This time last year basketball fans, pundits and talking heads were readying for the Kentucky Wildcats' inevitable run to the 2012 Final Four in New Orleans. This year, those same folks are reveling in the Wildcats' 59-57 loss to Robert Morris University in the first round of the NIT. Never mind the fact that Kentucky just landed the No. 2 recruit in the country in Julius Randle and will probably be ranked preseason No. 1, the basketball world is celebrating the unlikely fall of a giant.
The crux of last year's vitriolic discussion was Wildcats coach John Calipari's embrace of the "one and done" team-building model, in which the Kentucky machine recruits (and lands) the No. 1 class of freshmen each year, wins big, then hugs them goodbye as they depart for the NBA as lottery selections.
It makes sense, on the surface. Stay with me.
If coaching is truly a results-driven business, then I have no issues if Calipari's mission is to win and win in a hurry. It's his job, after all. To some, though, Kentucky is to be rebuked and reviled for sullying the true mission of college athletics- educating and molding the finest amateur athletes in the country into useful members of society (wink, wink). To others (read: Kentucky fans), Calipari is simply an early adapter to the changing times in a big-money business.
If we're honest, we'll admit that in most cases, we don't like Calipari's and others' approaches to winning because "those teams kick my team's ass". However, I always worry about the copycat nature of sports (see: read option in the NFL) and whether I'd be okay if, say, my alma mater (High Point University) took that approach to success. The answer, if I'm to be honest, is no.
That's why the lesson of the 2012-13 Kentucky Wildcats is so important.
Writing for and about the Wake Forest fan base these past few months have given me an insight into their passionate desire for Wake Forest to win again. As someone who covers a team, I want them to win, too, just because it makes the job much more enjoyable. Happy is happy.
But at what cost?
Let's imagine that this year's Wake Forest freshman class, which included Devin Thomas, Codi Miller-McIntyre and Madison Jones were all NBA first round locks and comprised the number one recruiting class in the country. Let's also imagine that they made the Final Four and maybe even won the whole deal. And then imagine that they left.
Are you okay with this? After all, let's say that waiting in the wings is another star-studded recruiting class for next year...
...that ends up losing to Robert Morris in the first round of the NIT Tournament.
In his comments to the media following Tuesday's loss, Calipari lamented the lack of depth on his team once he discovered that his rotation wasn't disciplined or tough enough yet to handle center stage in Lexington. He mentioned that there will be significant competition for playing time next year and that he may go as deep as 15 guys on the bench. Those revelations were borne out of a deeper problem caused by the "one and done model":
"The stuff I had to accept this year...the program almost got hijacked. Never in my career have I surrendered in any way to any team, and I did at times this year. To try to save guys, to try to help guys and it never works." -John Calipari following his team's loss to Robert Morris
What does it say about our fast-food society if a successful, top-tier coach's biggest takeaway from his season is that he needs more players to achieve stability and consistently win? Isn't that the way you're supposed to do it?
You tell me. Comment away.