John Calipari—love him or hate him—has the Kentucky Wildcats scaling the mountain that is college basketball. A blue chip recruit here, a one-and-done point guard there and Calipari has successfully brought one of college basketball's kingpins to the top of the mountain—well, almost.
As college football hits its stride into starting their season, college basketball can be heard starting their engines in the background.
In anticipation of basketball being a seasonal change around the corner, let's look at some reasons why the man pictured above will have his Wildcats ready to make a return trip to the Final Four.
John Calipari may have lost another superstar freshman point guard to the National Basketball Association, but he retained two of his other highly touted freshman.
Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb both look poised to return and help the Kentucky Wildcats get back to the Final Four.
Both of these cats were rumored to follow suit behind Brandon Knight as the revolving door of stud freshman continued to spin.
Instead, both Jones and Lamb passed up on bolting straight to "the association" opting to further develop their game under Calipari.
At the moment, these two sophomores made quite the astute decision to stay behind while the NBA endures their long, tumultuous lockout that has no end in sight.
Terrence Jones—the 2011 Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year—passed up on a top 10 draft pick opportunity to return and play under Calipari. Lamb also passed up on a possible first round selection.
Calipari already won a small battle for the 2011-12 season by keeping these two in Lexington.
Replacing Jones' 15.7 points and 8.8 rebound per game along with Lamb's 48.6 percent shooting from behind the arc would have proved to be a difficult task for the Wildcats.
John Wall and Demarcus Cousins kicked off the recruiting hot bed that has warmed up in recent years in Lexington.
John Calipari has been no stranger of bringing in top recruits to his different programs over the years.
During his time at UMass he recruited Marcus Camby. At Memphis he lured in one-and-done players in Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans who are both stars in the NBA now.
Two years into being the head coach for one of the most powerful programs in the country and he is two for two already. John Wall and Brandon Knight were both the top point guard coming out of high school before enrolling at Kentucky.
Both possessed the skills to make the leap straight into the NBA and both decided to do just that after their one year collegiate tour.
This year has proven to be no different for Calipari. He recruited the younger brother of Atlanta Hawks Jeff Teague—Marquis Teague—who is the top point guard in this year's crop of players. Three for three is not too shabby.
No matter the level of pedigree, every freshman will experience their highs and lows throughout the long season. Wall and Knight both learned on the fly how to be leaders come tournament time.
Calipari hopes Teague will be able to pick up where the other two left off and lead his talented squad into yet another late run in March.
Some of you might be wondering why the Kentucky Wildcats and John Calipari having the most conference games of any other school on national television is a good thing. It's pretty simple.
It's exactly what the doctor ordered.
The Wildcats only have three upperclassmen on their roster. Only one of which will see significant playing time. Even then, Darius Miller—the team's only senior—might not even start on this young team.
He played a significant part in the Final Four run during last spring, but as the sixth man.
This team needs to be baptized. A good ole cleansing of the sinful freshman tendencies will help this team reach the promised land.
There's no question about the talent on this team. The question is how will these kittens play when they go into a hostile environment and they're down by double digits. Will they keel over? Or rise to the occasion and show they have the fortitude to keep a level head?
All while being on national television.
John Calipari makes no secret about prepping his team during the season solely for the tournament. The maturation that takes place from the end of October to the beginning of March is what he hones in on.
Being under the spotlight so often should help Calipari's kids grow up a little bit faster and be primed for a deep run through March.
A school like Kentucky fields more than just a basketball team.
With no professional sports in the Commonwealth, Kentucky Wildcat basketball has become an integral part of the culture in Kentucky (unless you wear "communist red").
Seven national titles and the most wins in NCAA history tends to have a profound effect on a state.
When John Calipari replaced the malignant Billy Gillispie you could feel an entire state quake with excitement. Gillispie had been an overwhelmingly disappointing hire for the Wildcats.
Calipari seemed to be a perfect fit for a program that had fallen on dark years. Two years without a Final Four appearance seems like an eternity in Lexington. Calipari took over the program on year ten of a Final Four famine.
The man has not only lived up to expectations, but he probably even raised them, if that's even possible.
A program like Kentucky polices itself. If you are not up to standards, you will definitely hear about it. Fans, media, and alumni do not have a problem voicing their displeasure.
The Kentucky brand reigns supreme as one of the blue-bloods of the sport. Only a handful of programs can flex their basketball muscle like Kentucky.
A coach that turned two middle of the pack programs into contenders is still learning how to use the myriad of resources available to him in Lexington, including the $30 million practice facility.
Per the previous slide, John Calipari seems to have figured out just how lucrative his resources can be.
The Kentucky Wildcats have bagged the nation's top recruiting class for 2011.
His recruiting power was one feature that excited the Big Blue Nation.
According to rivals.com, the Wildcats bring in four five-star recruit into the fold for the upcoming season. All of whom could see sizable playing time throughout the season.
Marquis Teague and Mike Gilchrist headline the freshman class. Teague, a 6'2'' point guard from Indianapolis should be running the show for the Wildcats in 2011-12. Gilchrist, a 6'7'' power forward out of New Jersey will also be expected to contribute right away.
One of the major strengths that Calipari possesses is his ability to close on big time recruits. This year has been no exception as Kentucky seamlessly fills its roster voids with blue-chip freshmen.
The Kentucky Wildcats head coach has taken three different programs to the Final Four during his coaching career.
UMass Minutemen in 1996, the Memphis Tigers in 2008, and the Kentucky Wildcats in 2011 all made it to the national semifinals under Calipari.
I realize that the first two appearances have been wiped off the NCAA record books, but that doesn't mean it didn't happen.
Despite what your opinion may be about Calipari's checkered past with multiple NCAA violations from his previous two stops, you cannot deny the man can coach.
