New UK head coach John Calipari has built a reputation as one of the countryâ€™s best recruiters. As a result, more than just his reputation may be following him to Lexington.
Calipari had assembled what Sporting News columnist Brian McLaughlin called â€œone of the greatest classes of all time,â€ including ESPNâ€™s No. 1 player in the country, Xavier Henry. ESPNâ€™s fourth-ranked player, DeMarcus Cousins, also verbally committed to the Tigers â€” but both are re-opening their recruitment after hearing news of Calipariâ€™s new job.
Henry and Cousins were at the McDonaldâ€™s All-American Game in Coral Gables, Fla., on Tuesday. Henryâ€™s father, Carl, didnâ€™t know where Xavier would end up â€” just that it wouldnâ€™t be Memphis.
â€œThat was the reason he went there â€” the style of play, Coach Cal,â€ the elder Henry said. â€œI havenâ€™t talked with (Xavier) since Coach Cal signed at UK, but I know Xavier wonâ€™t be at Memphis. Once I talk to him Thursday when he gets back from Florida, weâ€™ll get an idea of where heâ€™ll end up.â€
Carl Henry played for Calipari when Calipari was an assistant coach at Kansas in the mid-1980s. Carl Henryâ€™s older son, C.J. Henry, is a 22-year-old freshman at Memphis who didnâ€™t play this year because of injury. Carl Henry said C.J. Henry would not return to Memphis, citing his connection to Calipari.
Dave Telep, Scout.comâ€™s national recruiting editor, said players today are more tied to a head coach than to a school. He cited Nolan Dennis as an example: Dennis is another sought-after member of Memphisâ€™ current class, but he never made an official visit to the campus despite scholarship offers from North Carolina, UCLA, Texas and Texas A&M.
â€œNobody can tell you with 100 percent certainty that these recruits will follow Coach Cal to Kentucky,â€ Telep said. â€œBut reasonable minds can assume that the recruits will at least answer Calipariâ€™s calls.â€
Telep lauded Calipari for his nationwide networking, saying Calipari has the ability to handpick the countryâ€™s top recruits and â€œwork down the list from there.â€
Another recruiting expert, Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Jerry Meyer, called Calipari â€œan outstanding recruiter â€” truly one of the best.â€
Both Meyer and Telep acknowledged Calipariâ€™s past run-ins with NCAA recruiting rules, but neither were concerned Calipari would have any problems in the future. Telep said UK would have looked into it, but â€œ(UK) answered that question the second they even asked permission to speak to Calipari.â€
With a passionate fan base, a 24,000-seat arena and a pricy practice facility thatâ€™s still being broken in, Telep said Calipari has the resources available to pull in top recruits like he did at Memphis.
Meyer said he expects Calipari to bring in his gaudy record (noting Calipari hasnâ€™t lost a conference game in three years), combine it with UKâ€™s tradition â€” and inflate both.
â€œIf Calipari meshes well with Kentucky, which I fully expect him to, I would assume he can replicate what Rick Pitino did in Lexington,â€ Meyer said.