Think about this: prior to Wednesday night’s recruiting special where Nerlens Noel and Shabazz Muhammad announced where they will be spending one season before heading to the NBA, John Calipari already had signed three recruits that would likely make up the best recruiting class any coach in the country had ever put together.
Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress are both consensus top 20 recruits while Willie Cauley is a top 40 player by most accounts. Add the top-ranked Noel to the mix, and all of a sudden Kentucky once again looks like a Final Four contender, and that’s before you consider who else they may be able to add to the mix: top ten recruit Anthony Bennett, top 25 recruit Amile Jefferson, former UConn big man Alex Oriakhi.
Kentucky could end up losing the top six players from their national title team and still end up heading into the 2012-2013 as the nation’s Preseason No. 1 team.
And that is why John Calipari said the sending five players to the first round of the 2010 NBA Draft was one of the most important days in the history of Kentucky basketball.
In 2009, UNC won the national title and then lost Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green. The following year, they added a loaded recruiting class — headlined by John Henson and a handful of other McDonald’s all-americans and blue-chip prospects — to a roster that already included Ed Davis, Deon Thompson and Tyler Zeller and promptly went to the NIT. In 2006, UConn lost six of their top seven players off of the most-talented (and under-performing?) team in the country — five of whom were draft, four in the first round. They brought in a recruiting class that included Hasheem Thabeet, Stanley Robinson and Jerome Dyson and added them to returnee Jeff Adrien and spent hte season as a non-entity in the Big East.
Does anyone see that happening with the Wildcats next year?
Calipari has turned Kentucky into a machine. He barely needs to make a pitch at this point; his program sells itself. He brings in the top players. He coaches them up throughout the season. He gets them competitive on a national level. He sends them off to the NBA. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
What blue-chipper isn’t looking for a fast-track to NBA money?
It’s fascinating, and I don’t think there is another coach in the country that could pull it off or another school at which Calipari would be able to pull it off. It’s the perfect storm, and it creates the nation’s most efficient producer of NBA level talent.
And Noel is just the latest cog in that machine.
The question I have is how long can it last.
Nothing about the job is stress-free. Big Blue Nation is as rabid, passionate and demanding as any fan base in the country. Keeping them satisfied — both with wins on the court and accessibility off the court — is as important as teaching his team how to properly rotate defensively. And you better believe that the teaching part of Calipari’s job is not easy, either. As talented as his freshmen are, they are still freshmen that need to be shown how to play and carry themselves at this level of basketball. And since those freshmen are immediately thrust into the spotlight, there is no adjustment period. They learn on the fly.
And even when they win a national title, they don’t have any time to celebrate. Kentucky won the title on a Monday and got back to Lexington on a Tuesday and by Friday, Calipari was already on the road recruiting, trying to ensure that he would be able to bring in a freshmen class that would live up to the expectations he had built.
Even if Calipari doesn’t ever go back to the NBA, how long is his body going to be able to handle the constant grind?
Because until he decides he no longer wants to roam the sidelines at Rupp Arena, it is tough to imagine a spring Kentucky isn’t following up a deep run through March with a notable signing day haul.