I had an idea for a column. I thought it was a good idea; I wanted it to be a rhetorical exercise—nothing more than that, just something to make you think. Perhaps provide a conversation starter, something to discuss around the virtual water cooler.
And then Larry Vaught published this. And a firestorm erupted on social media. And suddenly elements of the fanbase were pitted against each other. And I thought, “Nah, I ain’t touching that subject with a 90-foot pole.”
But I am. I may regret doing so.
One of the criticisms leveled against John Calipari since being hired as the men’s head basketball coach at Kentucky is his pursuit of “one-and-dones,” the term used to describe basketball players who spend one year in college before making themselves eligible for the NBA Draft. The criticism has come from all directions. Calipari—and others—argue he’s not recruiting one-and-dones but merely recruiting incredibly talented basketball players, who, after spending a year in college are ready to move on to play basketball professionally. Calipari defends his recruiting by saying it’s his job to sign the most talented athletes he can. The upside to such a recruiting method is that it almost ensures a loaded roster, year after year, full of some of the most talented basketball players in the country. The down is the need to “restock the cupboard”, if you will, year after year. There is little room for error, both in recruiting and in player development.
But this isn’t about the one-and-done rule. It isn’t even really about John Calipari’s use of the one-and-done rule. No, this is about the fans.
My original piece—before the Vaught column—was going to ask, “At what point, if ever, would UK fans begin to push back against Cal’s recruiting methods?” This isn’t to imply I think fans should. In fact, I think the fanbase would be crazy to do so. But is it possible that it could happen, and if so, what would it take? But I think it is more important, perhaps, to ask instead, “For fans, what are the appropriate expectations of the basketball team every year?”
It’s easy, I think, for fans to get overwhelmed by the hype each incoming class brings with it. Lost in that hype, however, is often the realization that Calipari is attempting to meld raw, individual talent into a cohesive unit almost every single year. When it happens rather quickly—as in 2009-2010 with John Wall & Co.—it’s difficult to understand why it takes a while to happen—as in 2010-2011 with Brandon Knight’s class. And when one group of freshmen win a national championship, it’s easy to start believing that every group of freshmen should do so. Lost in that hype is the understanding that, like children, each group of freshmen is unique and different. Just as you shouldn’t look at your youngest child and ask, “Why can’t he be more like his older sister, so smart and understanding” it’s not fair to look at one recruiting class and ask, “Why can’t they be more like those guys we had last year?”