Tuesday, March 13, 2012

2 comments Kentucky Rides Out of Town on the Wave of Bitter Bianchi's Tears

I thought I would go with a more poetic title for this post. It seems appropriate for some reason. I am guessing not many people like the one-and-done rule in college basketball. I say this because a lot of people I speak with don't like the rule. Of course it is actually an NBA rule where the burden and blame gets shifted to college basketball in order to make it look like the NBA gives a shit about the players who eventually enter the league. David Stern is a master spin artist. The poster-coach (not sure that's a word) for the one-and-done rule has become John Calipari and whatever team he is currently coaching. I don't like the one-and-done rule, but I have come to terms with the way John Calipari recruits. He has a recruiting strategy and he uses that strategy to win games.

Whether you think he is a dirty recruiter or not (and if you do think he is dirty then you should also know many other programs are probably dirty as well...like Baylor), he wins basketball games with freshmen at key positions. That isn't always easy. Of course they are talented freshmen, which always helps, but it still doesn't ensure success. Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel doesn't like all of this one-and-done business and he doesn't like the way Calipari wins games. Rather focusing on the positive and celebrating the Florida Gators' Senior Day as an example of an athlete staying in college for four years, he looks at the negative and says Kentucky ruined Florida's Senior Day by having the audacity to defeat the Gators. He's pretty bitter about this it seems. One would believe if Bianchi was concerned with Erving Walker getting attention on Senior Day then he would have written this article about Walker. One would believe wrong.

It was Freshman Day at the University of Florida on Sunday.

Yes, this Kentucky team has a lot of freshmen. Calipari has embraced the one-and-done rule and made it work for him in a way that other programs (Duke in the mid-2000's) were unable to do. I don't like the one-and-done rule, but I've come to terms with how coaches have to use the rule to build their teams and stay competitive. I don't like it, but I have to accept it if I continue to watch college basketball.

Even when it is supposed to be Florida's Senior Day.

I'm not even sure what this means. Should Kentucky not have played their freshmen that day out of deference for the one senior Florida has one the roster? Florida has exactly one senior, so it isn't like this was a freshman versus seniors game or anything of the like. Kentucky is a team that recruits a lot of one-and-done players, but that's living life on a thin line. Calipari has to bring in quality recruiting classes year after year to keep this up, which brings its own kind of pressure. I am not a huge fan of Calipari or Kentucky, but they didn't write the one-and-done rule, they are just playing by that rule. So it was supposed to be Florida's Senior Day and it still was.

Take a look at the Gators roster though. Brad Beal leads the Gators in minutes played. What year is he? A freshman. He also is 2nd on the team in points (as of when Bianchi wrote this article), 1st in rebounds, 1st in steals, 3rd in assists, and 3rd in blocks. Beal is also seriously looking at going to the NBA after this year. So the complaining about the Kentucky one-and-done players seems a bit disingenuous knowing Florida has a probable one-and-done also. Sure, Florida doesn't have three one-and-done players, but they also heavily rely on a freshman (who is a probable one-and-done) for the team's success.

Beal isn't the only young player Florida relies on. Patric Young is a sophomore. He is tied with Beal for the team lead in rebounds, 4th in points, 2nd in blocks, and 4th in minutes played. It isn't like the Gators don't have any young players on their team. They do have more upperclassmen who play a large role on the team than Kentucky does. Kentucky has two seniors, two sophomores, and four freshmen in their 8-man rotation. That is a young team. It is not as if the Kentucky freshmen are the only contributors to the team.

In a idyllic world, this would have been a fitting sendoff for Erving Walker, Florida's inspirational 5-foot-8 senior point guard

Well, it is not an idyllic world and Kentucky doesn't have an obligation to lay down and allow Florida to win the game simply because it is Senior Day. Another fitting send-off would be to have written about Walker, rather than write a half-assed piece simply because you don't like the way Kentucky recruits.

who is a testament to what college basketball once was.

