John Calipari’s latest recruiting coup makes dream of perfect season seem very attainable

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo Sports

John Calipari stood outside the Kentucky locker room in April, maybe an hour after capturing the national championship and told a group of reporters that while winning it all was the fulfillment of a career-long dream, he had bigger, grander goals still.

“Before I leave coaching,” Cal said that night, “I want to coach a team that goes 40-0. Before I’m out of here. Before I’m done. And the reason is, they say it can’t be done. So let’s go try to do it. Let’s try to win them all.”

View gallery

.

UK center Nerlens Noel was the No. 2 recruit in the class of 2012. (UK staff)

On Wednesday, like seemingly every recent week before it, Calipari landed another highly touted recruit and moved closer to challenging for that perfection. Not this season, mind you, but next.

The 2012-13 Wildcats are ranked third in the preseason coaches’ poll, so they could certainly win a national title. Calipari, however, is already warning the group may not be as good, at least from day one, as the Anthony Davis-led team from last year that finished 38-2.

It’s 2013-14 that’s actually shaping up as something historic and before we go any further, is it absurd, unfair, ridiculous and completely speculative to talk about next year when this year hasn’t even started?

Of course it is. But it’s recruiting season too and Calipari started it last April by bringing up the 40-0 stuff in the first place.

On Wednesday, UK secured another top recruit for the current high school senior class, this time 6-foot-9 Marcus Lee of Antioch, Calif. (Deer Valley). Lee, who is ranked No. 15 overall in the class of 2013 by rivals.com.

Last week, Calipari landed 6-8 James Young of Rochester Hills, Mich. (Rochester), the No. 8-rated player. The prior week delivered commitments from twins Andrew and Aaron Harrison, both 6-5 guards, out of Fort Bend, Texas (Travis). They ranked third and fourth, respectively, in the country.

That’s four top 15 recruits in one class, and signing day is not until next month. The vaunted Fab Five of the University of Michigan [high school class of 1991] only had three recruits rated as high – Chris Weber, Juwan Howard and Jalen Rose. The others, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson, were top 100 prospects.

Kentucky also boasts a commitment from 6-8 Derek Willis of Mt. Washington, Kent. (Bullitt East), the nation’s 126th-rated prospect.

[From Rivals.com: Wildcats return to top of 2013 team rankings]

The big thing is that Calipari isn’t done. Not even close. There are still two possible major pick-ups. The first would be the nation’s No. 1-rated senior, 6-foot-9 Julius Randle of Plano, Texas (Prestonwood Christian Academy).

That alone would give Kentucky the greatest recruiting class of all-time.

Then there is the possibility that the nation’s top-rated junior, Andrew Wiggins of Thornhill, Canada (via West Virginia, Huntington Prep) would reclassify as a senior and join the absurd collection of talent. Wiggins hasn’t decided whether to do it – he’s old for his grade and doing so would get him to the NBA a year sooner.

If he does, he’ll supplant Randle as No. 1 overall in the Class of 2014 and could give UK five top 10 recruits and six of the top 15.

That isn’t recruiting, that’s drafting.

It’s also the kind of talent that can get you dreaming of 40-0. Such an accomplishment would also take chemistry, luck, health, coaching, karma and a million other variables, not the least of which is beating SEC rival Florida two or three times when the Gators are putting together their own strong recruiting class.

Chasing the first perfect season since the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers starts with talent though. Without the players, none of the other stuff matters. Calipari certainly isn’t worried about senior leadership or game experience.

“If I had my choice between experience and talent,” he said, “I’m going to take talent.”

[Related: More Kentucky Wildcats basketball on Rivals.com]

Which brings us back to Wednesday, when Calipari spent the day at ESPN running through every imaginable publicity opportunity to promote a three-week “Hard Knocks”-style reality show about the start of practice for the Wildcats.

It shows the coaching, the facilities, the history and pageantry of the program, the rabid fans, and the demands that young, talented players are put under. It might as well be a video love letter to Randle and Wiggins.

“Everybody is going to be mad,” Calipari said of other coaches who dislike the recruiting advantage. “I know. Did I do it because of that, just to aggravate people? I might have.”

Say what you will about the underbelly of college recruiting and the used car aspect of many that succeed at the pursuit. We won’t stop you. But none of that is new, this sustained level of recruiting prowess is.

