The 2020-21 season didn’t go as planned for the Kentucky Wildcats and the 9-16 finish has Calipari reevaluating his approach.
Since he arrived at Kentucky, Calipari has always favored the long athletic players while avoiding pure shooting and overall skill in favor of potential. That strategy has worked very well in the Cal era but after last year, Cal knew he had to change.
“Now shooting is even a bigger deal than it’s been, and it’s everywhere,” Calipari said on February 4. “You’ve gotta be able to make shots. Well, the game is changing, and shooting is a premium.”
We are already seeing Calipari change his philosophy as he is filling the 2021-22 roster with shooters. Dontaie Allen is coming back, and we all know what he can do from deep. On top of that, transfer Kellan Grady, who scored over 2,000 points at Davidson, is coming to Lexington.
When you talk about changing the types of players Calipari is recruiting, 2022 4-star Nick Smith Jr fits that mold and added Kentucky to his list on February 15th.
Jack Pilgrim of Kentucky Sports Radio caught up with Smith at the MADEHoops Midwest Mania event to talk about his game, recruitment, and Kentucky.
When asked about who is recruiting him the hardest, Kentucky was one of the first schools mentioned.
“Obviously, Kentucky, Arkansas, I’ve started talking to Michigan more, Oklahoma, Georgetown, Ole Miss, pretty much the whole package. It was a lot of stuff changing, (Chris Beard’s) move to Texas from Texas Tech, Arkansas moving coaches, just a lot of things going on. I had added Kentucky, so I might as well just reopen my recruitment. I don’t want to look like a dude just seeking attention, I’m not into all that. I’m just trying to find the right fit for me.”
Smith noted that he has been in contact with Kentucky for a while (since 11th grade) building a bond with coach Cal and the assistants, but now he talks to Jai Lucas.
“I only talk to Jai Lucas right now. I’ve been knowing Jai since he came from Texas because I took a Texas visit in the 10th grade, an unofficial visit. Me and him are pretty cool, he’s a pretty cool dude. They’re very serious about their program, and I like that because I’m a very serious guy. I feel like Coach Cal just builds pros, you know what I’m saying? It’s just a great system.”
Like I mentioned earlier, Cal noted the game has changed and has since started recruiting more pure shooters and scorers. Smith saw the struggles of last season and believes he could have helped the team out.
“Not every season is going to be peaches and cream. A lot of people panicked when they saw (this season) because it is Kentucky. A lot of programs have a lot of bad seasons, and you wouldn’t even know it. If Kentucky has a bad season, you know Kentucky has a bad season. Me believing myself, knowing what they were going through, I feel like I could’ve helped that team a lot.”
Calipari has a history of recruiting players that are good kids and just want to do whatever the team needs for them to win. Smith showed he fits that description when he was asked about what position he wants to play whether that’s the one or the two.
“I’m not really worried about that, whatever the coach I’m playing for wants me to play. If it’s the one, I can play the one, I can play the one a lot. I can score the ball, I can defend, I can rebound, I can do pretty much anything a coach asks me to.”
Smith added that while he wants to take visits at some point, he doesn’t have any scheduled for this summer as he wants to focus on competing at a high level and playing with his teammates. Official visits just aren’t something he is worried about right now.
You can check out KSR’s full interview with Nick Smith Jr here.