The movie Blue Chips was released back in 1994. As a young 12 year-old Orlando Magic fan basking in the glow of the Shaq and Penny days, it was only natural that I became a huge admirer of the film.
Featuring the pair of Orlando superstars as two-thirds of the blue-chip prospects recruited by fictional coach Pete Bell (Nick Nolte), the movie unraveled the story of a once prominent collegiate program, the fictional Western University, that had since fallen on hard times, struggling to compete in a league it had thrived in for years.
While Bell had traditionally stood by his morals of honest and fair recruiting, he slowly started to realize that he was one of the last good guys swimming in a league that had matured into a sea of scandal and vice.
Going against his ethics, he cheats, paying the risky but advantageous tab to bring in the nation’s top recruiting class in an effort to get his program back on track and appease the appetites of raging fans and the school’s bigwigs.
While the movie undoubtedly focuses the light on the NCAA’s biggest problem, fans of the film tend to focus on the thrill ride of turning a losing basketball program around with a couple of tantalizing recruits in just one summer.
Minus the scandal (more on that later), the University of Kentucky is undergoing their own Blue Chip-like scenario this offseason.
Kentucky is coming off an embarrassing year for a school rich in tradition. After losing eight of their last 11 to close the season, the Wildcats failed to qualify for the NCAA Tournament, capping off their dismal campaign with a loss to Notre Dame in the NIT.
The team fired second-year coach Billy Gillespie, and what followed next was a scene best suited for TMZ, with Gillispie fleeing from reporters as he awkwardly bobbed and weaved down school halls to avoid interrogation from the press.
Topped off with counter lawsuits between the coach and school and you have what might be considered the worst year in school history from a PR perspective.
Enter John Calipari, the smooth-talking, slick-haired player’s coach from Memphis University who not only solidified Kentucky’s coaching vacancy, but brought in a recruiting class that on paper stacks up with some of the more famous hauls in NCAA history.
For a team that ended the year on a sour note, Kentucky's not only poised for a return to prominence, but has a realistic shot at cutting down the nets next April.
Say what you want about Calipari; arrogant, obnoxious, underhanded, whatever, one thing the guy does consistently is reel in top-shelf talent and raise expectations wherever he coaches.
While Pete Bell brought in the ultimate center and point guard combo to spark his school’s turnaround, Calipari is following along the same lines with his inking of the highest-ranked prospects at the two positions.
Enter DeMarcus Cousins, the athletic and agile 6'9" power player who can dominate on the low block and draw defenders away from the basket with his perimeter game.
Cousins has NBA written all over him. He moves like a cat inside the three-point line and finishes like a bear around the rim.
His inside repertoire and long range game are reminiscent of Rasheed Wallace sans the penchant for technical fouls.
Depending on whom you’re talking to, Cousins might be the top player in the country and should immediately walk into a starting frontcourt position next season at Kentucky.
Calipari’s dribble-drive motion offense should fit Cousins’ game perfectly and getting out on the break would highlight the big man’s ability to run.
Now, if only he had a point guard to find him.
Enter John Wall, the ultra-athletic combo guard who gets in and out the lane quicker than a Ferrari.
At 6'4", Wall’s height and vision allow him to see the floor better than smaller guards. He can drive with either hand and his ability to finish inside opens creases in the defense where he consistently finds his teammates.
Ask three different people and you may get two nominations for Wall as the best player in the country. The fact that both Wall and Cousins will be in Kentucky next year means that you can’t go wrong with saying the Wildcats got the best high school player in the nation.
A big man who can shoot the three and a guard who can’t be stopped should be enough to allow any offense to flourish. But it wasn’t enough for Coach Cal.
In addition to arguably the top two prospects in the country, Calipari wasn’t done.
With Wall and Cousins possible one-and-done candidates similar to their movie counterparts, Calipari needed some stability, another foundation he could build on for the next two or three years.
Enter his second point guard-center combination in Eric Bledsoe and Daniel Orton.
The 6'1" Bledsoe and the 6'10" Orton are more traditional college recruits: solid players who will need a few years seasoning before they’re ready to shake David Stern’s hand in New York City.
Both Orton and Bledsoe are true to their positions, offering solid fundamentals and explosive play-making ability.
The duo's talent is unquestioned, but unlike their more popular classmates, they don’t have the physical traits or the name recognition that would suggest Freshman of the Year honors.
To add the cherry on the top, Calipari thought it would be nice to sprinkle in a couple of slashers. Guys who can swing between the 2 and 3 spots in a pinch and capitalize off the slots in the defense that the aforementioned recruits will likely create.
Enter 6'7" junior college transfer Darnell Dodson and local 6'6" talent Jon Hood.
Both Hood and Dodson have similar games. They’re both nice shooters who can also finish strong at the rim when given the space.
Agile and athletic, the two run the floor well and are the type of players that will eat you alive should a defense focus too heavily on others around them.
Even in Blue Chips, Pete Bell had a high-scoring holdover from the previous season. You know, the player exclusively known as “Tony” who could play with anybody but just needed “some help on the boards” as Bell’s ex-wife so eloquently suggested.
Enter Patrick Patterson, the returning junior who posted close to 18 points a game last season who will indubitably raise his NBA stock playing alongside this talented class.
Patterson had a breakout season last year, showcasing a low-post game that made him a terror in the SEC. With so much talent coming in, expect his numbers to drop but a season in the limelight should make him a household name.
In the original film, Bell and his Western squad got a chance to see where they measured up when they opened their hype-filled season at home against the No. 1 team in the nation, Indiana, led by legendary coach Bobby Knight.
Although the official polls and calendar haven’t been released yet, Calipari and his Kentucky troops will be scheduled to play the No.1 team from last year when they host UNC and their legendary coach Roy Williams at Rupp Arena.
Seems like all the stars are in place.
Big time school: Check!
Program in shambles: Check!
Pressure from outside sources to turn it around: Check!
Knock out recruiting class: Check!
Talented forward returning: Check!
Chance to open the season against a top ranked program: Double Check!
OK, so all the actors and scenarios are in place to start filming Blue Chips II.
We should hurry this along because who knows where things will end up with the recent revelations of alleged academic fraud by Derrick Rose, Calipari’s last top-tier recruit.
Accusations of a fraudulent SAT score and expenses paid for a relative of Rose during the 2007-2008 season at Memphis is sure to leave a black eye on somebody.
The NCAA has issued a letter to Calipari indicating he has not been implicated at the moment; however, continued probing into this case may lead to some larger problems.
In the original Blue Chips, Coach Bell resigned after opening night when the bevy of questions and weight of scandal was a little too heavy for his conscience.
While no one is hoping for a repeat scenario, it sure would make for a great sequel wouldn’t it?