Is Calipari’s Three-Year Recruiting Run the Best Ever?

Posted by rtmsf on August 16th, 2010

An interesting question came up among the Twitterati over the weekend when it was learned that Rivals #8 (and rising) recruit in the Class of 2011, Anthony Davishad formally committed to Kentucky.  Davis’ commitment marks the third top ten recruit in that class to have committed to John Calipari’s Wildcats, and the seventh in the 2009-11 recruiting cycles, a ridiculous feat. 

  • John Wall (#2, 2009)
  • DeMarcus Cousins (#3 , 2009)
  • Brandon Knight (#4, 2010)
  • Enes Kanter (#7, 2010)
  • Michael Gilchrist (#1, 2011)
  • Marquis Teague (#5, 2011)
  • Anthony Davis (#8, 2011)

Throw in a few other high-level recruits such as Daniel Orton (#19, 2009), Eric Bledsoe (#52, 2009), Terrence Jones (#11, 2010), Doron Lamb (#26, 2010), and an unnamed superstar or two to be named later (Quincy MillerLeBryan Nash?), and suddenly there is a realization that we could be in the midst of the single greatest run of recruiting prowess since the Wizard of Westwood had every blue-chipper from coast to coast lining up to play for him.

Calipari Continues to Rack Up Blue-Chippers (LHL/M. Cornelison)

This is what Calipari was referring to when he infamously said on draft night in June that having five UK players selected was the greatest night in the program’s history.  It’s all marketing.  As Kentucky blog A Sea of Blue notes when referring to Anthony Davis’ quotes about the commitment, Calipari isn’t selling the Wildcat program of all hoops-all the time as much as the dream; the dream, of course, being a fast-track to the League. 

But notice what is not mentioned — Kentucky tradition, the facilities at UK, playing in front of 24,000 every game, being on TV all the time — none of these things are mentioned.  Recruiting has changed.  Calipari has taken the NBA one-and-done rule and used it like the Pied Piper, tempting players to Kentucky not with cash to families or under-the-table deals, but with a short path to all the riches they desire.

Whether you believe the last sentence or not, the truth remains that players are beelining for Lexington, which brings us to the point of this article.  We have to dig pretty deep in our memory banks to remember a recruiting run that even begins to approach this concentration of elite talent.  Granted, there’s a bit of an apples/oranges confounder here — much of the reason that Calipari can load up on talent every single year is because there’s a reasonable expectation that the previous year’s competition for minutes will be gone (see: Wall begets Knight begets Teague, for example).  Still, we’ve come up with one strong comparison in the modern era (we hope you add your own in the comments below): Duke 1997-99.  As a brief aside, UNC from 1990-93, Michigan from 1991-94 and Duke from 1999-2002 were also very strong periods of recruiting at those schools, but over four recruiting cycles rather than three. 

Duke 1997-99 (recruited by Mike Krzyzewski)

  • Elton Brand (#1, 1997)
  • Chris Burgess (#7, 1997)
  • Shane Battier (#8, 1997)
  • William Avery (#14, 1997)
  • Corey Maggette (#16, 1998)
  • Jason Williams (#3, 1999)
  • Carlos Boozer (#8, 1999)
  • Casey Sanders (#16, 1999)
  • Mike Dunleavy, Jr. (#26, 1999)

The recruiting rankings alone are nasty, but when you consider the actual accomplishments of this group, it takes on a whole new meaning.  Six lottery picks, three NPOYs, two title game appearances and a national championship (2001).  In two of the years where they didn’t cut the nets down, (1999 and 2002), Duke was the prohibitive favorite to win the title (finishing #1 in the final AP poll every year from 1999-2002) in large part because they had more talent than anybody else.  They actually won it all in 2001, but we’re still trying to figure out how Jim Calhoun’s vastly underrated (but also undermanned) Huskies were able to slay the Duke dragon in 1999 (oh, right, Trajan Langdon).  It was an amazing run of talent acquisition, and we haven’t seen anything like it for at least a decade.

