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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