John Calipari solidified his reputation as college basketball’s best recruiter, and arguably the greatest recruiter of student-athletes in any sport ever, after taking the Kentucky job in March 2009. He immediately signed the nation’s top-ranked class — then did it again in 2010 and 2011 and 2012 and 2013.
Five straight years.
Five straight No. 1 classes.
Two of those five classes included the nation’s top-ranked prospect — and four of the five featured at least one of the nation’s top-two prospects, according to 247Sports. So, in the simplest of terms, Calipari had the Wildcats rolling. They weren’t getting everybody they wanted — but it sure felt like it at times. And that’s among the reasons it was hard not to notice how something changed in that respect in recent years.
It wasn’t anything drastic.
The Wildcats never stopped recruiting at a high level relative to the rest of the sport; they just started recruiting at a slightly lesser level than they’d been recruiting — evidence being how UK only had one top-ranked recruiting class in the previous six classes, didn’t sign a top-ranked prospect in any of the previous nine classes, and only signed multiple top-10 prospects in the same year once in the previous five classes.
The 2021 class ranked … 10th.
So, understandably, some Kentucky fans had started to grow concerned — especially after the Wildcats unimaginably went 9-16 last season and missed the NCAA Tournament. For the first time ever, in any sort of meaningful way, Calipari was being legitimately questioned as the leader of Big Blue Nation.
But everybody can relax now.
And that’s because Calipari has undeniably turned things around. On Wednesday night, he secured yet another big commitment — this time from Chris Livingston, the No. 6 prospect in the Class of 2022. The 6-foot-6 wing picked Kentucky over offers from Georgetown and Tennessee State and became a part of a three-player class that also features the prospects ranked No. 1 (Shaedon Sharpe) and No. 17 (Skyy Clark). As a result, Kentucky now has the top-ranked recruiting class in the country — and Calipari isn’t even close to being done considering UK is the perceived leader to also land the prospects ranked No. 2 (Dereck Lively II) and No. 7 (Cason Wallace), which means it’s likely that the Wildcats will eventually have a recruiting class featuring the top two prospects, and four of the top seven, in the Class of 2022.
If it goes down that way, it’ll represent the first time Calipari has ever enrolled the top two prospects in the same class, or four of the top seven in the same class, according to 247Sports. If it goes down that way, you could make the claim that it is, at least according to the numbers, one of the greatest recruiting classes in the history of college basketball, if not the greatest recruiting class in the history of college basketball.
(Note: The obvious counter-argument to that claim would be that the Class of 2022 isn’t strong in a traditional sense — especially after five-star prospects Emoni Bates and Jalen Duren reclassified to 2021. But whatever. It’s still likely to be a historically great class, according to the numbers. That’s the point.)
So what’s the explanation for Kentucky’s recruiting resurgence?
Some have speculated it’s a direct result of Calipari remaking his staff and adding assistants Orlando Antigua and Chin Coleman to work alongside Jai Lucas. Others have insisted it’s the byproduct of Calipari being reenergized and refocused after last season’s disappointing and humbling season. Others have pointed to name, image and likeness possibilities that are now available and potentially massive at UK. The fact that Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski is no longer recruiting might also play a role.
It’s probably a combination of things.
Either way, whatever the explanation, order has been restored in the world of college basketball recruiting. John Calipari and Kentucky are back on top, stacking five-star prospects, determined to again build the nation’s most-talented roster in an attempt to show last season’s debacle was nothing more than an unfortunate one-off and nothing close to the beginning of the end of a Hall of Fame career.