Quick, name the most important individual to the future of Kentucky basketball in the next five years. Did you say Patrick Patterson? Nah, even if he comes he is only part of a larger puzzle necessary to win. What about Jai Lucas? Maybe closer, as he holds in his hands the ability to recruit others to this school, but as great a player as he is, he needs talent around him to succeed. What about Bill Keightley? Closer to the answer, because without him the basketballs will lose their sparkling shine.
No actually the key to the next five years of Kentucky basketball success may be the man in the picture above, new Head of Basketball Operations, Shawn Finney. While much credit is (correctly) being given to Scott Holsopple for the dramatic chance in the athleticism of the players this season, an equally dramatic change is taking place in the organization of the basketball team behind the scenes….specifically in the area of recruiting. For a long time Kentucky has been beyond disorganized where recruiting is involved. Most of the serious efforts to go after top star started well into the player’s junior year, a time when relationships have already been formed by other coaches (see the Scotty Hopson situation). All too often stories have existed like that told to me by a top recruit last year, where they were interested in Kentucky until they simply couldnt wait any longer and had never heard anything from the team.
The job of recruit organization is often one delegated to the assistant coaches, usually to the one in the “head recruiter” role, a spot formerly held unofficially by Reggie Hanson (it is debateable whether he has that role now). However while recruiting prowess is important in this position, ORGANIZATION is even more important. Someone needs to take the time to compile the list of the nation’s top talent, make contact with the individuals and distill the information into a digestable piece for the head coach and other assistants. To put it simply, this coach needs to do the job of Dave Telep and make a priority list for the head coach. Put simply this has not been getting done.
The result…..the lack of early commitments by UK in recent years (excluding those that fell in the staff’s lap) and the continued role of playing catch up with the top talents. To be fair, in today’s game, targets need to be identified and contacted in their Sophomore year, if not earlier. At this point going into their junior year, the top talents have already been notified nationally and coaches are already swarming them….and in the case of Scotty Hopson, the decision may have already been made.
Enter Shawn Finney. For the first time since George Felton left the staff, this job is being done by someone who knows the AAU scene, has a handle on the national recruiting landscape and can make organizational decisions in a better way. By the time Finney arrived, the 2007 work was done and it was too late to get in early with the 2008 guys…..although UK has done a decent, if not amazing, job with these folks. But Finney’s task really begins with the 2009 class. The task of targeting early players for UK to focus on at this point has begun, as seen by the decision to bring in 2009 Male target Jacob Jenkins, a player who grew up a UK fan and who is considered the best in the state at his age. By bringing him in early, UK makes a starting presence….something that has been almost non-existent in recent years.
The decision this week by two top 2008 in state players is an example of how important this organizational strategy really is. While Bud Mackey has never been a UK priority, Scotty Hopson was/is and while some Hoptown people will tell you he never considered UK, it is beyond dispute that Mississippi State won this battle, at least in part, due to their highlighted early targeting of a kid who wasnt even starting for his high school team. That is organization and while it remains to be seen what kind of player he will be, if Hopson develops as most folks think, that organization is why he will be in Starkville.
So next time you are watching at home and you wonder who to give a cheer to on the UK staff, throw back a cold one for a guy not even on your screen. If UK starts pulling in early commitments (which to be fair, they must do), the newest import (who is actually an old import) will be the reason why.