Kentucky coach John Calipari finally won his first national title Monday night with a 67-59 victory over Kansas, and this could be bad news for Syracuse and the rest of the country. Coach Cal’s reputation precedes him. He has built title contenders and some of the most talented teams in the country with one-and-done high school stars. Holding to tradition, this Wildcats team was carried mostly by freshman like Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who dominated for UK all season long and will now test the NBA Draft waters.
Calipari had already been the best recruiter in the country, but now with a national championship on his resume his commits will only get more impressive. Will that include Nerlens Noel? The top-rated prep star in the nation has whittled his decision down to Kentucky, Syracuse and Georgetown. With another banner being hung at Rupp Arena, could that be a deciding factor for N2?
Davis and MKG will fall into a long line of recent stars that Calipari has placed into the NBA. In the past six years, Calipari has watched freshmen Tyreke Evans, Derrick Rose, John Wall, and DeMarcus Cousins blossom into top ten picks and NBA stars. In 2010, five – yes, five – of Calipari’s Wildcats were taken in the first round (Wall, Cousins, Eric Bledsoe, Patrick Patterson, Daniel Orton). With a track record like that, it’s not surprising Calipari is the first choice for so many players with NBA aspirations. The only knock on Calipari’s reliance on freshmen was that it hadn’t equated to a championship. Now that the ’12 version has proven that wrong, it’s hard to poke holes in Calipari’s system.
Cal’s success may have come at a bad time for SU. Seeing Davis become a superstar and national darling while dominating the middle as a freshman for a title team must appeal to Noel. He could step in as a direct replacement for Davis on Calipari’s team. Point guards had been the fulcrum of Calipari teams, with a succession of Evans, Rose, Wall and Brandon Knight carrying his Memphis and Kentucky squads. But Davis made the center position the focal point, which could have a heavy influence on Noel. Nerlens was in New Orleans this weekend for a high school All-American game, and it can’t help Jim Boeheim’s chances that Noel was there to see Kentucky’s coronation.
Noel has been compared to Davis because of his dominant shot blocking and freakish athleticism for a center. Cal can now pitch to Nerlens the Davis Plan: Freshman of the Year, Player of the Year, National Champion, First Pick. That’s a pretty tough sales pitch to beat. While the chips seem stacked in UK’s favor for N2, Syracuse isn’t out of the running for Noel yet. But recent history indicates Calipari wins these types of high profile recruiting battles, and coming off of the Davis-led national championship, Cal is playing an even stronger hand than ever.
Posted: Steve Neikam