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With the Last of Billy Gillispie’s Recruits Gone, John Calipari Needs to Recruit Leaders, Long-Haul Guys

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This will strike some as blasphemy, considering the way Big Blue Nation feels about former Kentucky Wildcats head basketball coach Billy Gillispie. But I believe he may be partly responsible for UK’s Final Four appearances in 2011 and 2012.

After watching Kentucky crash and burn in Baton Rouge Tuesday night in a deceptive 5-point loss to LSU (the ‘Cats trailed by double digits for most of the second half), I honestly began to wonder if Big Blue would win another championship in John Calipari’s tenure.

Make no mistake…I think Coach Cal is one of the best in the business. But it seems that now and for the foreseeable future, he is and will be coaching a LOT of players each year who need to learn much, much more than the average basketball team usually needs to learn.

For one thing, how do you teach any of a bunch of kids who have yet to turn 20 how to be a floor leader, to be the guy who directs the action when it can’t be the coach?

I saw more mistakes during that LSU game from the UK players than I have seen all season. It was mind-boggling.

And I realized what the ‘Cats did not have. They did not and DO not have a Darius Miller or a Josh Harrellson.

Miller and Harrellson were leftovers from the dark Billy Gillispie days when Kentucky went 18-13 and rode an 11-seed to a first round exit in the 2008 NCAA Tournament and then missed the Big Dance altogether in 2009.

Then John Calipari came in and immediately showed a great desire to teach the kids that stuck around–Harrellson and Miller included–anything they needed to know. He also brought in quite a recruiting class that included John Wall and Demarcus Cousins.

Just like that, the ‘Cats were back in the Elite Eight. But that’s where it stopped in 2010. Harrellson and Miller decided to come back. (To be fair, Harrellson likely wasn’t close to being an NBA draft candidate UNTIL the end of his senior year.)

They were joined by another terrific class that included Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb, and Brandon Knight. At season’s end, the ‘Cats received a 4-seed and made a surprise run to the Final Four after defeats of overall #1 seed Ohio State and 2-seed North Carolina.

After losing in the Final Four, Miller joined Jones and Lamb in returning to UK for the 2011-2012 season which was marked by the presence of astounding recruits Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Marquis Teague. They won the title. And they won because of a mix of upperclassmen and insanely talented freshmen.

And I don’t believe UK would have continued to have the services of Miller and Harrellson if those guys hadn’t believed they really COULD win big at UK under someone other than Billy Gillispie.

And without them, I don’t think Kentucky would have made the runs they made in 2011 and 2012.

UK needs upperclassmen in the worst way. John Calipari somehow has to find talented kids who can work within his system AND who won’t jump after year one. I have NO idea how you find players like that. But I know they’re out there. They always have been.

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