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Calipari to Kentucky

After a weekend full of speculation about who would replace Billy Gillispie as the next head coach at Kentucky it looks like we finally have our answer in the form of John Calipari. Our sources had been mentioning Calipari as a potential replacement for Gillispie as early as a week ago, but that was obviously delayed by the fact that his Memphis team was still playing in the NCAA tournament. Fortunately, for the administration at Kentucky, even after last year’s title game collapse against Kansas, Calipari still didn’t think it was worthwhile having his team work on free throws and as a result they were bounced by Missouri in the Sweet 16 (their lack of defense against Missouri didn’t help their cause either).

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Although the details of the deal have not been released yet, it would be safe to assume that Calipari is at around the $3 million/year figure that our source was saying it would take to lure him away from Memphis (9pm update: ESPN is now reporting the offer is 8 yrs/$35M). In addition, Kentucky will have also have to come up with the money to compensate for the $5 million bonus Calipari would have collected had he finished his contract at Memphis, which ran through the 2012-13 season at $2.5 million/year. (Break open those checkbooks Wildcat boosters!).

What might be even bigger than the physical switch of Calipari for Gillispie on the sidelines is the potential chain reaction this could have on the Memphis/Kentucky recruiting classes and Tyreke Evans. Going into today, Kentucky only had one 5-star (Daniel Orton) and one 4-star (Jon Hood) recruit who had signed a letter of intent to play in Lexington. With the addition of Calipari, the Wildcats would almost certainly get DeMarcus Cousins (the #2 overall recruit) who has committed to Memphis, but did not sign a letter of intent, and potentially Xavier Henry (the #3 overall recruit) who signed a letter of intent at Memphis, but could petition the NCAA for a release (4-star recruit Nolan Dennis has stated that he has an agreement with Memphis that he will be released from his letter of intent if Calipari leaves). In addition, they would suddenly be in the running for John Wall (the #1 overall recruit) who has not committed to a school yet, but is said to be very high on Memphis Calipari. Adding 2 of those 3 to a Kentucky lineup that leaned heavily on Patrick Patterson and Jodie Meeks this year would almost certainly make the Wildcats go from a NIT participant to Final 4 favorites. If Calipari were able to pull off a miracle and get Henry released from his letter and bring all three with him to Kentucky to go with Patterson, Meeks, and Orton, the Wildcats would suddenly emerge as the prohibitive favorites and the fans in Lexington might start having visions of the 1996 Kentucky team running through their heads for the next six months.

What would happen to Memphis? Disaster. Tyreke Evans, who has seen his NBA draft stock rebound after slipping during his difficult adjustment to the college game, would most likely head to the NBA leaving the Tigers without a true star for the first time in years (Robert Dozier and Antonio Anderson are both seniors). Losing such a great recruiting class (one of the best since the Chris Webber-led “Fab 5″) would be a crushing blow to a program that has risen up from playing in Conference USA to become one of the premier programs in the nation in the past 5-10 years. The next question for Memphis is who will replace Calipari on the sideline. Current reports indicate that Calpari is pushing for his long-time assistant Tony Barbee to be named as his successor, but it’s likely that the Memphis AD will look to lure big-names such as Mike Anderson or Tim Floyd to what has become one fo the premier coaching destinations in the country.

Team of the 2000s: #8 – Memphis

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Ed. Note: check the category team of the 2000s for our other entries in this feature.