He resides on a very, very short list of coaches—violations or no violations—to ever bring three separate programs to the Final Four.
As touched upon in previous slides, the University of Kentucky provides any and every possible resource legally available by NCAA guidelines at Calipari's fingertips.
It should be noted that Calipari has not been directly linked with either of the previous violations.
Calipari's maintains a preferable habit in his profession: routinely having his team's prepared for deep tournament runs. Kentucky fans hope this nifty habit continues into the 2011-12 season.
I touched on the importance of freshman Mike Gilchrist to the Kentucky Wildcats. His addition to the Wildcats should be felt early on in the season.
Gilchrist comes to Lexington from St. Patrick in Somerdale, New Jersey as the nation's top small forward and No. 3 recruit overall, according to Rivals.com.
The 6'7'' 232 pound freshman comes in with a reputation as a high energy, slasher type.
His skill set and size should allow Gilchrist to play a variety of positions for Calipari and the Wildcats. Calipari loves to incorporate hybrid-style players into his bench rotation.
According to scout.com, the small forward can defend, compete, and is destined for "stardom."
The freshman will be able to display his range of attributes in 2011-12. Whether it be slicing through the paint and drawing a foul or spotting up from distance. He must still work on his jump shot, but that will come with time under the tutelage of the UK coaching staff.
Gilchrist will prove to be a valuable asset for Calipari as the season progresses. He comes in as another freshman wanting a chance to be a star on the national stage.
The thought that the Kentucky Wildcats have quality depth seems to be erroneous with four freshman and five sophomores on the team.
However, that's the way college basketball seems to be going.
Stockpile as many fabulous freshman as possible and throw the book at them as you try to convince them to enjoy the college lifestyle for an extra year or two.
All those millions and playing basketball as your job seems glamorous.
But come on, who wants to leave living in a dorm and eating at a cafeteria?
Seriously though, John Calipari may have a very young team, but there's no lack of talent. That is for sure. We are talking about Kentucky here. They don't recruit scrubs.
According to Ukathetics.com, the Wildcats smallest guard comes in at 6'2''.
Although they may not have any seven foot sequoia trees down low, they have Kyle Wiltjer, Terrence Jones, Anthony Davis, and Eloy Vargas all coming in at 6'9'' or taller. Vargas being the tallest at 6'11''.
Given that may not be a ton of height for Calipari, it is a variety of skill sets at the forward position.
My hunch is that Calipari will play a very aggressive defense and fast break style of game. Similar to when John Wall ran the point while he simultaneously created the only nationwide dance phenomenon to come out of Lexington since, well...ever.
Whether that hunch proves to be correct or not does not matter. Calipari has an arsenal of roster weapons at his disposal. The competition for bench rotation should be heated and only add to the quality of the substitutions to be made throughout the year.
Big Blue Nation has an affinity for basketball. The Commonwealth arguably boasts the deepest lineage of basketball talent in the country.
Including the country's only true high school championship for basketball that has no class system and only one state title, not one for each class.
Similar to the film "Hoosiers," which takes place in that other basketball crazed state. Kentuckians are raised on the purest form of basketball in the country.
David could face Goliath any year in the tournament.
You might be asking, what in the world does any of that have to do with Kentucky Wildcat basketball?
Well, I'm glad you asked. It has everything to do with the Wildcats. For starters, the tournament is hosted at Rupp Arena.
It draws over 100,000 spectators during the week long tournament and pending on the teams, sells out for the final game.
That's right, over 22,000 people come from all over Kentucky to see a high school basketball state championship. Kentucky takes its basketball pretty darn seriously. Its up there with thoroughbreds and bourbon.
Basketball is not simply a sport in Kentucky. It's bragging rights, a way of life, and basically religion.
Many of those 100,000 spectators that file into Rupp Arena to watch the state's best high school players wear Kentucky blue during the college basketball season.
Big Blue Nation turns up in force all over the country. Away games seem to be a little friendlier for the Cats due to their well traveled fan base. People from the Commonwealth live for Kentucky basketball.
Kentucky worships Big Blue with every ounce of its being and Rupp Arena is the basketball cathedral in which they display their devotion. If you don't believe me, John Calipari has yet to lose a home game in his two years as the Wildcats head coach.
The Kentucky Wildcats are favored to make a return trip to the Final Four in 2011-12.
Most of the college basketball pundits have the Cats dancing their way down Bourbon Street for the site of the 2012 Final Four.
As fans enjoyed the Cinderella feel to last year's Final Four, the 2011-12 preseason favorites tell a different story.
The Duke Blue Devils, North Carolina Tar Heels, defending national champions Connecticut Huskies, and Kansas Jayhawks have all been tipped as preseason contenders.
The blue-bloods of the sport field strong teams with returning stars and have promising freshmen coming in. Kentucky is no different.
As a Final Four participant last March, the Wildcats will look to continue that momentum this season. It's never a bad thing to be a preseason favorite.
John Calipari is the best reason John Calipari will bring the Kentucky Wildcats back to the Final Four in the 2011-12 season.
The Wildcats head coach has recorded an impressive 64-12 record during his time in Lexington.
None of those 12 losses occurred in Lexington either.
Calipari has proven he can get his young, immensely talented youngsters ready for tournament time. He prepares them during the difficult SEC schedule throughout the year and the SEC tournament.
Being Kentucky means you get everyone's best shot, every game.
Kentucky's head coach signed a two-year extension during the offseason extending his contract until the 2018-19 season. The new contract increases his payments to an astounding $36.5 million from $31.65 million over the life of the deal.
Calipari has embraced everything about his opportunity at Kentucky thus far, including a chance to stay longer. He clearly plans on returning this program back to being the king of the mountain and has all the tools in place to do so.