At a time when his program is battling Duke for numerous elite prospects, Kentucky coach John Calipari has chosen to take the fight public.
Buried in the middle of Calipari’s latest blog post on his website is a thinly veiled shot at the Blue Devils and their typical sales pitch to top recruits.
“I refuse to go in a home and paint a picture saying things like, ‘If you come with us you’ll be taken care of for the rest of your life by the program and by our alums’ even though you may only be in school for a year or two,” Calipari wrote. “How preposterous does that sound? What if I say that same thing and the young man decides to transfer for one reason or another? Does that still hold true that we’re going to take care of them the rest of their lives?
“Our approach is to give them the fishing rod and the lures to help them catch fish, not to just give you the fish. I want players to earn everything they get here and to feel that they’ve built their own self-esteem and confidence through demonstrated performance, that they’ve competed with other really good players, yet did it in a way that they remained great teammates. I want them to be brothers and build their own contacts and Rolodex in life. We will always be here to help, but they do not need to be beholden to any of us to use our contacts to help them.”
While the words “Duke” and “Mike Krzyzewski” may be absent from the above paragraphs, there’s little doubt the Blue Devils are the program that Calipari is referencing. For proof, check out how top 10 Class of 2017 prospects Hamidou Diallo and Wendell Carter described Duke’s recruiting pitch in recent interviews with the Louisville Courier-Journal and 247Sports respectively.
Said Diallo, “Duke’s [pitch] was “if I come to Duke, I will be set for life.”
Said Carter, “Going to Duke, you’re pretty much set for life as a student and an athlete.”
The reference to a player transferring is no coincidence either. It was only a few weeks ago that former five-star point guard Derryck Thornton left Duke after just one season because his family was unhappy with how he was used in the Blue Devils’ offense and felt he was not showcased as much as promised during the recruiting process.
Publicly taking shots at a rival program may not endear Calipari to anyone in Durham, but it’s undeniably great theater for the rest of us. Kentucky and Duke are college basketball’s two premier recruiting superpowers and the two leading contenders to be atop the preseason polls next November. If the buildup to next season includes some verbal sparring between Calipari and Krzyzewski, that can only help a sport that too often doesn’t crack the news cycle until after the Super Bowl.
In this case, Calipari is speaking directly to undecided Class of 2016 big man Marques Bolden and to the handful of top 2017 prospects considering both Duke and Kentucky. Bolden, a highly coveted 6-foot-10 center from DeSoto, Texas, will almost certainly choose either the Blue Devils or the Wildcats whenever he announces his college destination later this spring.
There’s one passage in Calipari’s blog entry that appears to be a message specifically for Bolden. In it, Calipari tries one last time to make Bolden see the possibilities if he joins next season’s Wildcats.
“I say all this with recruiting not quite finished,” Calipari said. “Why not be the best rebounding team? Why not be the best shot-blocking team? Why not be the fastest team? Why not be an exciting offensive team that spreads the court, throws a lot of lobs and dunks a lot of balls, yet has players who can make shots?
What will be fascinating will be to see how the Duke-Kentucky war of words escalates in the future as the programs continue to battle.
Just like it’s easy to find examples of players who enrolled at Duke and weren’t “set for life,” it’s just as easy to poke holes in Calipari’s pitch that coming to Kentucky instantly puts you on the fast track to the NBA. For every Karl-Anthony Towns, John Wall or Anthony Davis, there’s a Skal Labissiere, Alex Poythress or Andrew or Aaron Harrison whose draft stock plummeted while they were in college.
The first response from Duke came via two well-timed tweets from Blue Devils assistant coach Jeff Capel on Monday evening. Like Calipari’s blog post doesn’t specifically refer to Duke, there’s no mention of Kentucky, yet the context is clear.
— Jeff Capel (@jeffcapel) May 9, 2016
True leadership…Basketball IS NOT life! Life is way more important! Glad we have a leader that teaches that! #🐐https://t.co/E2UTAOoEnu
— Jeff Capel (@jeffcapel) May 10, 2016
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