"Back in my day college basketball only featured seniors and the media turned a blind eye to NCAA violations that occurred."

In four years, Walker never missed a game and has become the fourth-leading scorer, second-leading three-point maker and No. 1 assist man in school history.

That is fantastic. Too bad he lost the game against Kentucky on his Senior Day. It sucks, but it happens. No team has the obligation to lay down on the opposing team's Senior Day.

Florida has one player who was at the school for four years and didn't miss a game and Kentucky has one player who was at Kentucky for four years, played in 143 games and is the example, just like Walker, of what coaches want their four year student-athletes to turn into. Darius Miller has accepted his role on the team and progressed his game through the four years at Kentucky. Bianchi wants us to forget this and focus on the horror that is Florida losing at home on Senior Day.

But that nostalgic, idyllic world gave way the real one Sunday when Walker and the Gators were overshadowed once again by Kentucky's high-flying One-and-Doners, whose 74-59 victory was UK's 22nd straight and completed an undefeated 16-0 romp through the SEC.

Any nostalgic, idyllic world of college basketball never existed. It's all in your head and isn't true. It sure is fun to think teams from yesteryear were all clean and had athletes that really gave a shit about their college eduction. Unfortunately, it just isn't true.

This, sadly, is what college basketball has become — a temp agency for rogue UK coach John Calipari's whooping, swooping, alley-ooping rent-a-stars.

How the hell is Calipari "rogue" if he obeys and rules and recruits his team in accordance with those rules? Yes, we all know about violations on teams that Calipari previously coached for, but within the one-and-done rule, Calipari is making it work for him. He isn't rogue.

Especially at Kentucky, where seemingly the only thing that can stop the Childcats is the NBA draft.

This year Kentucky will probably have three freshmen enter the NBA Draft. Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Marcus Teague.

The only reason people get on Calipari's ass is because he wins games with freshmen. If Calipari was a shitty coach who couldn't get the most out of his players, like Rick Barnes (and yes, I realize Calipari gets better recruits than Barnes does. Barnes still stinks with the talent he has), people would not care as much about how many of his players are one-and-done. Over the past two seasons, Calipari has had four players go straight to the NBA and Rick Barnes has had three. It is true Calipari's Kentucky teams often have one-and-done players, but he wins games with these players which I think pisses people off more than anything else.

Freshman center Anthony Davis is the centerpiece of Calipari's current crop of freshmen slambinos and you could certainly see Sunday why he has already been tabbed as the consensus No. 1 pick in the upcoming June draft.

If he is ready to go to the NBA, then what's the problem with him being one-and-done? If Calipari doesn't care for his program to be run this way, why should Mike Bianchi care...other than the fact he doesn't like that Kentucky wins so many games? I hope Bianchi realizes it isn't easy to have the turnover from year-to-year like Calipari has. He has to do more than roll a basketball on the court, drink a soda and eat Cheetos while his team plays. Kentucky plays great defense and defense doesn't come naturally to freshmen and has to be taught.

That may be true, but Calipari has built the nation's most dominant basketball team by becoming the sport's ultimate baby-daddy.

It's rogue of Calipari to work within the one-and-done rule. By the way, Calipari has red-shirted Jon Hood and transfer Ryan Harrow will be able to play next year. So next year's Kentucky team doesn't look to be as nearly freshmen-heavy as this year's team was. There will still be talented freshmen on the team of course.

The way Calipari recruits simply isn't sustainable. He knows he needs a certain amount of guys contributing who aren't freshmen so he can withstand the turnover of the one-and-done players.

after finishing with a 35-3 record and advancing into the Elite 8 of the NCAA Tournament — had five players, including four freshmen, taken in the first round of the NBA draft. Calipari, obviously forgetting the seven national titles the storied Wildcats have in their history, called it "the biggest day in the history of the Kentucky program."

I didn't say I necessarily liked John Calipari and I didn't like this comment. I thought it lacked a certain perspective of Kentucky's basketball history.