We already know that this selection is going to cause some consternation among teams that weren’t selected as high.  It’s ok.  We get it.  The selection process ultimately comes down to a matter of taste, and Memphis blended with our palates a little better than the others.  If you disagree, let us know…

#8 – Memphis

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Overview. In the period from 2000-2009, few college basketball programs “felt” bigger than Memphis.  John Calipari showed up to run the show in 2000 and everyone knew what was to come — big-time recruits, lots of one-and-done types, scads more wins, deeper advancement in the NCAA.  Also on the way, whether justified or not, was that dirty feeling that comes with knowing that your program is being led by a fellow on whom you always feel you — or maybe a private detective you’ve hired — need to keep a close eye.  In terms of the on-the-floor expectations, Calipari delivered exactly what was expected of him; after a couple of warm-up years things improved and then really took off in the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons when Memphis and their collection of ridiculous interchangable-part type athletes rode Calipari’s Dribble-Drive Offense to consecutive regular-season 30-3 records and Elite Eight apperances.  As a basketball power, Memphis was taken more seriously than it ever had been and it looked like Calipari was building a Leviathan.  The 2007-08 squad validated this by putting up such impressive numbers as achieving the school’s second-ever #1 ranking, a 38-win season (jeez), and its first Final Four since the days of Keith Lee and Dana Kirk back in 1985.  Then, in the championship game…well, in case you didn’t see it….about two minutes to go, up by nine, they….um….well, just check this out.  Even with this, even if you didn’t agree with all of their methods, the Memphis program had still reached elite status in the college hoops world.

calipari coaching memphis

Pinnacle. No question, things were sweetest in Tigerland when they posted that 37th win and made it to that 2008 Final Four.  That particular Memphis team, with Chris Douglas-Roberts and Derrick Rose and a litany of other high-flying gazelles — you remember the likes of Joey Dorsey, Antonio Anderson, Robert Dozier, I’m sure — was so athletic that you forgot about any possibility of, er, shadiness.  For the most part, you just enjoyed the show.  A case could definitely be made for a co-pinnacle for this program mere days later when they were, as noted above, up by nine in the final with only a couple minutes left between them and the true goal inherent in any lofty expectations — a title.

Tailspin. The 63-63 tie that resulted from Mario’s Miracle.  When Mario Chalmers hit that jumper, things were never the same therafter.  You could feel it coming.  Kansas was on fire in that stretch and Memphis couldn’t hit a free throw, but it was that shot, that boot to the forehead, that has started the Tiger program on its tailspin.  The next season (2008-09) was a disappointment by comparison, ending with an upset loss to Missouri in the Sweet 16 even though Memphis was again a popular and sexy pick for the Final Four.  Then came the departure of John Calipari to Kentucky and the NCAA allegations of Derrick Rose’s test-taking naughtiness.

Outlook for 2010s:  Grade: C. While Calipari seems to be pretty much off the hook in this Rose business — and Derrick Rose as well, just because he moved on — in the near future the Memphis program could still possibly feel the NCAA’s bitch-slapping pimp hand, and that Pinnacle as described above could be erased from the history books altogether, meaning Memphis might have to pack up the Aerostar and vacate their ’08 Final Four and all 38 of those victories like they never happened.  Enter former Arizona (and single-season at Memphis) assistant Josh Pastner.  Already known among coaching insiders as a hell of a recruiter, he knows what it takes to win; he was a walk-on on Arizona’s 1997 championship team.  It’s not like he’s going to let the post-Calipari roster totally collapse, and he’ll most certainly bring in his own high-level studs.  The question is, given the recent achievements of this program, how much time will he be allowed?  It’s difficult to speculate as far as an outlook for this program until the NCAA decides what they’re going to do to them, if anything.  The buzz around the program is more positive than you might expect, and that’s because of Pastner.  If he’s allowed the time to get over any penalties the NCAA might unload on the program, it will still be quite a while before they return to the level they achieved in the late 2000s.  But, in the end, I’ll bet that this program will do a little better than, say, to go the way of their former home – the now-empty Memphis Pyramid, previously the residence of the NCAA’s Tigers, NBA’s Grizzlies, numerous concerts and conference tournaments, and more recently (but no longer) the home of the biggest and most oddly-shaped Bass Pro Shops you’ve ever seen.

