Next season is going to be interesting.
So now that the strangest and most annoying recruiting ever has concluded with John Wall taking half my life to make the painfully obvious decision to play for John Calipari, let's take stock for what it means going forward.
Well the fans got what they wanted. They acquired a top flight coach who was able to sign three upper tier recruits to go along with the ones UK already had. Patrick Patteron is returning to school, many think Jodie Meeks will do the same and out of the blue(no pun intended) the Wildcats are an instant Final Four favorite. Jeff Goodman made them #1 in his early preseason poll and Gary Parrish at CBSSportsline was gushing over the assumed reality of Calipari getting anyone he wants to play for him in Lexington. And honestly, there is not much one can say to argue UK won't be a persistent power for years to come. Aside from the shadiness that surrounds Calipari, he is obviously a great recruiter made more effective by his willingness to take players of questionable moral/academic credentials. In addition, Calipari does not care if they are there one year, he will make do with what he has. In some respects it is a lot like, well, Roy Williams being at UNC without all the crap. Roy is a top notch recruiter and UNC is a brand name in college basketball. Put the two together and you get top recruiting classes every other season. The situation is the same except you have to wonder whether (1) some point an NCAA violation or seven will derail the whole train and (2) if Calipari can build a title winner using different parts, some of them for only one season. Experienced teams tend to win national titles. UK is going to be very talented in 2010 but there are questions of the freshman making the transition to college. There are also questions of the current UK players making the transition to Calipari's system. Then you have chemistry both in terms of players getting along and players meshing on the court. I for one think Goodman is jumping the gun to put UK ahead of Kansas in the preseason poll when the Jayhawks return a ton of experience and have players on their team who have one ring already. Heck, even in UNC's experience it took time. The 2004 team was horrible compared to the 2005 version. The 2007 team which I would argue is at least as talented and deep as the 2010 Kentucky team lost eight games and missed the Final Four. So, while UK will be a formidable opponent and a game UNC could very well lose in Lexington during the upcoming season, I would not crown them champions just yet.
The theory goes that Duke still came out in the black on the whole John Wall ordeal even though they did not secure his committment. The general feeling is that Mike Krzyzewski was after Wall not so much for Wall himself but to establish some credibility in getting players like Wall. It is no secret that Krzyzewski detested losing players after one season. His reaction to William Avery doing it was brutal and while he may not have made a big deal about Luol Deng leaving or losing Shaun Livingston after Livingston signed, it became clear Krzyzewski wanted nothing to do with players who would leave early. And that would have worked out fine except Roy showed up in Chapel Hill and proceeded to clean Duke's clock on a regular basis. Now Krzyzewski had a problem. UNC was sucessfully mixing classes with 1-2 year players and four year guys to form a juggernaut. Duke on the other hand is simply stuck with the 3-4 four year players and no one that knocks your socks off. Krzyzewski's Olympic stint did not help either nor does the fact he has cheerleaders for assistant coaches. So the calculus in going after Wall was to change the way Duke was being viewed in terms of who Krzyzewski was willing to bring in. If Wall had landed in Durham, it would have been a huge coup. I think Gerald Henderson withdraws from the NBA Draft had Wall committed but more than that, Duke would have signaled to every recruit out there that Cameron was once again a safe haven for players only interested in the bare minimum required by the NBA collective bargaining agreement. Since Wall decided to head to UK, one can argue that Krzyzewski still scored some points with those types of players though I am convinced the issues in Durham run deeper than the recruiting.
When Roy Williams made the call in April to John Wall, it was more or less to guage Wall's interest and informally put UNC into the race. Apparently it never went beyond that and a few background phone calls on the part of the assistants. Only Roy knows why and NCAA rules prohibit him from saying so. My speculation all along has been that Roy never felt comfortable with the baggage(or perceived baggage) surrounding Wall. There was also the matter of Wall's AAU coach Brian Clifton who made it clear he wanted nothing to do with Roy mainly because Roy did not kiss his ring and make him feel important or something. Of course Roy also had multiple luxuries. The first is he already had a highly touted recruiting class. Unlike 2005, Roy did not have to leave the championship celebration to go find players to fill the roster two years later. The foundation for the next two years was already laid with the 2009 class. The other luxury was 124 wins and a national title in four seasons. Roy's stock could not be higher and winning like creates a much easier environment in which to recruit. Basically Roy had just proven he could recruit a solid team and win a title without dealing with baggage perceived or otherwise. The biggest issues Roy dealt with in the past four years was Ty Lawson's brush with CHPD and Danny Green's father who pushed Roy's buttons from time to time. Besides that it was smooth sailing.
The question is how UNC fares on the changing landscape where Kentucky boasts a solid recruiter along with their brand name and Duke might be shaking off a few years of bad recruiting to start making plays on highly ranked recruits? The answer is: I have no idea other than to say that I trust Roy's ability to guide this program until the day he retires. Roy has shown that he can recruit the players he needs, he can rebuild quickly following a mass NBA exodus and in short order can develop a team into a national champion. Yes, UK is going to be a major player. It would be silly to say what goes on in Lexington will not somehow impact UNC. It is equally silly to think Duke is simply going to wallow in their current state. What I do know is Roy Williams has the UNC program at perhaps its highest point ever and regardless of what might go on at Kansas, Kentucky, Duke or NC State, I know UNC will as much a force on the stage as anyone else. There is too much history and accomplishment in the program, especially in the past five years to suggest otherwise.
And at the end of the day, you can rest assured it was done the right way.