COLUMBIA – Recruiting top high school recruits who intend to leave school after one season has been a staple of coach John Calipari’s tenure at Kentucky. Tantalizing NBA prospects sign with Kentucky first, then star for one season under Calipari’s tutelage, and finally, declare for the NBA Draft.
If Missouri coach Frank Haith made the rules, players wouldn’t have such an option.
Who: No. 11 Kentucky Wildcats (15-5 overall, 5-2 in Southeastern Conference play)
Where: Mizzou Arena
When: Noon Saturday
Listen: Tiger Radio Network
“I do kind of wish the rule would be that if kids go to school, that they stay in school longer, whether it be two or three years,” Haith said at a press conference Thursday. “It’s kind of like a one-and-done type of thing, I’m not a big fan of that. If kids are able to go directly from high school, then yes, I wish that rule would come back in play, instead of kind of just playing with their college education type thing.
“I think it would help both games. I think it would help the NBA to have kids stay in school a bit longer if they go to college. Also, if kids are good enough to go out of high school, I would support that 100 percent.”
While Calipari has made annually reloading his program with a roster of blue chip freshmen a habit, Haith has retooled Missouri’s program around transfers during his three seasons at MU: established Division I players seeking a fresh start elsewhere.
So when Kentucky and Missouri tip-off inside Mizzou Arena on Saturday afternoon, different program-building ideologies will be pitted against each other: "The One-and-Done Capital" of college basketball against “Transfer U”.
On one end of Norm Stewart Court will be No. 11 Kentucky (15-5, 5-2), land of freshmen.
Calipari’s current group of newcomers was hailed the greatest recruiting class of all time. According to 247Sports' rankings, Calipari signed the No. 1 prospect at four of the five positions on the floor. In total, the class has six McDonald's All-Americans and two others who were finalists for Mr. Basketball in Kentucky.
On the other end will be Missouri (16-4, 4-3), a team that had each of its top three scorers begin college careers elsewhere.
The two programs might have been constructed differently, and Haith might disagree with the premise of one-and-done, but he has tremendous respect for what Calipari has achieved at Kentucky. Succeeding with more McDonald’s All-Americans on the roster than starting positions is harder than it appears, Haith said.
When asked if Calpiari gets enough credit for annually assembling elite recruiting classes into cohesive units, Haith said no.
“What he does is extremely hard to do, and he’s done it very well," Haith said. "He’s won a national championship there doing it the way he does, by getting those guys to play a certain way.
“You’re massaging egos and all that stuff. … He is to be commended, and this group is getting better and better.”
Haith said developing chemistry with a roster full of transfers, as his staff has, is just as difficult as what Calipari does each season with freshmen. The advantage, though, is players get a year to spend around their new team and acclimate themselves to their new surroundings.
“It’s almost like the old-school redshirt rule back in the day in the (1970s) when freshmen couldn’t play and you had to stay a year before you played,” Haith said. “You played on the junior varsity team. … Our kids graduate. I like that aspect of it. But it is hard.”
So is defending Kentucky forward Julius Randle, a projected top-five NBA Draft pick.
A 6-foot-9-inch, 230-pound matchup nightmare, Randle leads the Wildcats with 16.1 points per game and 10.2 rebounds per game.
“He’s a load,” Haith said. “He does so many things. He plays with such high energy; for a young kid, he’s put together. When you have his girth, his athletic ability, his size … and you add on top of that his intangible of how hard he plays. … It makes him very difficult (to defend).”
Defending Randle is further complicated by the four teammates with him on the floor. Twin freshmen guards Aaron and Andrew Harrison each average double figures in points, while 6-foot-6-inch freshman James Young isn’t far behind Randle with 14.7 points per game. Sophomore 7-foot center Willie Cauley-Stein, troubled Missouri last season. He averages 7.8 points and 6.8 rebounds.
What the Wildcats lack in experience, they make up for in talent. But what the Tigers will lack in talent Saturday, they believe they can make up for in experience.
“I think with a game like this, experience is a big, big deal because nine times out of 10, games like this go to the wire,” redshirt senior guard Earnest Ross said. “Experience overshadows everything. Just having the type of veteran guys that we have, I think that gives us an upper-hand.”
Supervising editor is Sean Morrison.