2009 One-and-Dones: Was It Worth It?

It’s no secret that the high school Class of 2008 was one of the weakest in recent memory.  Coming into the 2008-09 regular season, could you realistically point to any one player who would impact their team enough to become another Derrick Rose or a Michael Beasley (class of 2007), a Greg Oden or a Kevin Durant (class of 2006)?  No way, right?  The consensus #1 player, Brandon Jennings, high-tailed it to Europe when it became apparent he wasn’t going to become eligible to play college ball at Arizona, where he proceeded to burn up foreign nets at the clip of 6 ppg and 2 apg in limited action (17 mpg).  The rest of the elite remained stateside, but from Jrue Holiday on down to his teammate Malcolm Lee at UCLA, the collegians too had middling degrees of success.  We use the RSCI top 20 ratings provided by Statsheet for our table below.

2008 top 20 recruits

The last two summers (here are 2007 and 2008), we’ve taken it upon ourselves to review how these one-and-dones did during their freshman year to determine whether their presence on campus for a mere 6-8 months was worth it for the schools involved.  As it turned out this time around, only four college freshmen (+ Jennings) thought they were ready for the NBA Draft after only one season, so let’s take a look at how things turned out for them and their teams last year.

2009 One-and-Dones

Memphis – Worth It. After losing three starters from their 2008 national runner-up team, Memphis could have slid back into relative mediocrity by Tiger standards – very good, but not great.  One-and-doner Tyreke Evans prevented that from happening.  He averaged 17/5/4 assts/2 stls in 29 mpg and was the most efficient player on the team.  He also showed that he was a gamer, dropping 33 huge points in the Tigers’ loss to Missouri and leading a furious comeback from 24 points down in that contest.   More importantly,  Memphis was 6-3 and ranked #24 in the nation when Evans moved from the shooting guard to the point guard slot; the Tigers then ran off 27 straight wins en route to a #2 seed and another Sweet Sixteen appearance, much of it due to Evans’ command of the team.  Furthermore, prior to John Calipari’s departure, Memphis was building a pretty impressive reputation as a successful stopover for NBA-level point guards.  Is there any coincidence that John Wall followed Calipari to Kentucky after seeing what Evans and Rose were able to do at Memphis?  We’d have to say that Tyreke Evans coming to Memphis for one year was most definitely worth it for that program.

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USC – Worth It. USC knew when they signed Demar DeRozan that they were unlikely to have this acrobatic swingman on campus for more than one year.  For much of that year, however, it wasn’t looking like a good fit.  Three points in a loss vs. Seton Hall.  A 2-9 shooting night against Missouri.  Six turnovers and fouling out of another loss at Washington.  But around midseason, as things began to click in DeRozan’s game, USC benefitted.  He provided a consistent threat on the wing and may arguably have been the Trojans’ top option in the last six weeks of the season.  His season numbers were good – 14/6 on 52% shooting – but his stats from February on were better – 16/7 on 54% shooting with 22 of his season-total 51 assists coming in the last nine games.  USC rode DeRozan’s playmaking abilities to win its first-ever Pac-10 Tournament and a convincing win over BC in the NCAAs before succumbing to national runner-up Michigan St in the second round.  Or, in others words, more than what OJ Mayo was able to produce as a one-and-doner in 2007.  Notwithstanding all the choas that has enveloped this program in the interim, we’d have to say that getting DeRozan to USC for one year was worth it.

Ohio St. – Not Worth It. For the third year in a row, Thad Matta lost a one-and-done player whose actual performance during his only season in Columbus didn’t really mesh with what you might expect from an elite prospect.  He lost Daequan Cook in 2007 (along with stars Greg Oden and Mike Conley, Jr.), Kosta Koufos last year, and BJ Mullens this season.  To date, we’ve yet to see any indication that Mullens has any discernible basketball skill other than being big (7’0).  He averaged 9/5 in about 20 mpg with only two starts over the course of the season, but as an indication of how much Matta ultimately valued him, Mullens’ minutes tailed off considerably in the last 6-8 games.  His defense was often considered suspect (37 blks all season) and he earned a reputation for loafing and failing to get back downcourt after an offensive possession.  OSU had a solid season, mostly on the back of super-soph Evan Turner, but it’s difficult to construct an argument that Mullens brought much of anything to the Buckeye program other than an ability to get drafted in the first round.  Ultimately, that may have been all Matta wanted to get from him, as he’s shown a substantial willingness to take one-and-dones every year that he can.  Still, we don’t think that Mullens was on balance a good pickup for the Buckeyes, so we’re saying that he wasn’t worth it.

