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Drinking Cal-Aid?

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Post  Carolina Kat on Sat Mar 01, 2014 4:30 am



Following last night’s embarrassing loss to Arkansas (really no other way to put it), I tried to digest it, find a silver lining and move on. I woke up today expecting to do just that, but the more I thought about that loss, and this season as a whole, the more angry I became. Angry, first, at players who don’t seem to enjoy playing together. The “offense”, an endearing term that would make James Naismith roll over in his grave if he knew I was calling what UK tries to run “offense” is a mess, and the defense from the front court is nothing short of an attempt to imitate wearing shoes made of concrete. Yeah, I was angry at a bunch of freshman who can’t seem to understand the sheer will and non-stop aggression, focus and hard work it takes to win at Kentucky, let alone the Division 1 level.

I was mad at those freshman until I started reading Coach Calipari’s post game comments. There he was, after another loss at Rupp Arena (mind you, we were one Randle putback from losing 3 straight at home), trying to downplay the various factors that caused us to lose. Calipari said a couple players quit (they did), but he also said some questionable things. He said he wasn’t worried about the free throws…a mere 15 minutes after his team shot 11-22 from the line while his opponent was a perfect 16-16. You’re saying free throws matter more to an unranked Arkansas team who was 7-7 in the SEC than they do to a team that started the season as the #1 team in the nation? Second, he said some guys played too long and were gassed, and that he was trying to make them understand they need to sub themselves out. Wait, what? What exactly are we paying Calipari to do on the sidelines? If the head coach isn’t subbing his players in and out based on their conditioning, who is?

So, my anger transferred; it transferred from the freshman who don’t want to, and at this point it is clear they never will, play together and are instead setting their eyes on their draft stock (It has become commonplace for various blogs and news organizations to post Chad Ford’s updated 2014 NBA Draft after each game – don’t think the players don’t know where they stand). Instead, I am angry at the car salesman of a coach who doesn’t want to own up to his team’s bad play of the last two years, and more importantly, his insistence that his way of recruiting is only done by UK because no one else can do it, and that this system we have in place – a basketball factory that plucks 5 star guys out of the AAU circuit for a few months (we’re lucky to make it to double digit months with most of these players) and then ship them onto the NBA, works. So, I’ve stopped drinking Calipari’s Kool-Aid. I’m not asking you to, but hear me out. Maybe it will start to taste a little old to you too.

Let’s tackle the first argument that is spouted by Calipari himself, and one that fans love to use when explaining why UK gets so many 5 star recruits:

“Every team recruits these guys, but only UK manages to get them all”

Well, yes that is true. Taken in the literal sense, EVERY Division 1 team is recruiting these 5 star guys to play at their respective schools. It is the cliche story you hear of “Player X has 6 garbage bags full of letters from every school in America”. The truth is, however, that when these guys whittle down their choice of schools to the final 3 or 4, the only common school they usually share is UK. Kentucky is the only school that tries to hoard every 5 star, specifically, the #1 or #2 guy at each position, every year like they are the last sources of water on the planet after the apocalypse. If you look at the final choices of players who chose UK, those schools shared mutual interest with the player. So sure, you could argue that at the start of Player X’s recruitment, our biggest competitors (UNC, KU, MSU) were recruiting the same guys as UK. You could also say that about Louisville, Washington, UCLA, Nevada, Wichite State, Butler, Virginia etc. etc. etc. The list goes on. Let’s take a look at the players UK has successfully signed the past two years and the final schools they spurned for Kentucky:

Archie Goodwin – (Kansas, Georgetown, UCONN, Arkansas)

Alex Poythress – (Memphis, Florida, Vandy)

Willie Cauley-Stein – (Alabama)

Nerlens Noel – (Georgetown, Syracuse)

Harrison Twins – (SMU, Maryland)

Julius Randle – (Texas, Kansas, Florida)

James Young – (Michigan State, Syracuse, Kansas)

Dakari Johnson – (Syracuse, Georgetown)

Marcus Lee – (Cal-Berkeley)

Over the past two years, our biggest competition for recruits has been Kansas (3), Georgetown (3), Florida (2) and Syracuse (3). Instead, UK was able to sign 10 guys, lose to Robert Morris in the 1st round, and it is yet to be determined what happens this year. (My opinion? Sweet 16). Why does Calipari continue to say “every college recruits these guys”? It’s blatantly not true, and it flies in the face of logic. The only team recruiting all these guys is Kentucky. We are getting them all – and losing.

