He's a winner.
He's a cheater.
He's a great coach.
He's everything that is wrong with college basketball.
When you talk to folks about John Calipari, you don't have to look very long or hard for someone to describe him in one of the ways above. In fact, if you talk to some people (looking at you, Bob Knight), you very well may hear all four of the above in the first sentence that comes from their mouths.
However, for all of the various—and often contradictory—ways people will describe John Calipari, there is always one constant that the Calipari fans will rave about and the Calipari detractors will loathe. But they all agree:
John Calipari is hands down the best recruiter in college basketball today.
So with the answer to the question of the game's best recruiter so obvious, the better question is why is this so. Why is John Calipari so far ahead of the field when it comes to getting 18-year-old men to sign on the dotted line?
While that is really too difficult to answer fully without writing an entire dissertation on the matter, here are a few reasons why John Calipari is the best recruiter in college basketball.
For all of the reasons you could use to explain John Calipari's recruiting prowess, perhaps the most often overlooked might also be the most important: he wins. And people should never underestimate the effect that winning has on kids and their perceptions of programs and coaches.
I'm not saying that all kids are bandwagon jumpers, and at the end of the day most players are worried about more than just playing for a winner. But there is a reason that all of New Jersey loves Duke, the Cowboys are America's Team and the Lakers are the most popular NBA team...people love winners.
And recruits are no different. So if you are a star player who can get equal playing for either John Calipari or Mark Gottfried, well, there's really no comparison. All things being equal, you are just more likely to go with the proven winner in John Calipari.
And simply put, Calipari is a winner. His teams have played in three Final Fours, are always on television and are always playing against the best competition in the country. And they are usually winning.
So before you give all of the credit to the other factors I have listed and more of your own, don't forget the biggest reason of all that can be found in the win-loss columns at the end of every season.
Aside from winning, maybe the biggest factor today's top recruits care about is getting to the NBA. And no coach in the country has done a better job the past few season of getting guys into the NBA than John Calipari.
Everybody knows about Calipari and the one-and-done player, and for good reason. In the past few seasons alone he has seen John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, DeMarcus Cousins, Tyreke Evans and Derrick Rose come into his programs and star for only one year on the way to lucrative NBA deals.
And this year you can certainly add Brandon Knight and Enes Kanter to the list of his one-year wonders. (Yes, Kanter was ineligible, but if he counts on Kentucky APR, then he counts for this too.)
However, Calipari has also been instrumental in helping veterans improve their games and get ready for the pros. Patrick Patterson greatly improved his game for the NBA under Calipari's tutelage, as did Chris Douglas-Roberts at Memphis.
And this year just might see two of his biggest improvement jobs ever make the league if DeAndre Liggins and Josh Harrellson can either hear their names called in the draft or make it via free agency. Bottom line, if you want a chance to make it in the NBA, then you really can't do any better than play under John Calipari.
I don't remember the first time I heard it and I don't even think I can define what exactly it means, but it has always stuck with me. Calipari does right by his kids.
Whether it be giving guys second chances, or more importantly not begging guys to come back that are ready for the NBA, it seems that Calipari is always looking out for the best interest of his players regardless of how it will impact his future teams or be portrayed by those outside of his program.
And over time that adds up. Players know that almost no matter what Calipari will always have their backs. And while a small thing, I don't think that many coaches have created this atmosphere to quite the level that Calipari has.
DeMarcus Cousins was a "problem player" before coming to Kentucky, but Calipari never wavered in his support of the big man. And no matter how many times Cousins may have given his detractors some ammunition to use against him, Calipari was always there to lend support and guidance even while often taking the slings and arrows from the local media.
No, Calipari isn't a saint and neither are all of his players. But he is loyal, almost to a fault, and is rewarded by the loyalty of his former players via word of mouth to younger players which usually pays dividends down the road.
Yeah, it's easy to criticize Coach Cal if you buy into the media template of him being all about Cal. But for those that truly know him, it appears that his loyalty and devotion to his team, his basketball family, trumps all.
Yeah, that's a pretty cool photo. Especially considering that LeBron James was never recruited by, nor did he ever once think about playing for, Kentucky.
And that in a nutshell is one of the things that is so special about John Calipari. Whether it be NBA guys with no affiliation to him or his school basically becoming an alumnus or Mr. Connections himself, William Wesley, Calipari seems to have a relationship with everybody who is anybody in basketball.
This was perhaps never more apparent than with the recruitment of Marquis Teague, who for the longest time was thought to be a lock to sign with Louisville. As the rumor has it all it took was a phone call or two from LeBron to Teague to change the youngster's mind and turn him from a Cardinal to a Wildcat.
And while there are those that think that sort of thing is shady and is precisely why they dislike Calipari, as long as it is legal than Calipari would be a fool to not utilize it for his advantage. And I bet there isn't a coach in America that wouldn't use LeBron's help if they could get it.
And that's the point. Other coaches don't have the connections that Calipari has. Not everybody can call in a favor from LeBron or World Wide Wes, but Calipari can.
And it's these connections and the ability to have an audience with almost anyone he wants in the hoops scene that makes Calipari an absolute nightmare for opposing coaches. Maybe it's not fair to everyone else, but in college basketball there isn't much that is.
This is only the most recent example, but I think it shows how far ahead of the rest of the field Calipari really is in the recruiting game.
With the NBA facing the very real threat of a lockout, Calipari decided that now was a good time to invite his former players back to school to work on their degree and become student managers that can work with his team or just come to Lexington to work out. In a word, genius.
What recruit wouldn't be in awe to show up on a visit and possibly see Derrick Rose and John Wall battling in a pickup game, DeMarcus Cousins throwing down a lob from Tyreke Evans on top of Patrick Patterson or any number of other amazing sights that could be going down in Lexington next year. There's no guarantee that any players will take him up on this or that it will get any recruits, but it just might work.
And that is what Calipari is always looking for, the slightest recruiting edge that he can create.
Be it this, his work with the Dominican Republic National Team or any number of other things Calipari has done in the past or will do in the future, and it all adds up to a guy with the brain always churning with new ideas to get better.
And that's not even mentioning the presence of stars such as Drake and Jay-Z hanging around the program. I mean, wow. Just wow.
Calipari is always thinking about and trying to get into the mind of younger generations, and more times than not it works. Sure, it may all be phony, but it works. And that's the whole point.
Follow Eric on Twitter @ericpaulwright.