Kentucky Basketball: 10 Reasons Recruits Love John Calipari

Adam B. Weinberger@@Adam_WeinbergerCorrespondent IIAugust 27, 2012

Kentucky Basketball: 10 Reasons Recruits Love John Calipari

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    Recruits love John Calipari, and Kentucky basketball owes its 2012 National Championship to this fact. They will proceed to do the same for every major accomplishment in the near future.

    Calipari is a great college basketball coach and recruiter for many reasons. The three underlying ones are: (A) He challenges his players (B) He sincerely cares about them and (C) He offers success at every level. 

    With the basics in mind, here are the top-10 reasons recruits love John Calipari. 

10. He’s Confident, but Honest

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    Nobody will ever accuse John Calipari of modesty. Then again, what place does modesty have in the life of college basketball’s flavor of the decade?

    Calipari’s confidence is not one of narcissism. He is confident in his players and his team. When top recruits begin the process of selecting their college institution, they do not want to hear things like, “We’re going to take it one day at a time and see where we stack up.”

    Rather, high school stars are comforted when they hear the head coach confidently proclaim, “I’m going to have a good team again,” as Calipari did in this interview with ESPN’s Andy Katz.

    Yet, Calipari’s outlook heading into every season is far from blind optimism. You’ll notice in the above interview that when asked how the 2012-13 team will compare with its predecessor, Calipari responded appropriately.

    Are they going to be as good a team as we just had? I don’t know. We weren’t very good early in the year last year, if you remember… and by the end of the year we were, like, really good. This year’s team is going to have to do the same.

    In some ways, this creates an immediate challenge for the incoming class. Are they good? Yes. Are they going to expect to win every game? Surely. But will they best the accomplishments of previously great efforts? That will have to be taken one game at a time. 

9. The Calipari Charmi

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    Fans and the media often make the error of believing that the televised press conference coach parallels the one not seen during practices and in the locker room.

    There’s a reason Bill Belichick and Gregg Popovich give dry, awkwardly robotic answers to questions, and their records speak for themselves. What’s the reason? Well...that’s something the players are better prepared to answer.  

    Still, there’s something to be said when one is as charming and candid as Calipari.

    For many players, especially young ones who are too naïve to see the appeal of the stoic breed, an upbeat coach is somehow representative of the overall feel of a program. How could someone not be drawn to play for Calipari after seeing interviews like this (from Blue Nation Blog)?

    Did you catch that? He could hear the spit. 

8. The Chance to Get Learned

3 of 10 has created a detailed John Calipari Book Club. Apparently, in addition to hunting down the country’s best high school talent, Calipari likes to do the same with its best biographical, non-fiction and self-help literature.

    Honestly, who doesn’t get bored of the same old basketball talk all day long? Discussing the life of Thomas Merton and key turning points of the Civil War come as a refreshing change of pace.

    Everyone knows Coach Cal’s got the charm, the pasty whites and the belly laugh of a jovial drunk, but who’d of thought he was so well read? I guess some people can have it all.

7. Unconditional Support

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    John Calipari, more so than any other college basketball coach, wholeheartedly embraces the game and personality of each one of his players. And in return, the students seem perfectly content with whatever their role may be with the team.

    Let’s go back to the interview from Slide 2. When Andy Katz brought up Anthony Davis with regards to Nerlens Noel, Calipari could have easily said something like, “Nerlens can be just as good, if not better.” He could have also sidestepped and responded with, “that’s last year and this is now.”

    Calipari did neither. Instead, he used this as an opportunity to stress one of his core basketball beliefs. “It’s not fair to have any player compared to another,” said Calipari. “Just be you, and be a better version of you. And that’s all I tell every kid I recruit.” 

6. Immediate Impacts Are Possible and Expected

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    Calipari plays his best players.

    It sounds like a “no duh” statement, but it’s a concept that is far from universal in the world of college basketball.

