John Calipari can't have it both ways

January, 7, 2013
1/07/13
12:30
PM ET
On Sunday, John Calipari tweeted this description with a link to a piece he’d written on his website, CoachCal.com:
“Have a few thoughts on the ridiculousness of people calling this the best recruiting class ever that I want to share.”

The subject of the commentary is the hype surrounding another stellar Kentucky recruiting class. Five-star center Dakari Johnson committed to the program on Saturday night, enhancing a group that already includes blue-chip prospects James Young and the Harrison twins (Aaron and Andrew). Plus, Calipari could add Andrew Wiggins (No. 1 prospect in the 2013 class, per ESPN.com), Aaron Gordon and/or Julius Randle in the coming weeks.

Calipari’s take is thorough and logical in some respects. He advises patience with his 2013 class. On paper, however, the group possesses as much talent as any in recent memory. But, as Calipari suggests, their chemistry and production will determine their success.

From CoachCal.com:
Ultimately, next year’s class will be judged on results. I may have a different viewpoint on that, but that’s just the way it is. They can’t be deemed anything until they get here and play. If you look at the best classes of all-time, it’s about what they accomplished. Yeah, they came in with high standards, but there have been a lot of classes that have been labeled No. 1 that didn’t pan out.

We don’t know how good this class will be until we see what it accomplishes. That’s going to take time, hard work and coming together. They’re also going to need next year’s returners to show them the way. We won’t achieve our goals if we put it all on a bunch of 17- and 18-year-old kids. We will need everybody, just like we do this year.

I can accept that. Talent doesn’t guarantee wins. The rocky start for this year’s Wildcats proves as much.

Here’s what I can’t accept. The opening paragraph in Calipari’s memo:
“Big Blue Nation, I want you to think about what I’m about to say. I’m hearing all the accolades of an incoming recruiting class being the “best ever in the history of the game.” Come on, folks! Why would we do that to this new group of kids?”

Actually, John, you did that.

You can’t recruit the best players in the country, kids who use college basketball as a brief stop before they enter the NBA draft, and expect anything less.

Plus, any analysis of a recruiting class is based on potential. So, yes, next year’s group appears to possess as much as some of the best in recent college basketball history. And, Calipari notes, “We may still sign another kid or two, but that’s not the point.”

Well, that is the point.

Calipari can’t have it both ways. The hype is an inherent component in the culture of college basketball in the 21st Century. Kentucky knows that. Calipari knows that.

He knew that when he pursued multiple kids who are projected lottery picks in 2014.

Pressure should be expected. Labels such as “greatest ever” speak to the anticipation that’s sparked whenever a college basketball program attracts multiple five-star talents. It’s the norm for Calipari.

His essay on his next class, however, conveys a foolish sense of naivety about the origins of the buzz, and it shifts blame.

If you don’t want the hype, then sign average kids.

And I can’t ignore the humor in the description of Kentucky’s next (potential) stars as “kids.” They’re always “kids” when the drama and expectations arrive. Until then, they’re simply “prospects” and “recruits.”

The bottom line is that Calipari knows better. This isn’t anything new.

Calling the 2013 assembly “the greatest ever” isn’t a crazy notion. The idea that an immense amount of hoopla shouldn’t precede its arrival, however, might be.
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