John Clay: Calipari's recruiting is a dream that never ends

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistApril 12, 2012 

If you're a Kentucky fan, this has to be a dream, right?

A dream that is continuing into its fourth year.

One moment very soon, you will snap awake. It is inevitable. You will be disappointed to know what you experienced was only a dream. You won't be shocked, however.

In these parity-filled times, no single program dominates a sporting endeavor the way Kentucky basketball has dominated college recruiting. It's just not real.

That's why, Wednesday night, your TV tuned to ESPNU, you braced for the worst.

Shabazz Muhammad and Nerlens Noel, top two prospects in the Class of 2012, were announcing their college intentions. You knew Shabazz wasn't picking Kentucky even before he officially did not pick Kentucky. He pledged his intentions to UCLA. One down, one to go. There was still Noel.

Early in the broadcast, however, UK's dream weaver, John Calipari, threw a wet blanket on your expectations. Calipari talked about how Kentucky was not for everyone. He said that no matter what happened, the program would get good players. He appeared to know what you did not know. And it wasn't good.

You read all the tweets about Noel and Georgetown. You heard that his family, especially his mother, had grown fond of the Hoyas staff. You listened to an interview in which Noel said his mother had the most influence on his choice. You thought that's the way it goes.

When Noel turned his back to the camera to reveal the choice he had cut into the back of his now-famous haircut, you thought of putting your hands over your eyes to keep from seeing that single letter "G."

Instead, there were two letters.

There was that familiar block "UK."

Surely then, you expected someone to shake you awake.

Life has been like this since Calipari took the Kentucky job on April 1, 2009.

He began his tenure with a No. 1 recruiting class. John Wall. DeMarcus Cousins. Eric Bledsoe. He followed that the next year with Terrence Jones, Brandon Knight and Doron Lamb.

He put together an amazing third straight No. 1 class last year with probably his best collection yet — Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague and Kyle Wiltjer, cogs in a gleaming national championship wheel.

Now it's getting ridiculous.

Many complain about the one-and-done. Let them complain. Calipari works the rule like magic. There should be a neon "availability" sign outside Joe Craft Center. No one stays long. (Or almost no one.)

A player arrives, thrives, then departs to live out his NBA dream. That opens space for the next dreamer to climb aboard.

Chances are, Brandon Knight would not have come in 2010 if John Wall was still around. Marquis Teague might not have come in 2011 if he thought Knight was still going to be around. Nerlens Noel probably wouldn't have agreed to hop on board in 2012 if he thought Anthony Davis was still going to be in blue.

Chances are, none of those would have come without seeing how much their predecessors enjoyed the experience.

Those coming have seen the success attained by those who leave. And why would they want to mess with success?

That's not to say that Calipari's Class of 2012 — Noel, Alex Poythress, Archie Goodwin and Willie Cauley-Stein — should be compared to the Class of 2011. Not yet. That distinction must be earned, not given.

Davis, Kidd-Gilchrist, Teague and Wiltjer helped win a title, the school's first in 14 years. Along with Jones and Lamb and Darius Miller, they formed the winning bond of a team that played together.

So the most encouraging sign for UK fans on Wednesday night may not have been Noel pledging himself to be a Wildcat, but the camera shot of Goodwin celebrating like crazy when Noel made his announcement.

That's where title dreams begin.

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv.

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