The latest online essay from University of Kentucky Coach John Calipari includes a not-so-subtle shot at Duke’s latest recruiting pitch, all while the Wildcats and Blue Devils battle over one of the top remaining basketball prospects in the class of 2016.
Calipari’s second installment of his “Vision of the program” series was posted Monday and clearly addresses recent comments made by one of the top recruits in the class of 2017.
Five-star shooting guard Hamidou Diallo was offered scholarships by both UK and Duke last month and talked about each school’s recruiting pitch during an interview with the Herald-Leader and others a few days later.
“Kentucky’s pitch was just the NBA thing,” Diallo said. “Duke’s pitch was just like, if you come to Duke you’re going to be set for life. It’s more than just basketball.”
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In Monday’s post on his website, Calipari countered that notion without specifically mentioning Duke by name.
“I refuse to go in a home and paint a picture saying things like, ‘If you come with us you’ll be taken care of for the rest of your life by the program and by our alums’ even though you may only be in school for a year or two,” Calipari said. “How preposterous does that sound? What if I say that same thing and the young man decides to transfer for one reason or another? Does that still hold true that we’re going to take care of them the rest of their lives?
“Our approach is to give them the fishing rod and the lures to help them catch fish, not to just give you the fish. … We will always be here to help, but they do not need to be beholden to any of us to use our contacts to help them.”
Calipari was seemingly referencing the recent transfer of point guard Derryck Thornton, who reclassified and skipped his final season of high school so he could play for Duke last season. He was recruited by the Blue Devils to replace Tyus Jones in the team’s starting lineup but had an up-and-down freshman season and will continue his college career elsewhere.
UK was heavily recruiting Thornton when he was in the class of 2016.
This back and forth comes as UK and Duke continue to square off for Marques Bolden, the No. 1 center in the class of 2016. He still has not set a date for his college announcement, though he has narrowed his list to the Cats and Blue Devils.
Whichever program lands Bolden will almost certainly end up with the No. 1-ranked recruiting class for 2016.
Calipari’s online post Monday acknowledged that UK is still not done recruiting for next season — though Bolden is the only player the Cats are currently pursuing — and expressed his excitement over another star-studded group of incoming prospects.
“I say all this with recruiting not quite finished,” he wrote. “Why not be the best rebounding team? Why not be the best shot-blocking team? Why not be the fastest team? Why not be an exciting offensive team that spreads the court, throws a lot of lobs and dunks a lot of balls, yet has players who can make shots?
“I see practices as being wars, as they have been with my best teams. Those practices push every individual player to his limit and helps each player create their best version when they step on that court with a Kentucky uniform on.”
Calipari signed off with a variation of his annual “players first” pitch that team and individual success are not mutually exclusive, even for players who come to college with the idea that they’ll only be around for one year before heading to the NBA.
“Our goals never change from year to year,” he said. “My whole focus this year and every year is that we’re playing our best basketball in March and that each individual player is the best version of themselves at the end of the year. That’s simply what we’re trying to do.
“I can’t wait.”