John Clay: Cats, Cards both benefit from recruiting wars

Cards coach isn't giving up against Calipari

jclay@herald-leader.com,JohnClaySeptember 8, 2010 

Kentucky's John Calipari, left, shook hands with Louisville's Rick Pitino after UK's 71-62 victory last season. The coaches also compete for recruits.

MARK CORNELISON | STAFF

Word to the wise: Don't count Rick Pitino out just yet.

To be sure, John Calipari is the dominant force these days.

His first Kentucky team won 35 games. It boasted John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe, among others. It was ranked No. 1 in the country, captured the Southeastern Conference and reached the Elite Eight before being caught from behind by its own youth.

Calipari has high-octane rookies Enes Kanter (he hopes), Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb and Stacey Poole on ship for the coming season. And Cal has the mother lode of Michael Gilchrist, Anthony Davis, Kyle Wiltjer and Marquis Teague committed for 2011.

It is also true that Calipari fired a flaming arrow through Louisville's heart by persuading Teague to commit to the Cats, despite the fact Louisville had recruited the Indiana point guard much longer, and Teague's father played for Pitino many moons ago.

No doubt, Kentucky will be heavy-duty favorites when the two rivals exchange glares in U of L's new arena on New Year's Eve.

And did you see it last Saturday, Coach Cal tossing footballs on the UK sideline at Papa John's, then oh-so-brazenly walking right in front of the U of L basketball recruits in attendance?

But then did you see Tuesday where Bowling Green High School star Chane Behanan, rated the nation's No. 23 prospect for 2011 by Rivals.com, committed to play basketball at the 'Ville?

Include Behanan with previous commitments Wayne Blackshear, ranked 32nd by Rivals, Zach Price (72nd) and Ryan Taylor (103rd). Now throw in the real possibility Louisville snags Quincy Miller, ranked fifth by Rivals. Considering all that, it's safe to say U of L has experienced a nice bounce-back this basketball recruiting season.

Louisville's late push won't be enough to pass the Cats, of course. Seems even when recruiting services shake up their rankings, they merely move one UK commitment (Anthony Davis) up to the top spot in place of another UK commitment (Michael Gilchrist).

Louisville is putting together a nice class for 2011. Calipari is putting together a history-making class for 2011.

Still, Behanan's Tuesday pledge is significant in that it blunts the assertions (dreams?) of those eager to toss Pitino on the has-been heap.

Is Ricky P. at his mid-1990s prime? Hardly. But the man can still coach, and recent events prove there are top prospects who still believe they can benefit from his expertise.

It also proves what we've known all along, that hot hoops properties care not nearly so much about trials and tabloids as they do about which coach affords them the best chance of getting where they want to go: the NBA.

That is Calipari's not-so-secret, after all. Many outside the commonwealth may view the UK coach with a suspicious eye, but recruits clearly see Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans cashing NBA paychecks. They saw John Wall chosen No. 1 in the latest NBA Draft, followed by a parade of four more ex-Cats in the first round.

Thanks to that Big Blue bonanza, recruits are now seeing Pitino's face more often on the recruiting trail. They also see that he was flexible enough to step outside his former player/associate pipeline of assistants to hire Tim Fuller, an aide with strong Nike ties — and we all know it's all about the shoes.

Calipari and Pitino are no longer friends, that we also know. But here's something we're learning: The competition between the two is making both basketball programs better.

That's right, both programs.

John Calipari is still the man.

But it'd be foolish to count out Rick Pitino just yet.

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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