No one has ever recruited as well as Calipari at Kentucky. No one.

View gallery

.

Twins Aaron, left, and Andrew Harrison announce they will play for Kentucky. (AP)

Part of that is because Calipari has to do it over and over and over. It used to be you landed a great center, you wouldn’t need another great one for at least two or three years. John Wooden at UCLA stockpiled prep All-Americans and they gladly waited their turn.

Calipari finds a new Lew Alcindor every year, works him relentlessly, showcases him to NBA scouts and sends him off, all while doing the same for two or three or four other freshman. And then he does it again the next season with a new group.

That alone is what spins players' heads. There are plenty of great places to play and plenty of great coaches to play for, but if you’re a recruit that resides in the top ten of a recruiting list, you know Kentucky and Calipari provide a ticket to the NBA, pronto. And then, as the list of rookies of the year attests, UK players thrive there.

Player development remains a cornerstone of practice. It’s hard. It’s demanding. It works. That’s the pitch.

“I’m not going to BS [them],” Calipari said. “This is how it is. If you don’t want this, then don’t come here. I’m not the only coach that can help you prepare for your dreams. This is what we do and how we do it. If you want this, it’s a great place to go. If you don’t want it, then go someplace else.

“We treat them right. It’s about them and they know it’s about them.”

[Related: Kentucky freshman Nerlens Noel cleared to play by NCAA]

He takes all the heat for saying it over and over. Draft day matters to him, as much as the Final Four it sometimes seems. Players have to be treated fairly and honestly, he said. It’s the only way for it to work or word gets out and you’re done. Kids, and their parents, he believes, will flock for a fair chance in a proven system.

“It’s a different time and age,” Calipari said. “If a coach is a jerk, they are texting each other, ‘my coach is a jerk, he doesn’t care about me.’ The 25-year-old ago model is out the window. It is. If you promise everything and you don’t follow through, that family is blogging you said this and this and this. That’s why I don’t tell you how many shots you’ll get, or [that they’ll be] starting.

“All I can tell you is our freshman have done well. I can leak you in on that secret.”

It’s working. Over and over and over again.

“I think Coach Calipari presented a challenge for us,” Andrew Harrison said when he committed. “He just told us from Day 1, it’s going to be hard, it’s going to be tough and he’s going to push us to become better players.”

Players believe it. That much is obvious. Combine that with the vast resources, national title banners and media attention of Kentucky. Throw in close ties to Nike boss Lynn Merritt and basketball kingmaker William Wesley. Have LeBron and Drake considered part of the family. Figure out how to get ESPN to do a reality/recruiting show.

View gallery

.

John Calipari congratulated Michael Kidd-Gilchrist when he was taken No. 2 in the 2012 NBA Draft. (AP)

The pull becomes overwhelming. Calipari is a great salesman and Kentucky has a lot to sell, but there are a lot of people and factors aiding in the sale.

The result is a recruiting juggernaut like nothing else college basketball has ever seen. Shake your head. Cast your doubt. Whatever.

“Whatever you think I am, I agree,” Calipari said last week at media day. “Now let me go coach my team.”

At some point you have to tip your hat.

This thing is rolling, which why Calipari wasn’t afraid to throw down the gauntlet of eventual perfection.

“We decided we wanted to go somewhere we could win as soon as we get there,” Aaron Harrison said.

That’s the expectation.

Other popular content on the Yahoo! network:
Robinson Cano lounges in dugout chair during Game 3
Dan Wetzel: Nike, Livestrong abandon Lance Armstrong at wrong time
Thunder hire Serbian coach to run D-League team/a>
Y: Music: Super Bowl XLVII Halftime Show act announced

  • Wild even series at 2 with 2-1 win vs. Avalanche

    Wild even series at 2 with 2-1 win vs. Avalanche

    ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) -- Charlie Coyle scored his third goal of the series for Minnesota, and the Wild dominated the Colorado Avalanche for the second straight game on their way to a 2-1 win Thursday night that evened the first-round matchup at two … More »

    AP - Sports - 4 minutes 26 seconds ago
  • Coyle scores, Wild control game again to beat Avalanche 2-1 and even series at 2

