Fans love idea of recruiting a top recruiter

jclay@herald-leader.com,JohnClayApril 1, 2009 

John Calipari is a give-the-people-what-they-want hire.

Sure, he brings risk.

He also promises reward.

There is a reason most of the Big Blue Nation is dancing in the streets at the thought of the Memphis coach leaving Beale Street for the Bluegrass.

Calipari gets players. He gets big players. He gets quick players. He gets talented players. He gets monstrously talented players.

You can question the methods he uses to get those players.

You can't question his results.

Look at this year. Daniel Orton is the top signee of the 2009 Kentucky basketball recruiting class brought in by former UK head coach Billy Gillispie. Rivals rates Orton as the 22nd best player in the current recruiting crop. That's excellent. But ...

If John Wall, the nation's No. 1 prep player — who continues to say that Memphis tops his list — were to commit to the Tigers, Calipari would have the No. 1 (Wall), No. 2 (DeMarcus Cousins) and No. 3 (Xavier Henry) players on Rivals' list.

Consider this: Let's say, for the sake of speculation, that Wall, Cousins and Henry all follow Calipari to Lexington. Let's say Patrick Patterson and Jodie Meeks return next season. Daniel Orton, by all accounts a terrific basketball prospect, would have a hard time cracking that starting lineup.

That's what Kentucky wants.

That's what the nosebleed-seat fans wants. That's what the well-heeled boosters want. The greatest tradition in the history of college basketball, and all that.

"We want the best players in the nation," Aaron Stanley, a UK student, told the Memphis Commercial Appeal, "because we deserve the best players."

It's been more than a decade since Kentucky has been to the Final Four. Three of the four teams meeting this weekend in Detroit have been there multiple times since then. Michigan State has been there five times ('99, 2000, '01, '05 and '09). North Carolina has been four (2000, '05, '08 and '09). Connecticut has been three (1999, '04, '09).

UK fans see Calipari as the way back. In a hurry. He took lowly Massachusetts to the Final Four in 1996. He returned a moribund Memphis program to annual prominence. The past four years, Memphis is an astounding 137-14. Yes, the Tigers play in Conference-USA. But still, that's 137-14.

Why? His uptempo style helps. Calipari uses the trendy "dribble-drive motion offense." It's quirky and effective. It showcases talent under a team concept. It helped Derrick Rose, the point guard from Chicago, go from college freshman to No. 1 overall NBA draft pick in the span of nine months.

"The offense isn't for everybody," said Chris Douglas-Roberts at last year's Final Four, when Memphis lost an overtime heartbreaker to Kansas in the final game. "If you can't play one-on-one, this offense will expose you. But for me, it was good. I've never lost a game of one-on-one in my life."

Calipari's rapport with recruits helps. Douglas-Roberts, now a rookie with the New Jersey Nets, told Harvey Araton of the New York Times, "I'm from a tough neighborhood, and I always wanted to see how the coaches would deal with it. I had a lot of my people on that porch and some of the coaches weren't very comfortable, but Coach Cal — he handled it perfectly. He walked around, greeted everyone, slapped five, showed he was very comfortable with where he was."

You can say Calipari's close association with the powerbroker/confidant/street agent William Wesley, otherwise known as "World Wide Wes," helps. But if so, it's something Calipari hides in plain sight. "World Wide" will be a figure around the UK program. That's the way Calipari wants it, and in his 17 years as a head coach — despite UMass having to vacate its 1996 Final Four appearance because of the agent business with Marcus Camby — John Vincent Calipari has not been implicated in a single NCAA violation.

What he has done is this: Get players.

And win.

Just what Kentucky wants.

Reach John Clay at 859-231-3226 or 1-800-950-6397, ext. 3226, or jclay@herald-leader.com. Read his blog at Kentucky.com.

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