Love him or hate him, it’s impossible to ignore the impact that John Calipari has had on the sport of basketball since his arrival in Kentucky.
The latest example?
The Kentucky-only NBA combine that he held last fall. If you’ve forgotten, for two days in early October — after college basketball practices had started — Calipari opened up his practice to NBA personnel, hosting representatives from every NBA franchise in a combine-style event that was designed to showcase the ability of the players on his loaded roster.
While the value of that experience and access for the scouts in attendance is probably limited (what’s two days of sanitized practices and athletic testing when a 35-plus game sample is right around the corner?) the impact cannot be ignored, because Cal also opened his doors to ESPN U’s cameras.
Is there a better way to market a college basketball program than to get on national television at a time when football is in full swing, the MLB Playoffs are happening and the NBA and NHL are kicking off? Well yeah, there is: Have the commentators discuss how every NBA team is in attendance to evaluate the professional future of the players.
And it was only a matter of time before people began copying him.
LSU will be holding a two-day scouting combine of their own on October 13th and 14th, according to a report from CBSSports.com. That will likely come right on the heels of Kentucky’s combine, which is reportedly scheduled for October 11th and 12th. The Tigers don’t have the same basketball pedigree as the Wildcats, but they do have talents like Ben Simmons, Antonio Blakeney, Craig Victor and Tim Quarterman, all of whom could end up in the NBA one day. It certainly helps that Simmons could very well be the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft.
It goes further than that, too, as two AAU programs in New York — Albany City Rocks and PSA Cardinals — held a combine of their own during this July’s live recruiting period. (To be fair, the opportunity to sell Coach’s Packets for $290 a pop might have played a role in this decision as well.)
Calipari is an excellent basketball coach, but it’s not his X’s-and’O’s acumen that earned him a spot in the Hall of Fame. He didn’t invent the Pack-Line defense like Dick Bennett did. He didn’t influence the way that the Motion Offense was run like Bobby Knight, or find a way to make an entire region play one style — the Swing Offense — like Bo Ryan.
What he did — what he’s done his entire career — is find a way to stay one step ahead of the curve while marketing and recruiting to his program.
That may not be what he wants to be remember for, but his impact on that side of the game is impossible to ignore.