Translation: Sending players to the NBA is more important to Calipari than all that other stuff college is supposed to be about.

The cynical translation of his comment can be seen as that. What I believe Calipari intended was to say the Kentucky basketball team had five players drafted into the NBA, so there is talent on the roster, and the program is back from the dead. The acknowledgement by the NBA of the talent on the Kentucky roster was Calipari's proof he was turning the Kentucky basketball program back into the program the fans wanted and into the program Calipari wanted it to be.

You know, stuff like growing up, developing as a person, going to class, getting a degree, blah, blah, blah.

Calipari will have one player graduate this year and three players from the 2010-2011 team graduated. Granted, those players aren't players he has recruited. So only time will tell if he gets guys to stay four years and graduate, but I'm guessing he will have players graduate. Calipari can only help these players grow up, go to class, and develop as long as they are at Kentucky. It isn't like Calipari is taking in players no other programs want. If Cousins didn't go to Kentucky to be a one-and-done, he would have gone to Memphis. Same thing with Wall. He would have gone to Baylor or N.C. State to play for one year. The system is the problem in my opinion. It just so happens Calipari has a few examples of what is wrong with the system on his team every year.

It wasn't so long ago that Billy Donovan had Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Corey Brewer, Tauren Green, and Maureese Speights leave early and not graduate over two consecutive seasons. Again, I will admit those players were juniors and sophomores, but not graduating is not graduating.

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo probably put it best when he told Sports Illustrated recently: "It [Kentucky] is like a factory. Nobody has any ties to the place."

Don't mislead your readers. Let's look at the entire quote, in context, and see what we think about Izzo's quote at that point.

"He doesn't get enough credit for the job they do defensively," Izzo says. "It's hard to get freshmen to play defense. And he's gotta do it with five, six of them [on his roster]."

Izzo says he would happily take a one-and-done player, but he doesn't want a whole team of them,

Wait, Izzo would take a one-and-done player? I must have read that wrong.

Izzo says he would happily take a one-and-done player, but he doesn't want a whole team of them,

I guess not. Also, it doesn't appear Izzo was talking directly about Kentucky with his "factory" comment, but I don't want to let facts get in the way of Bianchi's sour grapes.

nor does he think the likes of Krzyzewski or North Carolina's Roy Williams would either. "I don't think I would enjoy my job that way," he says. "It's like a factory. Nobody has any ties to the place."

There may be a small difference, but Izzo isn't saying "Kentucky is like a factory," he is saying if he had a team of one-and-done players he wouldn't enjoy his job because players wouldn't have ties to the school. So yes, he is talking about Kentucky indirectly, but not directly saying, "Kentucky is a factory."

The difference is in Izzo saying he would not enjoy his job because Michigan State would be like a factory and Izzo directly saying Kentucky is a factory. It's a small difference perhaps, but the difference is in acknowledging what would work for him as a coach and what works for Kentucky. Need proof of this difference? Great, here it is...

Which isn't to say that Izzo—or any other coach—could make such an institutional change, even if he wanted to. "As [basketball] crazy as Kentucky is," says Izzo, "that's probably one of the few places you could do that."

So Izzo's comment doesn't fit as neatly in the context of Bianchi's article as much as he would like for it to.

When I asked him about his reputation as the king of the one-and-doners Sunday, he went on an animated rant about what the NBA and college basketball should do to encourage players to stay for more than one year.

Who would have thought Calipari wouldn't want to discuss the one-and-done rule after his team has completed a perfect conference record? What an unforeseen turn of events!

Among his suggestions: The NCAA should give players a sizable stipend and the NBA should allow players to who stay in college to subtract years from their less-lucrative rookie contract.

I am a fan of two-and-through and otherwise an high school player wants to go straight to the NBA he can. But the player has to stay in college for two years. As long as the NBA takes away the options a college athlete has, John Calipari should build his team as he sees fit, even if I don't personally like it. It is naive to blame the players in the system for the rules that have been set up. The real culprit are those people who limit the options available to high school basketball players and pretend to care about the graduation of student-athletes.