    This is not to say ideas of “flow” and “meshing” are tossed aside. However, Calipari knows that chemistry is only as potent as what appears on the scoreboard. All his decisions are made to make that key element as convincing as possible.

    Want proof (not that you need it after last season)? Look no further than what Calipari told ESPN’s Andy Katz in this interview.

    We’re young every year. I mean, we’re going to end up starting three, maybe four freshmen again. But there’s no excuses. We don’t have excuses. This is who we are. This is how young we are. 


5. Every Opportunity to Score

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    This is an extension of the previous slide. The ability of incoming freshmen to make an immediate impact is not just about sheer playing time. They can thrive due to a coaching philosophy.

    Calipari doesn’t have a traditional “system” per se (see next slide), but he does have an overall game plan. And that game plan is as elementary as they come: If you’re open, SHOOT!

    Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist were the first two selections in the 2012 NBA draft, yet they took the fourth and fifth most shots on the team respectively.  

    It’s very easy to grant your entire team a universal “go ahead” when they are all capable scorers. Not all—or for that matter, any other—colleges have the talent for such a luxury.

    It takes a very special kind of program to lure in a No. 40 prospect. Many of these high schoolers are looking for the school that will provide them with the best opportunity to make it as a pro. If there was any suggestion that being the third or fourth best player in a recruiting class would correspond with a secondary scoring role, well, you can be sure they’d be going elsewhere. 

4. Developing Players Is Calipari’s Ultimate Pride and Joy

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    More John Calipari interviewing gems…

    In this one with the PTI guys, Calipari explains, “If at the end of the day, I have a chance, when it’s said and done and I’m finished, to change the lives of 70 families… This here, truly, you are impacting people.”

    It’s not about the winning. It’s not about creating an NBA loading dock. And it’s certainly not about increasing his reputation. The reason Calipari coaches basketball, like all greats at the collegiate level, is about establishing lifelong relationships with his great players and, ultimately, seeing them thrive.

    There are players coaches, and then there’s Calipari. 

3. Won’t Be Just a System Clog

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    Calipari does not find players to fit his system. He finds a system to fit his players.

    We’ve seen him use point guards in featured roles and, last year, it was largely about the big men. The 2012 season looks to be akin to the latter.

    Calipari has long been a fan of the “dribble drive penetration” approach on offense, although that is about as general and dynamic as you can get while still being considered a “system.” Calipari explained his flexibility a few years back in an interview with ESPN U on College Basketball Signing Day.

    You can play this thing different ways. One of the things you can play is you play it with two guys, with one of the big guys trailing the other guy running to the rim. So, I’ve always geared this to the personnel that I’ve had. But you can do this with two big guys.  

    Earlier in the month, I wrote about the exciting possibility of Calipari implementing two seven-footers in Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein in the starting rotation. You can be sure he was not actively seeking such a duo. 

2. Success at the Collegiate Level

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    When you consider what John Calipari programs have accomplished, this reason really should have been perfectly valid a year ago. However, as much as it may define common sensibilities, one can never be known as a true “winner” until he or she finishes the season at the very top.

    The criticism of Calipari and, by association, his players, was that NBA stock received a higher priority than college accomplishments. It was a silly concept, but now it is no more.

    The fact is, Calipari wins. He has hit the 29-win mark in each of the last seven seasons. Recruits know they will be in the championship discussion for as long as they remain with Calipari. 

1. NBA Future

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    I’ll admit it; I feel the same way about the conclusion to this list as I do every time I see “Like a Rolling Stone” or “Stairway to Heaven” atop somebody’s greatest songs ranking. But in the case of this article, as well as the music analogy, the reason for the predictability is truth.

    No other college coach can offer such a beautifully paved road to the NBA draft.

    Once his players actually make it to the draft, things are no longer in Calipari’s hands. He becomes nothing more than a form of support, which ties back into the whole idea of establishing relationships with players and their families. You can be sure, that he will always be there to give it.