Kentucky Wildcats Basketball

Two World Champs and an MVP Later ...

LEXINGTON, KY - FEBRUARY 13:  John Wall #11 of the Kentucky Wilcats drives during the SEC game against the Tennessee Volunteers on February 13, 2010 at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Derek PooreContributor IFebruary 26, 2010

In the 2010 season of University of Kentucky basketball, Magic Johnson and LeBron James have both helped spell KENTUCKY during the second half of a game at Rupp Arena in Lexington.

Ben Roethlisberger has paid the Wildcats a visit. And Ashley Judd has reprised her role as UK's No. 1 celebrity fan.

Critics of John Calipari -- who say he taints college programs with bad apples and dirty recruiting tricks -- can't fault him for bringing sports' royalty to Lexington, helping prove that UK is once again the Mother Church of College Basketball.

Aside from Judd, LeBron, Magic and Big Ben would not have paid Rupp Arena a visit during the Billy Gillispie era and they probably wouldn't have under Tubby Smith, either. 

Imagine what a recruit might think, turning on ESPN in prime time to see a two-time Super Bowl winner and an NBA legend just hanging out.

Having John Wall lob alley-oop passes to DeMarcus Cousins on SportsCenter will likely grab a recruit's eye. But no high school player now will ever play with the two of them unless it's in the NBA -- both will be lottery picks this summer.

Calipari has had to not only rebuild a team depleted by a coaching meltdown but also reconstruct its storied history. Four of its NCAA titles were won in the 1940s and 50s. Until Rick Pitino's Final Four runs and national title during the 1990s, UK had not enjoyed similar success since winning the NCAA title in 1978.

Today's top recruits were in preschool the last time Kentucky was in a Final Four. The program in Lexington had not lived up to its legacy as North Carolina, UConn, Duke and Michigan State won national titles in the 12 years since UK last cut down the nets.

Recruiting is more time-consuming on college coaches than preparing for games. So having LeBron courtside doesn't hurt.

Sounds like a perfectly executed marketing plan to me.

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