The Kentucky Wildcats open a new basketball season next Friday against Maryland in Brooklyn, New York. It may be a continuation of what could be a historic run for the Cats.
In 1993, the late Al McGuire once said, “I’ve seen the future of college basketball, and its name is Kentucky.” While those words were spoken almost 20 years ago, they especially ring true today. UK is changing the college game in ways nobody anticipated by doing things nobody thought was possible.
In college sports, it starts with recruiting and that’s John Calipari’s specialty.
“I've never seen a run like this,” says FoxSports national basketball analyst Evan Daniels. “He's re-writing the book on dominating the landscape of basketball recruiting.”
Calipari dominating recruiting isn’t a new story because it’s actually been happening for a while now. He has five straight No. 1 recruiting classes, and his 2013 haul could be historically great.
“It's already terrific with three top 10 players, another top 40 player and a three-star prospect," Daniels said. "If they were able to add (Julius) Randle, (Aaron) Gordon, or (Andrew) Wiggins, then you are looking at possibly the best recruiting class of all time."
Wiggins is the big prize. Coaches have been salivating over him for years, and Daniels says that he’s best player he’s ever evaluated. Here’s the worst-kept secret on the circuit: Calipari and Kentucky are considered the frontrunner for his services.
Recruits want to play for Calipari because he makes dreams come true. In the last three NBA drafts, he’s put 15 players in the league. Kids who dream of playing in "the league" notice these things.
Calipari may be popular with the kids, but much of the college basketball world doesn’t care much for the Kentucky coach. He’s perceived as a guy who doesn’t always play by the rules even though he’s never been charged by the NCAA with a violation of any kind. Detractors bring up the two vacated Final Fours at UMass and Memphis, yet given the circumstances, it could have easily happened to other coaches.
Critics also suggest that he’s more recruiter than coach, and they used his lack of a national title as proof of their position. But Cal smashed that narrative when his super kittens, led by Anthony Davis, captured the school’s eighth title last April.
Kentucky now has two Final Fours in a row and one championship in Cal’s three years. Great stuff but not legendary... yet. I think the greatness could still be building.
“As long as Cal’s at Kentucky, they’re going to be competing for Final Fours,” says CBS national columnist Gregg Doyel. “Before he’s done, he could have three or four titles."
He could easily have two right now. The Cats would have likely won the 2011 title had DeAndre Liggins’ 3-point attempt gone down against UConn at the end of national semifinals in Houston. With a preseason top 3 team this year, UK could be legitimately pursuing a three-peat. Add the greatest recruiting class of all-time to the mix next year and suddenly a mini-UCLA run doesn’t seem crazy.
During my conversation with Doyel on our Larry Glover Live radio show this week, I suggested that I thought the Cats could win four titles in a six-year window. Doyel did not disagree.
“It’s only possible for one school, and it’s the one we’re talking about (Kentucky),” Doyel added.
Let that sink in for just a moment. It’s only possible at Kentucky. Those may be the sweetest words that a UK fan will ever hear, and better yet, they’re true.