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Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Kentucky improves GPA in fall of 2010

By Eamonn Brennan

We've all moved on from the rather large Bob Knight-Kentucky flap last week. In case you missed it, and I'm doubting you did, Knight criticized the 2010 Wildcats for starting "five players in the NCAA tournament games that had not been to class that semester." Kentucky took offense to the comments, which weren't true, and Knight apologized for the statement -- saying he was making a more general point about the perils of the one-and-done rule itself -- soon thereafter.

Knight's specific criticisms about Kentucky were untrue, but they touched off yet another debate about the state of the student-athlete in the one-and-done era. This debate seems gravationally pulled to John Calipari's Kentucky Wildcats for a variety of reasons. One, there's an impression among college hoops fans outside Big Blue Nation -- whether founded or unfounded -- that Kentucky cares far more about success on the court than growth off it. And because Kentucky has recruited such a large percentage of one-and-done players in two years under Calipari (two more, Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones, seem likely to join the one-and-done ranks before the May 8 draft deadline), this conversation is often disproportionately focused in and around Lexington, Ky.

The scrutiny here is outsized, and Kentucky didn't help itself much last offseason, when it was revealed that the Wildcats' 2009 fall team GPA was the lowest of any athletics program at Kentucky and among the lowest in the SEC. To those already inclined to criticized Calipari and his teams, that was enough: Kentucky was a team of NBA-bound semi-pros that didn't care about classes, and their team's GPA proved it.

But if you criticized Kentucky for its team GPA last year,* it's only fair to praise the Wildcats now. That's because, according to the Lexington Herald-Times's Jerry Tipton, Kentucky's team GPA improved dramatically in the fall of 2010, when it was second-best among the eight SEC men's hoops teams that released their squad's academic information. To wit:
In the fall semester of 2010, UK's men's basketball team compiled a better grade-point average than six of the other seven Southeastern Conference programs that shared their GPA information. Only Alabama bested Kentucky, and just barely: 2.83 to 2.824.

Kentucky's GPA of 2.824 marked a dramatic improvement from the first two semesters under Coach John Calipari. Those GPAs were 2.018 (fall of 2009) and 2.225 (spring of 2010), each the worst for any of UK's sports teams.

Tipton writes that Kentucky's team mark was likely affected most positively by guards Brandon Knight and Jarrod Polson, who were believed to post 4.0 GPAs. Whatever the breakdown, though, improvement is improvement. Next time Big Blue Nation hears the Calipari-based criticisms, they'll have an added data point to use in self-defense.

*(Which requires a rather large amount of naivete and simplification anyway. There's an argument to be made that a team's GPA is a rather pointless metric for determining whether that team is being adequately prepared for life after college, especially when that team is composed of players like John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe, Daniel Orton and the like. As long as he's eligible to play, do we really care if Wall posts a 3.5 GPA? If so, why? File under "arguments for another time," I suppose.)