Wally Hall is the managing sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock after an honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force, he is a past president and member of the Football Writers Association of America, member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, past president and current executive committee and board member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, and voter for the Heisman Trophy.
LIKE IT IS:
McDonald’s blueprint works well for Calipari
Kentucky head coach John Calipari yells to his bench during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Arkansas, Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, in Fayetteville, Ark. (AP Photo/Gareth Patterson)
Kentucky Coach John Calipari is not exactly a blue blood in the world of college basketball, despite heading up one of the sport’s all-time most distinguished programs.
Calipari had a brief tutorship with highly respected Larry Brown at Kansas, but that’s still not coming from the Dean Smith, Bob Knight or even Jim Boeheim basketball family tree.
More than likely, Calipari, who makes $5.5 million a year plus bonuses as the man behind the Wildcats’ plan, doesn’t care.
Calipari’s playing career was split between North Carolina at Wilmington and Clarion State in western Pennsylvania.
His first two head-coaching jobs in college were Massachusetts and Memphis, and he took both teams to Final Four appearances that were later vacated. But that didn’t stop Kentucky from going after the guy who was proving to be a great coach and an even greater recruiter of McDonald’s All-Americans.
When the NBA decided in 2006 that it wouldn’t draft players until they were 19 and one year removed from high school, Calipari swung the doors open at Memphis,telling any player interested in playing one year and declaring for the NBA that he had a home there.
Then, freshman Derrick Rose and the Tigers advanced to the 2008 NCAA championship game, losing to Kansas, and Rose became the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft.
Rose’s SAT score was later investigated and Memphis vacated that Final Four, but the message to the nation’s top players was loud and clear.
If they had to sit out a year, they might as well do it where they were going to win and have some fun.
When the Wildcats hired Calipari, the recruiting door was ripped off its hinges. Suddenly, John Wall, Demarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe and Daniel Orton, all of whom were recruited nationally, were in the Bluegrass State and winning 35 games and making the Elite Eight.
By then the term one-and done was synonymous with Kentucky basketball, and the only thing missing from Rupp Arena was a McDonald’s franchise.
Two seasons later, with another great freshman class that included Anthony Davis, the Wildcats won the NCAA championship.
Last season proved that one-and-dones are not a guarantee of success. The Wildcats had three five-star players - including Archie Goodwin of Sylvan Hills High School - and a four star player, but the chemistry was never good and the Wildcats ended up 21-12 and lost to Robert Morris in the first round of the NIT.
Calipari brought his latest band of one-and-dones to Walton Arena on Tuesday, and this might be his most talented group yet with six McDonald’s All-Americans.
They had accounted for 79 percent of the Wildcats’ scoring going into Tuesday night, led by freshman Julius Randle with an average of 16.7 points per game. Randle also leads the team in rebounding at 10.9.
Randle and three other true freshmen - James Young and twins Aaron and Andrew Harrison - have started every game and are the top four scorers. Sophomore Willie Cauley-Stein is the fifth starter.
What the team lacks in experience it more than makes up for with athleticism, talent and desire, and if it continues to improve it will be a major force in the NCAA Tournament.
For that to happen, the most important thing the Wildcats can do is listen to John Calipari.
He might not have a blue blood basketball pedigree, but he’s proven that’s not necessary to be a winner. Until the NBA realizes its mistake, or gets in sync with the NFL and MLB to make draft requirements uniform, Calipari will continue to reload at McDonald’s each year.
Sports, Pages 19 on 01/15/2014