Almost back from my honeymoon now but still giving this post up for the rest of the week to KSR fans that I know to discuss the things they always wished they could get on the site. Yesterday, I know EVERYBODY loved the piece by a former UK fan turned into a Duke fan and the respect both programs have for one another, right? Today, the post goes back to a big UK fan, my brother-in-law Neil. A former proponent for winning first, the Calipari program has changed his tune about what a college basketball program truly is all about. Enjoy:
Much of my life has been spent pulling for UK men’s basketball to win as many games possible without much concern for the overall well-being of the players on and off the Rupp Arena’s court. Sure, I wished the players well, but I wanted UK to win national championships. As many as possible. However, the John Calipari-run program, with recruitment of numerous “one-and-dones” and development of nearly as many NBA lottery picks, along with a national championship sprinkled in the mix, opened my eyes to evaluate how I view the UK men’s basketball program.
The resulting perspective I came to surprised me, but consisted of a realization that player development should absolutely be the priority in the program, and winning, among other aspects, a necessary but less important product. In my recently developed opinion, a premier college basketball program is defined by the success of the players upon “graduation” from the program, and supported by winning (aka, national championships). In fact, a premier college basketball program is much like a premier academic program, such as those at Harvard or the like as an example. John Calipari is more than a coach, he is a professor, the dean of the men’s basketball program. Now, despite the fact that I am no expert on academia, I conjecture that a premier academic program consists of the following attributes, in likeness to the UK men’s basketball program:
- Recruitment of the brightest students possible in the nation (not a balance of a few of the brightest and a handful of the mediocre)
- Calipari UK Basketball: recruit as many projected “one-and-dones” as humanly possible
- Student development at the highest level possible to attain excellent student performance during school and the highest degree of success after graduation (for example, hired into a prominent job position with the highest starting salary possible). After all, students desire to apply to the programs that will enable them to reach their highest potential.
- Calipari UK Basketball: develop players with the goal of them being drafted as high as possible into the NBA
- Employment of professors who are national/world experts to develop the students, along with developing subordinate professors into experts, and leading those students and subordinates to prominent achievements in the program’s field of study, advancing the field of study and gaining the program prestige, money, and resources.
- Calipari UK Basketball: Cal develops his assistant coaches and program infrastructure, and leads the coaches and players to win SEC and national championships to maintain the fervor of the fan base, and grow the prestige of the program through the many types of successes (NBA picks, championships, future head coaches). Cal has changed the landscape of college basketball.
- Sustainment of long-lasting meaningful relationships with alumni, which results in future professors, financial donations, and professional representation of the program
- Calipari UK Basketball: the NBA is significantly represented by UK alumni, and UK reaps the financial and intangible benefits of alumni returning to Lexington time and time again
Academic programs even see students graduate early. “One-and-done” akin to child-geniuses. Okay, maybe “one-and-dones” are a bit more plentiful than the child-geniuses, but plenty of students graduate in under four years thanks to college credit coming out of high school, akin to basketball “two-and-through”s and “three-and-free”s. And what about those four year players? Most are minoring in basketball.
Winning enough in this players-first program is an art. Hopefully it’s a timely by-product of big recruits, expert coaches, and developed players. Hopefully Calipari masters the art. I think he has, and I think he will continue to do so at UK well into his 70’s. Pour your UK heart into players’ success first, followed by national championships. Perhaps in the future we’ll see players earning bachelor degrees in professional basketball, to go along with national championships. If your heart is in it solely for championships, devote yourself to an NBA team. Go Cats.