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Kentucky Wildcat Basketball: Calipari vs. Pitino Philosophy Debate Rages On

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Players First vs. L1C4 is an argument that just won't go away no matter how successful both systems have recently been.

Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Stop me if you heard this one before: John Calipari is the better recruiter but Rick Pitino is better at developing players.

As soon as Calipari landed his first major class at Kentucky in 2009, the debate started raging about the philosophies of the two coaches. Pitino prefers to recruit guys that will stick around college until they graduate while John Calipari opts for one and done players. L1C4 vs. Players First.

It's an old debate that will never have a clear cut answer, and while it has quieted a bit recently, it still pops up from time to time.

Like in this article for instance. In it, the author uses Russ Smith as his prime example as to how Pitino develops players right into the NBA. I wouldn't have a problem with an article such as this unless a shot is taken at Kentucky. And wouldn't you know it, there is a shot taken at Kentucky:

Yet, getting to the league is not enough for most of the Pitino doubters, who mostly are fans of a certain program to the east. Sure, it could be pointed out that a majority of Calipari's recruits (10 of 19 to be exact) at Kentucky who became draft picks have almost immediately been sent down to the D-League to fine tune their game (some of whom are still there), but sticking in the league for Pitino is a different story.

First off, the author fails to mention that most NBA draft picks spend some time in the D-League during their rookie season, as it's extremely difficult for most players to transition from the college game to the pro game unless he is extremely talented. Second, he also fails to acknowledge that John Calipari now has eighteen former Kentucky Wildcats signed to teams in the NBA.

It's clear that Cal wants NBA talent on his team and he wants guys to go pro as soon as they are ready. It's no secret that his two main priorities as a coach are to win a national championship and help as many players as he can realize their dreams in the NBA.

Before I go on, let's look at the tale of the tape starting with Cal's first season at Kentucky:

2009/20010-

Kentucky:

Recruiting Class Rank- #1

Highest Ranked Recruit- John Wall #1

Record- 35-3

Postseason- Lost in Elite Eight

Louisville:

Recruiting Class Rank- #16

Highest Ranked Recruit- Rakeem Buckles #36

Record- 20-13

Postseason- Lost in First Round

2010/2011-

Kentucky:

Recruiting Class Rank- #1

Highest Ranked Recruit- Enes Kanter #3

Record- 29-9

Postseason- Lost in Final Four

Louisville:

Recruiting Class Rank- N/A

Highest Ranked Recruit- Gorgui Dieng #44

Record- 25-10

Postseason- Lost in First Round

2011/2012-

Kentucky:

Recruiting Class Rank- #1

Highest Ranked Recruit- Anthony Davis #2

Record- 38-2

Postseason- National Champions

Louisville:

Recruiting Class Rank- #9

Highest Ranked Recruit- Chane Behanan #21

Record- 30-10

Postseason- Lost in Final Four

2012/2013-

Kentucky:

Recruiting Class Rank- #1

Highest Ranked Recruit- Nerlens Noel #2

Record- 21-12

Postseason- Lost in First Round of the NIT

Louisville:

Recruiting Class Rank- N/A

Highest Ranked Recruit- Montrezl Harrell #82

Record- 35-5

Postseason- National Champions

2013/2014-

Kentucky:

Recruiting Class Rank- #1

Highest Ranked Recruit- Julius Randle #2

Record- 29-11

Postseason- Lost in Championship Game

Louisville:

Recruiting Class Rank- #7

Highest Ranked Recruit- Chris Jones #1 Ranked JUCO Player

Record- 31-6

Postseason- Lost in Sweet 16

2014/2-15-

Kentucky:

Recruiting Class Rank- #2

Highest Ranked Recruit- Karl-Anthony Towns #5

Record- 38-1

Postseason- Lost in the Final Four

Louisville:

Recruiting Class Rank- #7

Highest Ranked Recruit- Shaqquan Aaron #30

Record- 27-9

Postseason- Lost in Elite Eight

2015/2016-

Kentucky:

Recruiting Class Rank- #3

Highest Ranked Player- Skal Labissiere #1

Record- TBD

Postseason- TBD

Louisville:

Recruiting Class Ranking- #9

Highest Ranked Recruit- Donovan Mitchell #31

Record- TBD

Postseason- TBD

There are a few things to digest about all of this. Louisville fans like to cry poor about recruiting a lot, but as one can see, the Cardinals have fared much better in the rankings as one might think. The Cards were ranked outside of the top 25 of the recruiting ranks only twice, and one of those times was when they had a loaded team of veterans that won a national title. Rick Pitino does indeed recruit elite level talent and that is increasing by year.

John Calipari has defeated Rick Pitino in the recruiting battle every single season, he's beaten his overall record four out of six season, and he's beaten his tournament performance five out of six seasons. Each team has one title, but Calipari has been to at least the Final Four four out of the six seasons while Pitino has been there only twice in six seasons.

As for top ranked players, every one of Cal's is currently in the NBA while only Gorgui Dieng and Montrezl Harrell are there for Pitino. Amazingly, four of Pitino's top ranked recruits didn't even finish his time at Louisville. Rakeem Buckles and Shaqquan Aaron both transferred out of the program while Chane Behanan and Chris Jones were both dismissed from the team.

Pitino's calling card to some of his fans is his development of players. But outside of Russ Smith and Gorgui Dieng, who has he really developed? Smith was a two-star player that became a college All-American but hasn't played any significant minutes in the NBA. Dieng was a top fifty player that left his junior year, was drafted in the first round of the NBA draft, and has had a steady home in Minnesota.

But Pitino has had highly touted recruits before that have flopped in the NBA. Do Samardo Samuels, Terrence Jennings, Earl Clarke, or Peyton Siva ring any bells? Every one of those players were four-star guys or higher that played for Pitino but never had much of an NBA career. All of them were drafted, Siva and Clarke are in the summer league, while Jennings and Samuels never did much of anything.

Both coaches and both programs have had a great deal of success in the past six years and both look to continue that success. But the narrative about Pitino's system vs. Cal's system doesn't have much truth to it. Calipari has been overwhelmingly more successful than Pitino during this run. Both have done it differently, but maybe not as differently at first glance. Pitino isn't winning with the Little Sisters of the Poor. He's done it with extremely good players, although the results may take longer.

But even when Pitino does get the top players, he doesn't do much with them and his much-ballyhooed development lands them out of the mainstream of the NBA. This is part of the reason why he doesn't contend for the elite players.

This may be a hard truth for some to swallow, but high school players look more at the NBA draft than they do coaching philosophy or the tradition of a program. They don't care what titles a team won in the forties, seventies, eighties, or nineties. So when players like Julius Randle, Anthony Davis, Nerlens Noel, Andrew Wiggins, or Jabari Parker are looking at college teams, Louisville isn't on their radar. That's why Cal's presence at the NBA draft is so important. Players take notice.

Do I have criticisms of Cal and some of his in-game decision making? Absolutely, but that is for a different post. But I am thrilled with the overall results he has garnered and I wouldn't want anyone else at the helm.

Both teams are heading into seasons with questions. But while Louisville is relying on fifth-year senior transfers to make an impact as their own brand of one and dones, Kentucky has again loaded up with a monster class to go along with some key experienced veterans to lead them. While the Wildcats look as if they will chug along, the Cardinals may experience a setback and it may be another season or two before they are looked upon as contenders once again.

So, there you have it. Both philosophies work, but I like ours much better than I like theirs.

And I didn't even have to mention the 7-1 head-to-head advantage. Whoops.