Ryan Clark: After a tough season and no excuses, Calipari turns the ship right with the # 1 recruiting class


John Calipari has taken a lot of heat this offseason, and rightly so. There is no excuse to go 9-16 at the University of Kentucky, but surprisingly it did.

After that, there could have been an apology. There could have been the finger and the drama. There was not.

Instead, Coach Cal made moves, and from now on, it looks like everything he has done has worked. Let’s add it up:

Ryan Clark has been writing sports stories and books for 20 years. After graduating from Western Kentucky University and the University of Kentucky, he went on to write for The Clarion-Ledger, The Cincinnati Enquirer, Kentucky Sports Radio, WCPO.com, Saturday south and ESPN.com, among others. He has covered Kentucky Wildcats basketball, Ohio State football, and the Cincinnati Bengals for various outlets. He is the author or co-author of seven books, including the local bestseller 100 things Wildcats fans should know and do before they die.

1. One of the biggest problems last season was shooting. Cal used the transfer portal to bring in a slew of great shooters to add to this year’s squad.

2. His assistant coaches had lost the biggest of the most important rookies. Need proof? The Cats had not signed a top-five player since 2013, so the coaching staff has been overhauled. Orlando Antigua returned from Illinois with his friend Chin Coleman. The pair are already paying dividends.

3. The offense has been criticized for its seniority. This has led to what the UK is calling the 4-out, 1-in – or four guards around the perimeter and a tall man, a version of the Golden State offense with nuances of driving to dribble to l old Cal. I realize they haven’t rolled it out yet, but just planning it has convinced some high school kids to come to Lexington.

4. This brings us to close the deal. Calipari is once again a staple in high school gyms across the country. The guy is everywhere, seemingly re-energized and killing him on the recruiting trail.

Again, it doesn’t take much searching to find proof.

Last week, small five-star striker Chris Livingston of Akron became the third entry for the British class, a engagement which, in the end, is perhaps one of the greatest in the history of the UK – and college basketball.

The class so far includes player # 1 Shaedon Sharpe, a shooting guard; Livingston, who is ranked as high as No. 6; and point guard Skyy Clark, ranked No.17.

Across the country, there is a broad belief that Kentucky is leading for three other players in the top 20, including No.2 Dereck Lively II, a center; followed by the top 10 talents Cason Wallace (a goalkeeper) and Adem Bona (a center).

If everyone got involved, the class would be historic.

As CBS Sports put it, “No program in the modern age has got six of the top 20 talent hires except one – and that was Kentucky in 2013.”

Say hello to the good old days of Calipari and college recruiting again.

After a putrid season a year ago, this program needed a facelift. There were several things to do. And Calipari is to be commended, for he accomplished them all and more.

In short, he more than straightened the ship. That’s the kind of momentum that earned him a championship in 2012.

It looks like he’ll be ready to earn another one soon.


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