    Coyle scores, Wild control game again to beat Avalanche 2-1 and even series at 2

    ST. PAUL, Minn. - Charlie Coyle scored his third goal of the series for Minnesota, and the Wild dominated the Colorado Avalanche for the second straight game on their way to a 2-1 win Thursday night that evened the first-round matchup at two apiece. … More »

    The Canadian Press - 5 minutes ago
  • Solarte's 4 RBIs help Yanks top Red Sox 14-5

    Solarte's 4 RBIs help Yanks top Red Sox 14-5

    CC Sabathia provided a lift for the New York Yankees depleted rotation. Then Michael Pineda was suspended for 10 games for using pine tar. After those developments were announced Thursday, Sabathia went out and threw six solid innings in his … More »

    AP - Sports - 5 minutes ago
  • Stars attend Game 4 at Staples Center

    Stars attend Game 4 at Staples Center

    Los Angeles Lakers center Pau Gasol, Fox Sports 1 television host Charissa Thompson and writer/actor Larry David attend Game 4 between the Sharks and Kings. … More »

    NHL Highlights - 7 minutes ago
  • Brent Burns shows up to game in style

    Brent Burns shows up to game in style

    San Jose Sharks forward Brent Burns arrives to all his Round 1 postseason games in the same stylish suit and custom dragon beanie. … More »

    NHL Highlights - 7 minutes ago
  • Bruins erase two-goal lead, beat Red Wings in OT to set up elimination game

    Bruins erase two-goal lead, beat Red Wings in OT to set up elimination game

    DETROIT - If what the Boston Bruins showed in coming back to beat the Detroit Red Wings was the resolve of a champion, it certainly wasn't obvious to goaltender Tuukka Rask. The Bruins erased a two-goal deficit in Game 4 to win 3-2 in overtime … More »

    The Canadian Press - 10 minutes ago
  • Grizzlies blow big lead, beat Thunder 98-95 in OT

    Grizzlies blow big lead, beat Thunder 98-95 in OT

    The Grizzlies know they have to stop blowing fourth-quarter leads. Consecutive overtime wins makes the needed corrections much easier for Memphis. Mike Conley scored five of his 20 points in overtime, and the Grizzlies beat the Oklahoma City Thunder … More »

    AP - Sports - 12 minutes ago
  • Colorado Avalanche at Minnesota Wild - 04/24/2014

    Colorado Avalanche at Minnesota Wild - 04/24/2014

    Colorado Avalanche at Minnesota Wild - 04/24/2014 … More »

    NHL Highlights - 13 minutes ago
  • Conley scores 5 of his 20 in OT as Grizzlies blow 17-point lead before beating Thunder 98-95

    Conley scores 5 of his 20 in OT as Grizzlies blow 17-point lead before beating Thunder 98-95

    MEMPHIS, Tenn. - The Grizzlies know they have to stop blowing fourth-quarter leads. Consecutive overtime wins makes the needed corrections much easier for Memphis. Mike Conley scored five of his 20 points in overtime, and the Grizzlies beat the … More »

    The Canadian Press - 13 minutes ago
  • Griffin Uses the Glass

    Griffin Uses the Glass

    Blake Griffin pulls up and banks a jumper off the glass. … More »

    NBA.com - 14 minutes ago
  • Postgame: Durant and Westbrook

    Postgame: Durant and Westbrook

    Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook address the media after the tough, Game 3 loss in overtime against the Grizzlies. … More »

    NBA.com - 17 minutes ago
  • Reds' Simon accused of sexual assault

    Reds' Simon accused of sexual assault

    A woman who said Cincinnati Reds pitcher Alfredo Simon sexually assaulted her in a Washington hotel a year ago when the team was in town to play the Nationals is suing the player for $15 million. The woman, identified as Jane Doe, filed the civil … More »

    AP - Sports - 24 minutes ago
  • O'Reilly's quick shot beats Kuemper five-hole

    O'Reilly's quick shot beats Kuemper five-hole

    Colorado Avalanche forward Ryan O'Reilly throws a quick shot at the net that gets through the legs of Minnesota Wild goalie Darcy Kuemper to make it 2-1. … More »

    NHL Highlights - 27 minutes ago
  • Postgame: Mike Conley

    Postgame: Mike Conley

    Mike Conley addresses the media following the Game 3 win over the Thunder. … More »

