In the last two years, much has been made of Kentucky coach John Calipari's recruiting style. That style, basically, is to recruit as many of the best high school players in the country as possible, to encourage them to go pro if the time is right, and to reload the following season with another No. 1 recruiting class filled with elite, game-changing one-and-done talents.
To his supporters, Calipari's recruiting philosophy is brilliant and progressive. It uses, rather than fights, the college basketball player's deeply entrenched desire to make it to the NBA as soon as possible.
To his critics, Calipari's recruiting style is antithetical to success. Can you really win when your best players are freshmen every single year?
Calipari's belief? Yes, you can, and Kentucky's 2011 run to the Final Four is proof positive. After being asked "whether he was worried about starting over this year" after losing five players in the first round 2010 NBA draft, Calipari discussed this dynamic with Sporting News Radio Wednesday:
“No. Every year, every time we’ve lost a guy after a year, everyone’s said ‘You can’t do this, it doesn’t work. You can’t this…’ You’re trying to help these kids reach their dreams and if they really work hard and we have a heckuva year and they have the opportunity to leave after a year, I’m not going to talk them out of it. … Last year we lost four freshmen. … We lost seven players, significant players. And guess what? We’re fine.”
Of course, the critics of this style could find a counterpoint in this year's Kentucky run. After all, veterans Josh Harrellson, DeAndre Liggins and Darius Miller have played key roles in this team's tournament success. On the other hand, supporters could argue that Calipari's team is again built around freshmen Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb.
In other words, this is a difficult argument to settle. Until someone crunches the numbers on experience as a function of NCAA tournament success (note to self: offseason project!) this conversation isn't driven on data. It helps that Calipari is uniquely talented at getting elite freshmen to buy in on the defensive end, and that's a hard factor to untangle. Plus, one year is just one year.
Still, it's pretty hard to argue with Coach Cal now. If there was any year you'd expect a team to feel the sting of a one-and-done exodus, it was this one, when Kentucky had the most players of any team ever to be selected in the first round of the NBA draft. John Wall is gone. DeMarcus Cousins is gone. Eric Bledsoe is gone. And the Wildcats are in the Final Four anyway.
This Kentucky team is some measure of proof that you can play the one-and-done game like Calipari and still experience success on a yearly basis. Can you win a national title? We're about to find out.