Whether you love him or hate him, Kentucky head coach John Calipari continues to be at the center of the college basketball world. Sure, he may be seen as a Gordon Gekko-like villain that is hated by other fan bases but he’s still loved in the Bluegrass State and by the nation’s top recruits.
Calipari often boasts, “Players first” and the “Kentucky effect” regarding the incredible success of attracting top-tier high school talent to Lexington and getting them to buy into a system that helps prepare them for their journey to the NBA.
One would think it would be difficult to sell the concept of self-sacrifice for the sake of the team to a single five-star player let alone multiple five-star players, but it doesn’t deter them.
“I have no problem playing with a lot of great players because that’s what you do in the NBA,” Kentucky freshman guard De’Aaron Fox said. “Everybody is the best talent in the world so you’re going to have to get used to playing with other good players so it’s just starting off early.”
Fox is likely to be yet another NBA lottery pick to add to Calipari’s impressive resume. Since Calipari’s first season in 2009-2010, 28 Kentucky players have made NBA rosters. He has also produced an astonishing 21 first round draft picks with 14 of those players being lottery picks and three players being the No. 1 overall pick.
Earlier this month, Calipari made waves with the NBA talking heads regarding his comments that a NBA team of former Kentucky players would win the NBA Championship. With former Wildcats stars like Anthony Davis, John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Karl-Anthony Towns, Devin Booker, Eric Bledsoe and Julius Randle, that’s a legitimate point.
But how does he get these players? What is it about Calipari and Kentucky that makes these players opt against being “the man” at another program and want to join him and further the Kentucky brand? What impresses teenage recruits during their recruitment?
“It’s his personality. He was a real down to earth man,” Kentucky freshman Bam Adebayo said. “He held a conversation with my mom and just small talk and I really liked the way his personality was toward my mother and me. When I watched the games, he gets on the players but it’s from a loving point. It’s a tough love.”
The 2012 championship winning coach has been noted as not kissing up to players and in Calipari’s words, telling them “they poop ice cream.” He takes an approach of being straight with players.
“The first thing he asked was what was my dream and he said, ‘That’s what I want to help you accomplish,’” Fox remembered. “After he said that I could tell he really cares about the kids and he wants to win games.”
Kentucky’s dynamic scoring guard and likely a top five NBA draft pick, Malik Monk, opted to sign with the Wildcats over his own home state team the Arkansas Razorbacks last year. He remembered Calipari kidding with him the whole time during his visit but was swayed by the coach telling him he was going to push him as well as the success of the former Kentucky players who are now in the NBA.
“A lot of players look at that in the recruiting process. It was a big influence,” Monk said. “We all want to get to one destination and we push ourselves in practice to do that.”
However, critics usually knock the one-and-done system with Calipari in mind despite several coaches having their own players that are gone after one season. He doesn’t mind though.
The coach has frequently stated that it means more to him to see his players achieve their dreams and what an NBA contract means for future generations of a player’s family more than merely winning games. That’s good because his players have generated approximately $1.2 billion in total NBA contracts when you factor in both his players from Memphis and Kentucky.
During his eight seasons at Kentucky, Calipari has four Final Four appearances, a national runner-up finish and a national championship with the No. 9 ranked Wildcats hoping to add to that this season.
With all of the talent Calipari has accumulated, some of the harshest detractors consider a lack of championships as a sign of failure but the truth is, he has raised four banners in Rupp Arena, a place that had not seen a banner since 1998 before Calipari arrived.
But the cycle continues year after year as Kentucky fans say goodbye to one crop of stars while welcoming in another group of young stars. Calipari already has a stellar class coming in next year with a whopping five five-star players P.J. Washington, Jarred Vanderbilt, Quade Green, Nick Richards and Hamidou Diallo set to continue the tradition.
Adebayo, Kentucky’s most ferocious dunker in decades, was candid about what coming into Rupp Arena is like and what comes with the territory of Kentucky basketball.
“It’s phenomenal. They took me in like I had joined the family,” Adebayo said. “Once you’re in it, they’re going to always love you until the day you die and love you after that.
A lot of players can go to college,” Adebayo said. “But not everybody can go to Kentucky. “
Joshua Caudill is a writer for CraveOnline, a college basketball fanatic, a pro wrestling connoisseur and an expert on all things Patrick Swayze. You can follow him on Twitter @JoshuaCaudill85 or “like” CraveOnline Sports on Facebook.
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