Follow The Leader.
Originally published in SLAM 137
The 6th Man: One of the biggest differences between college basketball and the NBA (besides the pay scale and class schedules) is the role of recruiting. Recruiting is an obvious, but arguably underrated, aspect of the college sport. Judging a college coach requires a whole extra level of consideration that transcends how well they motivate their players or how sharp their Xs-and-Os game is. Think about it: While heart and strategy will always lead to upsets, a great recruiter can go into a game with the equivalent of a 15-point lead just because he was better at convincing great players to come to his school than the guy on the other sideline was.
In his 18th year as a head coach, and first at storied Kentucky, John Calipari has mastered the recruiting process better than anyone else in the country. Between his energy, his openness to modern media, his offensive system, and most of all his recent track record of pumping out successful pros, Cal has become the rare coach who sometimes has to turn down good players because too many of them want to play for him.
So why am I writing all this about a coach underneath a picture of three players? And while we’re at it, what the heck is a coach doing on the cover of the “In Your Face Basketball Magazine” (first time a coach has ever been so honored)? The answer is that in this case, we can’t seem to separate the coach from the players. Longtime readers will know that college covers of any kind are rare around here. Since prototypical SLAM guys like Kobe and LeBron didn’t even go to college, and there were a couple of down years in the high school ranks, there just haven’t been too many players or teams compelling enough to put on our iconic front page. But in the case of this year’s entertaining Wildcats team, boasting possibly the two top picks in the Draft in freshmen DeMarcus Cousins and John Wall, along with another sick freshman, Eric Bledsoe (the threesome shown left to right, above) and a host of other great college players with pro potential, we were compelled. We weren’t ready to make it just about them, though.
After all, Cal isn’t an NBA coach who inherits his stars through luck or a savvy GM. He goes out and gets them.