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Moore Hoops: Kentucky's NBA Combine Another Stroke of John Calipari Genius

C.J. Moore@@CJMooreHoopsCollege Basketball National Lead WriterSeptember 11, 2014

Kentucky head coach John Calipari speaks to the media before the team's NCAA college basketball practice Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014, in Lexington, Ky.  He said that twin guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison have lost weight, so they're more athletic and playing faster. (AP Photo/James Crisp)
James Crisp/Associated Press

Whatever you want to believe is behind the success of John Calipari—and there are those who want to believe the worst—it's stories like the one that came out on Tuesday from Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski that prove Calipari is the best marketer in the college game.

According to Wojnarowski's league sources, "Calipari has invited officials of the 30 NBA teams to send personnel to Lexington, Ky., on Oct. 11-12 to watch his players do everything from run full-court five-on-five and NBA-style pick-and-roll sets to individual skill work."

This is so sneaky smart on so many levels.  

See, the point of the whole thing is to make Kentucky look, in the eyes of recruits, as the ideal destination to get exposure and then get paid. 

Where else can you go and get all 30 NBA teams watching you at the same time in person in October? The answer is nowhere. 

Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

Calipari will get all 30 NBA teams there, because his roster is loaded. He has more NBA talent than any team in the country. He has six players projected by DraftExpress.com to go in the top 33 picks of the 2015 draft. Four others were top-30 recruits, according to Rivals.com's rankings. Kentucky will be preseason No. 1 and the No. 1 destination for scouts this season. 

Now here's the real genius of the idea. Calipari has pretty much ensured that a gaggle of NBA scouts and executives will be in attendance, because he has declared this as the one chance they have to watch UK behind closed doors. According to Wojnarowski, Kentucky plans on not allowing NBA teams access "for the foreseeable future" once the combine ends. 

NBA teams cannot be in love with that.

The philosophy of most scouts is they want to see prospects in as many environments as possible, and practice is often the best environment to really see the attitude and work ethic of a player. Most NBA scouts are going to show up multiple times throughout the season on their terms to watch practice and/or a game.

When you're as loaded as Kentucky, that's a lot of practices with scouts on the sideline. And having scouts at practice, as you might imagine, can be a distraction for 19- and 20-year-old kids. And coaches hate distractions. 

So Calipari is not only getting rid of that distraction, which is best for his team's success, he's selling it as an event that is in the best interest of his players. He's using this two-day showcase as proof to recruits that UK truly is a player's program. Come here and every NBA team will know how talented you are. 

The reality is that NBA teams don't need this event. Watching Kentucky scrimmages this season would be more conducive to them than most games, because it'll be rare to see the 'Cats face that level of competition outside of their own practice gym.

But it's one thing to tell a recruit that and another thing for him to see a gym full of NBA folks.

Calipari's combine will be a spectacle. It is a made-for-recruits event. And it's just one more explanation for why he continues his reign as the best recruiter in college basketball.

Billy Kennedy Making Texas A&M's Administration Look Smart

Feb 1, 2014; Gainesville, FL, USA; Texas A&M Aggies head coach Billy Kennedy reacts against the Florida Gators during the first half at Stephen C. O'Connell Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

Texas A&M could be a middling SEC team again this season, but there are signs that Billy Kennedy is about to return the program to relevance. 

Kennedy opened many eyes in the last few weeks when he secured commitments from two top-40 recruits, according to Rivals.com, Tyler Davis and D.J. Hogg:

DJ Hogg  @Dj_hogg1

I am very excited and blessed to say I will be attending to the University of Texas A&M🏀🏀 #GIGEM

Davis and Hogg are both instant-impact talents. Davis is one of the most skilled big men in the 2015 class. Hogg is one of the most versatile wings. To understand the significance of securing commitments from two players that talented already, look at the company A&M joined. 

Only three other schools have commitments from multiple top-40 recruits, and according to Rivals' rankings, they are Arizona, Louisville and Duke. 

Feb 5, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Cougars forward Danuel House (23) shoots during the first half as Louisville Cardinals guard Terry Rozier (0) defends at Hofheinz Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

Kennedy has also made waves on the transfer market.

He landed former Houston guard Danuel House this summer and former SMU guard Jalen Jones in January. Jones, a junior, was SMU's leading scorer in 2012-13, and he'll be eligible at semester. House, who averaged 13.6 points per game last season, is still awaiting word from the NCAA on whether he'll receive a waiver to play his final year this upcoming season or will have to sit out a year. 

There's obviously momentum for the program, but momentum and results are two different things, and typically athletic directors at BCS programs let the results make their decisions. 

