The success John Calipari has been able to attain in his first year in Lexington is impressive. No one can argue with this. He has been able to exceed expectations where expectations are rarely exceeded, and has stepped up to the pressure of being the most talked about person in the Bluegrass state. The problem with Calipari is his recruiting. Problem? How can the #1 recruiting class in the country be a problem?
College basketball is unique from the NBA because talent is not the only thing that brings championships. Of course, it is a major factor, but less so than in the NBA. College basketball is about cohesiveness and teamwork. Without these integral aspects, all the talent in the world will still not allow a team to succeed in the long run. The collegiate game is true fundamental basketball. Passing, dribbling, movement, screens, defense, all the less glamorous aspects of the game, are what separates teams. To solidify this point, let us examine one of the most successful college basketball teams of the past two decades: Duke. The Mike Krzyzewski led Blue Devils have won three national championships and countless ACC titles executing the less glamorous aspects of the game better than anyone else. Sure, they have had their talented players, but much less so then some other teams of the past twenty years. Dukies often flounder in the NBA because they simply don’t have the raw skills to keep up. This is proof that it is something deeper than pure talent that drives collegiate basketball.
With the still fresh NBA by-law in place stating that a player must be at least one full year removed from high school before he enters the NBA draft, the best recruits in today’s game are the ones who five years ago would have made the jump straight to the NBA. These recruits aren’t going to college to get an education or to further develop their skills, they are going to college because they have no other choice (except go overseas, of course.) With this said, their plan is to satisfy the year requirement and enter the NBA. As a result, the coach who acquires the top recruits only benefits from a single year of productivity before the players say bye bye. This constant shifting in atmosphere in both the locker room and on the court doesn’t allow the cohesiveness and bond to develop amongst the team, and furthermore, will not lead to championships. While Calipari is spending his time and efforts recruiting players who are giving him and the school a single year of service, other coaches are getting kids who, although not as talented, will most likely be delivering four years to their respective schools. This gives the lesser recruits a chance to develop (both on and off the court), bond with the coaches, mesh with the other players, and engrain themselves into the threads of everyday university life.
Of course, this will not change the environment of collegiate recruiting. Calipari will be gunning for the best of the best next year and the year after that and so on. But, just maybe, if he focused more of his attention on garnering devoted players who don’t plan on bailing as soon as possible, he would be cutting down the nets in April instead of watching someone with a less talented squad do the same.