"If you come after one of my players, I come after you twice as hard. If you kill one of mine, I burn your village. It’s the Italian in me. I’m not proud of that, but it’s who I am."- John Calipari
There was much ado over part two of John Calipari's State of the Program Manifesto. While on the surface the article seemed like a call to recruiting and a vision of what the program will be in the future. But if one were to dig a little deeper, and not by much, a gigantic shot at the Duke Blue Devils appears in not-so-subtle language.
Over the past few seasons, Duke has become the main rival of the Kentucky Wildcats on the court and in the recruiting world. Both teams can boast about Hall of Fame Coaches, top recruiting classes, recent championships, and college basketball pedigrees rivaled by none.
But it hasn't always been this way. Not entirely. While Duke and Kentucky have always maintained a healthy rivalry that dates back to "The Shot", the two programs held onto different philosophies when it came to recruiting. Mike Krzyzewski opted for players that would stick around for three-to-four years while John Calipari focused on the one-and-done caliber players that were super talented and looked at college as a short-term stop en route to the NBA.
But that all changed when Coach K recruited and landed Kyrie Irving. Irving was a top five rated recruit and was destined to go in the top 10 of the NBA draft. After a stellar but injury-filled freshman season, Irving bolted from Duke and ended up being the number one overall draft pick to the Cleveland Cavaliers. After Irving, the floodgates opened for coach K as he recruited a slew of one-and-dones, including Austin Rivers, Jabari Parker, and most recently Brandon Ingram. Duke won a national title in 2015 with one-and-done players Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow, and Tyus Jones.
At this point the narrative had changed. Before Duke's acceptance of the one-and-done modle, John Calipari was ruining college basketball. Cal was marching college basketball straight to its death. Not only was Cal ruining college basketball, he was ruining the tradition at Kentucky. But that was all before Duke won the title with uber talented NBA bound freshman in 2015.Go ahead and Google "Coach K Ruining College Basketball". You'll get nothing. Google "John Calipari Ruining College Basketball" and you get numerous articles criticizing Cal and his system at Kentucky.
And that's just one of the many reasons that Cal dropped this bomb directed specifically at Duke and Mike Krzyzewski:
I refuse to go in a home and paint a picture saying things like, "If you come with us you’ll be taken care of for the rest of your life by the program and by our alums" even though you may only be in school for a year or two. How preposterous does that sound? What if I say that same thing and the young man decides to transfer for one reason or another? Does that still hold true that we’re going to take care of them the rest of their lives? Our approach is to give them the fishing rod and the lures to help them catch fish, not to just give you the fish.
Now that K and Cal are in the living rooms of the same high school players, the stakes have been raised. There have been rumblings of Duke using negative recruiting against Kentucky. Here, John Calipari is fighting back.
Did you catch the Derryck Thornton dig? "What if I say that same thing and the young mad decides to transfer for one reason or another?" Yeah, that one. Coach K and Jeff Caple tout the line, "Once a Blue Devil, always a Blue Devil. We will always take care of you. We are family" Then what about Thornton? Is he still going to be taken care of now that he is transferring on his own volition or against his will?
Not only is this line directed at Duke, Coach K, Jeff Caple, and Derryck Thornton, you can also make this case that this is also directed at Marques Bolden, the prized 2016 center that Duke and Kentucky are vying for in their latest battle. Cal even states in his article, "I say all this with recruiting not quite finished".
This is John Calipari. He needs someone to go after like he needs air to breathe. It's what gets him up in the morning. For a longtime it was RIck Pitino. It was Players First vs. L1C4. But Cal has dominated Pitino on and off the court. It's no longer a rivalry. The digs at Louisville have become few and far between. Now Cal is focusing on K.
Duke and Kentucky are the gold standard in college basketball and now the programs are once again in heated battle.The Wildcats bested the Blue Devils in their latest tilt on the court, but the fight rages in the world of recruiting. Bolden is just the latest recruit that the two are fighting over head to head. There will be more in the years to come. And win or lose with Bolden, Calipari will not slow down.
He can't help it, it's the Italian in him.