John Clay: One-and-done model was dying until Cal and Kentucky revived it

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistApril 1, 2014 

To use a John Calipari phrase, I'll own it.

Not in a million Aaron Harrison jump shots did I think this particular Kentucky basketball team would be on its way to North Texas for this weekend's Final Four at Jerry World.

I'm no Basketball Bennie, but I'd long given up on the idea of Kentucky as a Final Four team even if Calipari insisted that he has never given up on a team or a player in his life.

"There are times that I get more aggressive, there are times that I get more impatient, but I never stop believing," the coach said Tuesday during his news conference at the Joe Craft Center.

"Last year we played dodgeball, kickball. I mean — I'll try whatever I have to try, to try to get through to a team to help them get better. And the same with individual players, I will never give up on an individual player."

It should be noted that Calipari was grinning when he said this, as he was grinning throughout his nearly 15-minute back-and-forth with the local media — "You guys wrote us off," he said, grinning again — and the fact is his happiness is deserved.

But here's one thing I'm sure I won't be wrong about: With Kentucky in the Final Four for the third time in four years, when the national media arrives in Texas, we're going to end up debating this one-and-done thing all over again.

On a teleconference Tuesday, CBS/Turner analysts Steve Kerr and Greg Anthony were asked — in the words of the person asking the question — "why (Kentucky) is such an easy program to dislike."

"Part of it is the tradition of the program, part of it is the one-and-done," Kerr said. "I think college fans in general are not fans of the one-and-done. They would prefer to see players stay. Coach Cal has not only employed the one-and-done; he's embraced it and celebrated it in a lot of ways."

That, Kerr said, makes the Cats an easy mark to protest against the rule, even if Calipari isn't an advocate of the rule. And even, as Anthony chimed in, the criticism is totally unfair.

"I'm so tired of everybody talking about the one-and-done from this standpoint," the former UNLV star said. "Every one of those damn kids for Kentucky, everyone else would have signed them if they decided to go there. Every high school kid coming in as a freshman would go one-and-done if they had ability, for the most part."

Look at Duke, said Anthony, which has had three or four one-and-done players in the past few years. Look at Kansas, where Andrew Wiggins announced Monday that he is leaving Lawrence after one season to play in the NBA.

Seriously, haven't we gotten past this question?

Those who insist that the one-and-done makes a mockery of college basketball are ignoring the ridiculous money and greed that is making a mockery of college basketball.

The difference in the one-and-done case is that the athletes gifted enough to take advantage of the system are able to make money for themselves, the type of money that will change their families' lives forever.

And that's a bad thing?

The real one-and-done question for Kentucky and Calipari was whether it was a good business model for hanging banners.

For most of this season, relying so heavily on freshmen, even talented freshmen, did not appear to be a formula that was going to work. And then somehow, some way, just as the post-season started, Calipari found a way to make it work.

I'll admit I didn't think he could do it. Even as much as I admire Calipari's ability to get multiple McDonald's All-Americans to check their egos and play for the good of the team, that didn't seem to be working with this team — until it did.

"What Cal did, he took a bunch of basketball talent and made them basketball players," Anthony said.

These last three weeks, there's been a huge difference between what I thought would happen with this Kentucky basketball team and what has happened.

That I'll own.

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Email: jclay@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv. Blog: Johnclay.bloginky.com.

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