King of Innovation
How John Calipari has changed college basketball forever.
The John Calipari Fantasy Camp consisted of roughly 50 participants ranging from ages 35-74. (Yes, there was a 74-year-old man playing competitive basketball for three straight days.) Each camper paid anywhere from $7,500-10,000 to participate (yes, you read those numbers right), and essentially live as a Kentucky basketball player for a weekend.
I witnessed the camp firsthand on September 13-15 and came away absolutely amazed at the level of detail the camp went to ensure everyone had an enjoyable experience. Credit the staff at ProCamps and everyone else involved with the camp, but credit Coach Cal for giving the camp his full effort in order to make Kentucky have the best experience as usual. He showed every camper individual attention, gave them an insight at his day-to-day life, toured them of the Kentucky facilities, and welcomed every camper into the Big Blue Nation with open arms.
“I thought Coach Cal showed how committed he was to making the camp a great experience for everyone. He went over and beyond in every regard to make sure the campers were well taken care of,” said camper Chuck Whitman, who tours the circuit of fantasy camps across the country. “From the gear to the facilities and to the staff, everything was first class. For a first time fantasy camp, he hit a home run!”
The campers ate lunch in the Wildcat Lodge (where the current players live), watched some of the current players work out with Coach Cal, watched game film with their respective coaches, ate dinner at the Winstar Farms Mansion, and even ate dinner at Coach Cal’s house on Friday night.
“As a native Kentuckian and UK graduate, it was a dream come true,” said camper Rob Koontz. “The access to current and former players was second to none. Coach Cal has always said that he wants UK to be the ‘gold standard,’ and this was no exception. He went out of his way to make us feel like a part of his basketball.”
3. Calipari uses player precedent to suggest to high school players that he can put them in the NBA too.
From Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans at Memphis to John Wall, Brandon Knight and Marquis Teague at UK, Calipari has established an absolute staggering number of star point guards in the last few years. “Point Guard U” will go bananas for their newest addition in Andrew Harrison, showing Calipari refuses to take his foot off the gas pedal.
His big men haven’t been too shabby either. DeMarcus Cousins, Daniel Orton, Olympic Gold medalist Anthony Davis, and Terrence Jones formulate one heck of a front line. The crazy part? Throw Nerlens Noel, Willie Cauley and possibly Julius Randle into that list, and you have just as much of a “Big Man U” as a “Point Guard U.”
Here’s the scary thing: While Calipari uses player precedent to his advantage now, how much more will he be able to use this tactic five years from now? Calipari puts five players in the NBA per year on average while at UK. If he keeps up his current pace, he could have a total of 40 players in the NBA after just a decade of being the head coach at UK. How many programs have put 40 players in the NBA total? Even some conferences in Division I basketball haven’t even put out 40 NBA players.
Players now know they can come to Kentucky and have their talents showcased while putting themselves in a position to be a high draft pick in the NBA, all while winning National Championships and getting the highest quality coaching that college basketball has to offer. Calipari’s system attracts any high school player who has dreams of being a college champion and a high NBA draft pick, two things that usually formulate into a pretty decent basketball player.
The bottom line: John Calipari has a grasp on college basketball recruiting that we have not seen in a long time. He picks the players he wants to put on the Kentucky Wildcat jersey and almost always receives their letters of intent. Like him or not, Coach Cal is the kingpin of college hoops and has no signs of slowing down. How long will his run at the top last? No one knows for sure. What we do know, is that while John Calipari stands at the top of the totem poll, betting against him landing elite level recruits will cost you a lot of money…