The Calipari System

Story by: Dimitri Tzamaras 

On Thursday, ESPN’s critically acclaimed documentary series 30 for 30 will be releasing their latest installment. “One and Not Done,” directed by Johnathan Hock will air at 9 p.m. Eastern, and focuses on the rise of Kentucky men’s college basketball coach, John Calipari.

Calipari has been accused of ruining college basketball, of being arrogant, and even of operating under shady circumstances at Kentucky. There is one thing that sticks out to me though, when looking at the basketball machine Calipari has built: he genuinely cares about his guys, and they love him for it.

Take a second and think about the guys (from Kentucky alone) Calipari has put into the league. The list is awe-inspiring: Eric Bledsoe, Devin Booker, Willie Cauley-Stein, DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, Archie Goodwin, Andrew Harrison, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Brandon Knight, Skal Labissiere, DeAndre Liggins, Trey Lyles, Jamal Murray, Nerlens Noel, Patrick Patterson, Julius Randle, Karl-Anthony Towns, Tyler Ulis, James Young, and John Wall.

That’s 21 players. If you add in Malik Monk, De’Arron Fox, and Edrice “Bam” Adebayo, all likely first round picks in the upcoming NBA draft, you’re staring down the barrel of 24 ex-Calipari coached Wildcats in the NBA. That’s nearly enough for every team to have one.

Calipari has and probably always will take a ton of flak for “starting” (I’m putting this in air quotes, because he didn’t really start the trend, he just took it to an entirely new level) what has been deemed the “one-and-done culture”.

He has created a symbiotic relationship that I am not sure exists anywhere else in sports. The uniqueness of the NBA’s silly one-and-done rule has allowed Calipari to develop an ecosystem that has dominated the conversation around college basketball. Calipari’s recruiting strategy can essentially be boiled down to this:

Listen, you’re too talented to stay in college for any more than one season. You could probably make the jump to the NBA now if the rules allowed it. Since you can’t though, why not come to a place where you will be with other NBA-bound studs, compete for a championship, and play for a guy who has sent countless first-round picks into the league? It almost makes too much sense.

To Calipari though, these guys are more than just NBA prospects. They become his kids, and when their time is done at Kentucky, he becomes a pseudo-agent for them, and develops into their biggest hype men. Just look at how Cal talks about some of his ex-players:

Here he is defending John Wall against Colin Cowherd’s continuous slandering of one of the game’s brightest young point guard stars:

This is Calipari the night of the 2012 NBA Draft, a night where he saw history be made as two guys off his national championship team got selected first and second overall in the draft:

And finally, here’s coach Calipari talking about Devin Booker, Tyler Ulis, Brandon Knight, and Eric Bledsoe, who all play for the Phoenix Suns now:

If that doesn’t sell you on the type of guy Calipari is, maybe you need to sit down and watch the 30 for 30 on Thursday night, then decide for yourself.

 

Featured image for this post courtesy of ESPN 

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