“You mean I can be a lottery pick and win a national championship?”
As if John Calipari recruits weren’t already compelled to play for him, his victory in 2012 must make Kentucky prospects wonder, “Why would I play anywhere else?” His success from a year ago will earn Calipari some bonus recruits down the road, but it served only as a confirmation for the current incoming freshman class who had committed to Kentucky long before the national championship game.
Johnny Cal and his staff have done it once again and the college basketball world is left to ask itself a very familiar question, “Did he just bring in the greatest class ever?” Before I answerer that question, let’s first take a moment to admire what Calipari has done and is currently doing.
Calipari has earned a reputation for running “pro style,” fast-paced and athletic teams. While this is true, it is the way in which he goes about instilling this style of play in his young stars that allows him to continue to set the benchmark for what great recruiting can be. Saying “we need athletic guys” is a far more flexible approach than searching for “a quick point guard” or “a dominant presence down low.”
Unlike many successful programs that identify specific players to fit their unique system, Calipari seems to model his coaching around the players who rest at the top of the high school talent pyramid. This means—aside from general athleticism—one Calipari team may differ drastically from the previous year’s installment.
For a while, Calipari was known for his dynamic point guards. Tyreke Evans, Derrick Rose and John Wall can thank him for the hundreds of millions of dollars shared between them. Some believed the slashing point guard was Calipari’s trademark. The reality of the situation was illuminated last year.
Calipari was not searching for the best high school point guards. Rather, his focus was on obtaining the best high school talent and it was only by coincidence that for a few years, it was found at the point. While it is true that he picked up 2011’s top point guard in Marquis Teague, the real jewels of the recruiting seasons were Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. It didn’t take long to realize that the focus of Kentucky’s team would be in the frontcourt.
This year, Calipari has gone ever further. Of the four incoming freshmen, not one plays the point. Kentucky’s new team will have shades of last year's crew, but don’t expect a clone.
So, getting back to the earlier question: Is this the best class ever?
It’s really a silly discussion. Comparing the recruiting process of today to that of the '70s, '80s or even '90s is impossible. For top high school talent, the process of earning a D1 scholarship seems to be starting earlier and earlier. The ability of a head coach to recruit has become as important, if not more meaningful, than his ability to actually coach. With the always-accelerating means of communication and self-promotion, the list of possible destinations for high schoolers—as well as the number of them competing for collegiate interest—has never been larger.
But it’s fun to play the game. Since when has logic interfered with sports hypotheticals? Before that debate begins, here’s a look at Kentucky’s incoming class.
Note: Along with speculative sports questions, another national pastime seems to be ranking college recruits. For the sake of consistency, all rankings were obtained from ESPN’s Recruiting Index.