Next, let’s look at another favorite argument of Big Blue Nation. This one has to do with Calipari’s style of “one and done” recruiting, and it goes like this:

“Well, we only recruit the best! Why recruit lesser players? Talent beats experience with 5 stars!”

Um, no. It doesn’t. Yeah, it did in 2012 (more on that later), but we weren’t playing 7 freshman in a rotation. I decided to look at the top 3 scorers from the opposing team in each of Kentucky’s losses. Shall we?

Michigan State

Keith Appling (4-star) (Senior) – 22 points

Gary Harris (5-star) (Sophomore) – 20 points

Adreine Payne (5-star) (Senior) – 15 points


Kenny Cherry (2-star) (Junior) – 18 points

Isaiah Austin (5-star) (Sophomore) – 13 points

Cory Jefferson (4-star) (Senior) – 13 points

North Carolina

Marcus Paige (4-star) (Sophomore) – 23 points

James Michael-McAdoo (5-star) (Junior) – 20 points

JP Tokoto (4-star) (Sophomore) – 15 points


Rashad Madden (4-star) (Junior) – 18 points

Michael Qualls (3-star) (Sophomore) – 18 points

Alandise Harris (Not Ranked) (Junior) – 12 points


Johnny O’Bryant III (4-star) (Junior) – 29 points

Shavon Coleman (3-star) (Senior) – 14 points

Jordan Mickey (4-star) (Freshman) – 14 points


Casy Prather (4-star) (Senior) – 24 points

Scottie Wilbeken (2-star) (Senior) – 23 points

Patric Young (5-star) (Senior) – 10 points


Michael Qualls (3-star) (Sophomore) – 14 points

Rashad Madden (4-star) (Junior) – 12 points

Coty Clarke (3-star) (Senior) – 11 points

Lets break these numbers down even more. Of those 21 players, 5 were 5-stars, 9 were 4-stars, 4 were 3-stars, 2 were 2-stars and one guy wasn’t ranked. Of those players as well, 8 were seniors, 6 juniors, 6 sophomores, and 1 freshman. That’s right, all 7 of UK’s losses have featured…1 freshman who was in the top 3 scoring for his team. Are you beginning to see why we’re not winning?

What about the 5-stars on this list? Conventional wisdom, at least in Lexington, is that 5-star players should be going pro after their freshman year. Its outlandish to do otherwise! Right? Wrong. Two of the 5 top prospects were seniors, 1 was a junior and 1 was a sophomore. Gasp!, you exclaim. A 5-star prospect stayed in college until he was a senior!? Well, 2 who played UK have, and they dropped a combined 25 points on the Cats.

Hey, what about the leading scorer of the group? That would be Johnny O’Bryant III, a 4-star junior who had 29 at LSU. Didn’t recruit him, did we? Never, we wouldnt touch such an unpolished, 4-star peasant. Only the finest of recruits don Kentucky Blue! Yeah, well 3 years later he just scored 29 points on a team some said would go 40-0.

Finally, my favorite player of the group – Michael Qualls. Qualls was a 3-star prospect coming out of high school. A 3-star prospect trying to get recruited by UK would be like Barack Obama attending a coal miner’s meeting in Harlan County. Not happening. You want to know what that 3-star basketball joke did to UK? Only had 18 points at Arkansas, including the game-winning putback dunk to win the game. He then scored 14 points last night to help the Razorbacks win at Rupp Arena for the first time since 1992. He. was. a. 3. star.

