Busting Brackets

John Calipari is crazy like a fox in rebuilding Arkansas Basketball

The college basketball season is over but the new season awaits and no, it doesn't start at the end of October or early on in November anymore. The 2024-25 NCAA basketball season has already started and although you don't hear the sound of a ball on the hardwood or the squeaking of basketball shoes, it has started right underneath our noses. Recruiting from the transfer portal and finding new freshman recruits means as much to a hoops program as winning games down the stretch before March rolls around. Some coaches loathe this; other coaches know that the college game has evolved into an endless cycle of salesmanship and closing deals with players today is the difference between success and failure for years to come.
University of Arkansas Introduces John Calipari
University of Arkansas Introduces John Calipari / Wesley Hitt/GettyImages

Let's face the fact that although the University of Arkansas has had some historical success in terms of men's basketball, the NCAA hoops universe certainly does not evolve around the machinations going on in Fayetteville. In fact, you could easily consider locales such as Bloomington, Chapel Hill, Durham or even Lexington as the center of the college basketball universe. For that matter, you might as well start adding Storrs, CT to the list as the center of attention and attraction for basketball fans, players, coaches and pundits alike.

John Calipari seems to be on a mission to change the perception that Fayetteville doesn't belong in the elite center of the basketball universe. The last month has been a whirlwind of activity for Arkansas Razorback basketball has Coach Cal attempts to push his new Arkansas charges into the inner sanctum of men's hoops. After leaving the University of Kentucky in what may have been a surprise move to some, John Calipari has set himself out on a mission to rebuild the University of Arkansas not only as a respectable basketball school but to possibly come out swinging to try and dominate the SEC this upcoming season. The seeming author of the "one and done" mentality now realizes that college recruiting has been turned upside down with the transfer portal and players aren't just leaving to pursue professional basketball dreams but leaving to test out greener pastures because they can.

In all reality, wouldn't a modern college basketball coach try and build up as big a roster as possible, knowing that players are now more and more transient in their approach to a school affiliation and dare I say that many players now have more of a mercenary approach to playing for a particular school or coach? Call it what you want but the simple truth is that NCAA players have the ability to move and transfer schools while keeping their playing eligibility intact. Current NCAA rules allow for 13 scholarship players to be on a Division One roster; Coach Cal and the Razorbacks are looking at quality this coming season, not quantity.

In a reversal of his typical "one and done" role, John Calipari now views building players up for just a season, only to lose them in the transfer portal, is now counter-productive to creating a winning culture with the Razorbacks: "Yeah, they're leaving anyway," Calipari replied. "Why would I develop a kid for someone else? Why would I do that?"  Razorback fans, get used to seeing a lean bench this upcoming season with eight or nine solid players and if injuries mount up, so be it as Coach Cal used the same approach during his UMass days with a six-player bench.

Maybe, just maybe John Calipari has some enlightened method to his alleged madness in not going after a large roster to try and immediately regain some traction in the SEC and on the national basketball stage. After all, not only have the Razorbacks hauled in top-notch transfer portal signings in Adou Thiero and Joseph Aidoo but Arkansas will be loaded with top-tier incoming freshmen in the fall. 247 Sports just released their final high school r player rankings for the class of 2024 and the Razorbacks have signed no less than three of the top 25 players in the country with Boogie Fland ranking at number 20, while Karter Knox and Billy Richmond ranking right behind at number 23 and 25, respectively.

I suspect that John Calipari has something up his sleeve in building his roster for next season and the new Razorback bench he's building may stick it out and help turn the tide for Arkansas' basketball fortunes in the seasons ahead.