Many forget that while at Memphis (and certainly at UMass before that) John Calipari was not known as a one-and-done recruiter. It wasn’t until 2008 when Derrick Rose left after his freshman year at Memphis followed by Tyreke Evans the next year, coupled with the recruiting class Calipari had assembled before departing for Kentucky, that he became associated with “one-and-done”. The moniker stuck after 4 freshmen—John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, DeMarcus Cousins, and Daniel Orton—headed off for the NBA following their one, and only, season as a Wildcat.
And many will point to Calipari’s recruiting success, and the number of guys leaving Lexington after their freshman year, as evidence that he is ruining the college game. In the eyes of many, John Calipari—and, by extension, the University of Kentucky—is everything that is wrong with college basketball.
Kentucky fans will, as you would expect, argue this is simply unfair. Part of that argument is that Calipari is simply doing what every other coach in the country is trying to do, recruit the best players out there. #BBN argues, rightly, that Calipari wasn’t the only coach recruiting John Wall or DeMarcus Cousins or Brandon Knight or Anthony Davis. Calipari would be derelict in his duty as head men’s basketball coach to do anything but try to sign the best possible players he could.
But the interesting aspect to all of this is the number of players few, if any, saw as being one-and-done and the number of players who actually weren’t gone after just a year. The media, both local and national, tend to focus on the ones who leave rather than the ones who do not. Eric Bledsoe and Daniel Orton were not expected to leave after their freshman year. Bledsoe left, in large part, because he saw an opportunity to help his family (and himself) financially. Orton left, if you believe the rumors, because he and Calipari simply did not see eye-to-eye. That 2009-2010 team should have had just two one-and-dones, Wall and Cousins. Two elite prospects who had nothing else to prove by staying another year in school.
How many freshmen left in Calipari’s second year? Most will say two—Brandon Knight and Enes Kanter—but this is misleading. Kanter had already been ruled ineligible to ever play college basketball. He had no other option other than to turn pro.
Of course, it is Calipari’s 2011-2012 team, the national championship squad, that will forever cement his reputation as Coach One-and-Done. Of the four freshmen who came to Lexington that fall, 3 left. But, again, I would argue that only 2 of those 4, were expected to leave after one year. Who, besides Marquis Teague, expected Teague to leave at the end of the season, especially with the way he played for much of November and December?
Even this year’s team, with all of its accolades, was, in many ways, recruited with an eye towards the future. Derek Willis, Marcus Lee, Dakari Johnson, Dominique Hawkins—all of them were expected to be a Wildcat for at least two years, if not more. And of those 4, only Johnson might not return.
How different is the narrative about Calipari is Bledsoe and Orton come back? If Teague doesn’t leave? Does Calipari still receive the (unfair) criticism he receives now? Does the media take the shots at Kentucky they take now? I think it’s important to maintain this perspective and point out that there are several players who left early when few believed they would. Calipari isn’t just recruiting players he believes will leave after a year. Is he doing some of that? Absolutely. But for others, they’re leaving after a year because of the opportunity provided to them by playing at Kentucky. Or they’re leaving because they were unfairly screwed by the NCAA. Or they’re leaving for reasons only they know.
Whatever the reason, labeling Kentucky “One-And-Done U” isn’t fair. And if Adam Sliver has his way, it’s an image that isn’t long for this world.