King of Innovation
How John Calipari has changed college basketball forever.
In three short years at Kentucky, Coach Calipari has put 15 players in the NBA, reached two Final Fours, and come home with one National Championship trophy. His average of five NBA players per season tops that of any coach in the modern era by a landslide. Calipari has obtained the number one recruiting class every season while at Kentucky, signing the likes of two first overall draft picks in John Wall and Anthony Davis.
In 2009, Kentucky set the record for most first-round picks in one Draft, having five chosen in the first round in 2009. Last season, Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist were drafted No. 1 and 2, respectively—the first time the top two picks have been from the same school.
On October 4, Coach Cal pulled out yet another ace from his recruiting sleeve when he landed verbal commitments from Andrew and Aaron Harrison, SLAM’s High School diarists and consensus top-five prospects. Andrew, a big and physically intimidating point guard, brings a completely new dimension to the point guard spot. He’s a legitimate 6-5 and a freak of an athlete who absolutely bullies smaller point guards all game long. Aaron might be the best pure scorer in America right now, giving his brother a viable option on the perimeter.
A week later, Calipari received a verbal commitment from consensus top-10 forward James Young. Young, a 6-6 small forward, competes with Aaron Harrison as the nation’s top scorer and will add an immediate impact to Kentucky on the offensive end. He has the athleticism, scoring ability and toughness to create one of the best wing tandems with Aaron Harrison we’ve seen in recent years.
The commitment from the Harrison twins and James Young proves how far the gap is between Calipari and the next head coach in terms of mastering the art of recruiting and signing future pros. But how does Coach Cal do it? What makes him stand so far out above his peers? How does he sign the top class in the country every single year?
Here’s the top-three reasons why Coach Calipari attracts the best recruits:
1. Calipari exemplifies his players’ strengths
A common accusation is that Cal doesn’t keep a tight leash on his players and allows them to run around with little instruction or discipline. Not true. Ask Terrence Jones if Coach Cal doesn’t yell or discipline his players. In Kentucky’s game at Alabama two years ago, Calipari called Jones a “selfish mother expletive” on national television, and everyone clearly saw the disgust in his comments.
Calipari doesn’t allow his players to frolic up and down the court by any means. He adapts his system around the players he has, while most coaches have a system and will require players to adapt to the system. Coach Cal places players in positions where their strengths will be a focal point. When Calipari recruits, he is honest about how he plans on using a player, and that plan is a combination of what the player requests and what Calipari believes the player’s strengths are.
A perfect example is Josh Harrellson. The center played mop-up minutes as a junior at Kentucky. As a senior, Josh was Kentucky’s main post player after Enes Kanter was declared ineligible by the NCAA. Calipari wanted Harrellson to be the hustle guy on the team—to rebound and kick the ball out to Brandon Knight and Doron Lamb.
So while Josh was not designated as go-to one-on-one player, he flourished in his role and ended up getting drafted and recently signed with the Heat. Ask any Kentucky fan whether Harrellson, after his first three seasons at Kentucky, was going to end up in the NBA. The answer was of course, No. Thanks to Coach Calipari, Harrellson is an NBA player.
Calipari makes his point clear throughout the course of the season that Kentucky is a “player’s first” program. He’s not afraid to yell and scream at the best player in the country because he knows another superstar would be willing and able to replace any prima donna in a heartbeat. His dedication to creating a professional atmosphere at the collegiate level gained the trust of recruits across the nation.
Many Kentucky fans were perturbed when Coach Calipari stated that the 2009 Draft night was “the best night in Kentucky basketball history.” While Kentucky fans disagreed, and Calipari would probably state otherwise now, it showed the coach’s true intent: to help his players’ dreams come true.
Players feel comfortable with Calipari and trust that Calipari will put them in the best position possible to get drafted high. Calipari has shown that of all the major basketball programs in the country, he is the coach that places his player’s interests above his own, more so than any other coach.
2. Calipari uses celebrities and star-status innovations better than anyone in college basketball history
How many coaches have Drake show up to their campus to coach a non-conference alumni game? How many coaches bring Jay-Z in to meet their team after a game? How many schools does LeBron James sit courtside at while wearing the school’s colors? The answer: only Kentucky.
John Calipari has become the absolute maestro at doing things no other college basketball coach has ever done. He takes great pride in being the best, not one of the best, in every single aspect of his job. He takes pride in being able to recruit “the best of the best” every year. He takes pride in having the brand new Wildcat Lodge for his players to live in. He takes pride in having the craziest, rowdiest, most insane and loyal fan base in America. One of the best examples of his dedication to being the top dog in every single aspect of his job may have come during his inaugural John Calipari Fantasy Camp.