NEW ORLEANS — Blue-chip players flock to John Calipari, eager to sharpen their skills – to say nothing of their résumés – in what’s become a de facto NBA apprenticeship. These “one-and-dones” won’t have diplomas when their blink-and-you’ll-miss-it time at the beloved alma mater is done.
But they’ll have jobs in the NBA and the fat contracts that go with them, which is what they were after in the first place.
“If you’re a player that wants to win and that’s looking to get on to the next level, Kentucky is the place,” said Derrick Rose, one of nine Calipari players to go in the first round of the last four NBA Drafts. “... Getting guys to the next level, his resume speaks for itself.”
And Calipari makes no apologies for it.
He doesn’t like the “one-and-done” rule, which essentially forces players to spend a year in college. He’s even suggested ways to change it.
Until it’s changed, however, it’s a fact of life in college basketball, and no one has used it to his advantage more than Calipari.
His latest cadre of NBA-bound stars, led by 19-year-old freshman phenom Anthony Davis, played Kansas for the NCAA title Monday night. It’s the second time in five years Calipari made it to the last game of the season. It was also Kentucky’s second consecutive trip to the Final Four, the first time the Wildcats have done that since they played in three consecutive NCAA title games from 1996-98.
Of Calipari’s past seven teams at Kentucky and Memphis, all but one has reached the regional final or better. The lone “disappointment” was the 2009 Tigers, Calipari’s last Memphis team, and they lost in the round of 16.
“There’s only two solutions to it: Either I can recruit players who are not as good as the players I’m recruiting, or I can try to convince guys that should leave to stay for me,” Calipari said. “You have a young man that can leave after a year and he’s going to be drafted in the first five picks, first 10 picks. How do you tell him to stay?”
Calipari takes plenty of grief for his liberal use of the “one-and-dones.” Some see him as a mercenary, amassing as much talent as he can for one spectacular run and barely taking time to wish them good luck before he’s ushering the next crop of phenoms through his revolving door. Others view him as a symbol of all that’s wrong with college athletics, a mockery of the concept of “student-athletes.”
“I marvel at what John does. I couldn’t do it,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said after Kentucky beat the Cardinals on Saturday night. “I can’t say hello and goodbye in seven months; it’s just not me.”