Being a Kentucky fan you tend to become one part jaded and one part incensed any time a national media member throws up a story about Kentucky Basketball. This is because more often than not they’re bemoaning the fact that Kentucky is ‘doing things the wrong way’ and ‘ruining college basketball.’ Now, I’m aware that these guys (Pat Forde, Dan Dakich, Pete Thamel, the list goes on for miles…) do this in large part because they know it will get their stories hits. Writing about how much you love Duke or Indiana won’t get you anything. Writing about how much you love Kentucky will get you some love. But taking cheap shots at Kentucky and Calipari?? That’ll crash your servers with all the traffic you land.
So anyway, according to national hack media John Calipari is ruining college basketball because he created the one and done rule and every time Mark Emmert tries to mount his golden steed (probably a unicorn but this hasn’t been confirmed) and slay the One-and-Done-Dragon, John Calipari pushes him down, calls his mama a booger face, and steals his lunch money. Then he runs laughing into the schoolyard to bewitch more otherwise upstanding young athletes with piles of Big Blue Dollar Bills.
(Artist’s rendering of said act.) [beautiful day-saving unicorn source http://www.dragonsnail.com/ ]
This is obviously false on a myriad of levels. John Calipari did nothing to create the one and done rule, he does not like it and he does not support its continuation. In fact he is the biggest critic of this rule. Everyone hates this rule. Fans don’t like that they can’t build the same attachment to players they used to (and they’re bitter and selfishly want to hold players back who clearly belong in the pros) coaches dislike the massive turnover on their rosters (although they like the influx of talent, even if its for one year, as compared to the undeniable talent drain which ravaged college basketball during the prep to pros era) and it doesn’t even really benefit players evenly (it would be better for the best talent [such as Anthony Davis or Nerlens Noel] to go pro immediately and avoid the risk of injury or wasted time in college. Meanwhile, the middle class of players can find their playing time effected by a star freshman coming in. More importantly there is a general negative connotation at the next level to players who stayed longer than a year. They’re seen somewhat as failures who “COULDN’T go pro, not just players who “DIDN’T” turn pro. Moreover, the bottom tier of players would also benefit from having this elite players go straight to the NBA [even though it would never really be more than 5-6 guys] because at the end of the day thats 5 more roster spots and 5 more scholarships for them).
I say all this just to say that yes, the one and done rule is bad. Yes anyone who loves college basketball is aware of this. And most importantly, yes there are copious other systems what would be much preferred (but that’s a topic for another time). However, this is the system that is in place, and any wise man will work within the system of the world in which he is immersed rather than sticking his head in the sand and denying it. This is more true than most people seem to be aware as Kentucky is NOT the only “one and done” program. Kansas, Arizona, UCLA, North Carolina, and DUKE! YES DUKE!! Saintly Coach K!! all go after one and done players. This is just the landscape and its what winners do.
However, in spite of this schools like Duke are still considered the “old school” and “pure” camp while Kentucky is this new blasphemous balrog. And in typical Ostrich fashion the national media is sticking its head in the sand, denying that this is the new landscape of college basketball. They continue to deny the success of using this one and done players, but oh hey… it works…
That title, however, they call a fluke. And even when they acknowledge it they try their hardest to give all the credit to Darius Miller, that team’s sixth man and a senior. I love Darius as much as the next guy. And as a native of Maysville Kentucky, fans in the state adore that guy. But absolutely nobody with any sense tries to say that Darius is the sole reason for that title. Kentucky won #8 on the backs of Anthony Davis and MKG. They’re the reason that team was great. They carried that team all year. During the tournament Darius was an excellent sixth man, Marquis Teague radically improved his play, Lamb and Jones were more than solid contributors, but Davis and MKG were the real core of that team. Two one and done freshmen.
However, this great debate rages on. Sports analysts continue to assert that Kentucky’s way is the wrong way and Kentucky is evil. Most of the sensible ones have now switch to the “blend” narrative of a few elite talents, a few seniors, a few sophomore/junior role players equals a title. I agree with this narrative too. But I just want to put a little bit of that Kentucky hate to bed, and I want to do so at this particular moment because this year’s sweet 16 field provided some excellent case studies of this debate.
Last weekend Kentucky beat Wichita State for a berth into the sweet 16. Wichita is the perfect example of the Saintly old way. But its not just that they have seniors, they grow their own players, the “do it the right way” … its that they do all that and built a SPECTACULAR team! Greg Marshall has done an otherworldly job at Wichita and that was easily one of the 5 best teams in the country. They should have been allowed (screw you committee) to cruise into the elite 8 and honestly should have been in the final four, though that would have been more of a battle. However, if the one and done strategy is anything it is erratic. A team like Kentucky can easily be the best team in the country one night, and can lost to Arkansas at home on another night. Wichita should have beaten Kentucky. They deserved to beat Kentucky. And they did not beat Kentucky. At its best, the one and done strategy (meaning using at least 1-2 elite freshmen to supplement your team) is the optimal strategy in college basketball today. Its not perfect, but if it works right it is simply better than the old model. This is why even guys like Coach K have moved to adopt it.
(picture from collegesportsblog.dallasnews.com)
One more example. The Baylor Bears. Baylor and its coach Scott Drew, if they weren’t off the radar, would be getting even more flack than Cal and UK. Coach Drew has used elite recruiting to take a college basketball backwater and push it to 3 sweet 16s in the last 5 seasons and 2 elite 8s in that time. This year however, they have been an unmitigated disaster. They salvaged their season at the end of the year, but they looked like a mess all year. This is what everyone said the one and done strategy would beget. Infighting in teams and uncoachable chaos. Then came the tournament. This year they met Nebraska and Creighton, two midwestern, do it the right away schools. Tim Miles runs the prototypical old school program at Nebraska and they got absolutely housed by the Bears. More importantly, Creighton’s Greg McDermott runs an elite mid major program, much more in line with Greg Marshall’s Wichita St. They are the supreme feel good story for the old regime. Coach and his son (player of the year and Wooden aware winner mind you) take traditional mid major basketball school to unforeseen heights in the era of the despicable one and done. And you know what happens when they met chaotic evil Baylor? Thirty point blowout. Goodbye player of the year and goodbye to the Old Regime’s Great Hope.
Its not that only this blended one and done strategy can work. Its not that its better for the sport. Its not that its even fun to watch or good for everyone involved. But when its clicking, its pretty hard to beat. This is simply the highest reward method currently available to college coaches. Hopefully they get rid of it soon, but for now let’s not criticize anyone for using it. Lets just admit that any wise man in sports would and should try to reach the pinnacle of his craft. And even though the valley’s are awfully low, for now the one and done strategy looks like the Himalayas. Doing it the right way means using the old model right now, but it should mean working within the system (flawed though it may be) to do the best you can.