UCLA – Not Worth It. After Kevin Love’s departure from Westwood as a one-and-done, we thought UCLA might continue that trend this season with another superb guard ranked #2 in his class named Jrue Holiday.  We were wrong.  Holiday is exceptionally athletic, but he never seemed to ‘get it’ with respect to how Ben Howland runs his team and expects his players to execute.  When we watched Holiday play, we saw a player who had a tendency to play out of control and get frustrated when things weren’t going his way (in other words, like most freshmen).  Had Holiday stuck around for another couple of years at UCLA, he probably could have tamed his tendencies to become an elite guard in college basketball, but we’ll never know.  After averaging a mere 9/4/4 assts as a starter who seriously tailed off down the stretch (single figure points in 10 of his last 13 games) ending in a second round NCAA blowout loss to Villanova, Howland may be questioning why he bothered to take this player for only one season.  His contributions to the program were minimal and his general unhappiness with the program could actually end up hurting UCLA’s recruiting in the future more than it ever helps to have gotten him.  Unlike Demar DeRozan across town at USC, Holiday wasn’t worth it.

jrue holiday ucla

*Brandon Jennings – Push.  Of course, this is a weird situation because Jennings didn’t play for an American college last season, instead deciding to go to the Italian leagues and get paid for his services.  He would have been drafted higher last season had he been eligible to come out, but then again, so would have all these one-and-doners except for Evans (who at #4 is about where he would have been last year).  Playing in Europe didn’t hurt him very much despite his paltry stats, but it didn’t appear to help him, either, in any way other than financially.  It’ll be interesting to watch how he develops in the NBA now.  You’d have to believe that Jennings’ previously indomitable confidence would be somewhat tempered after spending a year as the backup-cum-waterboy.  We’re quite certain he had images in his head of going to Italy and winning MVP in his rookie season, but the broken American basketball system doesn’t exactly inspire schoolboy humility.  Will that carry over to his development as an NBA player, or will he be able to accept his European comeuppance and use that to improve his game in the next few years?  There’s no way of knowing at this point.

One-and-Dones: Historical Snapshot

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As stated above, RTC has done this for the three years in which the one-and-done rule has been in existence.  We’ve made a qualitative determination as to whether recruiting a particular one-and-done was worth it for each program, and what we’ve found is that so far it’s been a roughly equivalent proposition.  Of the 24 one-and-dones in three years, we’ve found thirteen instances (57%) where the player in question was either worth it or well worth it, “it” being the trouble of landing a top player and dealing with the disruption and potential hole he leaves in the program after one season.  Additionally, in seven of the thirteen ‘worth it’ instances, we found that the player was such a great boost to the program in terms of success and marketing that the residual effects of his presence there will be felt for many years after he’s gone (e.g., OSU and Memphis making it to the NCAA Championship Game).  On the other hand, we can only count ten occasions (42%) where a one-and-done player wasn’t worth the trouble of getting him into the program.  So let’s look at it this way…  if you were a college coach and you knew you had a historically better than even chance that recruiting a John Wall or Derrick Favors would end up making your program better, and a 25-30% chance of truly elevating your program into an elite echelon, there’s no question you do it, right?   What’s the downside?  Your player doesn’t do a whole lot, leaves after one year and you end up where you were before he got there.  Exactly.  Not only is recruiting one-and-dones worth the risk (so long as you’re doing it legally, Tim Floyd), but if you’re not doing it then you’re putting yourself at a serious competitive disadvantage.