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10 Tips for Survival in the One-and-Done Era

It’s hard to believe the one-and-done rule has been around for almost eight years.  Because Kentucky wasn’t landing a lot of elite recruits under Tubby Smith or Billy Gillispie, UK fans really felt the culture shock of the rule when John Calipari took over, and five years later, some fans are still having problems adjusting.

Since 2009, ten Kentucky players have entered the NBA draft after their freshman seasons, with more to follow.  For a fanbase so emotionally connected to its players, the process is still difficult to swallow.  This season, there has been some backlash to the one-and-done culture by UK fans who feel as though they don’t know the players anymore, and in turn, don’t connect with the program as much.  I’ve thought a lot about this recently, and came up with some tips for fans to survive in the one-and-done era.

High School Basketball: McDonald's All American Games

1.  Don’t put too much stock into hype

I realize that this is a rule we break a lot around here, and it’s not intentional.  It’s hard not to get swept up into the hype that comes with elite recruits, especially when Cal is bringing #1 class in after #1 class.  This preseason, the hype reached epic levels, with “the greatest recruiting class of all time” riding to Lexington on white horses in to save fans from the memory of an embarrassing first round NIT loss.  The hype was created by the media (the 24/7 news cycle especially exists in sports); the fans, desperate to get the taste of last season out of their mouths; the overdramatic world of high school recruiting; and yes, Cal himself, who repeatedly said that he dreamt of going 40-0 during his career and he wanted his team to “chase perfection.”  As bloggers whose job it is to read the pulse of Kentucky program and its fans, yes, we are guilty of believing and building the hype, too.

Looking back, the notion of 40-0 is even more ridiculous.  It’s impossible to expect a team of freshmen to act like seniors.  After watching the team stumble (and occasionally soar) this season, I made not buying the hype a New Year’s resolution, not because it wasn’t true this go around (by the end of the season, this group may live up to its billing), but because it wasn’t fair.  Not to the players, and not to fans. When the next #1 recruiting class comes around, I’m going to do my best to let them at least play a few games before passing judgment.  (Key words: “do my best”)

2.  Let freshmen be freshmen

In the same vein, let’s let our freshmen be freshmen.  Instead of expecting them to be NBA superstars from day one, let’s expect and accept stumbles along the way.  Most of the players Cal recruits are the best of the best, and because of that, have sometimes been coddled along the way, turning the dream of going to the NBA into an expectation.  Over the past five years, we’ve seen how Cal has had to “break” freshmen of their bad habits and egos, and at some point along the way (January-February), those who go on to be the most successful have that “aha moment” in which they work harder and surrender themselves to their team.  A good example of this right now is Andrew Harrison, who is shedding bad habits and taking ownership of his role as point guard.

They're excited to bet on themselves

3.  Remember all freshmen aren’t created equal

We were spoiled by Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.  Their premature maturity and poise showed the cynics that it’s possible to win with freshmen, and the two became the standard by which all of Cal’s freshmen were measured, when really, they should be considered the exceptions to the rule.

4.  Keep in mind that some players need more than one year

Because not all freshmen are created equal, some need more time to mature.  Even just one more year in Calipari’s system can mean the difference between a second-round pick (no guaranteed contract) and a lottery pick.  Some players realize this and some players don’t. Coming in, many assumed Terrence Jones and Alex Poythress would be typical one-and-done players, destined to go in the lottery.  However, that wasn’t the case and both wisely came back for a sophomore year.  It worked out very well for Terrence, and from the looks of it, could for Alex as well. On the flip side, imagine how different life could have been for players like Marquis Teague or Daniel Orton if they had stayed another year in Lexington.


5.  Value the veterans

No, I’m not talking about Willie Cauley-Stein or Alex Poythress, although their leadership is invaluable.  I’m talking about Jon Hood, Jarrod Polson, and yes, even the walk-ons, who provide some stability to a program that’s constantly starting from scratch.  Why do you think Calipari brings up Jon Hood so often?  As much as I love LakeHair, it’s not because he’s the next NBA superstar; it’s because Hood is a mentor for younger players. After five years as a Wildcat, knows the fishbowl lifestyle, and he knows Cal’s system. That guidance is more important than any of us realize.

