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John Calipari is a master of recruiting one-and-done players

John Calipari says he’ll keep recruiting likely one-and-done players such as Anthony Davis as long as rules allow. | AP

John Calipari says he’ll keep recruiting likely one-and-done players such as Anthony Davis as long as the rules allow. | AP

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vs. Kansas

The facts: 8, Ch. 2, 720-AM.

Updated: May 3, 2012 8:14AM

NEW ORLEANS — Who says lightning doesn’t strike twice?

While at Memphis in 2008, John Calipari saddled up South Side lad Derrick Rose and rode him to the NCAA championship game before the Tigers lost to Kansas.

Fast-forward to this season. Now at Kentucky, Calipari lured Anthony Davis, who played high school ball in the shadow of U.S. Cellular Field, into his stable.

Like Rose, Davis is expected to be selected first overall in the NBA draft. If you haven’t seen the youngster Louisville coach Rick Pitino likened to Bill Russell, check out the title game Monday between Kentucky and Kansas. Here Calipari and his Chicago thoroughbred go again.

Win or lose, Calipari — who starts three freshmen and two sophomores — again will bring in young superstars who only will play college ball briefly.

Pitino said he is amazed by Calipari’s ability to lure one-year wonders, then do it all over again.

‘‘I marvel at what John does,’’ Pitino said. ‘‘I couldn’t do it. I can’t say hello and goodbye in seven months. It’s just not me. I love getting to know Kyle Kuric and Chris Smith. I feel like they’re my children, part of their life. Not that [Calipari] doesn’t feel that way about his kids. I could never do it because I just emotionally get too attached to these guys.’’

Calipari’s response? He didn’t create the system. He just works within it, doing what he needs to do to be successful.

‘‘I don’t like the rules,’’ he said Sunday. ‘‘I want Anthony to come back next year. It’s what I really want. There’s only two solutions to it: Either I can recruit players who are not as good as the players I’m recruiting, or I can try to convince guys that should leave to stay. At the end of the day, I don’t apologize for anything we do. We had a 3.0 grade-point average last year, 2.8 last term.’’

While others fixate on Calipari’s recruiting, Kansas coach Bill Self points to the defense Calipari’s teams play.

‘‘ ‘Cal’ gets a lot of credit for recruiting,’’ Self said. ‘‘But the thing that’s sometimes lost is, he’s one of the best coaches in the country. I mean, he can coach. And he takes guys that are so highly recruited, who’ve been told how good they are, and he gets them to buy into ‘we’ instead of ‘me.’ They’re unselfish, they’re tough, they’re physical and they guard.

‘‘That Memphis team was very similar. The Memphis team was really good, no question about that. But I think this Kentucky team is better than the Memphis team.’’

It sure helps to have the kind of talent this Kentucky team has. The Wildcats might wind up having five or six first-round NBA picks.

The solution to one-and-done, Calipari said, is a plan that
features stipends and insurance policies that make it easier for players to stay in college longer. The biggest key, though, lies in the rules of the NBA.

‘‘The NBA has to get involved,’’ Calipari said. ‘‘[NBA Players Association chief] Billy Hunter and I have talked about this issue three times. Everybody has to get together with Billy Hunter, who basically is representing the college players. He owns the one‑year rule. You want it to go to two years, only he can say yes, no one else.’’

Some will chuckle at the notion of Calipari, who has had his brushes with NCAA law, playing by the rules. But that’s his story, and he’s sticking to it.

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