    NBA.com - 38 minutes ago
  • Thunder vs. Grizzlies: Game 3

    Thunder vs. Grizzlies: Game 3

    Mike Conley scores 20 points and grabs five rebounds as the Grizzlies drop OKC in Game 3. … More »

    NBA.com - 39 minutes ago
  • Bruins top Wings in OT, lead series 3-1

    Bruins top Wings in OT, lead series 3-1

    The Boston Bruins took a couple punches, then hit back hard and put the Detroit Red Wings on the brink of elimination. Jarome Iginla scored with 6:28 left in overtime on a redirected shot that went off an opponent, lifting the Bruins to a 3-2 win … More »

    AP - Sports - 44 minutes ago
  • Swimming-Phelps welcomed back by rivals and team mates alike

    Michael Phelps has always been the centre of attention in swimming circles since he burst on to the scene as a teenager and his comeback at the USA Swimming Grand Prix meet had everyone in a lather. The spectators roared when he won his morning … More »

    Reuters - 48 minutes ago
  • Donaldson homers twice, A's rout Astros

    Donaldson homers twice, A's rout Astros

    Josh Donaldson hit a pair of two-run homers to help the Oakland Athletics cruise to a 10-1 win over the Houston Astros on Thursday night. It was the first career multihomer game for Donaldson, who connected in the first inning and pushed the lead … More »

    AP - Sports - 54 minutes ago
  • Grizzlies transcend another crazy Thunder comeback, go up 2-1 with OT win (Video)

    Grizzlies transcend another crazy Thunder comeback, go up 2-1 with OT win (Video)

    For the second game in a row, the Oklahoma City Thunder pushed the Memphis Grizzlies to overtime with a thrilling, improbable comeback spurred by a four-point play. For the second game in a row, the Grizzlies bounced back in the extra period to take … More »

    Ball Don't Lie - 55 minutes ago
  • Postgame: Scott Brooks

    Postgame: Scott Brooks

    Scott Brooks talks with the media following the tough Game 3 loss to the Grizzlies. … More »

    NBA.com - 57 minutes ago
  • Jarome Iginla's OT goal helps Bruins take 3-1 series lead over Red Wings (Video)

    Jarome Iginla's OT goal helps Bruins take 3-1 series lead over Red Wings (Video)

    Jarome Iginla’s goal 13:32 into overtime gave the Boston Bruins a 3-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings and a 3-1 series lead. The series now shifts back to TD Garden Saturday afternoon where the Bruins can advance to the second round with a win. … More »

    Puck Daddy - 1 hour 0 minutes ago
  • Postgame: David Joerger

    Postgame: David Joerger

    David Joerger addresses the media after taking a 2-1 lead in the series against the Thunder. … More »

    NBA.com - 1 hour 6 minutes ago
  • Toronto Blue Jays fall back to .500 mark after 11-4 loss to Baltimore Orioles

    TORONTO - The Toronto Blue Jays' bullpen has struggled mightily over the last week. The Toronto relievers took it on the chin again Thursday as the Baltimore Orioles turned a close game into an 11-4 rout at Rogers Centre. The Blue Jays wasted a … More »

    The Canadian Press - 1 hour 8 minutes ago
  • Phelps beaten in first comeback final

    Phelps beaten in first comeback final

    By Julian Linden PHOENIX (Reuters) - Michael Phelps suffered a narrow loss to his old rival Ryan Lochte in his comeback to competitive swimming on Thursday, but still showed enough to suggest he will be a force to be reckoned with. Racing for the … More »

    Reuters - 1 hour 13 minutes ago
  • Nady's single in 12th lifts Padres over Nats 4-3

    Nady's single in 12th lifts Padres over Nats 4-3

    WASHINGTON (AP) -- Former Nationals outfielder Xavier Nady's tiebreaking RBI single off Craig Stammen in the top of the 12th inning, right after an error let the runner get to third base, gave the San Diego Padres a 4-3 victory over Washington on … More »

    AP - Sports - 1 hour 13 minutes ago
  • Swimming-Phelps beaten in first comeback final

    * Phelps narrowly beaten by Lochte in comeback race * Satisfied with return despite loss * Qualifies for national titles later this year (Recasts with new quotes) By Julian Linden PHOENIX, April 24 (Reuters) - Michael Phelps suffered a narrow … More »

    Reuters - 1 hour 14 minutes ago
  • Michael Phelps beaten in first comeback final

