John Calipari thinks big when he envisions the possibilities for his University of Kentucky basketball program.
"I'd like us to be like UCLA in the '60s and '70s," he said last month. "Well, if (the players) stayed four years, it would be."
But Calipari knows better than anyone that elite players don't stay four years anymore. Or three. Or two if they can help it. Or one if the NBA did not insist.
UCLA-like dynasties are all but impossible in this age of the so-called one-and-done player. A rule adopted as part of the NBA's collective bargaining agreement in 2005 mandates that players be 19 years old and one year removed from high school to be eligible for the draft.
As a result, elite players tap an impatient foot in college for a year. What passes for dynasties can be one (championship) and done.
Calipari took this concept to new heights (or depths, depending on your point of view) last year. Four freshmen propelled a Kentucky team to the Elite Eight, then in June all four joined junior Patrick Patterson as part of an unprecedented five first-round draft picks from the same program.While Calipari sparked debate by proclaiming this the greatest day in the history of Kentucky basketball, this NBA Draft also brought consensus: four one-and-done players turned people's heads.
Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim, who set a benchmark by winning the 2003 national championship with freshmen Carmelo Anthony and Gerry McNamara playing key roles, was taken aback. A one-and-done player every two or three years is one thing.
"But when you've got three, four and five at a time," Boeheim said, "then ... what message is this?"
When asked what message he heard, Boeheim paused and said, "That's where you give critics who are against this ammunition."
Bob Knight, the winningest coach in Division I history, has called one-and-done players "non-students" and said they made for "the worst situation there is in college sports."
David Ridpath is the executive director of the Drake Group, which according to its Web site seeks to help college faculty and staff defend academic integrity in the face of the burgeoning college sports industry. He recoils at the mention of one-and-done players.
"It makes the hair on my neck raise up," said Ridpath, an assistant professor at Ohio University. "It completely defeats the purpose of college sports. It's nothing more than bringing in a mercenary."
Although NCAA rules only require one-and-done players to maintain eligibility through the fall semester, Kentucky touted John Wall as a diligent student throughout his freshman year. Its one-and-done players will not cause problems in the NCAA's Academic Progress Rate, UK says.
Calipari made no secret of rebuilding Kentucky basketball on the NBA dreams of impressionable teenagers who wanted to replicate the one-and-done careers of Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans at the University of Memphis. Another group of would-be one-and-done recruits came to UK this fall. Presumably, one or more will leave for the NBA next spring. And the incoming class of recruits for 2011 carries perhaps the strongest scent yet of one-and-done.
Jim O'Connell, the longtime college basketball editor for The Associated Press, called Kentucky a "glorified AAU program" last season.
Although he's benefited from one-and-done players dating to his time as Memphis' coach, Calipari repeatedly says he, too, doesn't like the rule. But since it exists, he must take such players.
UK President Lee Todd has echoed the sentiment, acknowledging his unease with one-and-done players but saying, whether UK recruits them or not, it will be competing against them.
Indeed, Kentucky is hardly alone in wanting the best players. When asked how many coaches would take a one-and-done player, Boeheim said, "Every coach in the country. That's why I knew Lute was losing it."
In 2008, former Arizona coach Lute Olson famously called the one-and-done rule a "farce" and swore off recruiting such players.
Todd, who is retiring at the end of June, has said he would work through the NCAA system to reform the one-and-done rule. Like many, the UK president prefers the model of college baseball: players can turn pro out of high school, but to enter college carries a three-year commitment.
NBA Commissioner David Stern has noted the impotence of college presidents and coaches when it comes to the one-and-done rule. "This is not about the NCAA," he told USA Today in June. " ... This is a business decision by the NBA. We like to see our players in competition after high school."
So when Ridpath calls for college presidents like Todd to take a principled stand and refuse to take one-and-done players, it sounds like unilateral disarmament.
Joe Peek, a faculty representative on UK's Board of Trustees, saw Calipari being pragmatic in taking one-and-done players.
"I think sports are more powerful than academics, right?" Peek said. "If he didn't play the game or he said, 'We're not going to do one-and-dones,' and we start losing a bunch of games, he's risking his job."
But critics wonder about the educational mission of schools.
"No one can justify this on the educational perspective, that this is an educational endeavor," said Ridpath, a former wresting coach at Ohio University.
Murray Sperber, an Indiana University professor known nationally as a critic of college athletics, said UK "suffers from one-and-done-itis."
But Sperber added that he does not view the one-and-done player as a symbol of schools abandoning their mission to educate.
"That horse — education for one-and-done and similar star players — has left the barn so long ago that it's hard to remember if it was ever in the barn," Sperber wrote in an e-mail.
Meanwhile, probably many fans think of one-and-done players in more practical terms: Can their favorite teams depend on freshmen, no matter how talented, to win the national championship?
The lack of experience makes that "very difficult," Olson said. "How many NCAA (Tournament) games are decided in the final seconds? A lot of times. Veterans have been through the experience of that, that kind of pressure."
Looking back on his championship freshmen, Boeheim saw Anthony as a rare exception. "One in what? Couple million guys?" the Syracuse coach asked. "I don't think he gets credit (or) his due for how good he was."
And McNamara had shouldered the responsibility on his high school team for four years. Pressure was a familiar companion.
"But those upper-class guys really helped," Boeheim said of his Syracuse team in 2002-03. "From the maturity level. From the leadership level."
Although draftniks projected Wall as the first overall pick in 2010 for more than a year, one-and-done players can be difficult to predict. So a coach can expect to build a stable of veterans and then find the freshman in March is NBA-ready.
Calipari has noted that many thought DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe would play in college for at least two years. And Daniel Orton missed almost his entire senior high school season because of knee surgery, so who thought he'd be in the 2010 NBA Draft?
"I thought John did an unbelievable job," Boeheim said of Calipari molding his freshman-oriented team into an effective unit. "I'm not sitting here criticizing that because it's been successful. Kids are really looking at Kentucky, thinking three or four guys go there and right out. 'That's what I want to do.' "
Anthony came to Syracuse at 190 pounds, leading Boeheim and the player's family to foresee a two-year college career.
Conversely, an expected one-and-done player like Darius Rice played four seasons in college.
If college basketball refused to take players who considered themselves one-and-done, the sport might be done. "Probably half of them think they're one-and-done," West Virginia Coach Bob Huggins said.
The one-and-done player was unheard of when UCLA won its 10 national championships in a 12-year period. Don Yeager, who co-authored a book with former UCLA Coach John Wooden last year, noted how Lew Alcindor (now Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) might sit next to Wooden on a bus trip.
"The entire conversation would be about literature or philosophy or religion, whatever class Kareem was taking," Yeager said. "Coach Wooden had the background and was able to engage him. They didn't talk about the execution of the high post."
When asked how Wooden viewed the concept of one-and-done players, Yeager said, "I never knew him to say anything bad about anybody. He'd bite his lip.
"Kids using college. Coaches allowing it to happen or encouraging anybody to use college. That would be one of those moments when John Wooden would bite his lip."