'It's another level': What impact will John Calipari have on Arkansas basketball recruiting?

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas basketball hiring John Calipari as its next head coach sent shockwaves throughout the country, and those reverberations were felt across the Natural State's high school basketball landscape.

In his final season, dwindling in-state ties became a point of concern for former head coach Eric Musselman, who accepted the same position at Southern Cal last week. Musselman's final recruiting class with the Razorbacks did not include any Arkansas natives, and all three in-state products on the roster entered the transfer portal before the coach's departure.

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A trio of high school basketball coaches with top in-state recruits spoke with the Times Record Monday. All three coaches believe any Arkansas recruiting concerns can be put to rest with Calipari at the helm.

"If they want him, I don’t think you’ll see a high-profile, top prospect in the state of Arkansas in basketball leave again," Little Rock Christian Academy coach Kyle Pennington said. "There are going to be exceptions, but in general I think it’s going to be very hard to say no."

The Warriors have won back-to-back Class 4A state titles in Pennington's first two years at the school. The former head coach at Russellville remembers Calipari sitting court side at Bentonville High School games to watch Malik Monk, who left the state to play at Kentucky.

Pennington has multiple college prospects on his roster, including 2026 recruit JJ Andrews, who 247sports Composite ranks as the No. 18 player in the country.

Bam Adebayo played one season for John Calipari at Kentucky before he was drafted by the Heat in 2017.
Bam Adebayo played one season for John Calipari at Kentucky before he was drafted by the Heat in 2017.

Like many high school coaches in the state, Pennington grew up in Arkansas and is a Razorbacks alum. He stressed the importance of being unbiased when helping his kids go through the recruiting process, instead focusing on what's best for his players.

Now, Arkansas can blend the in-state ties with the promise of future success backed by overwhelming evidence.

"Calipari has always been the best at recruiting the incoming freshman because of his resume," Springdale head coach Jeremy Price said. "With the McDonald's All-Americans and the NBA Draft picks and all the talent he's recruited, it's another level. His brand really sells to high school guys."

Isaiah Sealy, the 52nd-ranked player in the country for the class of 2025, plays for Price at Springdale. Sealy remains uncommitted but was being recruited by Musselman while he was still the Arkansas coach.

Until the final season, Musselman had a good track record with in-state recruits. He helped send the likes of Moses Moody, Isaiah Joe and Jaylin Williams to the NBA.

Arkansas guard Isaiah Joe eyes a free throw against LSU on March 4 at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
Arkansas guard Isaiah Joe eyes a free throw against LSU on March 4 at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.

But Price and Benton High School head coach Dexter Hendrix agree that the mere presence of Calipari sends a message to recruits across the state.

"The one thing about coach (Calipari) is, he always has good players, so he clearly feels like he will be able to get good players to Arkansas," Hendrix said. "That says the school is ready to take a leap. It'll make everyone in the state better."

Hendrix has Terrion Burgess, the state's top-ranked player in 2025, on his Benton roster.

Calipari is reportedly set to sign a contract worth $7.5-8 million a year. That's nearly double of Musselman's salary, and that commitment which will trickle down to its NIL, current players and future recruits.

The only question from the coaches was about Calipari's preferred pipeline. At Kentucky and Memphis, Calipari dominated high school recruiting and didn't dive head-first into the transfer portal, but it's becoming increasingly apparent how vital newcomers with college experience can be to a season's success. Does Calipari shift to recruiting players who are 22 years old instead of 18?

Time will tell. For now, Calipari has a blank canvas with no returnees and just one high school recruit signed in the 2024 class. The excitement of the unknown's potential outweighs any concerns.

This article originally appeared on Fort Smith Times Record: With John Calipari hire, Arkansas basketball could lock down in-state recruiting