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Head-to-head recruiting: Coach Cal vs. Coach K

USA Today Sports

USA Today Sports

When the college basketball season ends (and sometimes before), the recruiting season begins, and it’s no secret that John Calipari is a master recruiter (despite how much he may downplay it). Since 2011, Kentucky has been the only school with a consensus top-5 recruiting class among 247SportsScout, and ESPN. Furthermore, the Wildcats have had a consensus top-2 class every year except for 2019 (though they could rise in the rankings if Jaden McDaniels goes against predictions and chooses the Cats).

While Coach Cal’s recruiting prowess has paid dividends, it’s placed a target on his back, and other schools have elevated their game in the recruiting arena. Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway has put together the No. 1 recruiting class so far this cycle, but the most consistent competition comes from Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski.

From 2014 to 2018, the Wildcats and the Blue Devils have shared the top-2 spots in recruiting, and the latter has owned the consensus No. 1 class the past two years. Last year, Duke boasted the first class in the modern era with the No. 1, 2 and 3 ranked players on their roster.

A variety of factors go into the players a coach chooses to recruit and the schools a player is interested in joining. Coach Cal and Coach K have different play styles which call for different skill sets and, as such, they often recruit different players. However, players inevitably come along who are so talented that both coaches compete for them. These head-to-head battles are where things get extra competitive – and interesting.

These decisions, the ones made by the most sought after players in a class, often come down to Kentucky, Duke and a handful of other schools. It may be worthwhile then to examine those cases and see how Cal and K stack up as “closers” when they’re vying for the same prospect. These are the athletes (and their ESPN rankings) since 2014 who were considering both UK and Duke at the time they made their final decision:


Matthew Hurt (No. 11)—Duke


R.J. Barrett (No. 1)—Duke

Zion Williamson (No. 2)—Duke

Cam Reddish (No. 3)—Duke

E.J. Montgomery (No. 14)—Kentucky


Kevin Knox (No. 10)—Kentucky


Harry Giles (No. 1)—Duke

Jayson Tatum (No. 3)—Duke

Wenyen Gabriel (No. 14)—Kentucky

Marques Bolden (No. 16)—Duke


Brandon Ingram (No. 3)—Duke

Luke Kennard (No. 24)—Duke


Karl Anthony-Towns (No. 9)—Kentucky

So, since 2014, the score is 9-4 in favor of Krzyzewski. Of course, there were players considering both schools who eventually dropped one and went to the other (i.e. Trey Lyles), but when it comes down to arguably the two most prestigious programs in college basketball history, Duke seems to be winning out on the recruiting trail, at least right now.

This is not to say Calipari & Co. has not done extremely well on said trail. Like previously mentioned, the Wildcats have had a consensus top-2 class every year until 2019, and things could still change in that department. Regardless, it hurts just a little bit more when the Cats miss out on top talent to none other than Coach K and his Blue Devils, right?

Article written by Hayden Adams

22 Comments for Head-to-head recruiting: Coach Cal vs. Coach K

  1. Thetruthshallsetbennyfree
    9:00 pm May 19, 2019 Permalink

    KAT is by far and wide the best player on that list and ever person Duke got underachieved. So this attempt to make Duke look good failed where matters.

    • mashburnfan1
      9:39 pm May 19, 2019 Permalink

      Ingram and Tatum have done well in college and NBA but Zion was the best college player on that list. KAT may end up being the better NBA player, time will tell. The one that hurt us the most is Zion, with him we win it all last year. Only one we have on the list that was good in college is KAT, Gabriel and Knox did little at UK as did EJ last year. I do think if EJ is back he moves way up.

    • sonsofragnarlodbrok
      9:43 pm May 19, 2019 Permalink

      Zion definitely hurt.
      Who won the Championship KAT’s year?

      Love Cal, but losing recruits to Duke just hurts more.

    • 4everUKblue
      9:51 pm May 19, 2019 Permalink

      And yet K only got past UCF because of the ref’s swallowing their whistles when Zion had the ball. Ask yourself who did dUKe play to get to the championship game. A bad Gonzaga team? That was the best team K face by far to get the the championship game. Winning recruits over Cal the last 4 yrs only helped K get to the elite 8 at best.

  2. Harlanian
    10:00 pm May 19, 2019 Permalink

    At least the talking heads have ceased condemning the ‘evils’ of one-n-done recruiting since coach K started doing it.

  3. sonsofragnarlodbrok
    10:07 pm May 19, 2019 Permalink

    Again, love Cal, hope he retires at UK, but UK has not gotten past the Elite Eight either in the past four years.

    Duke beat the team that beat UK KAT’s year and won the championship. That’s really all that matters.

    • mashburnfan1
      10:41 pm May 19, 2019 Permalink

      You can’t explain facts or common sense to 4ever. I brought up Wisc year as well but then he just wants to talk about after that season. UK has never lost a game with Cal, only officials faults. That 34 point loss to dUKe, yep officials fault. Losing to bad teams like KState and Auburn in the tourney while having all these so called top recruits….officials fault. He is too busy with Cals crank in his mouth to read or understand logic. At least dUKe lost this year to a legit team in MSU and like I said years ago, NO team will win a title if it has to rely on all FR to do so. Cal now knows that and is why he is going the Grad Transfer route, experience matters much more than HS rankings do. If dUKe had PJ or Reid this year, they win it. If we add Zion to our group, we win it.