Duke Had Three NPOYs in Four Seasons (SI)

Therein lies the rub.  With boatloads of talent comes expectations, and winning the press conference is great for tone-setting, but getting to and winning Final Fours is what matters most in Lexington.  Again, the Duke era was different in that with the exception of Corey Maggette in 1999, Coach K did not lose any players as 1-and-dones; but that won’t deter the vultures from ripping Calipari if he continues to sign elite talent without bringing back the accompanying hardware to support it.  The biggest case in point of this thinking is how Michigan’s Fab Five class of 1991 is often considered a failure for merely going to two straight NCAA championship games and losing.  It remains to be seen how this era of Kentucky basketball will play out (so far, one Elite Eight appearance), but we already know that the level of recruiting enjoyed by Calipari in his first three classes there rivals anything experienced in the modern era.  Coach K’s classes from 1997-99 set the bar very high — it’s now up to the individual players — from Knight/Kanter/Jones to Gilchrist/Teague/Davis – to match or exceed their accomplishments.   

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Team of the 2000s: #4 – Duke

Posted by nvr1983 on August 17th, 2009

teamof2000(2)

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

As we mentioned in our earlier “Team of the 2000s” posts, we felt that the top-tier programs fell into a few clear clusters. There was some debate amongst the RTC braintrust about where certain teams fell within those clusters so we can understand if you disagree with where a team is ranked (that’s what the comment section is for). Teams in the top five either have made it to every NCAA tournament this decade (a sign of at least being respectable every season) or have a 2nd championship to bolster their case.

#4 – Duke

team2000sduke

Overview. This will be the most controversial selection on the list because it is Duke. Love them or hate them (and I’m pretty sure that most college basketball fans hate them), the Blue Devils remain the standard that other programs are judged against. That is not to say that they are the best program of the decade (there are still three teams ahead of them), but much like the New York Yankees, who are experiencing a similar title “drought,” every fanbase judges their success against what the guys in Durham are doing. To be completely honest, I ranked Duke lower than any of the other voters, but in the end their consistency (particularly during the regular season) won out and put them ahead of some of the other elite programs. The case for Duke being ranked above the teams below it in our countdown: 82.6% (regular season winning percentage–Gonzaga is the only other team to crack 80% and they don’t play in the ACC); 7 post-season and 4 regular season ACC titles (just an absurd number when you are competing against UNC although UNC’s inconsistency helped inflate this); 10 NCAA tournament trips (look at the above summary to see how often many excellent programs have missed the NCAA tournament this decade); 8 Sweet 16 appearances (maybe Duke hasn’t been that successful during the 2nd weekend, but they have gotten there more than anybody else); and 1 national title (more on this in a bit). The case against the Blue Devils? I alluded to it earlier, as Coach K’s teams have struggled mightily in the NCAA second weekend making it to the Final 4 “just” two out of the eight times they made it to the Sweet 16. In addition, Duke’s absence of a 2nd title prevents it from claiming a spot in the top 3. Out of the team’s below it, Tom Izzo‘s Michigan State Spartans have the best argument, but Duke’s vastly superior winning percentage (82.6% vs. 72.1%) and huge edge in conference titles combined with playing in a better conference (the ACC may be down, but you never see an abomination like this come out of the ACC) and NCAA-best 8 trips to the Sweet 16 (versus 6 for the Spartans) are just enough to make up for Michigan State’s edge in Final 4 appearances (4-2 although both teams were only able to seal the deal once).

battier j-will duhon

Pinnacle. As it is with any team that won a single title this decade, the choice here is simple: the 2001 title. After coming up just short with one of the most talented teams in recent history in 1999, Coach K reloaded with a class featuring Jason Williams, Mike Dunleavy Jr., and Carlos Boozer. Although not quite as dominant as the group that left just before they came in (Elton Brand, William Avery, and Corey Maggette – I know he was a year after the other two, but I wasn’t going to include Chris Burgess in there), the former was able to do something the latter failed to do – win a title.  Together with Shane Battier, who led the Blue Devils emotionally and in taking flops, this group made it to the Sweet 16 in 2000 before being upset by Florida. The following year the Blue Devils were able to give Coach K his 3rd title, but not before surviving three marginally tough games (vs. USC in the Elite 8, vs. Maryland in the national semifinals, and vs. Arizona in the championship game) to claim the title. The defining moment of that title game was Dunleavy Jr.’s 3-point barrage (three 3-pointers during an 11-2 run) that re-established Duke’s control of the game. One thing that will stick with Blue Devil fans forever though is their four games against Maryland, which were some of the best college basketball games you will ever see, the most memorable being the 10-point comeback in the last minute at College Park (although we are willing to debate with someone who argues that the 22-point comeback in the national semifinals might be better).

