category of get drafted, Kentucky and Cal are the clear winner.


This third category is the one that intrigued me most; it seems you cannot watch Sportscenter without seeing a video game stat line from Anthony Davis, back-to-back triple doubles for DeMarcus Cousins, or a four category stuffed stat box from Nerlens Noel.  You say that John Wall blew up for a ton of points, assists, and likely a Sportscenter Top 10 play?  Enes Kanter with another double double?  Brandon Knight hit a game winner, really?  Terrence Jones stared someone down after a nasty dunk and a double double?  The answer to all of the above is likely yes.

We all know that Coach Calipari is the best at getting elite talent to the NBA, but how good is he at keeping them there?  Are they all flash in pans that have to worry about that first and only contract lasting a lifetime before they fade into obscurity? You can say that Calipari gets the best talent of anyone, so he should have best results... but even with the talent he is corralling, there are still 30 first round picks.  UK only produces a little under three a year, what about the other 27.

First Round PIcks

You would be hard pressed to find disagreement that Kentucky/Cal is not the clear winner here.  Coach Cal's NBA players have played more games than anyone but UNC, and considering 1,400 of those games are from two of UNC's players (Marvin Williams 699 and Raymond Felton 692... also, this is more NBA games from two player than ALL of UL combined, ha); it is hard not to give UK the nod on even that category.

Coach Cal has more draft picks, percentage of players still active and first round picks than any of the other schools.  Not to mention, Florida has more first round picks still active, but they only have 1/3rd the number of first round picks Cal has.


The numbers do not lie, you are more likely to have a longer career if you come to Kentucky and play for Coach Cal.  There is another component to this, however; on the court performance leading to that all-important second contract.  We know about Wall, Cousins, and Bledsoe's paydays because they recently happened, but here is the entire picture.

Lottery Performance

This is pretty incredible to see on paper.  Not only are you more likely to get drafted if you play for Kentucky and Calipari, you are more likely to be a higher lottery pick than any other school.  You are also as likely or more likely to hang around the league longer than UNC, Duke, or Louisville.  Finally, you are more likely to perform better in the league than any player from the other schools is.  A Kentucky lottery pick averages more points per game, rebounds, and assists per game.  UK lottery picks also have a higher average draft position at #5.

One of the great aspects of Coach Calipari's development of his players is the guys that became NBA standouts that were not supposed to.  For instance, Eric Bledsoe had a composite #57 national ranking and went 18th in the draft, ultimately leading to the aforementioned max contract.  Archie Goodwin was only the fifth best shooting guard and after one year was drafted in the first round and now he is averaging 21 minutes per game in April for the Suns.  That was after a season when Kentucky only managed a first round NIT loss.


Each team I looked at in this project has redeemable qualities for a top prospect.  All six teams are winners in the college game and while Kentucky wins more games, sweet 16s, elite 8s, and final 4s, they have missed a few NCAA tournaments as well as two good chances for a 2nd and 3rd ring.

Overall NBA Performance

#6 - Louisville: To Rick Pitino's credit, he does as good a job as any of the other five at winning, he is a hall of famer for a reason after all.  Having said that, to get the talent that he does and have virtually nothing to show for it outside of college is a mystery.  He has had a total of six draft picks and two lottery picks since 2005, to put that in perspective, that was Kentucky's 2012 draft alone.  This article and the poll that went along with it was head scratching then, even more so now.

This is, however, the end of the road for any further positive analysis of Louisville.  Beyond winning in college, they clearly are a notch or two below the other five schools.  Truth be told, as an elite recruit with NBA aspirations, why would you ever consider the Cardinals?

#5 - Kansas: Elite recruits who want to go to Kansas will get drafted, only Kentucky gets more players drafted and only Kentucky and North Carolina have more players that have made it to the league.  Unfortunately, that is where the accolades stop for Bill Self.  Just a little over half of their NBA guys are still active and while all 10 of their lottery picks are still active, they only perform better than Louisville's players.

UK's lottery picks produce a full 6 points, 2.5 rebounds and 3 assists more than Kansas' picks.  They also are drafted a full four slots higher on average. Busts from Xavier HenryJosh Selby, and Julian Wright are major black eyes on Self's development abilities.  The other black eye on his development ability is the performance of those lottery picks.

#4 - North Carolina: The Tar Heels have the most games played of any of the teams, but as I pointed out, that is a bit skewed due to nearly 28% of those games coming from two players.  They have done a good job of keeping guys in the league overall, tied at 68% with Kentucky.  However, the lottery picks are where it gets ugly.  Only 70% of their lottery picks since 2005 are even still active.  The performance of Roy Williams' lottery picks is also poor by comparison.  They rival Kansas' picks in overall production and only slightly produce more.

#3 - Duke: This is likely to change to #2 if I were to do this next year with Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones, and Justise Winslow likely to be first round/lottery picks.  Having said that, Duke has been very good but not great, for elite recruits until this year.

Duke does a fairly good job at keeping guys in the league at 60% of their players still active and a respectable 83% of their lottery picks.  Duke's players also perform well in the league, with an average stat line of 11 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2 assists and an average draft position of 7th.

#2 - Florida: Billy Donovan and the Gators are essentially Kentucky-light for elite recruits.  Donovan has had about half the amount of draft picks as Calipari since 2005 but the top ones have been a mirror image to those who used to wear blue and white.  Donovan is the only coach who has all his first round picks since 2005 still active; he also has all of his lottery picks still active.

While that number is limited to 6 and 4, versus 19 and 11 for Coach Cal, it is still better than the other schools not named Kentucky.  The former Gators also perform very well with a similar average stat line as former Wildcats with 12 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists per game, and an average draft position just below UK at #6.  Donovan has also performed better than most coaches with kids coming out of high school that were highly ranked, but not lottery pick potential ranked.  This is why I feel that even with a smaller sample size than the other four schools I have ranked them ahead of the other schools, the Gators and Donovan are worth the accolade.

#1 - KENTUCKY: The truth is, Kentucky and John Calipari should be near the top of the short list for any top prospect.  This is not exactly breaking news or a hard-hitting expose.  However, what is powerful is the empirical evidence that supports it.  Whether you want to win in college, be drafted, be a lottery pick, have a career in the NBA, or perform better than other lottery pick...  UK should be every elite recruit's first choice.

Having said that, Calipari cannot sign them all and sometimes "fit" trumps rationale.  The mind of an 18 year old is certainly an enigma, and taking an opportunity to play high level college basketball at another powerhouse is not something to begrudge.

UK sheet