Recruits left picking up the pieces
Calipari was on his way to a legendary class, but what happens now that he's leaving?
John Calipari's move to Kentucky will cause huge ripples and shake the foundation of the college basketball landscape, particularly on the recruiting side. Calipari assembled an unbelievable 2009 recruiting class at Memphis, headlined by Xavier Henry (Oklahoma City/Putnam City), the No. 1 player in the ESPNU 100, plus another ESPNU 100 prospect, Nolan Dennis (Richland Hills, Texas). A few weeks ago, the Tigers had a verbal commitment from No. 4-ranked DeMarcus Cousins (Mobile, Ala./LeFlore), and many believed that Memphis would eventually bring John Wall (Raleigh, N.C./Word of God), the top point guard in the 2009 class and sixth-ranked overall prospect, into the fold.
Both Henry and Cousins said Tuesday in Miami at the McDonald's All-American game that they would re-open the recruiting process now that Calipari is leaving. Would Henry, who picked Memphis over Kansas, opt to leave Memphis to follow Calipari to the Blue Grass State? That remains to be seen, but there have been situations in the past when a recruit follows a coach to a new school. Last year, Nick Williams, an ESPNU 100 player in 2008, originally signed with Tom Crean and Marquette. Williams asked for his release when Crean left for Indiana and ultimately followed Crean to Bloomington. In that case, the Marquette athletic department elected to honor Williams' request and release him from his letter if intent. This process has also proven not so easy, as current Kansas big man Jeff Withey discovered when he decided that he wanted to leave his original college destination.
But wait, there's more. New York City guard Lance Stephenson also could be factored into the situation at Memphis. As stated earlier, Henry chose Memphis over Kansas, and many believe that Stephenson, who was expected to announce his college choice Tuesday but postponed it at the last minute, was set to select the Jayhawks. Does this mean that Henry now wants to go to Kansas, which will undoubtedly affect Stephenson's decision?
Cousins decided not to sign with his original choice, Alabama-Birmingham, when the school wouldn't agree to draft a document that explicitly stated it would release Cousins from his letter of intent in the event that UAB coach Mike Davis departed. Cousins wanted to avoid the exact situation the Henry finds himself confronting now at Memphis. Cousins, who has not signed a letter of intent with Memphis, simply could follow Calipari to Kentucky. However, this scenario also presents its own set of circumstances to consider.
Former coach Billy Gillispie signed another top post prospect for Kentucky in Daniel Orton (Oklahoma City/Bishop McGuinness). Orton and Cousins would compete for minutes, though they could possibly play together if Cousins follows Calipari to Kentucky.
Want another scenario to consider? Orton, with his coach gone, could ask for his release from Kentucky and look elsewhere. And yet another thought: Cousins could opt to stay in his home state of Alabama and choose to play for new coach Anthony Grant. He'd make a devastating inside duo with JaMychal Green, another top prospect from the Class of 2008.
Before Calipari left for Kentucky, many thought that Wall would join Henry, Cousins and Dennis to possibly form one of the best recruiting hauls in college basketball history. Wall could decide that the overtures from coach Mike Krzyzewski at Duke, the allure of the Cameron Crazies, and the chance to play at home could prove too sweet to pass up. Wall also could decide that he wants to follow Calipari to Kentucky and bring his immense talents to the dribble-drive offense that Calipari champions.
Kentucky and Calipari also will have to settle on exactly how many scholarships he will have at his disposal upon arrival in Lexington. With only one senior on the current roster, Kentucky may have a limited number of scholarships -- if the Wildcats do not experience a number of transfers. They could potentially have two more available scholarships if current Wildcats standouts Jodie Meeks and Patrick Patterson decide to bolt for the NBA. Kentucky also has two other players, Jon Hood and G.J. Vilarino, currently signed in the 2009 recruiting class, and these players also will have to consider their options. (Calipari would almost certainly honor their scholarships if they decide to go to Lexington.)
2010 prospects K.C. Ross-Miller, Dakotah Euton and Dominique Ferguson also committed with Gillispie. Although they have not signed letters of intent, they will have to re-evaluate their options. Gillispie also received extremely early verbal pledges from Vinny Zollo and Michael Avery, members of the Class of 2011 and 2012, respectively. Though both players will not set foot on a college campus for a few years, they will have to assess their choice with respect to college again.
We can rest on one absolute in the midst of the madness that has engulfed this monumental change in the college basketball landscape: Calipari and Louisville coach Rick Pitino will stage epic battles in the Bluegrass State, both on the hardwood and on the recruiting trail, for years to come.
Antonio Williams is a recruiting coordinator for Scouts Inc. He previously worked as an NBA scout for Marty Blake Associates.