6.  Don’t take it personally when a player leaves

Players don’t leave Kentucky after one year because they hate the program; they leave because playing in the NBA is their dream.  Imagine working towards something your whole life and having it within your grasp.  Now add in several millions of dollars and the ability to change your family’s lifestyle.  While returning to college may be an appealing option, it’s not like the opportunity to go pro is a standing invitation.  Injuries happen and life is fleeting.  If the projections are high, how can you blame them?

7.  Remember that goodbye isn’t really goodbye

The cycle is cruel: welcome players into the family just to say goodbye to them less than a year later.  However, over the past five years, I’d argue we’ve learned that goodbye isn’t really goodbye.  Almost every single one of Calipari’s NBA players has returned to campus since leaving for the pros, many to work on their degrees and help out with camps.  The Alumni Game was created so players could come back home, be with “la familia,” and oh yeah, raise money for charity.  Before Calipari came to Lexington, I could care less about the NBA.  With 21 UK players currently on NBA rosters (15 joining the league during Cal’s tenure), you can turn on the TV just about any night and watch a former Cat play.  It’s not goodbye, it’s see you soon.

8.  Cherish the time you do have with them

It’s hard to believe, but we may only see some of these guys play in a Kentucky uniform for a few more months.  Cherish it.


9.  Hate the rule, not the player 

The one-and-done rule was introduced before the 2006 NBA Draft to curtail the influx of high schoolers to the NBA.  From then on, players must go to college for one year and be 19-years-old to enter the league.  If they don’t want to go to college, they also have the option of playing overseas or going straight to the D-League.  Frankly, the rule sucks, and is hurting both college basketball and the NBA.  Calipari is one of its most outspoken opponents, advocating a two-and-through approach similar to the one used in professional baseball.  Contrary to his critics’ beliefs, Cal doesn’t like the rule, but he doesn’t put his dreams before his players.  When asked, Cal gives them honest, unbiased advice on whether or not the timing is right for them to go to the league.  Sometimes they listen; sometimes they don’t.  Selfishly, Cal says, he’d love for them to all stay four years.  We all would.  But this isn’t about us.  It’s about them.

10.  Hope for change

The only way the one-and-done rule will change is if the NBA and the Players’ Association decide it’s time.  David Stern is retiring as commissioner on February 1st, passing the baton to deputy commissioner Adam Silver. Silver has said in the past that he is not fond of the rule.  Hopefully the regime change will spark a new debate and maybe even some action.

Until then, we just have to live in the moment.

Article written by Mrs. Tyler Thompson

No, I will not make you a sandwich, but you can follow me on Twitter @MrsTylerKSR or email me.

18 Comments for 10 Tips for Survival in the One-and-Done Era

  1. TDog
    8:47 pm January 23, 2014 Permalink

    Just 10 players in the draft since 2009? I could have sworn the number was larger than that but must have been wrong.

    • TDog
      8:48 pm January 23, 2014 Permalink

      Wait nevermind I reread it. Ignore the first post.

  2. Chaz
    8:55 pm January 23, 2014 Permalink

    Very good words MTT. A lot of us need to be reminded kids that could still be in high school aren’t going to win a NT every year. Cal coming here and getting Wall and Co. on campus was like the Alaskan gold rush. Everybody runs in after and then finds out there’s a lot of work to do first and maybe those Lottery nuggets aren’t going to just jump in their pockets.

    • Blue Jesus
      9:50 pm January 23, 2014 Permalink

      That’s a good point, if Cal had a class like last year his first year, I wonder how perception of him would be different. That first year was so fun and exciting, but we’ve seen now that we can’t always expect that.

  3. katdaddy
    10:01 pm January 23, 2014 Permalink

    Here’s a good tip also. Don’t buy tickets and stay home and save $$!

    • FunAtRupp
      10:47 pm January 23, 2014 Permalink

      I’ve stayed home lots of times to save ($$!), but I’m telling you, if you can get lower arena seats and get there for the shoot around and just watch all the people & media come in – then do it.

