Kentucky just hired John Calipari. The contract makes Calipari the highest paid college basketball coach by a hefty margin. It's quite a coup for a man who's resume does not include a national championship and only one Final Four. But he does garner some optimism for a Kentucky program that has struggled for the last few years, and a dynasty that is threatening to slip through their fingers. Calipari brings a couple of bold marks on his resume. First, he has somehow attracted the attention of World Wide Wes, who has an almost unnatural affect on superlative high school players who are looking for a safe haven for a year before moving on to the NBA. He's also a consummate salesman, and there's no doubt that Kentucky fans and boosters demand an ego capable of assuaging their endless appetites. Finally, while the final story on his coaching capabilities may need to wait for future years, he certainly has already displayed a knack for utilizing players talents and putting them in positions to win.
To enhance the story further, it appears at least a couple Kentucky players will be transferring from the program to make way for some of Calipari's Memphis recruits. Clearly Calipari means to make an immediate impact. There's a good chance that at least one of Kentucky's stars, Meeks or Aldrich, will choose to delay jumping to the NBA for another year. If almost any combination of Memphis recruits and Kentucky stars form the 2010 team, Calipari will have vaunted the team from NIT competitor to top 25 in one fell swoop.
Meanwhile, the move has inspired a flurry of activity by other top college programs. Recruits who had previously signed with Memphis are now being courted all over the country. Kansas is transferring two scholarship players out this spring, presumably to make way for Xavier Henry and his brother CJ. Self is not sitting on his hands, especially after winning his first NC only a year ago. It now looks like his star players, Collins and Aldrich, have decided to give up the vagaries of an NBA bench and a $1M signing bonus in exchange for a chance to play full time in college and chase a national championship. Riches can come later, but right now there's the fun of college. You only live once after all. And Tyler Hansbrough and his team mates just showed the nation how sweet it all can be to stay and win a national championship.
But is the real catalyst in this all this movement still sitting off in the wings? UNC has just won 2 national championships and gone to a Final Four in the last 5 years. To add a more threatening note, they are reloading again. Certainly another Final Four next year is not out of their grasp. Surely every Kentucky booster must be aware that UNC is now only 4 wins away from being the winningest team in history, and within 2 national championships of their historic achievements. There's nothing like a little success by the competition to spur other programs on to the next level. One wonders if Kentucky would be quite so desperate if Kansas and UNC were not showing signs of breaking out of the pack into multiple national championships in the next 10 years.
The recruiting musical chairs are not over. There are a few top 10 recruits who have not yet landed. Which school they eventually choose has the potential to determine the next Final Four and eventual national champion. Ironically, in a bid to rebuild Kentucky and compete against UNC and Kansas, Calipari may have just pushed Wall to UNC and a second national championship in a row. The teams and players are just that tight. As my mother used to say, it's strange how the cookie crumbles.
I will be watching with unusual attentiveness as the coaches play out a recruiting chess game that could easily define top program momentums and dynasties for years to come.