With Memphis' and Duke's recent recruiting success, Cal is tinkering. Calipari Is Already Practicing What He Preached in Recruiting by Aaron Torres on September 20, 2019 at 8:30 pm It goes without saying that recruiting is always a big subject when it comes to Kentucky basketball, and even though it’s football season, it feels like not only has recruiting news not slowed down in recent weeks, but actually picked up. Terrence Clarke and Lance Ware have committed (this after BJ Boston and Cam’Ron Fletcher committed over the summer). The school has decided to part ways with Top 15 prospects Jalen Green and Joshua Christopher because of fit and need. And the will he/won’t he Devin Askew reclassification rumors took a new twist, when Askew said this week that no, he won’t be reclassifying (something I’m still not sure that I 100 percent believe, by the way). More than just the actual news itself however, the uptick in both recruiting news and action comes at an interesting time. It comes just a few weeks after Calipari had his preseason media “State of the Union” address, a press conference where he talked extensively about UK recruiting and philosophy. You can read what Calipari said that day here, but what’s interesting to me is it seems as though we are already seeing Calipari put in motion what he said during that press conference. That he is already practicing what he preached that day. With that, let’s look at some of the news from recent weeks, how it pertains to Kentucky’s recruiting success of late, and what it could mean for the future of this program, not just in the 2020 recruiting class, but well beyond. 1) Kentucky and Calipari refuse to be a “hat on the table.” This was the quote that picked up the most traction a few weeks back, and I believe the most important in terms of how to look at Kentucky recruiting in the future. Calipari’s exact words were that he no longer wants to be a “hat on the table.” It is a reference to the fact that too often, the Wildcats have made a kid’s final five, final three or maybe even final two, when there was no real chance that the kid would pick Kentucky. As Calipari said a few Sunday’s ago. It’s not about missing on kids – that’s going to happen no matter who you are – but instead, not wasting the time of the coaching staff, the player and his family, and the resources of the school if there isn’t serious consideration on both sides. Too often, that is exactly what Kentucky has done in recent years. And to be clear, it’s no one’s fault. You certainly can’t blame the staff for pursuing the best players in America. But there is also a sense of reality that needs to set in too. Sometimes, you’re just not going to get the recruit, no matter how much effort you put in. Off the top of my head, a few guys who have had Kentucky as a literal “hat on the table” even when there was little reason to think that they would attend the school included RJ Barrett, Vernon Carey, Isaiah Stewart, Matthew Hurt and others. James Wiseman probably would have picked Kentucky had his high school coach not been hired at Memphis, but it was clear by the end of his recruitment that he wasn’t coming to Kentucky. And same with Zion Williamson. No one was quite sure where he would go. But as he approached his commitment, it didn’t feel like Kentucky. Regardless, it’s a testament to Calipari that – even as successful as he’s been in recruiting – he’s evolving as he gets older. Which leads me to… 2) Calipari wasn’t lying: He’s done wasting time Oh, you thought Calipari was kidding about wasting people’s time? Just go ahead and test him. TEST HIM!!! Kidding, but over the last week it’s clear that he is truly sticking to his guns on this topic. If the kid is only showing lukewarm interest, or if the fit simply doesn’t make sense, Calipari is simply cutting bait. Nothing personal on either side, just time to move on. And if you needed proof of that, look no further than the news of this week. After it initially looked like Kentucky was one of the favorites early in Jalen Green’s recruitment, Calipari decided this week to cease communication. Sure, Green is a similar player to Terrence Clarke and who knows if they could fit together. At the same time, it was clear that with Clarke’s commitment, Green was more heavily favoring Memphis and Oregon. A professional option next year could also be in play. USA Basketball Therefore, rather than wasting time flying back-and-forth across the country, the two sides decided to say their good-byes. Calipari pulled the “it’s not you, it’s me” card on him. But in this case, it wasn’t an excuse. It really was the best decision for both sides. Same with Josh Christopher. Had you asked just about anyone a month ago, it seemed like Christopher was a virtual lock for Kentucky. And unlike Green, it seemed like he still had genuine interest in the school, even with their slew of backcourt commitments. Yet rather than over-recruiting and taking one too many backcourt players, Calipari decided to move on. Between the commitments of Boston, Fletcher and Clarke, with the likelihood of Immanuel Quickley and Johnny Juzang potentially returning next year, the Wildcats were more than set. No need to recruit a player for the sake of recruiting him. There wasn’t a need, and Calipari decided to move on. I expect more of this in the future. 3) Kentucky is focused on kids who really want to be there, rather than what the recruiting rankings say First, let’s be clear on something. When I say Kentucky isn’t focused on recruiting rankings, that’s not to say that kids like Lance Ware and Cam’Ron Fletcher – both ranked outside the Top 30 nationally – can’t play. If Calipari offered them a scholarship, they’re good enough to play at Kentucky. And if you needed proof of that, look no further than Devin Booker, Willie Cauley-Stein, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander Tyler Herro, none of whom were the highest-rated kids, but all of which ended up as lottery picks. So again, no one is saying those kids can’t play. But, if you are going to take a flier on a kid who might not be an obvious, can’t miss, no doubt about it NBA player, why not do it on a kid that you know wants to be at your school? One that will bleed blue and white and truly appreciate the experience of playing on the biggest stage in college basketball? It simply saves you time and headaches in the process. If the kid truly loves your school, it makes them less likely to decommit, less likely to worry about who else is coming in the class, and more likely to buy-in once they get to campus. It also helps the coaching staff narrow down their recruiting in this cycle and begin to turn their attention to the next one. Ultimately, it’s a win-win for all. That’s also why I have to once again give Calipari credit. He is practicing what he preached a few weeks back, when he said, “we get the kids who are supposed to be here.” And he is learning from his mistakes. Again, we already went over it, but last year the staff spent way too much time chasing kids all around the country, who seemingly had minimal interest in the Wildcats (Wiseman, Carey, Stewart, Hurt). Meanwhile, there was a kid like Aiden Igiehon, a Top 50 prospect, who was seemingly just sitting around, twittling his thumbs waiting for a UK offer. Whether Calipari wanted Igiehon or not isn’t important. What is important is that he almost assuredly missed out on someone (Igiehon or otherwise) who wanted to be at UK, instead, chasing kids who didn’t want to be. He didn’t make the same mistake this year. Terrence Clarke was ready to commit, and ready to reclassify, so they got things done. Ware and Fletcher weren’t the highest-ranked prospects but were ready to jump on board and did. Now the class is basically set, and Calipari can turn his attention to filling the final few spots. Rather than waiting on kids who don’t want to be there. 4) It also means that if Kentucky is pursuing a player, they really are interested in him Which brings me to the final point. With Calipari spending so much time on the kids who are truly interested in Kentucky, it makes it all the more interesting to track the players that he continues to recruit in this class. Which means, cough…cough… could Cade Cunningham, the No. 2 player in America, actually end up in Lexington? At this point we all know the story here: Cunningham’s brother is an assistant at Oklahoma State, and the Cowboys are still the front-runner. Yet at the same time, I had heard months ago that he still was open to other schools, and he has all but confirmed it in the last month. North Carolina and Kentucky seem to be the most aggressively pursuing him. Now, does that mean that Cunningham will end up at UK? Of course not. But I also don’t believe Calipari would be recruiting him if he had no shot at all. The 2020 Kentucky recruiting class is already special. And whether it’s Cunningham, Askew, or maybe someone we don’t quite know about it, it has a chance to get even better. Thanks to the new recruiting philosophy by the coaching staff.