Calipari, though, refuses to apologize for signing the best players in the country even when he must know his program is nothing more than a glorified AAU squad.

Mike Bianchi would not be saying this if he ever watched an AAU game and saw the amount of defense and discipline on the part of the players in those games. If anything Calipari's teams are a D-League team, but not a glorified AAU team.

"What I would tell you is this is not my rule," he says. "I can't stand the rule, but it's the rule so I go out and recruit players who want to play here.

I think this is true. Calipari has found a way to differentiate the Kentucky program from other programs across the country. He differentiates by recruiting more one-and-done players with the idea he can help them play in the NBA. Most college basketball players want to play basketball professionally, this isn't a big secret.

He then added facetiously: "This year, we're doing OK — we're hanging on."

Welcome to college basketball's worst nightmare.

What, you writing a column about the one-and-done rule?

Freshman Day in Gainesville.

The Kentucky Childcats.

This may be Mike Bianchi's worst nightmare, but I'm not sure this is college basketball's worst nightmare to have a team of freshmen players have success during the regular season. Any coach will tell you, and Tom Izzo did tell us, you can't just throw a bunch of talented players on a team and have them win a national title. In fact, John Calipari has never won a national title. So the worst nightmare is a bit overblown.

I know Mike Bianchi likes and respects Erving Walker. He wanted his Senior Day to go smoothly and end with a win for the Florida Gators. If the Gators don't want to lose on Senior Day, don't schedule Kentucky. Plenty of other seniors who are really good guys lost on their Senior Day (Draymond Green) and it doesn't matter if they lost to a team full of freshmen or a team with more upperclassmen. We can be nostalgic about it all we want, but plenty of freshmen have come in and handed a group of seniors their ass on Senior Night. It didn't start this year and it won't stop this year. Whether these freshmen are one-and-done players doesn't matter. It doesn't overshadow a player's Senior Night any more or any less by losing to a group of freshmen. Losing on Senior Night sucks no matter what.

No. 1.

And done.

Yep, just like Brad Beal. In fact, Florida could have possibly had two one-and-done players if Austin Rivers had not de-committed in April 2010. There is no "right" way to build a competitive college basketball team, as long as a coach doesn't break NCAA rules. I'm not sure we can fault coaches who recruit within the rules that have been set up and forced upon college basketball. It doesn't mean we have to like it. If Mike Bianchi really wants to honor Erving Walker and how great he has been for Florida, perhaps he should have spent his column talking about Walker rather than being bitter towards Florida for "overshadowing" Walker's Senior Day.


koleslaw said...

Whether or not you agree with Calipari's recruiting methods, he's become the prime example of what college basketball looks like because of the "one and done" rule that the NBA has placed upon the NCAA. Whether or not his method is successful will depend on if Kentucky hangs a banner at some point in the next few years.

I've heard a lot of criticism about Calipari since he got hired at UK. The most frequent comment is "well, he knows how to recruit guys, but he's not a good coach." I think it takes a pretty good coach to get any group of mostly fresh out of high school players to play defense like UK has played this year.

Bianchi is a Florida alum and doesn't like that his team lost three times this year to a rival who has several freshman playing key positions. That may or may not have anything to do with any bias he has in his piece (hint: it does.) It's as simple as that.

Bengoodfella said...

Koleslaw, I am becoming more convinced Calipari is a pretty good coach. If you really want to look at guys who are bad coaches and great recruiters, then look at the Big 12. There are two specific coaches in the Big 12 who aren't good coaches, at least at the X's and O's. I personally think it is hard to get a group of freshmen to play defense together like Calipari has done.

I think Bianchi is biased as well, but I don't get why he "honored" Erving Walker by barely even mentioning him after Senior Day and focusing on the Wildcats team.