What is driving this sudden surge in Kentucky basketball recruiting success? |

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Two engagements from the top five national rookies in the past two weeks, including one from the country’s No.1 basketball player. It’s likely that two more Top 10 prospects will join Kentucky’s 2022 class in the coming weeks, giving John Calipari one of his best Lexington hires.

What is driving this increase in recruiting success for the Wildcats?

The simplest answer would be to point out the coaching staff reshuffle that happened this offseason, when Calipari brought back Orlando Antigua and brought in Chin Coleman – two nationally recognized recruiters, both previously in Illinois – to join the rising coaching talent Jai Lucas on the Kentucky staff. .

This is almost certainly having an effect, but these changes are probably not the most responsible for the resurgence in recruiting Kentucky is seeing with this specific class.

Skyy Clark, Britain’s first engagement for 2022, was already pledged to previous staff. Shaedon Sharpe, the nation’s No.1 rookie, had strong ties to Kentucky through his AAU program and was already likely to pick the Cats before the coaching changes. Cason Wallace, another top 10 rookie who is expected to join the Wildcats in the coming weeks, has also long been considered a British lean.

So the seeds were planted for a 2022 star class some time ago, both thanks to past work and happy circumstances.

A big difference between recent recruiting rounds and this one is the change to the NCAA Name, Image and Likeness rules, which were updated over the summer to allow players to earn money while staying in college.

“For me, it’s a combination of a lot of things,” 247Sports analyst Travis Branham told the Herald-Leader. “I think NIL plays a huge role in that. Not only to attract kids, but I think if anyone knows John Calipari, he’s a trailblazer. Every time he sees some kind of change – whatever he can be the first to innovate and attack head-on and be the leader, he gets very energized, so I think the change to NIL not only helps Kentucky because of the market value of these players, but I think he’s re-energized Cal in a few ways for where he’s coming back after that really, really hard.

“He’s coming back to those elite rookies at the top of their roster, and that obviously pays off very quickly.”

No doubt about it. The latest victory came on Wednesday night with the signing of Chris Livingston, who had long put hiring analysts guessing and could be the best example of the multiple variables at work leading to the formation of this Kentucky class.

The new coaching staff certainly deserves some of the credit for Livingston’s commitment.

Coleman, who occupied a front row seat for Livingston’s opening game of the July evaluation period and kept in daily contact with the star player, did a remarkable job in recruiting him.

Without these NIL changes in place, however, things might have turned out differently. Kentucky may not have had a realistic shot.

Like Jalen Duren and Emoni Bates, two players who recently signed to Memphis for this season, Livingston has long been seen as a player likely to skip college altogether and opt for a professional career outside of high school. Keyonte George, the No.3 player in the new 247Sports rankings, is another 2022 hopeful many believed he would turn pro. He joined Baylor shortly after the NIL reforms took effect.

“I think NIL plays a major role for a lot of these kids,” Branham said. “That obviously plays a major role in getting these kids to go to college. Jalen Duren, Emoni Bates and now Chris Livingston – these are three guys everyone expected them to all go down the path to. NIL is changing, and now they’re all coming to University.

“Kentucky obviously has a huge market for it. So I think if somebody says that NIL doesn’t play any role in this, frankly they’re kidding themselves.”

Kentucky on the right track

Calipari downplayed the role of NIL reforms last week, but only to an extent. He said he couldn’t see a rookie pick Kentucky just because of the possibility of NIL money. He acknowledged the reality of the new landscape, however, noting that while the UK might not sign a player just because of their draw possibilities, the program could very well lose rookies if they don’t stay on top. of the trend.

“Let me tell you this: this is one reason they will go elsewhere if you don’t do it right, and they will,” Calipari said. “Every player that we’ve brought to this campus that we’re talking about recruiting, they wanted to know, their families in particular, ‘What are you doing with the name, picture and likeness? How are you trying to help, and how are you trying to protect? ‘ Every child. “

Livingston recognized it this summer.

Weeks after his official visit to the UK, in an interview with the Herald-Leader, he was open to the possibility of him turning pro – even reviewing the specific leagues that contacted him – but he also spoke about hearing the UK’s NIL- related pitch and said it could be a game-changer for players in his position.

“I think it kind of evens out for colleges,” he said in July. “I think that plays a big role.”

At the time, many still thought he would turn pro. Two months later, he enlisted in Kentucky.

Weeks before the NIL reforms took effect, Coleman was asked about the changes during one of the UK basketball summer camp stops. He then said there were too many moving parts to say anything for sure – which, given all the uncertainty at the time, was certainly true – but he also noted that his new boss, and the coaching staff as a whole, would be finished. whatever changes are ultimately put in place.

“We talk about it every day as a staff, and I can tell you right away that there’s no one above that more than Coach Cal. No one. I promise you,” Coleman said. “He spends 27 hours a day trying to figure out all the NIL stuff.”

It will be interesting to see how much this pays off in the future.

It will be equally interesting to see what the revamped UK coaching staff do with a full recruiting cycle.

Keep in mind that the new coaches Calipari brought in must have jumped into this 2022 cycle towards the end, after other schools have already forged lasting relationships with some of the UK’s top targets. Logic says they’ll be even better positioned with future classes, when they’re able to start recruiting from scratch and build relationships with players and their families much earlier in the process.

As far as current success goes, it looks like Calipari has been re-energized by both the changing nature of its program and the overall change in the varsity basketball landscape.

“My thing is, I’m moving on. I’m excited about the training. It’s going to be a flash on the screen,” he said last week of the struggles of the year. former. “… I don’t have a mirror. I can’t wait.”

Eager to put a disastrous 9-16 season behind him – and keen to move forward with new faces amid big changes that offer greater possibilities – Calipari is turning the page in a big way.

“I just think there are a lot of factors that come into play,” Branham said. “And this new staff and Coach Calipari are getting into the race.”


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