UK's Calipari rapidly reloads, but is his recruiting impact overstated?
Never has a coach so effectively replaced one-and-dones with more of the same
Even so, I'm not so sure Kentucky will be a Final Four-caliber team next year
Spring has become a time for overstating the impact of a few undecided prospects
"Can you imagine if I had this team for three years? Can you imagine??!! But the times, they are a-changin'. I'm just gonna have to keep recruiting. Figure out how many guys we're gonna lose, and replace them."
Kentucky coach John Calipari said that to SI's Tim Layden on the day before the Wildcats lost to West Virginia in the Elite Eight. That was before we knew the extent of the exodus from Lexington (so far it's John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe and Daniel Orton, with Patrick Patterson expected to join them soon, and Darnell Dodson still on the fence). That was before we knew that Calipari would counteract those losses by getting the point guard some have ranked No. 1 in the Class of 2010, Brandon Knight, and the small forward everyone has ranked No. 1 in the Class of 2011, Michael Gilchrist, to both commit to Kentucky on Wednesday, the opening day of the NCAA's spring signing period -- a coup that Scout.com's recruiting guru, Dave Telep, called unprecedented.
"When North Carolina got John Henson, the Wear twins and Dexter Strickland all relatively close to each other [in one 10-day span in January 2008], I thought that was impressive," Telep said. "But getting Knight and Gilchrist on the same day? That cranks it up."
Calipari has been critical of the one-and-done rule (his preference: "I wish they could go straight to the NBA if they wanted to, and if they come to college, they've got to stay two years"), but we have never seen a coach so effectively replace one-and-done players with more of the same. From Derrick Rose to Tyreke Evans to Wall-Cousins-Bledsoe-Orton to Knight, Turkish star Enes Kanter and Gilchrist. Calipari is becoming college basketball's Mr. Spring, owning the late signing period for the second straight season since coming to Kentucky from Memphis.
Exactly one year ago on Wednesday, in the lead-up to the Jordan Brand Classic, I was in the lobby of the Westin Times Square, first to watch Cousins fax his letter of intent to Lexington, and then to interview Wall as he claimed to be still deciding between Kentucky, Duke, Miami, N.C. State and Kansas (but in retrospect was probably just pretending that he hadn't decided to play for Calipari many months in advance). No matter who else was in the Wall race, it seemed that all the talk was about Kentucky.
This Wednesday, then, seemed like more of the same. I came back to the Westin to see some of this year's crop of Jordan All-Americans, and found them in the same lobby, trying to get the flat-screen TV there changed to ESPNU ... so they could see the press conferences in which Knight and Gilchrist would commit to Kentucky.
Alas, the hotel couldn't accommodate that request -- they don't have ESPNU -- so Kendall Marshall, the North Carolina-bound point guard, followed the action on Twitter. He had given his followers his predictions for the uncommitted recruits earlier in the day: Knight and Gilchrist to Kentucky, Baltimore point guard Josh Selby and New York forward Doron Lamb to Kansas, Ray McCallum to UCLA, Trey Ziegler to Central Michigan, Terrence Ross and Terrence Jones to Washington.
"Some of those are educated guesses, some aren't," he said, and he was right on the UK kids and Ziegler, wrong on McCallum (he, like Ziegler, stayed home to play for dad, at Detroit), while Selby, Lamb, Ross and Jones remain uncommitted.
Marshall expressed amazement that Gilchrist, a 2011 recruit who didn't really need to make a decision until next spring, was committing so soon. Marshall said that he'd asked Gilchrist's high school teammate at St. Patrick's (Elizabeth, N.J.), Duke-bound point guard Kyrie Irving, if he knew it was happening, and even Irving had been unaware of the significance of the announcement date: it turned out to be the birthday of Gilchrist's late father, who passed away when he was two.
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