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Don’t panic over recruiting misses, but John Calipari needs to change his approach

Kentucky can still have a special 2019 class, but Cal needs to change his recruiting approach going forward.

Calipari Sea of Blue

Big Blue Nation has been up in arms over John Calipari’s recent recruiting woes.

However, I don’t think it’s necessary for BBN to panic….yet. Coach Cal is still bringing in elite level talent, and this talent can and will compete for Final Fours.

But let’s be real, the best Calipari teams have had top 5 talents and potential #1 NBA Draft picks. In this realm, Calipari is certainly in a slump.

How can he fix it?

Calipari still possesses his “Swaggy Cal” demeanor. He’s still a Hall of Fame coach. He’s still the coach that has produced multiple #1 NBA Draft picks. And Cal is still the coach that has the most current NBA players out of any collegiate coach. He is smooth, he is charismatic, he is a marketing guru - none of that needs to change.

Cal, however, needs to update his offensive scheme, and this needs to happen ASAP. Coach K was able to bring in Zion, Reddish, and Barrett because he sold them on the Golden State Warriors model of offense. This includes spacing, driving lanes, ball movement, and getting up shots.

The Warriors have All-Stars in Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green. They do this because they each get shots, they space the floor for each other, and they have the spacing for drives and dunks. Coach K has the best sales pitch in the game right now: “Come play for me with other studs and we’ll look like the Warriors.”

Unfortunately for Calipari, his pitch seems to pale in comparison to Coach K. Calipari’s offense is much more stagnant, much less spacing-oriented, and far less appealing to elite players. If you watch UK film from this season and from 4 seasons ago, you’ll see the same offensive sets and patterns. This shouldn’t be the case anymore, IF you want to bring in elite talent in groves, such as what Coach K did with this freshman class.

Golden State loves to use ball-screens, and so does Calipari. But whereas the Warriors will “pick and pop” with “positionless” players such as Draymond and KD, Calipari uses Richards and Travis in traditional pick-and-roll situations. It’s not as appealing for players as the pick-and-pop, and it’s much easier to guard.

It’s really difficult to space the floor and open driving lanes if players like Nick Richards are clogging up the paint. Calipari makes this worse by playing combinations such as Richards with Reid Travis, Richards with PJ Washington, or Reid with PJ.

That doesn’t mean UK can’t be successful winning games — I’m not arguing that. But I am asserting that potential recruits don’t want to play in a traditional high-low offense, or an offense that looks to use a power forward combined with a center. It’s outdated and unappealing.

Calipari’s “troubles” in recruiting aren’t nearly as bad as what BBN thinks, especially since they’re still in the running for top-10 recruits like Jaden McDaniels and Matthew Hurt. If Kentucky were to land both of them, they go right back to having a class that finishes No. 1 or 2 in the class rankings. That could also mean Kentucky gets four top-10 recruits in 2019 since Tyrese Maxey and Kahlil Whitney are both already in that range in most recruiting services.

But now that more schools are recruiting one-and-dones (Duke, Kansas, UNC, Villanova, Mich St, etc), Calipari is going to need to find a new avenue to gain an advantage. His first step, change his offense. Adopt a more modern approach to spacing, perimeter shooting, and actual positionless basketball as he advertises (Nick Richards, sorry).

Sell recruits on playing like the Warriors, the Celtics, the Rockets. These modern offenses are what is appealing to recruits in 2018.