John Calipari has been the Coach of Kentucky for 10 years now and he has only brought in one title, thanks to Anthony Davis. Kentucky always gets so much preseason hype, but they consistently fail to live up to it. John Calipari does not have the appeal as he once did. Coach K has taken over the game of one-and-done’s and it looks like Penny Hardaway make take 2nd place over Cal.
Let’s pause before this starts. Kentucky will always be the best college basketball program. The history behind Rupp, the 8 titles, the 30+ NBA players they have produced, and, of course, the fans. But, it seems to me that they are losing their stride and let me explain why.
Growing up, Kentucky always had a player everyone could love for 4 years and follow him into the NBA. For me, it was Keith Bogans. In fact, I still have a press clipping from his Senior Day and a signed jersey my parents got me for Christmas one year. You consistently knew who was on the court when the year started and you generally knew whether or not the team would win or lose throughout the year. But not anymore. Kentucky has lost some of its audience recently. Those crazy fans you hear about can’t fully engaged in the seasons anymore and that’s frankly because they’re sick of the same old routine.
Every year we get the hype of Cal recruiting a great class and we have such high expectations. But every year, Kentucky inevitably loses in the tournament and then all the players leave. For the younger folk, kids like me, it’s not a big deal to learn names and it doesn’t take much to get us into basketball season and believe the hype. But, I have seen a trend in the older generations that they are growing sick and tired of learning new names of players that consistently underperform with the Kentucky jersey on. Names like Skal Labissiere, Archie Goodwin, Nick Richards, the Harrison Twins, Daniel Orton, etc. Cal was once a recruiting guru, but, in all honesty, Cal is not the best recruiter anymore, and he is not a good coach.
Now calm down, stay with me here. Cal has not landed the number one recruit since 2012 with Nerlens Noel (according to ESPN 100). Since 2012, every number one recruit has gone to Duke besides Ben Simmons and now James Wiseman. The lowest Duke has fallen is number three when Skal came to Kentucky and Simmons went to LSU. Since 2012, Cal has only had 3, yes 3, recruits that were rated in the top 5 (Andrew Harrison, Skal, and Bam). In that time frame, Duke has had at least 2 every year. In fact, this year, Duke has 3 of the top 5 while Kentucky’s highest recruit was Keldon Johnson at #7. Cal has lost out on so many recruits, so it brings the question: Has he lost his edge? My answer is simple: yes.
…but it goes deeper than that. I think it is more of a fact that he has gotten comfortable. He got used to doing the bare minimum, and having the talent get him to the Final Four. 2011 was his best coaching year by far, where he took Josh Harrellson, DeAndre Liggins, and Brandon Knight to the Final Four. Contrast that to 2014, where he got complacent. He thought he would win easily, but had to do some last second coaching. In 2015, his coaching lost us a chance at the program’s 9th NCAA Title. He trusted the twins instead of the hot hand Booker and the gentle giant, Ulis, which ultimately lost him the game.
Cal has been at Kentucky for 11 years, and he has one championship. In 2010, 2011, 2014, 2015, and 2017, John Calipari should have won. In those years, he lost twice in the Final Four (to Uconn and Wisconsin) and lost once in the Title Game to Uconn. Since those years, Uconn and Wisconsin have both been irrelevant. Cal’s best teams at Kentucky have been 2015, 2010, 2012 in order with the most skilled first. In 2010, they could not hit free throws or three pointers in the Elite 8. Ironically, Cal could’ve convinced Jodie Meeks, the guy who scored 54 against Tennessee and was the one shining spot for Billy G, to stay and there would be no three pointer shortages. To make matters worse, when Calipari had his best two teams (2010 and 2015), Duke won both of the Championships.
Look, I love Cal and I love that he has brought the swagger back to Kentucky Basketball, but stats don’t lie. He can’t win in the tournament and he can’t recruit like he used to. All of this happened with only Coach K as the real competitor in recruiting. Now this year Kentucky had high expectations, but Duke beats them by 34 in the first game. Cal did not coach because he expected the talent to take him far. The game is changing for Cal. Now there is a younger challenger in Penny Hardaway. Penny has already, in his first year, taken 2 top recruits from Calipari in Wiseman and Jeffries. So I’ll ask you again, has Calipari lost his edge?
P.S. this video makes me cry. Give it a watch. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zHxXmDJM0Go