Warning: This post is a bit of a rant. Carry on.
When John Calipari’s team experienced the ultimate storybook ending last season, culminating with a national championship trophy hoisted in the air, the criticism had to at least momentarily quiet to a hush. The negative tone of voice that generally accompanied the coined term “one-and-dones” was muffled for the time being. Some kept quiet. Others even dished out rare praise in Calipari’s direction. Some even suggested that Calipari had finally mastered the formula for success in this day and age’s college basketball world. Words such as “system,” “calculations,” “schemes,” “methods,” etc. have been used to describe Calipari’s “way of doing things” at the University of Kentucky. It all sounds very complicated when put in such terms and dissected so closely. If you ask me though, the bottom line is much simpler in nature.
Five losses later, two of which came on the hallowed Rupp Arena floor, and suddenly the questions have started to seep back into the picture: “Does the one and done system really work?” “Can Calipari’s scheme really work year in and year out?” When a team who started the season ranked in the top 5 suddenly finds itself floating with the other “bubble teams,” the doubts begin to arise once again.
The elaborate “system” must be flawed, right? Calipari’s master plan of stockpiling one-and-dones, churning players out into the NBA draft in mass quantities, and putting teams on the floor heavy with talented freshmen and low on mature veterans must not be working. Right?
Wrong. To this I say, what system are we really talking about here?
John Calipari deserves a lot of credit for his forward thinking ideas and some of the elaborate things he comes up with. A Hoops for Haiti Telethon? Elaborate. The All-Access series? Elaborate. The new locker room? Elaborate.
When it comes to constructing his teams at Kentucky year in and year out though? I say it’s very simple. So very simple.
Calipari goes out and he tries to get the best high school basketball players in the country to come play at Kentucky. When you are trying to win basketball games, why would you NOT want the best players possible? Any coach in the country would prefer to have the best player on his respective team. And if they try to tell you otherwise, they’re lying. Not being able to get the best players and not wanting the best players are not one in the same. Going after and securing the best players available when they also prefer Kentucky is not a scheme. It’s common sense.
The scheme to flood the NBA draft every year with Kentucky players isn’t elaborate in nature either. If a player is ready OR if a player is in a position in which his stock is likely as high as it will ever be… it’s time to go. Calipari doesn’t hold the door closed for his players. Again, the thinking is simple. Why would a player NOT go if the opportunity is right and the opportunity is available? Does that mean a player doesn’t perhaps occasionally make a mistake in the timing of the jump? Of course not. Marquis Teague can be debated until we’re blue in the face. But he was coming off of a national championship and a great NCAA tournament run in which he was playing at a very high level. The decision could have gone either way. But again, Teague is not part of an elaborate system or scheme. Calipari attempts to get the best out of his players. While at Kentucky, he pushes them to become the best possible player they can be. Is churning out a multitude of players for the NBA draft each year part of a scheme or master plan? It seems to me like it’s simply a sign of a player’s success while at Kentucky.
So when the ship sails at the end of this 2012-2013 season, (regardless of whether or not this team gels and peaks at the right time– perhaps even making a deep run in the NCAA tournament…or if they continue to hit road blocks and stumble into being a bubble team or even…dare I say NIT team) let’s try to avoid making grand declarations about a working or flawed elaborate “scheme” or “system” Calipari is running at Kentucky.
Sometimes going after the best players in the country will result in having the best basketball team in the country. Sometimes a player doesn’t quite pan out the way he is projected. And that goes both ways, too. Some players turn out much better than expected. Sometimes a player’s development is behind where it’s expected to be, or takes longer to reach maturation. Sometimes a team of players who have taken 3-4 years to develop to their potential in college will be the best basketball team in the country. Sometimes a team of players who are mostly in their first or second year of college basketball will be better than those 3-4 year player teams (see: 2012 Kentucky national championship team).
Much like last year’s national championship team didn’t prove that Calipari’s teams would always experience the ultimate success, this year’s current “average” team (considering we are not in the top 25 at the moment) doesn’t prove that Calipari’s teams will never work either.
Perhaps more stock should be put into the particular personnel in any given year on the team and in college basketball in general…not the “system.”
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Bill Keightley Report : Never to be forgotten.
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