Last Monday night John Calipari coached his Kentucky Wildcats to a national championship as a result of a 69-61 victory over the Kansas Jayhawks. Calipari’s path to the title game was very similar to the 2008 season when Calipari led the Memphis Tigers to the Final Four only to fall short to the Kansas Jayhawks in the championship game. The 2008 team was fueled by Derrick Rose who left for the NBA after just one season under Calipari’s guidance.
Fast forward to this year. Kentucky’s run was fueled by a pair of would be one and done players Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist who many scouts believe will be the first two picks in the NBA draft . Calipari started three freshmen and two sophomores this season— again will bring in young superstars who only will play college ball briefly.
His in-state rival and Louisville head coach Rick Pitino said he marvels at Calipari’s ability to recruit one-year wonders, then do it all over again.
“I marvel at what John does, I couldn’t do it. I can’t say hello and goodbye in seven months. It’s just not me. I love getting to know [my players]. I feel like they’re my children, part of their life. Not that [Calipari] doesn’t feel that way about his kids. I could never do it because I just emotionally get too attached to these guys.” - Louisville head coach Rick Pitino
A lot of people like to blame Calipari and call him a cheater but he’s not doing anything wrong or anything against the rules. Furthermore, he isn’t doing anything different from what any other of college basketball’s premiere programs have done. In fact, just two weeks ago three players from the North Carolina Tar Heel’s starting line-up left school early to declare for the NBA draft. Folks, John Calipari didn’t create the system. He just works within it, doing what he needs to do to be successful.
On Sunday John Calipari had this to say about his players leaving early.
“I don’t like the rules, I want Anthony to come back next year. It’s what I really want. There’s only two solutions to it: Either I can recruit players who are not as good as the players I’m recruiting, or I can try to convince guys that should leave to stay. At the end of the day, I don’t apologize for anything we do. We had a 3.0 grade-point average last year, 2.8 last term.” – Kentucky head coach John Calipari
Some will chuckle at the notion of Calipari, who has had his brushes with NCAA law, playing by the rules. But that’s his story, and he’s sticking to it. In April of 2010, I wrote about this exact issue during Kentucky’s NCAA tournament run featuring John Wall, Brandon Knight and company. At the time, I said that A leopard never changes it’s spots and that continues to hold true.
Calipari has enjoyed a run of success by recruiting one and done players and on Monday night that recruiting strategy led the Kentucky Wildcats to a national championship trophy and in Lexington Kentucky, that’s what it’s all about.
*quotes used in this article are from the Chicago Tribune