If the perception before this spring had been that John Calipari can land whichever recruits he wants, that changed in a hurry the past few weeks.
All five of Calipari's primary targets during the spring signing period selected other schools over Kentucky, forcing the Wildcats to scramble to identify second-tier options.
The sting of losing a series of recruiting battles for the first time in his Kentucky tenure led Calipari to write a blog post Monday morning in which he seemed to speak directly to potential targets in future classes. Calipari hinted that the platoon system he implemented this past season hurt Kentucky with prospects this spring and repeatedly insisted it was a one-time experiment.
In his zeal to emphasize that future recruits should expect to have the chance to play 30-plus minutes per game, Calipari even exaggerated how short his rotations have been in the past. He wrote that his 1996 Final Four team at UMass used only five players when sixth man Tyrone Weeks averaged 18.5 minutes per game and fellow reserves Charlton Clarke and Inus Norville both played nearly 10 apiece.
In all my coaching career, I’ve always played six, seven or eight guys. As a matter of fact, at UMass in 1996 I played five – the sixth man played single-digit minutes. My guards played 39 minutes a game. I’ve done this all kinds of ways, playing as many as eight or nine guys, which I thought was a bit much, but never have I ever tried to play 10 until this year.
Now, the question became, why would you have that many players where you felt you had to play everybody? Well, Willie, Alex and the twins decided to come back to be better prepared to chase their dreams. .... The only way I could figure out for all of them to eat was to platoon. I didn’t feel comfortable trying to sub 10 guys in and out. I thought it would hurt every player if I did that. I needed a way for every player to help themselves, their team and their teammates.
If you ask me if I’m ever going to platoon again, my answer is NO. Last season was an absolute outlier. It’s just not the way I like to coach. I would rather play seven or eight guys because I believe that gives us the best chance to win. I think we wrote the book on platooning this year, but I hope we stick it on the shelf and never have to use it again.
It's telling that Calipari had to pledge never to run a system that propelled Kentucky to a historically successful 2014-15 season. The Wildcats won their first 38 games and reached the Final Four playing nine or 10 players per game, yet what many recruits noticed is that no Wildcats averaged more than 25.9 minutes or scored more than 11.0 points per game.
The one mistake Calipari did make is not penning this blog post a month sooner.
Opposing coaches would have found ammunition for negative recruiting whether he played 10 guys reduced minutes or left a couple former McDonald's All-Americans to languish on the bench, but Calipari should have had the foresight to address it immediately after the Final Four. At that point, 10 of the top 20 prospects in the Rivals 150 were still undecided on their college destination.
It's impossible to say whether writing this blog post a month earlier would have helped Kentucky land one or two of its spring targets, but it certainly couldn't have hurt. The Wildcats instead lost elite wings Malik Newman (Mississippi State), Brandon Ingram (Duke) and Jaylen Brown (Cal) and lost coveted big men Stephen Zimmerman (UNLV) and Cheick Diallo (Kansas).
None of Kentucky's opponents will take pity on the Wildcats considering they return former McDonald's All-Americans Tyler Ulis, Marcus Lee and Alex Poythress and add highly touted November signees Skal Labissiere and Isaiah Briscoe. At the same time, it was unusual to see Calipari trying to fill out next season's roster by signing a junior college prospect and offering a scholarship to a three-star forward who had just committed to N.C. State.
The closest Calipari came to acknowledging the platoon system may have played a role in that recruiting futility was a line late in his blog post. Wrote the Kentucky coach, "It’s amazing people could try to use that against us, but I guess you have to come up with something."
Calipari was wise to address the negative recruiting ploy before it impacts Kentucky with its class of 2016 targets.
In the wake of a disappointing spring recruiting period, however, you have to wonder if he wishes he had done it sooner.
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