    • 4everUKblue
      10:57 pm May 19, 2019 Permalink

      mashbum only chooses what fits his narrative and it always centers around his hatred for Cal and that is the bottom line, there is zero common sense involved when he talk BB. He also likes to talk about the male genitalia and acts involving said genitalia. He loves to make excuses for K while finding fault with everything Cal does, he is not a UK fan.

    • UK Maine-iac
      11:00 pm May 19, 2019 Permalink

      A little bit of nitpicking, but saying losing to Auburn was losing to a bad team is incorrect. They started the year ranked in the top ten, maybe top five, dipped during the season, and then got hot during the tournament. Should we have won? Absolutely. But it’s not like we lost to a team of scrubs. They could’ve easily made the championship game. I can give you KState, but that UK team was not consistent in the least. Although they should’ve won, it shouldn’t be surprising they didn’t.

      People forget in the long history of basketball, UK has won it 8 times, and that’s second best. If championships were easy it would be a different story. And if people base their love of a team solely based on championships, they’ll never be happy. We’re in the conversation every year. I don’t see how that’s a problem.

    • 4everUKblue
      11:05 pm May 19, 2019 Permalink

      K only lost to MSU because the ref’s didn’t call what should have been Zion’s 5th and 6th fouls on one play, instead the called it on Fall, anyone not too busy with K’s crank can see that. Can’t blame the K State loss on Cal’s game plan, missed free throws lost that game and last time I checked Cal didn’t shoot one FF. The dUKe game was embarrassing but meant nothing and if you want to talk about losses to bad teams go look at who dUKe lost to the three seasons before this season while having the best players top to bottom all three years. mashbum, being a K fanboy doesn’t want to talk about that, he only wants to glorify K while criticizing Cal.

    • 4everUKblue
      11:21 pm May 19, 2019 Permalink

      And let’s remember all the key injuries over the Cal years. WCS out the year we lost to UCONN, Poythress out against Wisc, Reid travis and PJ both injured in the middle of this season’s best play that hurt momentum. There are a few others that I won’t bother to name but the ones I did name were costly injuries whether mashbum wants to admit it or not.

    • makeitstop
      8:01 am May 20, 2019 Permalink

      Great points 4ever. Thoughtful analysis… unlike, well a couple notables on here. In industry u do a root cause analysis to see what went wrong to see if it can it be engineered out, in law we look for causality and even assign comparative fault. On here, for a few bloggers that’s too much to ask, so it’s all Cal’s fault. Simplistic and ultimately wrong. Injuries can’t be engineered out and in fact we do a great job of conditioning and re-hab. Foul shooting is incredibly frustrating and if anything, a constant in our high profile losses, but it’s not Cal’s fault as he isn’t shooting. However, if we addressed it, we’d prolly have beaten WVU, KSU and AU so if there was some point oh emphasis we could undertake to fix that stat, it would be worth the effort. See also Putt for Dough, drive for show!

  4. ukkatzfan
    10:56 pm May 19, 2019 Permalink

    I would like to see Hayden w

    • ukkatzfan
      10:58 pm May 19, 2019 Permalink

      Write up a resignation letter since he/she is apparently a dookie fan.

  5. Smyrna_Cat
    11:11 pm May 19, 2019 Permalink

    Not sure this is a very fair comparison. You picked a breakpoint that greatly benefited K.

    • sonsofragnarlodbrok
      1:10 am May 20, 2019 Permalink

      Hate to repeat myself, Love Cal and never want him to leave until he wants…but, facts are facts. If you compare championships and recent recruiting wins, then K is the winner. As much as it stings.

      Pick a breaking point that Cal wins. Touney wins over x number of years? Who cares. Give me April championships. Cal has one.

    • makeitstop
      8:08 am May 20, 2019 Permalink

      Yea why not go back to 2009? Pretty sure Duke recruited several of those guys, though 2014 seems to be when K embraced 1 and done. I think the numbers are a little subjective here, but I’d concede w last year’s class, Cal got waxed… but that may hurt K more than anyone bc if u can’t win w THAT?!

  6. rebound35
    1:10 am May 20, 2019 Permalink

    Cal gets 8 mil per to get elite players and fizzle when it matters most. K wins championships. Now Cal is being out recruited by K and Penny.. next year will be like this year if we are lucky. Cal just cannot coach and ee all know it, ran two out of bounds plays the entire year (and they worked). I hope he leaves after this year and Brad Stevens comes.

  7. UKLugo
    7:18 am May 20, 2019 Permalink

    Reddish,Giles,Tatum never REALLY considered UK.
    KAT never REALLY considered Duke.

  8. Big Sexy
    10:14 am May 20, 2019 Permalink

    In those 6 years of getting the best talent there was to offer they’ve combined for 2 Final Fours and 1 championship. What does that say about the 1 year rentals of the best 18 y/o talent?

    The first 6 years it went really well. The last 4 we’ve got to see them win a lot of games and have some hope they could win it all. But I’ve never felt great about that since 2015. My opinion is it’s time to groom 3-4 year players and not run them off by recruiting over them every year.

    • Big Sexy
      10:19 am May 20, 2019 Permalink

      That should’ve read in the last 5 years of getting the best talent(’15,’16,’17,’18, ’19). But 2015 was a really fun season!!