April 1, 1:25 p.m.: John Calipari will win big at Kentucky. The question is how soon.
During his introductory news conference today in Lexington, Calipari insisted that he does not “walk on water, I do not have a magic wand.” But he also said the key to winning depends on “good players, good players, good players.”
Kentucky’s new $32 million man had built a national powerhouse in nine seasons at Memphis. The Tigers became a modern-day version of Jerry Tarkanian’s juggernauts at Nevada-Las Vegas almost two decades earlier. Much like those UNLV teams, Memphis could dominate a weaker conference each season, earn a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament and recruit anyone it wanted to nationally.
Memphis was becoming One-and-Done University. Derrick Rose was in and out in a year, so was Tyreke Evans. Xavier Henry, DeMarcus Cousins and John Wall (if he commits to the Tigers) likely would have spent only next season at Memphis. Calipari had it made in Memphis and would have had a strong chance to win the national championship next season. Now he walks into an environment where one national championship may not even be enough to satisfy Kentucky faithful (see Tubby Smith).
The move that will shake the college basketball landscape raises four immediate questions:
1) Which recruits will follow Calipari to Kentucky?
This will determine how much of a national contender the Wildcats will be next season. Henry and Nolan Dennis reportedly both have agreements with Memphis that they can reopen their recruitment if Calipari left. Cousins never signed a letter-of-intent. Smart move. Wall, whose recruitment has been particularly intense and, in some sense, tangled, was believed to be leaning toward Memphis and waiting for Evans to declare for the draft. Kentucky does not have an abundance of open scholarships, at least not yet. We will see how many players “decide” to transfer out of there in the coming weeks. If Jodie Meeks and Patrick Patterson return, and Calipari can find a way to add a couple of those big-name prospects, Kentucky will be an immediate contender.
2) How does the move affect Lance Stephenson’s decision?
It was widely expected that Stephenson was going to announce for Kansas yesterday. Stephenson instead decided to put off the decision, or at least the announcement. It makes sense. Too many variables. It is unusual that three of the nation’s top players – Henry, Wall and Stephenson – are not locked into commitments in early April. Kansas has recruited all three. Kansas does not have room for all three. If Wall or Henry commits to Kansas, could that mean Stephenson will go to Maryland to join forces with Greivis Vasquez? It did not seem likely a week ago. It now seems possible. Wall, Henry and Stephenson will need to find homes somewhere, and a lot depends on who may want to follow Calipari to Kentucky. Next season’s Maryland roster could include both Stephenson and Vasquez. Or it could include neither.
3) What happens to Memphis?
Missouri’s Mike Anderson, who did a sensational job this season, is not going anywhere. Tim Floyd’s name has emerged for Memphis. He is recruiting at a very high level at USC, but it remains to be seen whether Renardo Sidney ever suits up there. Xavier’s Sean Miller is an option, but I'm not sure he would want the job. Calipari’s performance at Memphis in recent years will be nearly impossible to duplicate. So many things came together at the right time. The team should have won the national title last year. It would not be a surprise if the Tigers fall from national relevancy, at least for a few years. A few Tigers may transfer as well. It could be Pierre Henderson-Niles’s team next season. That’s a bit of an overstatement, but still.
4) Will Worldwide Wes continue to support Calipari?
For those who do not know, William Wesley is considered one of the most powerful figures in college basketball because of his connections and relationships. LeBron James. Jay-Z. He has a long list of connections, and it includes Calipari, whom Wesley has known for years. Wesley has also been close with Rose, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Evans's family because of a relationship built years ago because of connections in southern New Jersey. Having Wesley in your corner certainly does not hurt. The relationship does not violate any rules. And if Wesley continues his support of Calipari – as would be expected – it should only help Kentucky from a recruiting standpoint. Wesley attended each NCAA tournament game for Memphis this season. He has visited the Memphis locker room after games in the past. Will he do the same at Kentucky?
April 1, 2009; 1:23 PM ET
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