John Clay: Calipari can't win 'em all

jclay@herald-leader.comMay 14, 2013 

So 39-1 will have to do.

After all, had super-duper recruit Andrew Wiggins announced he was bringing his talents to Kentucky to join an already overflowing embarrassment of riches, then surely Big Blue Nation would have set its dream meter on not only Banner No. 9 but a perfect season, as well.

Alas, it was not to be. Just before 12:15 p.m. on Tuesday, the nation's No. 1 recruit, Canadian by birth, a Huntington (W.Va.) Prep star by way of basketball, announced that he would be attending not UK, but KU: Kansas University.

Some called the choice a surprise. How so? Kansas was one of Wiggins' four finalists, along with Kentucky, Florida State and North Carolina.

Plus, Wiggins played the whole process so close to the vest, even the most well-connected of recruiting experts admitted to be in the dark right until the moment the choice was revealed.

Kansas makes sense as a choice, too. It is a program with great tradition (Adolph Rupp and Dean Smith got their starts there), a championship coach (Bill Self) and a very neat place to play (the wonderful Allen Fieldhouse).

Kansas lost some key players from this past season's Sweet 16 team, notably Ben McLemore and Jeff Withey. In fact, Self doesn't have a regular starter returning.

He does have a good recruiting class coming, one that was bumped up to great as soon as the chosen one, Huntington Herald-Dispatch sports reporter Grant Traylor, the only media person allowed at the announcement, tweeted the choice.

Kansas' recruiting class will be ranked behind Kentucky's, however. If the Cats do not have the No. 1 overall player, they appear to have almost every other player in the top 10, or close to it.

Some expert observers even argue that Texas prep star Julius Randle is in Wiggins' territory when it comes to talent. The Harrison twins aren't far behind, either.

That was part of Kentucky's problem in the Wiggins recruiting process. The Cats have almost too many good players scheduled to arrive on campus. Wiggins might have felt outside of his comfort zone, trying to find his niche in a very thick mix.

At Kentucky, Wiggins would have been one of the go-to guys. At Kansas, he is the go-to guy. At Kentucky, he would have been part of the show. At Kansas, he will be showcased.

That doesn't mean Kentucky would have been a bad choice. Far from it. In fact, Wiggins could not have gone too far wrong with any of his final four.

North Carolina should be a top-10 team next season, even sans Wiggins. Florida State's appeal was based on bloodlines — both of Wiggins' parents are FSU grads — plus Leonard Hamilton's long history as an accomplished recruiter.

You have to feel for our old friend Leonard, the former Kentucky assistant under Joe B. Hall who was responsible for signing so many former UK stars. In 1979, Hamilton came oh so close to landing Ralph Sampson to go along with Sam Bowie, losing out at the last second when the 7-foot-4 Sampson (almost reluctantly) picked Virginia.

Tuesday, Leonard came oh so close to signing Wiggins, only to lose the legacy recruit to Lawrence.

Let's not crack on Wiggins for taking us (nearly) right down to the wire, either. It was surely a tough decision and the only time in his life he will have to make this decision — and with so many interested in that decision.

Meanwhile, back home, the current Cats should be just fine, thank you. John Calipari can't sign every top recruit, though there are times when one might wonder if that isn't within Calipari's capabilities.

The coach's job now is to coach. His task is to blend this year's incoming class, and assorted holdovers, into the same unselfish, ultra-competitive, joy-to-watch group he guided to the national title in 2012.

Besides, even with Wiggins, an undefeated college basketball season in this day and time is unrealistic.

How about 39-1?

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. E-mail: Blog: Twitter: @johnclayiv.

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