[Warning: Maryland fans may want to avoid this video.]

Tailspin. Other than the two UNC titles? The 2006-07 season. A rather mediocre Duke team went 22-11 in a season that included two separate four-game losing streaks. The latter of those losing streaks came to finish the season with the final insult coming courtesy of Eric Maynor and VCU. Much has been made on this site and others about the lack of elite talent in Durham lately, but fielding a team whose four best players were DeMarcus Nelson (junior),  Josh McRoberts (sophomore), Greg Paulus (sophomore), and Jon Scheyer (freshman)… you are in big trouble. The primary explanation for this was that outside of Shelden Williams and J.J. Redick, the Blue Devils had a long string of McDonald’s All-American busts from 2002 on, with Shavlik Randolph, who left prior to that, being the most famous example.

Outlook for the 2010s: Grade: B+. Duke is still Duke and can land 5-star recruits, but it’s not like it was at the end of the last decade when Duke had its choice of McDonald’s All-Americans. Back then, one of the big controversies was if Coach K made the right choice taking Mike Dunleavy Jr. instead of Casey Jacobsen (for the younger generation of readers trust us when we say they were both actually very good college basketball players). Now it is a big deal when Duke lands the #3 shooting guard in next year’s class instead of John Wall. Duke will still be able to get a couple of top-notch recruits every year because of their tradition (it goes back to before Coach K, youngsters), Notre Dame-like TV deal with ESPN, Coach K’s stature, and the fact that it’s one of the most prestigious academic institutions in the country (mothers like to brag about the Duke degree even if it is for the infamous Sociology major). However, the Blue Devils have fallen a notch below UNC in the hearts and minds of elite recruits and that will only get worse when Coach K retires (gasp!) as their is no clear successor in line for his throne.

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Is Duke losing its cachet?

Posted by rtmsf on May 18th, 2007

With the news Wednesday that Duke whiffed on PF Patrick Patterson (who opted for Kentucky over Duke and Florida), combined with yesterday’s news that Roy Williams has extended his contract with UNC through the 2014-15 season, we started to wonder if we’re seeing an unusual blip in Durham, or if last season and the presumed immediate future signal a larger problem there.

Duke logo

Be-Deviled?

The last time Duke had such a blip was in the mid-90s. In 1995, with Coach K’s back hurting and Pete Gaudet at the helm for two-thirds of the season, Duke went 13-18 (2-14) and did not make the NCAA Tournament. There has been considerable harping over the years about whose record (K’s or Gaudet’s) all those losses should fall on, but at the time, it wasn’t a leap to see that even when Duke was 9-3 in early January 1995, a team led by the likes of Cherokee Parks and Jeff Capel (as opposed to Grant Hill, Bobby Hurley or Christian Laettner) was flawed. This was especially true in light of a stacked ACC that season (Each of Duncan, Wallace, Stackhouse, Childress and Joe Smith were all-americans in 1995).

The next season, when K was back on the bench, shows just how far the talent level at Duke had fallen. The 1995-96 team only performed five games better than its predecessor, going 18-13 (8-8) and losing both its first round ACC Tourney game and its first round NCAA game (by 15 pts) to… Eastern Michigan? The following year, 1996-97, Duke only got marginally back on track. The Devils finished with a 24-9 (12-4) record and won the ACC regular season, but they flamed out early again in the postseason, inexplicably losing to #8 seed NC State in the quarters of the ACC Tourney and barely scraping by Murray St. in the first round before losing to #10 seed Providence (by 11 pts) in the second round of the NCAAs. Does this sound familiar at all? It should, as Duke just finished its 2006-07 campaign with a 22-11 (8-8) record, culminating in a first round ACC Tourney loss and a first round NCAA loss to… VCU.

Is there cause for concern among Devil faithful, or is last year’s mediocre regular season and short-lived postseason just an anomaly?

Read the rest of this entry »

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