Rick Pitino’s Louisville Cardinals fell to John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats in the national semifinals Saturday. It was a gallant effort by the Cardinals, but in the end the Wildcats’ enormous talent was just too much to overcome.
Kentucky has been without a doubt the best team in college basketball in 2012, boasting six potential NBA players and the likely top two picks in the upcoming draft in freshman center Anthony Davis and freshman forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist are the foundation of Calipari’s 2012 NCAA championship team that also includes pro prospects Marquis Teague (also a freshman), Doron Lamb, Terrence Jones and Darius Miller. Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist are expected to enter the 2012 NBA draft after just one season in Lexington. The one-and-done trend is something Calipari has embraced and thrived under the past few seasons.
It started with Derrick Rose in 2008, followed by Tyreke Evans (2009), John Wall (2010), DeMarcus Cousins (2010), and Brandon Knight (2011). Rose and Evans each played one season for Calipari when he was at Memphis, while Wall, Cousins and Knight each played one season for Coach Cal at Kentucky. All five were college basketball superstars, and all five were NBA lottery picks.
Even though Calipari has made the one-and-done concept a trendy thing in college basketball, not all coaches are following that blueprint and one of them is Pitino.
“I marvel at what John does. I couldn’t do it. I can’t say ‘Hello’ and ‘Goodbye’ in seven months. It’s just not me,” Pitino said. “I love getting to know Kyle Kuric and Chris Smith. I feel like they’re my children now, like they’re a part of my life. But it’s not like [Calipari] doesn’t feel that way about his guys.”
Pitino added: “I like to see people grow. I like that emotional attachment of the players. Every person’s different. I marvel at what [Kentucky] can do with that. I could just never do it because emotionally I get attached to these guys and I wanna see them grow as people.”
This season’s Louisville squad doesn’t have a single McDonald’s All-American on the roster, while Kentucky’s roster is littered with them. But that’s how Pitino likes it. The best pro prospect from his program the past decade is Francisco Garcia, and he’s more of a role player in the NBA.
But before we feel badly for Pitino let’s not forget 1996. That’s the year he coached Kentucky to a national championship with a loaded roster. In fact, nine players from that team – Tony Delk, Derek Anderson, Ron Mercer, Walter McCarty, Antoine Walker, Nazr Mohammed, Mark Pope, Jeff Sheppard, and Wayne Turner – played in the NBA.
Pitino may be saying he prefers the three- or four-year player now, but if a high school All-American verbally commits to Louisville, Pitino will certainly won’t turn him down.