That's why it was unusual to see last week that A&M extended Kennedy's contract two seasons when he already had two seasons left. This puts Kennedy under contract through 2018. 

As I wrote earlier this summer, there's typically very little job security for a coach at a BCS school that isn't getting to the NCAA tournament. Kennedy is entering Year 4 in College Station, and he's yet to even sniff the tourney. 

The most patient BCS programs will give a coach four or five years to get to the tourney. Look at the last 10 years as proof:

  • There have been 90 new hires at BCS schools (that includes the old Big East) since 2004—not including new hires this offseason. Thirty-one of those coaches have been fired or forced to resign.
  • Out of that sample size of 90 coaches, there were 23 who either failed to reach the tournament in all of their first five seasons or didn't get to stick around long enough to have a shot. Six of those 23 lived to see a sixth season. Only one coach (Andy Kennedy at Ole Miss) survived six NCAA tourney-less seasons. 

These numbers would have been fair game when recruiting against Billy Kennedy. It makes it really hard to build when the writing is on the wall that your days as the head coach could be numbered. And it would have been easy for anyone to argue the odds were against Kennedy considering he took over a program that had been to six straight NCAA tournaments when he got there.  

Kennedy's first year at A&M wasn't exactly ideal, however. He was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson's before the season, and leading scorer Khris Middleton battled a knee injury throughout that year. Middleton then left after his junior year. So what looked like a good situation to inherit turned into more of a rebuilding project. 

On the plus side for A&M, Kennedy had proven himself as a program builder. He had four straight losing seasons at Southeastern Louisiana before winning 20 games in his fifth season and then taking his alma mater to its first NCAA tournament in school history in his sixth year. He took only four years to get Murray State to the NCAA tournament. 

Now that he has job security and talent, he'll get there eventually at A&M. Davis and Hogg are great building blocks for the program. They are the ideal recruits, two guys who aren't talented enough to leave after a year or two to go to the NBA but talented enough to be the stars on a really good NCAA tourney squad.

Kennedy's extension may not have mattered to them when they made their college choice, but it could not have hurt. 

So bravo to A&M athletic director Eric Hyman for showing patience and being part of the solution to help Kennedy get the program headed in the right direction.

Top 2015 Bigs Taking Their Time

It may just be a coincidence, but a majority of the top big men in the 2015 class have yet to commit while most of the top guards have made their choice. 

Out of the top 15 big men rated by Rivals.com, only three have committed. Thirteen of the top 19 perimeter players have already given their verbal commitments. 

This makes sense when you start to consider the schools these bigs are considering and the choices that the current big men at those schools have to make. According to DraftExpress.com's mock draft, there are 20 underclassmen post players on the board. To compare that to this past draft, nine underclassmen bigs got drafted. 

So why not wait to see who leaves early and where there's going to be playing time?

Not all of those bigs will end up declaring. And if you commit early, you could end up in a crowded frontcourt like Kentucky has this year. Both freshmen bigs Karl Towns and Trey Lyles committed early to Calipari, and it's doubtful they anticipated Willie Cauley-Stein, Dakari Johnson, Alex Poythress and Marcus Lee would all return to school. 

Here are the top 10 bigs, in my opinion, left on the board and the schools they're considering. (All players announced their final lists on Twitter unless otherwise noted.)

  1. Diamond Stone: Maryland, Duke, Wisconsin, Oklahoma State, Connecticut
  2. Caleb Swanigan: In July, Swanigan mentioned Michigan State, Indiana, Kansas, Louisville, Purdue and Kentucky to Bleacher Report. Those schools headline a lengthy list.
  3. Ivan Rabb: Arizona, California, UCLA, USC, Georgetown, North Carolina, Duke, Louisville, Kentucky and Kansas. Told Adam Zagoria he plans to trim list to five soon.
  4. Skal Labissiere: Baylor, Georgetown, Kentucky, Memphis, North Carolina and Tennessee, via Zagoria.
  5. Henry Ellenson: Marquette, Kentucky, Michigan State, via CBSSports.com.
  6. Cheick Diallo: Kansas, Kentucky, Iowa State, Pittsburgh, St. John's and Duke, via Zagsblog.com.
  7. Carlton Bragg: Arizona, Kansas, Illinois, UCLA, Kentucky
  8. Stephen Zimmerman: Arizona, Kansas, UNLV, UCLA, Kentucky, North Carolina and Indiana, via Zagoria.
  9. Elijah Thomas: SMU, LSU, Oklahoma State, Illinois, Texas A&M and UNLV.
  10. Thomas Bryant: Syracuse, Ohio State, Missouri, Kansas and Indiana, via Mike Waters of Syracuse.com.

C.J. Moore covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @CJMooreBR.

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