Kentucky’s Recruiting Monopoly: Blame our Culture, not just Calipari

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Parity in recruiting A-list prospects has become outmoded. Predictability is all the rage. And no brand in the underworld of college basketball today is more fashionable than Kentucky.

John Calipari’s program, fresh off landing the most valuable set of twins ever to come out of high school, is on the verge of sewing up its fifth-consecutive No. 1 recruiting class. In that time, Calipari has parlayed John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins into Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones, then upped the ante by reeling in a freshman fivesome that served as the bedrock of his vaunted national championship team.

Mar 30, 2012; New Orleans, LA, USA; Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari during practice the day before the semifinals of the 2012 NCAA men

Cal’s recruiting classes seem to get more superlative by the year, so much so that his program has begun to monopolize the high-stakes game of recruiting. Kentucky has made North Carolina, Duke, UCLA and Kansas—longstanding recruiting bastions—made to look like second-rate programs by comparison. While other blueblood programs on the recruiting trail are pitching their lemonade stands, Kentucky, glittering behind the velvet rope, is flaunting its open bar.

It’s easy to point fingers—to single out Kentucky and Coach Cal for sullying the sport, its lifeblood (recruiting) and the integrity of the process. But the problem runs much deeper. The web of corruption is far more complex.

It takes two to tango in this recruiting song and dance, after all: a recruiter and recruit, salesman and customer.  So while you can fault Cal for dangling the bait, be sure to reserve a heavy dose of blame for the kids who swallow it up.

Calipari is the easy target, perceived as this deceiving luminary of star-struck teenage kids. The tendency, of course, is to jump on the most prominent adult in this situation—as opposed to the impressionable high school prospects—for pushing the envelope and stretching the limits governing college recruiting. But understand these kids are flanked by adult influences too—their parents, extended family, high school and AAU coaches, handlers and hangers-on—who all, to a man, keep buying Calipari’s pitch.

Hate the player (Calipari) or the game (the recruiting process) all you want, but the pawns in play (the recruits and their networks) complete this self-perpetuating cycle. College basketball is not only suffering from a recruiting tyrant seizing all the top talent; it’s withstanding a cultural craze of high school kids starving for immediate gratification and settling for no less.

While the nation’s top high school hoops stars continue to dazzle on the court with jaw-dropping play, they continue to disappoint on signing day with the same, trite, all-too-predictable college hat.

The interlocking U-K is college basketball’s answer to Major League Baseball’s interlocking N-Y. More than just two letters, the logo connotes a revered, well-established brand that harvests success. The Wildcats, like the Yankees, represent a shortcut to stardom.

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Tags: Basketball Kentucky Wildcats Maryland Terrapins

  • Dave Kalin

    Why should these young men not select the best opportunity for them?

    The most talented mathematics and engineering students select MIT, do they not? Are we lamenting this?

    Or is it only because you hold some silly, antiquated notion that College Sports has ever been anything but about getting to the next level?

    Where was all of this outrage when UCLA was stocking so much talent that they had Top Ten High School recruits sitting on the bench year after year?

    If it were Duke and Coach K who were getting #1 recruiting classes year after year, you’d be singing Coach K’s praises and telling the world what a GENIUS he was.

    Since it’s Kentucky and Calipari, you’re whinging about the exact same phenomena.

    • Captain Arctic

      Well said, Dave. If this were Duke, UNC, or the author’s beloved Syracuse, everything would be just fine and applauded. Luckily, we of BBN embrace the haters. Cal’s work didn’t just happen over night – this incredible recruiting run has been a ton of work. Much of which has been done by Payne and Antiqua. Total team effort.

  • Dave Kalin

    It’s called being a hypocrite.

  • Common Sense

    Tell Xavier Henry, Josh Selby, CJ Leslie, Keith Gallon, Lance Stephenson, Will Barton and Khem Birch that no matter where they take their top 10 talent, they are guaranteed NBA success. Better yet, please call their working class parents and tell them that 1)the millions lost by being drafted lower than originally projected and 2)The interest lost on staying for longer in school than expected is a small price to pay for starting their own legendary status at their respective schools. Pittsburgh fans seem to have really fallen for Mr. Birch

  • Mike

    Evan, it sounds to me like you are trying to distance yourself from your Lexington roots and show that you are not a homer. This article is garbage. Did you or any of your friends write similar articles when Duke and UNC were dominating recruiting? You insinuate Cal is sleazy, but have nothing to back that up. Getting the best talent is nothing to “blamed for”. And it’s not corruption. You should be ashamed of yourself.

  • Mike

    Sorry, I mistakenly thought this was from Evan Daniels. So the homer comment makes no sense. The rest of my comments stand.

