BY Bill Crockett
(LEXINGTON, Ky.) — A common characteristic defines premier college basketball programs—the ability to recruit and sign top-tier prospects. Tasked with continuing the greatest tradition in all of college basketball, no one acquires talent quite like Kentucky’s John Calipari. Easily the most polarizing figure during the one-and-done era, Calipari continually reloads UK’s roster with heralded 5-star talent. Somewhat overlooked, John Calipari recently performed a subtle “Safety Dance” on the recruiting trail by taking a more direct approach.
When he took the helm in 2009, Calipari promised Kentucky’s insatiable fan base that he would target the best of the best, and true to form, he’s done just that. Five-star commits Terrence Clarke and BJ Boston highlight an already impressive 2020 class which also includes four-star forwards Lance Ware and Cam’Ron Fletcher. Always the innovator, Cal’s “second tour of duty” now features a full-court press targeting 2020 No. 2 prospect Cade Cunningham and 2021 No. 1 overall prospect Jonathon Kuminga who could potentially reclassify.
Calipari’s remark, “You people are crazy,” perfectly sums up the madness associated with Kentucky basketball. Speaking of madness, UK’s visitor list at Big Blue Madness featured a veritable who’s who of elite players. Although each player received the blue carpet treatment, Cade Cunningham’s attendance took precedence. Reportedly greeted by “We Want Cade” chants, Cunningham’s attendance bodes well for the ‘Cats especially if Calipari’s decisive comments about not being just another “hat on the table” prove true.
A 6-foot-7, 215-pound point forward from Monte Verde Academy, Cunningham actually skipped USA Basketball’s training camp in order to attend Madness. UK faces an uphill battle with Cunningham. Oklahoma State head coach Mike Boynton hired Cunningham’s brother, former SMU standout Cannen Cunningham, as an assistant coach—keep moving folks, nothing slimy here. Calipari must feel confident that the ‘Cats aren’t simply another hat on his table though.
Coach Calipari publicly declared that neither he nor his staff would waste time recruiting elite prospects ultimately destined to choose another school. Further supporting this claim, Kentucky cut ties with 5-star guards Josh Christopher and Jalen Green rather than become a proverbial hat on their table. As usual, Cal’s new philosophy remains one step ahead of the competition. 6-foot-8, 205-pound forward Jonathan Kuminga brazenly stated that he wanted to form a “super team” in college. Long thought a Duke lean, what does Cal’s new motto mean in terms of Kuminga’s recruitment and potential reclassification?
It’s a given that college players often emulate current trends in the NBA. Having witnessed NBA superstars join forces and form super teams on what seems like a regular basis, could a potential dreamclass actually be in the works at Kentucky? Reportedly, Terrence Clarke, UK’s highest-rated commit, holds major influence with both Cunningham and Kuminga—keep your fingers crossed on this one. Calipari said it best, “The greatest players make their mark here.”
It’s no secret that expectations run high at Kentucky. Cunningham and Kuminga both want to win a national title and earn a max contract in the NBA. Calipari’s track record speaks for itself. Only 22 NBA players have signed max deals in the past 10 years—7 of which played for Calipari. Teamed with prolific scorers BJ Boston and Terrence Clarke, a commitment from Cunningham and a Kuminga reclassification would create a dream class scenario making the ‘Cats odds-on-favorite to cut down the nets next season.
Calipari’s recent platform served notice for would be recruits. He doesn’t plan on flying around the country and pursuing players who have no intention of signing with the Wildcats. Players know that simply listing Kentucky as a final three pick generates a ton of hype. Moving forward, don’t expect a blue UK hat neatly placed on every 5-star recruit’s table during Calipari’s second tour of duty. Let’s hope Cade Cunningham and Jonathan Kuminga received the intended message and don’t become men without hats.