Ten: No, it’s not the attendance for a University of Louisville Football game. It’s the number of 5-Star recruits John Calipari has signed in his one year as the Head Coach for the University of Kentucky Men’s Basketball Team. Coach K has signed ten 5-Star recruits as well…since 2004. In just one year, the Kentucky Wildcats have gone from the “Drink and Drive” to the “Dribble Drive”—a switch that has taken them from a #4 seed in the NIT to a #1 seed in the Big Dance. This remarkable turnaround has fans in Lexington buzzing with excitement to reach the cru de gra—their 8th National title. But UK fans and college basketball fans alike need to realize there is so much more at stake—a historical run seen only by the likes of John Wooden.
The knock on John Calipari has always been this: “Great Recruiter. Can’t coach.” However, almost astonishingly, under John Calipari, Memphis had only one Top 5 recruiting class, and that was the 4thranked class that included Derek Rose. His recruiting resume at Memphis isn’t nearly as impressive as one might expect. Yet he continued to churn out 30 win seasons and deep tournament runs. Clearly, there is an “X-factor” there. John Calipari’s ability to win games is not a direct correlation with his ability to recruit. He can coach and coach well.
Taking over for Billy Gillespie’s squad that included, well…Patrick Patterson, he was able to bring in an entire group of All-SEC caliber players. In a tournament in which the giants fell early, Kentucky lost to a West Virginia team that many thought should have been a one seed in the Elite Eight. After Jodie Meeks left for the NBA, John Calipari was left with no pure shooters, which eventually cost them a spot in the Final Four. But now that John Calipari is able to bring in his own team, shooting is no longer a weakness and Kentucky no longer has a glaring weakness, which should be the case in 2010 and until Calipari leaves Kentucky.
Given that John Calipari is essentially able to go down a wish list and hand pick his recruits without putting much effort in that whole recruiting process, Kentucky will load up on talent more so than any team in history. Kentucky has snatched up the #1 Recruiting class in 2009 and 2010, and that seems like it will be a pattern. Kentucky has already received a verbal commitment from the #1 overall prospect for 2011 Michael Gilchrist (comparisons range from Kobe Bryant to Kevin Durant) and top 2011 PG and #2 Overall player Marquis Teague. Not only that, but Kentucky sits atop the lists for #8 Overall Quincy Miller (PF), #10 Overall Michael Chandler (C) and #25 Overall Tony Wroten Jr. (G). All of which are 5-stars.
The talent flowing into and coming out of Kentucky is unlike any we have ever seen in the history of college basketball. They are perhaps about to have the best draft class from any college in history (you know its good when you’ve got a guy who came off the bench for you projected top 20) and all signs point to them having the best recruiting class of all time in 2011. Great players? Check. Great coach? Check. Great fans? Check. Kentucky is putting the whole package together. As the next 20 years looks very bright for Kentucky, it looks very bleak for all of the other top teams out there. As UCLA sits at 11 titles and Kentucky sits on seven, I can only think of the Satchel Paige quote that must haunt UCLA fans at night:
“Don’t look back—something might be gaining on you”