Coach Cal on the recruiting trail

By: Steve Moss
By: Steve Moss

Sources tell 27 SportsFirst that new UK coach John Calipari is burning up the recruiting trail. Coach Cal, who during his introductory news conference vowed to recruit the "best of the best," has more than a few of the nation's top players in his sights.

Sources tell 27 SportsFirst that new UK coach John Calipari is burning up the recruiting trail.  Coach Cal, who during his introductory news conference vowed to recruit the "best of the best," has more than a few of the nation's top players in his sights.

Calipari is in Portland this weekend, where the very best high school players in the world are showcasing their skills at the Nike Hoop Summit.  When I say world, it's because 10 of the best foreign players square off against the United States Junior National Select Team. 

The UK staff gets to see three players who figure prominently into their recruiting efforts.  John Wall, rated the top player in the country, is there.  So is Xavier Henry, who signed a National Letter of Intent to play for Calipari at Memphis.  Henry already has been released from that contract and is free to commit to Kentucky.

I've heard Henry and Daniel Orton, who has signed with Kentucky, have had their differences and would likely not end up at the same school.  Both have listed UK and Kansas as their leaders.  By my count, one school will get Henry, the other Orton.

DeMarcus Cousins is in Portland, too.  On Thursday, Cousins said he wanted to follow Calipari to UK because the coach can help Cousins realize his dream of playing in the NBA.  "He (Calipari) said, 'Since you were a kid, what was your number one goal?' I'd like to play in the NBA and have my mother where she wouldn't be able to work again," Cousins said.  "That night, when he took the Kentucky job, he called me and asked me, 'Do you remember what you told me your goal was?  I do.'  And he said, 'You want to know what my number one goal, my number one dream was, since I started coaching?  I wanted to coach Kentucky.'  I took that into consideration and I thought about what coach can get me to the next level.  I thought, 'Coach Cal.'  And what would be the best stage to play on?  I thought, 'Kentucky.'"

I'm told Calipari made a side trip to Indianapolis, on his way to Portland.  That likely means he visited with 2010 recruit Dominique Ferguson, the 6-foot-8 forward out of Lawrence North High School. Ferguson has said publicly that he will re-open his recruitment.


Joe B. likes what he sees

When Calipari was being courted for the UK opening, he made headlines by reaching out to former Wildcat players and coaches.  Calipari said he called Eddie Sutton, Rick Pitino and Tubby Smith about life in the fish bowl. 

Calipari also called Joe B. Hall, who told Coach Cal that there was no bigger spotlight in college basketball than being the coach at Kentucky.  Hall has visited several times with Calipari -- Hall had Calipari in studio as a guest on the Joe B. and Denny Radio Show. 

Hall says Calipari quickly will revamp the Wildcat roster and make UK fans once again proud of the program.  "It's exciting, what he can put together," Hall told 27 SportsFirst. 

"If he can bring in some of these additional players, boy, I tell you, this could be the biggest turnaround in history," Hall said on Friday, just after his radio show.  "I have witnessed his salesmanship," Hall continued.  "And until you see him talk to a recruit, or someone he's trying to convince something of, you haven't seen the real John Calipari.  He is terrific.  He is the ultimate salesman.  He understands  the game.  He's got a clear picture of what he wants, how he's going to develop his team, what he wants from his players.  I think his ability to convey that and create a team that's all together and is on the same page with him and what he wants, is what makes him so great."

Hall should know.  When he took over for Adolph Rupp, his second UK team finished 13-13.  Fans, he said, couldn't give up Rupp, even sporting signs at games that said "when this one for Rupp."

Now, UK fans can't give up Pitino, who raised expectations so high that Smith and Gillispie were doomed for failure.  Smith averaged more than 25 wins a season and it wasn't enough.  Gillispie's two Wildcat teams lost 27 games. 

Kentucky fans still wanting to see Pitino walk through the Rupp doors have the closest thing in John Calipari.  He gets it and appears up to the challenge.


Coach Padgett?

There's been plenty of talk about who will become UK's fourth assistant coach, should Calipari decide to hire one.  Already, Rod Strickland, Orlando Antigua and John Robic are in the fold. 

Sources tell 27 SportsFirst that former Cats Scott Padgett and Tony Delk are in the mix.  Padgett has been to practice and has met with Calipari several times.  While watching future Wildcats Jon Hood and Daniel Orton practice for the Derby Festival game, Padgett only would say that if he is hired by his alma mater, it would be in some capacity other than as an assistant coach.

Padgett or Delk would get my vote.  They both bring NBA credentials to the table.  Both played on national championship teams at UK and are well respected by Wildcat fans.  Both played for Pitino, which would help fuel any fire in the ongoing Calipari vs. Pitino saga.  Hiring Padgett would also give UK a presence in Jefferson Co.


Practice, practice, practice

The Wildcats are allowed to practice up and until April 15.  Coach Cal is expected to practice several more times, given the NCAA's limit of two hours per week during this time period.

As for who will return from last season's roster, and who might be looking elsewhere, I'm told that should start to shake out in the coming weeks.

Those are the highlights... Stay tuned.


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