  4. jdub
    10:33 pm January 23, 2014 Permalink

    Excellent article. THIS is why we come to this site, to get this kind of insight and information. This is why true fans come back to this site, even when they said they would not becasue of ‘things’ posted here (Aaron Flener) that probably shouldn’t be posted here. Very well done Mrs. Thompson, thank you.

  5. Mc
    10:46 pm January 23, 2014 Permalink

    I love the part about value the veterans. Are they talking about US veterans because UK isn’t gonna have Senior Day anymore.

    • WR
      11:32 pm January 23, 2014 Permalink

      Thank you card chronicle.

  6. Linda Taylor
    11:20 pm January 23, 2014 Permalink

    Great post Tyler, one of your best!

  7. AJH
    12:59 am January 24, 2014 Permalink

    BEST article I have read on ksr in a while. This is a sensitive subject with a lot of UK fans but its the reality. TT will you date me??? Promise I’m hot…

  8. Catindallas
    3:33 am January 24, 2014 Permalink

    I don’t know why this post get only 7 comments but this is one of the best posts I have seen on KSR! Very interesting and insightful view Ms.Thompson! Well done!

  9. Buck
    9:25 am January 24, 2014 Permalink

    It just gets old to me having and hearing the same problems every year like “theyre young and need time to come together”. Its aggrevating because I wish we could get 4-5 darius miller/kemba walker/deandre liggins type players and then mix that in with one and done talent every year. I also don’t like the words players first program because the basketball program is successful based on the fans that fork out the money. it should be a fans first program. Calling it a players first program seems to make the primary objective about developing players for the nba rather than win games. minor league baseball for example doesnt care about winning games. its all about player development. Our team now has a problem with lack of hustle/energy which exacerbates the perception that player development is more important than winning games. Anyway Cal is the best out there for us so you have to take the good with the bad I guess. I made some good points so now someone go on and bash me for my opinion lol

    • 2020
      12:26 pm January 24, 2014 Permalink

      Miller/Walker/Liggins type players? Bledsoe and Hood were supposed to be them… Bledsoe developed too quickly, Hood not at all. Wiltjer and Harrow were not NBA prospects and they were chased out of town by fans for being too slow. Why don’t you tell us 10 HS juniors right now who could contribute in Cal’s system as freshmen, not leave early, become all-SEC, and not have discipline problems? It’s impossible what you’re asking.

  10. Beans and Beer
    10:48 am January 24, 2014 Permalink

    Quit cryin Buck! Be happy with a national title every 14 years!

  11. twocoach
    10:53 am January 24, 2014 Permalink

    2. Let freshmen be freshmen.

    It’s hard to do that when your coach is relying onseveral of them to be productive players from Day One, which is not what is usually expected from typical freshmen. That’s the corner that Cal has painted UK in. They are going to have a learning curve but the situation demands that it be very short or the team will have issues.

    Cal needs to mix his classes with a bigger variety of guys that will stay longer so he can have some experience on the roster for years to come. He found himself with a huge number of spots to fill when he got here and cannot check his ego at the door and say no to trying to land only elite recruits.

  12. Sully
    1:20 pm January 24, 2014 Permalink

    Well said, Ms. Thompson. Your stuff is always worth reading.

    I have said the ’12 team was an aberration all year. AD was the best college big man since Bill Walton, and there just haven’t been many players like MKG, ever. The ’10 team was arguably an aberration, too; Wall, Bledsoe, and Cousins are showing their greatness in the NBA now. What both of those teams had was quality veteran play–Patterson in ’10, Miller in ’12 (with help from Jones and Lamb). This year’s team really lacks the quality upperclassman (though I like Polson a lot for this team).

    To anyone critical of Coach Cal’s approach–who’s done better since he’s been at UK? Stretch back to the institution of the one and done rule to include his time at Memphis proves the point even more. He’s the best there is under the current rules.

  13. steve
    5:53 pm January 24, 2014 Permalink

    marquis Teague should still be running the point a uk. he left too early to chase a dream and has seen his most playing time in the D league. but then again money talks.