On Tuesday, I wrote that Kentucky was unfairly viewed as “One-and-Done” U. This was a reaction to the notion that Kentucky—and John Calipari—has become merely a basketball factory, shoving young men out the door after spending a year in college. In that piece I tried to show that a) John Calipari is simply recruiting the most talented basketball recruits available; b) not every one of those recruits is viewed as a “one-and-done” guy; c) some of those many expect to return to college decide to leave, and that’s not Calipari’s fault; d) some of those many expect to leave after one year decide to come back.
The media, I pointed out, is quick to label Calipari (and Kentucky) as a corrupting influence on college basketball when John Wall and Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight and Anthony Davis, etc. decide to pursue their goal of playing basketball professionally but has been virtually silent in acknowledging the guys who determine to spend another year in college. Where were the Jeff Goodmans and Pat Fordes of the world when Doron Lamb or Terrence Jones or Kyle Wiltjer or Alex Poythress decided to come back to school for their sophomore year, trumpeting John Calipari and Kentucky for doing things the “right way”?
Which brings us to this season; or, more specifically, to this offseason. When John Calipari signed, what many proclaimed, to be the greatest recruiting class in the history of college basketball, the pundits and prognosticators immediately weighed in, predicting that as many as 7 guys—5 freshmen and 2 sophomores—would leave at the end of the season. Of the eight freshmen who arrived on campus this past fall, only 3 were thought to be sticking around for more than a year. One wonders how many sports writers out there had their “Another Year of UK Ruining College Basketball” stories already written by Big Blue Madness.
But something funny happened. A twist to the story few saw coming. One of those freshmen (Dakari Johnson) decided to come back to school. He joins the three most expected to stay (Marcus Lee, Dominique Hawkins, Derek Willis) along with two sophomores who decided to come back (waaaaaaait, what?!) And, as I write this, there exists the very real possibility that two more freshmen will decide to come back, as well. It just might be that instead of Kentucky losing five freshmen, only 2, the two who demonstrated throughout the season they were the most NBA-ready, will actually leave after one year of college basketball. And it could be that next year, John Calipari will have a roster that includes 2 juniors, 6 sophomores, and 4 freshmen.
Knowing how quickly the media has been to attack Calipari as Coach “One-and-Done” you might expect they’d suddenly be praising him for keeping kids in school. You would be wrong.
As my friend Terry Brown wrote earlier today, when it comes to John Calipari and Kentucky basketball, the one thing you can always count on is the rules that everyone expects them to follow are always changing. Suddenly, the problem isn’t that Cal is “shoving” kids out the door and into the NBA after a year on campus but that he’s keeping them around and accumulating too much talent. Suddenly, young men who decide they’d prefer to spend another year in college playing athletics and working on their degree are attacked in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Their health is questioned. Their abilities are questioned. Their judgment is questioned.
Only at Kentucky can your coach be criticized for having guys leave after their freshmen year and criticized for having guys return to college. For many in the media, their worst nightmare is Calipari recruiting at the level he’s been recruiting at since he arrived at Kentucky AND having those guys stick around longer than a year. It blows up their narrative about Calipari and Kentucky basketball. It trashes every notion they have about Cal. It ruins every column they haven’t written yet but are desperately waiting to write. And, as it turns out, that nightmare is coming true.