    Michael Phelps beaten in first comeback final

    By Julian Linden PHOENIX (Reuters) - Michael Phelps suffered a narrow loss to old rival Ryan Lochte in his comeback to competitive swimming on Thursday, but still showed enough to suggest he will be a force to be reckoned with. Racing for the … More »

    Reuters - 1 hour 16 minutes ago
  • Iginla scores OT winner off the redirection

    Iginla scores OT winner off the redirection

    Boston Bruins forward Jarome Iginla scores the OT winner by redirecting Dougie Hamilton’s shot past Detroit Red Wings goalie Jonas Gustavsson. … More »

    NHL Highlights - 1 hour 17 minutes ago
  • Icher leads at Swinging Skirts Classic

    Icher leads at Swinging Skirts Classic

    Karine Icher and her caddie husband, Fred, evaluated the conditions and course at challenging Lake Merced and decided on a Day 1 strategy: stay short of the pin and putt uphill. The move worked beautifully, and Icher delivered the most consistent … More »

    AP - Sports - 1 hour 19 minutes ago
  • Crawford for Three

    Crawford for Three

    Jamal Crawford pulls up and sinks the three-pointer. … More »

    NBA.com - 1 hour 19 minutes ago
  • Boston Bruins at Detroit Red Wings - 04/24/2014

    Boston Bruins at Detroit Red Wings - 04/24/2014 … More »

    NHL Highlights - 1 hour 20 minutes ago
  • Cruz extends RBI streak, Orioles win

    Cruz extends RBI streak, Orioles win

    Adam Jones called Baltimore's lineup ''scary'' after back-to-back double digit outbursts against Toronto. The Blue Jays pitching staff wouldn't disagree with that assessment. Chris Davis had two hits and three RBIs, Jonathan Schoop homered and the … More »

    AP - Sports - 1 hour 25 minutes ago
  • Torey Krug goes top-shelf off faceoff

    Torey Krug goes top-shelf off faceoff

    Boston Bruins defensemen Torey Krug fires a hard slap shot top-shelf past Detroit Red Wings goalie Jonas Gustavsson midway through the 2nd period. … More »

    NHL Highlights - 1 hour 26 minutes ago
  • Kronwall fires opening goal through traffic

    Kronwall fires opening goal through traffic

    Detroit Red Wings defensemen Niklas Kronwall unleashes a furious slap shot through traffic to score the opening goal on Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask. … More »

    NHL Highlights - 1 hour 26 minutes ago
  • Datsyuk buries it on Rask from in tight

    Datsyuk buries it on Rask from in tight

    Detroit Red Wings forward Pavel Datsyuk takes a short pass from Niklas Kronwall before scoring on Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask. … More »

    NHL Highlights - 1 hour 26 minutes ago
  • Rask snatches one away from Tatar

    Rask snatches one away from Tatar

    Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask makes a quick glove save on Detroit Red Wings forward Tomas Tatar. … More »

    NHL Highlights - 1 hour 26 minutes ago
  • Rask denies Abdelkader on OT breakaway

    Rask denies Abdelkader on OT breakaway

    Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask makes a great stick save to deny Detroit Red Wings forward Justin Abdelkader on a breakaway in overtime. … More »

    NHL Highlights - 1 hour 26 minutes ago
  • Phelps loses to Lochte in comeback meet

    Phelps loses to Lochte in comeback meet

    Michael Phelps is 0 for 1 in his comeback to the pool. The 22-time Olympic medalist lost to Ryan Lochte in the 100-meter butterfly final at the Arena Grand Prix on Thursday night. Phelps took second in 52.13 in his first meet since retiring after … More »

    AP - Sports - 1 hour 27 minutes ago
  • Texas LB sorry for calling Baylor trash

    Texas linebacker Steve Edmond has apologized for calling the reigning Big 12 champion Baylor Bears ''trash.'' Edmond had made the comment Saturday after the Longhorns wrapped up spring practice with their annual scrimmage. In a statement issued by … More »

    AP - Sports - 1 hour 29 minutes ago
  • Houston's Clemens ejected for plunking A's Lowrie

    HOUSTON (AP) -- Houston reliever Paul Clemens has been ejected in the seventh inning for hitting Oakland's Jed Lowrie with a pitch. … More »

    AP - Sports - 1 hour 31 minutes ago