So, do you still think Cal’s system is the best? Now, I have to acknowledge that championship we won in 2012. HOWEVER, I also have to note that we had two elite freshman in Davis and MKG, 2 sophomores (Jones and Lamb) who struggled as freshman and even halfway into that sophomore season, a freshman who struggled almost all year (Teague) and a senior (Darius Miller) who had been through so much at UK that I would argue he is the most experienced player to ever put on the Kentucky uniform. It certainly wasn’t a team that included 7 freshman in a rotation. Big, BIG, difference.

Do I want Calipari to be fired or leave Kentucky? Of course not. I still remember watching VMI and Gardner Webb walk into Rupp Arena and embarrass us. I understand and am grateful for Calipari’s resurgence of Kentucky Basketball. The same coach, however, who stood in front of 22,000 people at Midnight Madness and said “We are college basketball” needs to try 2 new things; 1st, stop selling us, as fans, cars. It isn’t working. Missing 10 free throws means YOU, the coach, needs to care about free throws. If a player is gassed, YOU, the coach, need to take him out instead of blaming it on him afterwards. Even more so if you want to repeatedly remind us these guys are 18 or 19 year old kids. That’s on you, coach. Second, would it hurt to change the recruiting philosophy? It hasn’t worked for 2 years, and the continuing turnover of players coming through Lexington is wearing thin on an already impatient fanbase, especially as each loss piles up. You never know, Cal, you might enjoy coaching a 4-star prospect as he drops 29 on a team 3 years from now. Crazy, right?


Carolina Kat

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Post  jagators on Sun Mar 02, 2014 8:12 am

All valid points. But, here is where I would caution you on throwing Cal to the curb just yet.

In 2007, we won our second straight title. And everyone on the team left for the NBA. So with the #1 class in the nation, Billy Donovan had to rebuild the program using a bunch of highly ranked but still, true freshmen. For the next two years we went to the NIT. Oh you should have heard the whining on the Gator boards. Donovan went form a guy who just won the schools only two national titles to a guy who got lucky with one great recruiting class and would never be able to get us back up to the elite status, especially after flip flopping on the Orlando Magic job.

In year three, with most of these guys now juniors, (except for Nick Calathes who decided he'd rather play in Greece) we were a bubble team. There were fans who wanted him fired. Some said we would have been better off with Anthony Grant. (Let's ask Alabama about that one). Donovan was plagued with guys leaving the program early for the NBA or Greece or transferring to other schools. Folks wondered if he had lost it, or even if he had ever really had it, or was the "04 class" lightning in a bottle?
But when that first class became seniors, (the ones like Tyus and Parsons who stuck it out anyway) they won the SEC regular season, made it to the championship game of the SEC Tournament and then missed the Elite Eight by a hair. Ever since then we have been a contender every year.

Back when we were looking at a possible third straight NIT trip following the two championships, my position on firing Donovan was a national championship should give a coach five years. I don't care if we go to five NITs in a row we should not fire him. But in year six he should be told that one more year of bubble watching and we will need to talk about your job status.
If UK loses to Bama, UF and gets bounced out of the SEC Tournament in the first round, then will they be sent to another NIT? Possibly. They would be 21-11 and on a five game skid. But even if that happens, he should have three more years minimum.

However, if he is not smart enough to realize that he needs to start recruiting some guys a bit lower in the rankings that might stick around for three or four years, then someone needs to get him to see the light. Clearly he should see that Donovan is bringing in one or two highly rated guys who might leave early (Brad Beal) but not a whole team of them. And it has made UF a contender for the SEC and a Final Four consistently. Anyone know what our 2010 class was ranked? I'm sure UK was #1. How does that class of Young, Prather, Yeguete and Wilbekin look now? Wilbekin was supposed to be a high school senior that season at a Class A church school in Gainesville. When he was signed, many Gator fans knew that was a sign that it was over for us. We were recruiting point guards from local church schools? Nobody had ever heard of Yeguete. He played his high school ball in France. How does that class look now? I would rate it right up there with the famed "04s"which oh by the way was a #10 class in a year when UK also landed the #1 class.

Winning the recruiting championship is nice. Winning the NCAA championship is better.


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