A Florida newspaper recently profiled Kentucky’s rise to the top, fall to the bottom and back to #1 in a three page article. In this article everything is discussed from Cal’s take on one and done, to his NBA protégés, to the short-lived NIT run, and this year’s top recruiting class.
At the start of last season Kentucky fans were still coming off a high that can only be brought on by adding another trophy to our championship collection. With a band of talented top recruits and a few returning players fans were hopeful to make another NCAA run. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite pan out the way anyone thought and ended in an early exit from the NIT tournament. That story has been told and we all know too well how it went.
With our basketball season ending prematurely this also gave time for reflection, such as debating pros and cons of the one and done rule. It has been argued time and time again and we all know where Calipari stands- he doesn’t like the rule, but he embraces it. This article shed some extra light onto that topic. We all know that Cal likes the baseball rule, sign out of high school or spend three years in college, unlikely, but a good thought that I agree with. “But it’s never going to the baseball rule,” Calipari said. “The (NBA) owners will never let that happen. But I say to get it to two (years mandatory in college) is doable.” A two-year college career is, in my eyes, a fair balance between the two leagues but that’s not for me to decide.
A thought that never crossed my mind however, the insurance issue. I briefly and first heard about it when Nerlens was injured, that had he never been able to play professionally due to an injury sustained in the NBA that he would get payment, but that was as much as I knew about it. Basically, projected high draft picks have to purchase their own insurance under the assumption that they pay it back as soon as they leave school to sign their first pro contract. That’s a lot of pressure for a college student to take on. “That could be up to $50,000 a year,” Calipari notes. “So after two years it’s $100,000, after three years it’s $150,000. What? To play sports and have insurance? Yes.” Calipari argues that while this rule is in place for the player’s protection while they are playing college ball, the wracked up debt and added pressure could be another reason to leave.
Calipari also wants to help stop one and dones by creating a stipend. Cal isn’t the only SEC coach that supports this idea either. Basically, athletes would receive an extra $2000- or near the amount per year to help pay for everything involved in a college education. Sure scholarship includes housing, meal plan, classes and food; but it doesn’t account for travel expenses to go home or off campus, an occasional trip to eat at a restaurant, laundry or any additional expenses that may come up. Keep in mind many players come from families lower on the financial scale and may not be in college without the scholarship in question.
Another suggestion from Cal is allowing families of players to take out loans against an athletes future potential earnings if need be and the player projects high in the draft. Many players feel the pressure to leave school and head to the league early to take care of their families. Cal thinks that this way the players would feel less pressure to leave early, and wouldn’t have to factor in their family’s financial status when deciding to continue their education or begin a professional career. Calipari says, “don’t chase them out” Meaning don’t chase them out of college by making it easier to go than stay.
The one and done isn’t a factor at the moment, however as our freshman class has put us atop the preseason rankings once again with another #1 recruiting class and a talented crop of freshman heading to Lexington this summer.
With just months to create a championship caliber team, transforming high schoolers into NBA-ready studs Cal says “the kids have to buy in…you can’t be promising things. You can’t say you’ll start and get 20 minutes.” On being a young team he says, “It’s very difficult. But it’s doable because we did it the year before…last year not so much. We’ll see as we go…this is different. What we’re trying to do has never been done before.” He mentioned that this isn’t just a few new players, but almost an entire team.
Now to the fighting I promised: “They’re a great group of kids,” Calipari said. “What I like about this group is, if a fight breaks out no one’s moving. Which is, ‘You’re not throwing me around. You’re not grabbing.’ This team, they have already talked. There’s going to be fistfights in practice and we’ll talk after it’s over. That was from them, I didn’t even tell them. I was like, ‘Good.’” Personally, this is a welcomed change from last year’s team who seemed nearly indifferent after every game- win or loss, besides, what’s a Wildcat without a little fight?
Cal is known to “keep it real” with his players and recruits. He says “you talk to them, they’ll tell you I’m not very nice…Unless I keep it real with them individually then its not any fun because you’re telling them the truth and you’re usually telling them things no one else would ever say to them. That’s fun to me. It’s also fun having 17 guys in the NBA.”
17 NBA players is an unprecedented number. It also gave Cats fans something to watch after our own season came to an abrupt halt. Calipari said “A senator from our state come to me two years ago and he said, ‘How many guys from your team will go pro.’ I said, ‘Six.’ He said, ‘Six, you’re creating more millionaires than a Wall Street firm.’ I said, ‘Wow, we are.’ So it’s kind of neat.” Yeah, neat…a bit of an understatement but we’ll go with it. But to Kentucky fans, producing millionaires is virtually worthless if there isn’t a banner to fill their place.
Now to the crying: Calipari said, “A guy told me, we were talking and this really struck me because I have my own son, their body language sometimes … When they are babies they cry. When they get frustrated, when they don’t know, when they get hungry, they cry, but teenagers will cop an attitude for the same reason, have bad body language. So basically he’s crying. Deal with what he’s crying about, which was a great way to put it I thought because I have a 16-year-old son that I almost jerked off the court the other day because of his body language. He’s a coach’s son and doesn’t know how to act. You just deal with it. We have a bunch of good kids coming in and they’re excited, let me tell you. They’re ready to come in and go to work and the guys returning are ready to go to work.” The first player that comes to mind in this situation would have to be the beloved Demarcus Cousins. Cousins often showed less-than desirable behavior on the court, but it was dealt with and he grew in his time at Kentucky (leaving his NBA antics out of this) thanks to Calipari’s stern hand and the leadership of upperclassmen.
Surely there will be some fights and crying before this freshman-dominated team is ready to contend with the big boys of the NCAA, but with a few returning players (a handful from the 2012 title team) and some good coaching and work ethic, the blood, sweat and tears can produce a few more millionaires…and titles.