Kentucky’s John Calipari: Why ‘One and Done’ Must End

In his forthcoming book “Players First: Coaching From the Inside Out,” Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari opens up about his five years in Lexington and addresses his critics. In this excerpt, with his Wildcats playing Wisconsin in the Final Four on Saturday, Calipari explains why he has embraced “one-and-done” players—and why he wants the NBA’s eligibility rules changed.

In 2005, NBA owners, players and their agents hammered out a compromise on a collective bargaining agreement that put us where we are now: one and done.

Players can’t go to the NBA until one year past their high-school graduation. So they come to Kentucky or one of the other top programs. They play one season. And then the best of them leave.

I’ve made it work for the teams I coach—and for the players—as best I can. But I don’t like it one bit. Some people say I’m renting players or I’m working the system. Let me make this very clear: I want to coach players for four years. Very few of the young players are truly ready for the rigors of the NBA. All but a handful would benefit from more time playing college basketball, more class time and more time on a college campus.

Notice what I didn’t say: that if we changed the one-and-done rule it would be better for college basketball. I hear people talk like that and sometimes I want to laugh. It sounds so high-minded, but what is college basketball? Can anybody tell me? Is it something unto itself that exists on its own, with a soul and a heart that beats? Is college basketball just a spawn of the NCAA? Or when we say that we care about “the good of the game,” are we talking about its history?

I don’t think it is any of these things. I want us to do right by the players. And we’re not doing that right now.

What I propose isn’t that radical, nor should it be difficult. All that it would require is that the NBA come together with the players association and agree that no player comes into the league until at least two years after his high-school class has graduated.

The benefit for our players would be greater than most people realize. When we sign a kid out of high school, he’s on our campus just about immediately after his graduation—taking college courses and beginning to accumulate credits. By the next May, if he has done what he’s supposed to do, he has more credits than a normal freshman.

So what happens if we require a player to stay two years? He has already taken summer courses right after high school. He goes through his freshman year. He takes more courses the following summer. Then he completes his sophomore year. So even if he puts his name in the draft and goes to the NBA, he should be about a year from graduation. He’s a year from his degree, not three years.

Some people think players don’t care about the academic aspect. That is nonsense. We get kids with a range of abilities in the classroom, but nearly all of them want to do well. Some tell me when they get here that they don’t like being students, and then they end up changing their minds.

But what these kids are faced with is having a big pile of money put in front of them for something they already love. People jumping at money isn’t particular to basketball. Or sports. It’s what most people do, given the opportunity.

Nobody makes a big deal of it when baseball players turn pro out of high school. I don’t recall an uproar when Tiger Woods left Stanford for the PGA Tour. Neither Bill Gates nor Steve Jobs made it all the way through college.

We’re not keeping these NBA-quality players for four years. Those days are gone. My point is there is a middle ground.

When a player comes to me now and he’s considering the NBA, the first thing I do is go out and get information on his draft prospects. A player’s family, friends and associates are almost always giving him a best-case scenario: You’re a lottery pick. You’re going to make X amount of money. You’ll be an All-Star.

But one of my most important roles is to give them the worst-case scenario. Are you willing to live with the consequences if it doesn’t work out and you end up playing in Europe, Asia or South America—and the next spring you’re sitting by yourself, watching on TV, as your former teammates are playing in the Final Four and having a ball?

There has been talk of putting NCAA basketball in line with baseball, where high-school players either go right into pro ball or, if they choose college, have to stay for three years. That is just stupid for our game. I don’t have another word for it. The NBA doesn’t want high-school kids, and it doesn’t have a whole minor-league system to develop them. The baseball rule would keep some kids in college basketball for three years who want to be in the NBA—without improving their situation in any way.

Do we want a generation of kids, many of them urban kids, who don’t strive for education? Are we encouraging them to go directly to the NBA out of high school?

Some people ask: Why do you recruit all these one-and-done players? There has been criticism in the press and from retired coaches, as well as a quiet disapproval from some current coaches. The insinuation, I guess, is that I’m doing something wrong.

But if college coaches are so against one-and-done, why aren’t more of them speaking out and trying to end it? Why isn’t it a cause? Remember now, I’m not the only one recruiting these kids.

I don’t know how to recruit a different level of player. There is no way I’m intentionally recruiting a player because I know the NBA won’t want him after a year or two. We put our team together in the fall and we go to war against one another in the practice gym. We play our season.

I was away with my wife Ellen early in the summer of 2013 and some of my former players were in Lexington working out, playing pickup with the new kids, checking them out. I started getting texts from them. Some were about Aaron and Andrew Harrison, our freshman guards. Cal, these two, are you kidding me? DeMarcus Cousins texted me about Julius Randle, our freshman big man, and said he was better than he imagined.

I was excited. But here’s the problem. Some of the guys are going to leave. Three of them. Five. Seven. I have no idea. I’m doing what I know is right: recruiting the best players and showing them what a team is. That means that every year, I’ve got to go make a new team.

Written by Nick


Nick the Quick White is an avid fan of basketball and hip hop, and a contributing writer with WJS since 2013. Nick has interviewed rappers, ballers, rapper ballers, and baller rappers on the site and continues to preach that the NBA should have a team in Europe. Maybe because Nick currently lives outside London where to them Football is actually played with your feet, can you believe this fatuousness?

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