This is what John Calipari signed up for when he decided to welcome the best high school basketball players in the country, regardless of how long they might stay in Lexington.
He signed up to have a new roster every year—a roster filled with more players raised in the AAU-get-mine-first culture than any other roster in the country.
So how’s that working out for Calipari and Big Blue Nation?
The last two seasons have produced results at opposite ends of the spectrum. A 2012 NCAA championship and a ridiculous 2013 first-round ouster at the hands of Robert Morris in the NIT—no offense intended to the Colonials.
There can be a number of ways to define success. Calipari has talked about helping kids get to the next level. Obviously, winning a national championship is a success.
By either definition, or any other that can be offered up, the 2011-12 season was a huge success for Kentucky. They not only won the national championship, but had six players drafted into the NBA.
Anthony Davis (1), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (2), Terrence Jones (18), Marquis Teague (29), Doron Lamb (42) and Darius Miller (46).
Davis, Kidd-Gilchrist and Teague left the Wildcats after only one season. Remember, this is what Calipari signed up for. Constant turnover. How did he replace them?
He replaced them with an outstanding recruiting class that had four of the top 40 players from the ESPN Top 100.
Nerlens Noel (1), Alex Poythress (13), Archie Goodwin (15) and Willie Cauley-Stein (40).
Same coach. Different players. Very different results.
Kentucky finished with a 21-12 record, and after winning the 2012 national championship did not get an invitation to this year’s big dance.
I know that the Wildcats lost their best player, Nerlens Noel, to a knee injury during the February 13 loss to Florida. They went 4-5 without him. Just keep in mind that they weren’t exactly tearing it up with him. The prevailing opinion was that Kentucky needed to beat Florida to make the NCAA tournament.
This wasn’t about talent. Kentucky had more than most of the teams they played. This was about Calipari not being able to get this year’s team to buy into playing for each other like he did with the 2011-12 team.
This is what he signed up for. It’s bad enough having to rely on college kids for your success. It’s much harder when those college kids are almost all 18- to 19-year-olds with very few 21- or 22-year-olds making serious contributions.
We’ll have to wait a little bit to see what the exodus will be like this year. The Wildcats do lose two seniors. A recent mock draft has three players taken.
Nerlens Noel (5), Willie Cauley-Stein (10) and Archie Goodwin (27). Will they all leave? Will Alex Poythress join them?
Again, a new roster next year. Again, loaded with top recruits. This one is ridiculous.
The Wildcats have commitments from six of the top 18 players in the ESPN Top 100.
Julius Randle (3), Andrew Harrison (5), James Young (6), Aaron Harrison (7), Dakari Johnson (11) and Marcus Lee (18).
Earlier I mentioned that Kentucky had two seniors this year. And there are four players considering leaving for the NBA. College teams are allowed 13 scholarship players.
As it stands right now, Kentucky has 11 scholarship players and they’re bringing in six recruits. Let me get my abacus…that adds up to 17 scholarships.
If any of the four potential NBA kids come back, there are too many players on scholarship. Calipari will have to figure out who gets their scholarship revoked. They are not four-year scholarships, they are year-to-year.
This is what was signed up for.
So, moving forward which year is more likely to happen? A long run in the NCAA tournament with a possible championship? Or, what is considered by any standard a disappointing season that ends far short of the Final Four?
I give all the credit in the world to that 2011-12 Kentucky team. They bought in and played for each other. That is so hard to pull off, as evidenced by this year’s season.
I believe we will find out this year is more likely and last season is going to be the aberration.
It’s too hard to get today’s me-first kids to buy in, especially when you have so many of them staying for just one year and thinking about positioning themselves for the NBA.
You signed up.
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