Column by Blake Sandlin, Assistant Sports Editor
Since John Calipari took over the program in 2009, the University of Kentucky has had a top recruiting class every year. But in those eight seasons, they have only won the NCAA Tournament once. As we approach the time of year when “freshman phenoms” begin taking their talents to the pros, it is time to evaluate the effectiveness of the one-and-done system.
Calipari has not shied away from admitting his ultimate goal for the program is sending his talent to the NBA. He has cemented his place as the poster child for recruiting top talent. Over the past eight seasons, Calipari has had the number one recruiting class in five of them.
Those top recruiting classes have resulted in 39 players being sent to the league. While sending players to the NBA should be any collegiate program’s goal, winning titles should be at the forefront. And with the postseason performances we’ve seen out of the Wildcats recently, the one-and-done system isn’t working.
The most recent outcomes in the NCAA Tournament are indication of just how valuable veterans are on their respective teams’ success. In the last tournament, the Final Four featured four teams (South Carolina, North Carolina, Gonzaga and Oregon) which were all comprised of veterans. The championship game between North Carolina and Gonzaga did not feature a single freshman in the starting lineup.
This is not an isolated incident. Last year, senior Ryan Arcidiacono led his Villanova Wildcats to the title, with a roster of predominantly upperclassmen players. Connecticut featured a freshman-free starting lineup in their 2014 championship run. In 2013, senior Peyton Siva and juniors Russ Smith and Luke Hancock led the Louisville Cardinals to a championship.
The trend does not stop there. Victories by experienced and battle-tested Florida, North Carolina and Connecticut teams stretch far into the 2000s. Sure there are times when one-and-done teams defy the odds, like Kentucky’s 2012 team led by Anthony Davis and Duke’s 2015 championship team made up of mainly freshmen, but these instances are few and far between.
A coach’s job is not to recruit the most potential NBA talent; it is to win championships for their team.
None of this is to say a coach should not recruit the best available talent; but they should, however, recruit talent that will benefit their program, meaning players who will stick around for the long run. As the past has shown us, experience is a key factor in championship-caliber teams, and young players just are not getting it done.
There is no denying Calipari’s effect on college basketball’s landscape. He has gone 249-53 in his eight seasons with Kentucky and redefined recruiting for the foreseeable future. But what is a record of that proportion without multiple championships? When a university shells out the money they do on recruiting—as well as a $7.3 million contract on a coach—they should expect more than one title.
If the University of Kentucky is satisfied with the title of “Most Players in the NBA,” then fine. But do not be surprised when veteran programs continue to have their “One Shining Moment” in the NCAA Tournament.