  • bob

    What a crock of shit. These Kids were so much for themselves that 7 different players led Kentucky in scoring this year. The national player of the year took the least amount of shots of the five starters. All of Kentucky’s top six would have been the best player on their team for 90% of division 1 teams.
    Hate the one and done rule all you want but don’t hate Cal for being the best at handling the one and done situation. Every other coach worth a shit wants the best players. The only ones whining are the coaches and fans of the teams who can not recruit the one and dones.

  • Bill

    I don’t recall seeing these articles when Duke, North Carolina and Kansas were hauling in #1 recruiting classes. But now that it is Kentucky, college basketball is doomed and the sky is falling. Call a waaaaaaaambulance. What a baby!!

    • Bill

      By the way…where is the outrage about fake classes, with fake professors at UNC and $66,000 dollar lines of credit given to active Duke players???

  • KyBlueNutt

    So North Carolina and Duke having 49 McDonald All Americans in the past 10 years between them with is OK. But Kentucky , even with the past 3 years included only having 13, is an example of recruits being cowards and ruining basketball? What a poor excuse for a fair and balanced article. You are the coward not identifying your true bias.

    • Derek Koblentz 167

      What a horrible point. Calipari has only been at Kentucky for 4 years. What do the other six have to do with anything? Fact is, Cal’s rise at Kentucky has directly coincided with a drop-off in recruiting at Carolina. UK is dancing circles around all the other big boys in the college world ever since Cal took over. It helps having a coach that doesn’t require you to pass or even take your own SATs to qualify!! Get a grip.

      • KyBlueNutt

        Point was, when Duke and NC gets 3 or 4 All Americans a year there is no complaint. When Ky does, it’s the athletes have no courage to go to another school or it is a horrible thing . Yes, Cal is out recruiting all others that’s a given and a great thing. And of course when you cannot win with facts you make up lies. Typical response of a sore loser, lol

  • Jason

    You seriously just said “lenient academic standards” in reference to UK, when there is currently a MAJOR academic scandal going on at UNC? SERIOUSLY?

  • Tim

    Let’s see douche pumpkin…let me make this so you and ur boyfriends Thayer Evans and Pete Thameltoe can understand…when someone wants be a sports journalist where would be a good school to go? Cuse. When someone wants to go to a good place to play basketball they go to uk…what’s the difference? Syracuse has only advanced past the sweet sixteen twice in 20 yrs…that’s why no one wants to go there. Try to think logically, I know it’s real hard…Maryland or uk…one has the best facilities, scours at every game, always on national tv, and players improve their overall game…the other had Steve Francis and Len bias at one time and that’s pretty much it….you decide

  • BlueBlood

    Calipari’s success in developing players and putting them in the NBA is the “major” reason that recruits are wanting to play for him. Everyone else that doesn’t have Calipari as their Coach are screaming foul, foul, foul! He is getting the top recruits because they want him as their mentor, they know he is one of the most successful Coaches in getting players to the NBA. If you don’t like the one-and-done rule… change it, and Calipari will still find a way to beat you. Now, quit crying about how good he is and write a better story next time.

  • dan

    It is a shame that your college education prepared you so poorly. You type before you research. When I went to school, that generally led to a very substandard grade.

  • basketball fan

    I’m trying the figure out the point of this article and its tone. It seems to be: (a) Cal and Kentucky keep getting the #1 recruiting class and seemingly every top 5 recruit in the country (more or less true), and (b) this is somehow BAD for somebody (it certainly isn’t bad for UK, Calipari, UK fans, the players themselves, or the players’ families… I’m not sure why anybody else matters) because (1) it is boring for you as a follower of recruiting (are you serious with that garbage, who gives a F*?), (2) it is too easy for these kids to be successful doing this (are you serious, taking the most sure path to success also goes by another name: being intelligent).

    Just an embarrassingly awful article with no style or substance.

  • HatersGon’Hate

    Funny how people say “these kids would be lottery picks no matter where they went” like Cal isnt better at conditioning top tier athletes than all the other coaches and UK doesnt provide the biggest stage for them to perform on. Was Harrison Barnes one and done? Samardo Samuels? Fab Melo?
    You want to play on the biggest stage, on national TV, for a coach that does not fail at winning, getting you to go to class, teach you how to speak to the media, and get you in the draft, come to UK, and play for Cal.

  • Sarcastaball

    You are completely right. College athletics should be pure like the days of Bear Bryant and Phog Allen. Forget about the corruption that includes Penn State, Ohio State, USC, UMiami, in Football. Forget about UNC’s academic scandal, UCONN’s APR, Syracuse’s Bernie Fine. Calipari is ruining the integrity of college athletics!! Off with his head!!

  • TheArmadilloJackal

    We can go ahead and rename this article “Baiting Kentucky Fans into Generating Hits for My Article.”
    The hipocrisy in this article is insane: Calling recruits out for taking the easy road, when his article is the definition of journalism’s version of taking the easy road.
    You’re not a bad writer man, quit trolling for hits and write a real article.

  • Hock

    Twinning can make some people so bitter.