Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
Recruiting has never been as simple as John Calipari makes it look. Winning national championships, plucking the annual Rivals Top 150 of its very best talent, sending them off to the NBA Draft, and grinning with every lottery selection. It is a self-sustaining cycle, and it has long since worked. That’s the part that makes sense. Most coaches don’t have the luxury of bringing in six McDonald’s All Americans to an iconic, tradition-laden program – so they use scouting acumen, and developmental prognostication, to find the best players the best teams have neglected (or temporarily dismissed) and scoop them up before engaging in a recruiting battle they can’t possibly win. Most high-major programs offer their own uniquely attractive features, true–even non-bluebloods offer variously amenities and benefits many top high schoolers find appealing. But generally, their job is more difficult than John Calipari’s. At this point, Calipari’s program basically recruits itself (Calipari is a terrific recruiter on his own merits, and he’s been in battles for top players with other big-name programs before, but there are a number of factors – program, coaching history, track record of NBA preparation – that give him a leg up on competitors). Most other coaches need to do a lot more heavy lifting before landing the players they sign.
Not only does he boast those obvious advantages, Calipari has a few recruiting tricks up his sleeve that he can pull out at a moment’s notice. There was the famous Jay-Z incident, in which the hip-hop mogul visited Kentucky’s locker room after the Wildcats advanced to the 2011 Final Four, not to mention his backstage access to Hov’s Barclays Center-opening concert. Or the controversial “greatest day in the history of the program” remark, which referred to Kentucky’s landmark five first-round selections in the 2010 draft, a statement representative of Calipari’s desire to – above winning championships, even – turn the high schoolers he recruits into wealthy professional basketball players using one year of Kentucky-based tutelage as their developmental pathway (in lieu of the impossible solution: the abolition of the NBA’s 19-year-old age limit). And then, my personal favorite: Calipari apologizing to recruits in June 2012 because “I’m spending the majority of my time answering questions from NBA teams about my six guys.” The subtle brilliance of that tweet is everlasting; sorry, five-star high school hoops stars of the world, but I’m busy talking to NBA scouts.Your questions will have to wait. It’s perfect.