Can you believe it’s already been two weeks since we won the national championship? It seems like both more and less than that. But now that the sheer pandemonium is dying down a little bit in Lexington (only 65% of people are wearing UK gear on a daily basis), it’s pretty obvious that the offseason is in full swing.
With the offseason comes a different type of excitement: recruiting. Instead of a persistent weekly activity like watching a game, we have maybe months of build-up and anticipation leading toward a single moment when a highschooler says, or shaves into his hair, on national television where he’s going to school. In many ways the offseason has higher, but fewer, highs than the regular season. There may not be any other states where that’s the case, but it’s certainly true here. Look at last Wednesday as an example. There was applause in Willy T, during finals prep time. Distracting, but awesome. But it got me wondering, why is recruiting so much fun for us? It’s not like we won an actual game or anything. And, frankly, I don’t remember it being so exciting ten years ago, or even four years ago. So why the change? To me, there are three fairly basic prongs to consider why the interest in UK’s recruiting has skyrocketed over the last few years.
We’re Good At It.
I’m a fan of board games, and there’s an easy way to figure out which ones I like the most. I’ll give you a hint: I like any game I can win. And if I lose? Well, that game sucks. Recruiting is the same way. There’s a widely held belief that John Calipari gets whoever he wants. I have no way to tell how true that is, but the results speak for themselves quite a bit. We’ve had four consecutive number one recruiting classes, with three of those four years including ESPN’s overall number one player (Cousins, Davis, Noel). If that’s not a record of success, I don’t know what is. So it’s easy to like something when you’re better at it than everybody else, and it’s easy for others to say they don’t like it. Sour grapes, and whatnot. Regardless, right now there’s nobody better at the recruiting game than Kentucky, so naturally we like it a lot more.
It Determines Next Year’s Success.
We have a higher interest in the recruiting period because, frankly, we need it more. If all six guys leave this year, then we’ll have averaged 4.67 players going pro every year that Cal’s been the coach. We can all acknowledge that that’s a pretty ridiculous number. It works, but it’s insane. Because we annually lose so much more than everybody else, we need the recruiting period more than any other school. Hypothetically, if John Calipari ever gets a dud recruiting class, then we’re basically out of luck for an entire year. It won’t happen, but it’s a sobering thought. Louisville, meanwhile, has gotten dud recruiting classes for the last ten years, and still managed a couple Final Fours. Why? Because nobody
wants to is allowed to leave. UK, on the other hand, is a conduit for hyper-talented players, and their tenure is inherently transient. This is neither good or bad, but it does mean that the offseason has much more risk/reward in Lexington than it does anywhere else. So not only are we good at it, but it’s a high-stakes game for us. Those two factors will make anything pretty exhilarating.
We Care About the Players.
“After all, life hasn’t much to offer except youth, and I suppose for older people, the love of youth in others.”
-F. Scott Fitzgerald
This is the one that took me a while to figure out. Not because I didn’t think we liked these guys, but because I had to realize that this is an entirely new phenomenon. Before the advent of online recruiting information, we really didn’t know these kids until Big Blue Madness. That late practice in October used to be an unveiling of sorts for the freshmen, the first time that many had seen them; now, it’s just a chance for already-familiar faces to show off their dance moves. And I’m okay with that. But we’re able to know more about these players than at any time in history. Heck, this site wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the highschool decisions of Patrick Patterson and Jai Lucas. As a result, by the time any player make a decision, we already have opinions of them as players, and as people. This was most apparent with the decisions of MKG and, recently, Noel. Basketball aside, those kids had personalities and attitudes we liked, and we wanted to see them in Kentucky blue. Was that ever the case under Tubby Smith or BCG? Did we even know that much about Antoine Walker or Tony Delk before they signed? Somebody who born before 1986 will have to correct if I’m wrong, but I doubt it. At least not at the level we know recruits today. The increase in knowledge regarding these kids lets us get a lot more attached to them, and a lot more excited when they announce. It’s a double-edged sword, and hopefully we don’t get carried away and talk poorly of a kid we all liked before his decision (see: Shabazz). But getting to know and care about the players, maybe more than the other two prongs, is what make recruiting so exciting these days.
So as the summer’s few remaining twists and turns approach, enjoy what has become almost as exciting as actual basketball. Here in Kentucky, the offseason is the new regular season.
Edit: Whoops, Cousins was actually #4 in 2009. I thought I remembered him being #1, because I knew he was higher than John Wall. Seriously though, Avery Bradley? Safe to say ESPN was a little off on that one.