Win, lose, or draw, the 2013-14 Kentucky Wildcats squad ruined the authenticity of the game. In one way or another, John Calipari‘s track record in destroying college basketball should not be a surprise to any college basketball follower who holds the sport to the highest value.
His past stops at Massachusetts and Memphis have included vacated wins after NCAA investigations, cheating the game one player at a time. Since 2009, the cheating allegations haven’t surfaced yet, but he has turned Lexington into the 18th D-League team.
The natural progression for a basketball player from the start of high school to the start of their Division-1 playing years, if they’re lucky of course, is to play with their respective high school teams and travel the country with their AAU team. Then their game is truly expected to start to take form and fit the mold of their given head coach’s system. They’re not supposed to go to college to play for another AAU team, and that is exactly what fans have been succumbed to.
The greatest of gains for the Big Blue Nation have been the worst downfall for others since Calipari won his first career national championship in 2011. Of course, the team had never faced adversity with each other; it was a one-year experiment to be the crowned the king of the land. The squad did boast someone with true experience in Darius Miller, having played the most games in Kentucky history, but it was largely compiled of players who led more by actions than words when the going got tough.
All in all, the entire 2012 NCAA Tournament-winning Wildcats shooed away the naysayers of those opposed to Calipari’s NBA minor-league philosophy. They were able to play together as a team led by in large part by 18 and 19 year olds. But the one-and-done seed was planted with 60 percent of the starting lineup being composed of NBA-ready freshmen — Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Marcus Teague — and two other young guns in Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb.
Save the practice-squad players who are equally instrumental to a team’s success as the future lottery picks, all of them are simply entities within a four or five-year span of college basketball. Sure, their talent is incomparable to the rest of the field; they’re physically-gifted grown men playing against boys. Julius Randle has the potential to play at the next level for 10-plus years. Aaron Harrison makes shots when his team needed him most this NCAA Tournament, and Alex Poythress is the second coming of former Wildcats swingman Kidd-Gilchrist.
But that’s just it: Calipari cycles guys through college basketball that emulate the guy before him. There’s no true progress of any player, even if there’s minimal improvement during the regular season. It’s not just ruining the college game, but the NBA is also a victim of Calipari’s one-and-done system. The play has never been worse at the next level, and a whole host of pundits — Charles Barkley, ESPN’s Centerpiece panel on the topic, and others — have attested and solidified the decreasing competition over the past few years.
This year’s Kentucky team brings the argument to the forefront, and it’s only fitting they fell to a senior-laden Connecticut Huskies squad with Shabazz Napier leading the show en route to earning Final Four MVP Honors. I’m sure as the loss begins to spark reality, all five freshmen in the starting lineup will “ponder the decision”, but they’ll leave for the greener pastures of the NBA.
They aren’t just leaving Lexington; they’re leaving behind the best four years of their life. They’re leaving behind the stresses of exams. They’re leaving behind going out on a random Tuesday night with your buddies because you don’t have class until noon the next day. They’re leaving behind that and so much more to collect a quick paycheck because everyone around them told the freshmen they were ready to face the rigors of the NBA.
The one and dones won’t end anytime soon unless the NCAA and NBA decide on an effective method to subdue the problem, but UConn’s national championship is the greatest of examples for proving experience is better than talented youth.