College Basketball: Why Are Duke and UNC Losing to Kentucky in Recruiting Game?

Liz Youngblood@@lizyoungmoneyContributor IIIApril 11, 2017

College Basketball: Why Are Duke and UNC Losing to Kentucky in Recruiting Game?

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    It is no secret. The Kentucky Wildcats have had a top-two recruiting class four years in a row.

    In 2010, the team landed John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins. Not to mention Eric Bledsoe and Daniel Orton.

    In 2011, the recruits kept pouring in, sending Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb to Lexington.

    Then, to top it off in 2012, the Wildcats landed the trifecta of Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague.

    So how do they do it? And why haven't tradition-rich schools like the North Carolina Tar Heels or Duke Blue Devils had as much success?

    Does Coach John Calipari have a magic recruiting potion that he swigs anytime he's on the road? Well, possibly, but that's not really worth analyzing.

    Other factors, however, are. Let's take a look at why Kentucky always seems to have the best recruiting class, leaving other powerhouse programs to scrounge for crumbs.

John Calipari

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    Say what you will about John Calipari's voided Final Four appearances and NCAA investigations—the guy can recruit.

    Calipari has a fail-safe, electrifying pitch that he must practice in front of a mirror daily. How else would he have been able to secure three straight No. 1 recruiting classes, followed by the No. 2 class this year?

    No one knows exactly what Calipari says to recruits, but at this point I would guess that his name speaks for itself. He would likely just be able to plop himself down on a recruit's couch, point to pictures of Derrick Rose, John Wall and Anthony Davis and hand him a pen.

    Recruits are not just scrambling to commit to Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats, they are enlisting other high school stars to join them. What more could a coach ask for?

    Roy Williams and Mike Krzyzewski are historically great coaches with a long record of developing great players. But they simply do not hold a candle to Calipari.

    Maybe there is just something about their style when pitching their university to kids, or perhaps it is daunting to play for a legendary coach. 

    My guess? Calipari simply exudes some sort of charisma that is unrivaled by his peers. You can see flashes of it in press conferences and any time he addresses Kentucky fans. He's different. He's so excited it's almost goofy. But somehow that works.

    Keep practicing that speech, John!

Recent Success

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    Until this year, the only thing opposing coaches and recruits could fault John Calipari for was that he had not yet won a national championship.

    Not anymore.

    In losing just two games all season (only one regular season game) and blitzing through the NCAA men’s basketball tournament field, the Kentucky Wildcats proved that with the most talent and the good coaching, age did not matter in college basketball.

    Since he arrived in Lexington three years ago, Calipari has continually built on his teams’ postseason success. In his first year he reached the Elite Eight, the next year his team surprised everyone by advancing to the Final Four and, well, you know what happened this year.

    Now Calipari will no longer be dogged by critics claiming his style of basketball will never win. He can promise recruits that he has already won a championship and will win a few more before his time is up.

    While traditional powers like the Duke Blue Devils and North Carolina Tar Heels have had much success in recent years, very little can compare to the turnaround Calipari engineered at Kentucky.

    Furthermore, Calipari can say that he won a championship with freshman playing starring roles, encouraging recruits that the Wildcats will rarely, if ever, face the dreaded “rebuilding year” that schools like North Carolina and Duke must sometimes overcome.

Dribble-Drive Offense

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    Five-star recruits coming out of high school who are being recruited by big-time programs are most likely used to being a star.

    These players have a high (sometimes inflated) opinion of their athletic abilities and have spent the past four years breaking ankles and dunking on inferior competition.

    When they get to college, these recruits do not expect much to change. Most of all, they still want the green light to take their man one-on-one and create some highlight reel plays.

    Once again, John Calipari has the answer. His dribble-drive offense takes everything that young players yearn to do and harnesses them in an effective, exciting offense.

    Players who play for the Kentucky Wildcats are told that they must be able to drive on their defender because that is the essence of the team’s offense.

    Four players are spread out wide and, at any chance they get, look to penetrate and either finish at the rim, kick the ball out to an open teammate for a three or look for a big man or cutting wing underneath.

    Many longer-tenured coaches favor a more under-control, and sometimes slower, approach, which can fail to showcase a player’s skills.

    Take the case of Rajon Rondo’s college career. He played for Tubby Smith at Kentucky but was bogged down in a methodical, run-the-offense game plan, which did not allow his passing skills or open-court prowess to shine.

    Everyone saw John Wall fly into the lane and convert ridiculous layups, Terrence Jones work inside-outside anytime he wanted to and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist leave defenders open-mouthed when he got the ball on a fast-break.

    Every high school kid in America wants an offense in which they can be the star. Calipari’s dribble-drive offense allows every player to do so.


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    Yes, North Carolina and Duke have great fans. So does Indiana.

    If I were a stud college basketball player, there is nowhere I would rather play than Rupp Arena.

    Yes, I’m biased. But who isn’t?

    The fans are clinically insane, and they know their basketball. Not only will grown men wear unibrow masks, but they will be able to tell you how many blocks Anthony Davis had in his past three games.

    They understand the dribble-drive (sometimes better than a few of the freshman) and will cheer for players until they are hoarse.

    Fans of other college basketball teams are loud and raucous and into the game, but not in the same way that Kentucky Wildcats fans are.

    Basketball players will be instantly adored and become celebrities in the surprisingly small town of Lexington.

    And when a player becomes a member of the Kentucky fan favorites, he has a golden ticket for life. Players like Darius Miller, who stuck around for four years; Chuck Hayes, who convinced every Kentucky fan that he would be a great NBA player (and they were right); and Jeff Sheppard, who did just about anything asked of him, have all earned a spot in Kentucky lore.

    Bias or not, Rupp Arena is a pretty great place to play.

NBA Lure

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    The vast majority of high school basketball players are thinking of one thing and one thing only: money. Or maybe two things: money and fame.

    Either way, the path to their dream life starts in college, but it ends in the NBA.

    And for these kids who cannot wait to start their new life complete with Lamborghinis, mansions and all the bling they could ask for, waiting for three or four years seems like an eternity. They want the NBA and they want it now.

    So which program are these kids going to choose to get their college “education"? The one whose most recent one-and-done selection was Marvin Williams?

    Or the one that recently broke a record by having five first-round NBA draft selections and makes a habit of sending freshman into the NBA with the first overall pick? 

    I thought so.

    Yes, Duke might give players a better education and even a more well-rounded game. But Derrick Rose, John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Brandon Knight have proved that players who play for John Calipari can excel in the NBA. 

    High school seniors, at just 18 years old, are thinking about very little other than getting drafted and becoming an instant millionaire. 

    And right now, playing at Kentucky for one year is the quickest way to achieve that goal.