Coach John Calipari: Innovator of One and Done Recruiting

Gene ZarnickCorrespondent IApril 25, 2011

HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 02:  Head coach John Calipari of the Kentucky Wildcats reacts from the sidelines against the Connecticut Huskies during the National Semifinal game of the 2011 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship at Reliant Stadium on April 2, 2011 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The perennial John Calipari Early Entrant Draft Declaration took place last week with Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones and DeAndre Liggans all deciding to leave school early to pursue a career in the National Basketball Association.

2011 is a down year for the NBA draft and also a down year for Calipari early entrants.  A year ago Calipari made it to the Elite Eight with a team that was centered on five freshman, all who which left early and were drafted in the first round of the NBA draft.

One thing that did change for the positive was the success in the NCAA tournament.

This team was able to make a run to the Final Four before losing to the eventual National Champions, the UConn Huskies.  Getting to the Final Four after losing five of your top players could be considered an equivalent of winning a National Championship.

As a Duke fan, I’m not used to having players leave early.

In Duke’s history there have only been nine players that have left early, including Kyrie Irving this year. 

Of those nine players, only three were freshman (Corey Maggette, Luol Deng and Kyrie Irving) and one of them was Shavlik Randolph, which if you know who Shavlik Randolph is then you probably wouldn’t consider him an early entrant, especially since he wasn’t even drafted.

For a program that consistently produces top talent and has the second most NBA players currently playing, only having nine players leave early seems minimal in an era of one and done players.

I remain loyal for my affinity for Coach K’s way of recruiting, but for any other coach, I’ve changed my opinion.

Now I believe that if you want to succeed and want to build your program while keeping your job, then recruiting a one and done player is the way to go.

The real dilemma is what your goal as a coach is.

Any coach that says that his ultimate goal is to make the young men he recruits a better person is lying.  That may be an intangible of their job, but I think we all know that winning is the real goal.

No athletic director is keeping a 0-20 coach just because his players have become good citizens.  Success is the determining factor and the only way to achieve the success is by building the program into a national powerhouse or by winning a National Championship, which then in turn, makes the program a national powerhouse.

We know what coaches have to do to keep their jobs, but how do they get there?

Continually recruiting one and done players is the answer.

Every year we look at the Rival or Scout Top 100 players, and many times we know or assume we know which players will be one and done. 

It’s not always the case, as we saw this year with Harrison Barnes, but more often than not the players that are targeted as one and done players are the ones that actually do leave in their first year and if not, their second year.

These players have a specific goal in mind as well.  The goal is to play well and to get noticed.

A coaches’ goal is program success; a players’ goal is personal success.  Finding how the two fit together is how we get both of these goals to become one.

What coaches need to do is not pretend like they can keep these recruits around.  Make it known that they have the players' best interest in mind, even if that interest is to leave the program after one year.

Programs can work this way.  Coaches will be able to recruit the blue chip talent year after year, due to the fact that if they continually have players leaving for the NBA, then not only are they showing that they produce NBA talent, but they are also creating the roster openings to allow these incoming recruits to play immediately.

Players will want to come to these programs for the same reason.

As we’ve seen from John Calipari, he has used this strategy to produce teams that make deep runs in the NCAA tournament.

No, he hasn’t been able to capture the championship yet, but would you rather have a team that gets to the Elite Eight or better every year with new incoming freshman, or a team that struggles to make the Sweet 16 for a few years and then once the players are seniors, makes a deep run that might get them a National Championship?

Building a program over a decade is no longer a consideration of a university.  If a coach doesn’t progress far enough in their first three years, then many times the coach will be let go.  It’s the state of sports that we live in now.

If being a coach means win now and win often, then focusing on a one and done recruiting strategy is the best way to achieve this success.

Maybe I never liked Coach Calipari for his recruiting strategy because I didn’t understand or appreciate it.  Maybe I’m just a purist and wanted things to stay how they were in college basketball.

Maybe Coach Calipari’s just ahead of the game and everyone needs to catch up to him.


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