There are two college basketball teams that I really hate right now: the Duke University Blue Devils and the University of Kentucky Wildcats. Normally, my loathing is directed more toward Duke due to the sickening national obsession with the Blue Devils; however, I would much rather see them win it all than I would the Wildcats, at least until head coach John Calipari and his recruiting of “one-and-dones” leaves Lexington, Ky.
Since he was hired in 2009, Calipari’s teams have never faltered before the Elite Eight. In each of his first four recruiting classes, he has brought in no less than three five-star players. Despite the immense talent Kentucky had, they did not win a championship under Calipari until April 2, when arguably the best two players in college, Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, led Kentucky to a national title in their freshman – and final – season.
Unfortunately, I realized that Kentucky’s system achieves consistent results. Although the jump between high school and college ball is huge, Kentucky beats good teams with regularity. Calipari’s record in Lexington shows that if he can get the two best incoming players in the country, he can win a championship. Then those players are gone after their year in college and the process restarts. He has created a machine that, when fed the right parts, is frighteningly effective.
Why do I care if Kentucky wins or not? Lots of great teams win championships and then lose stars. Kentucky, though, relies on talent that almost always leaves school early. Even Duke at least gets three or four years out of most of their players. Still, why is this system preferred? A player only has four years to play in college. So what if they skip town early?
It comes down to the basic difference between the NBA and college. I find the NBA boring. There is no excitement or unknowns – everyone knows who the best teams and players are, that the scores are going to be ridiculously high and that the chances of seeing good defense are slim to none. The fact is that the NBA is driven by money – which is fine. It is just not something I want to watch.
College basketball, on the other hand, is exciting because so much is unknown. This is epitomized during March Madness. Watching an unknown team playing its heart out against a powerhouse and triumphing brings tears to my eyes. It’s amazing to see how much these players, many of whom won’t play professionally, exert themselves to win. This is what college basketball is about: school pride. Players have four years to rise with their teammates to the pinnacle of the sport. They are not doing this for the money or the fame, but for the glory of the game.
Calipari goes against the grain. Most players that he recruits will leave by the next spring. Calipari actually does an excellent job of pushing his players so that they will be ready for the pros. And yes, he claims that he runs this system because he does not believe in telling NBA-ready players to stay when the big paychecks that they want and need are out there. I understand his point of view, and to an extent I agree with it. But the existence of a loophole does not mean that it should be exploited.
Calipari is right: This entire process is flawed. What else could be done though? Should freshmen go overseas for a season? Should Calipari open a one-year training camp that takes stars and shapes them into lottery picks? Both solutions would deprive the college game of some great players. But creating a team that doesn’t return 50 percent of its players just doesn’t seem right. It is exploitation of the players, but the players are not the ones getting hurt. Instead, it is the rest of college basketball.
A Kentucky team that wins a championship is a signal that this game is not about pride anymore. It is simply an incubation period before moving on to a job where good teams can be bought instead of made. If every team did this, there would be no college basketball anymore, but the junior NBA. For proof of this entire argument, watch any of the NCAA Tournament’s “One Shining Moment” videos. They show what the majority of these athletes are competing for and what a successful Calipari might destroy.