Comparing the recruiting strategies at Kentucky and Kansas


Kansas University basketball recruiting

Kansas University basketball recruiting

It’s no secret that Lexington, Ky., has become to one-and-done college basketball players what Cancun, South Padre Island and Daytona Beach are to spring breakers.

And it’s not exactly breaking news that Kentucky coach John Calipari has figured out how to coach these players, be it one or two of them or a team with six or seven.

Good thing.

This weekend’s news that Kevin Knox was joining the Wildcats gives Kentucky a whopping seven of the top 28 players in the 2017 class, according to the 247 Sports rankings (see Tweet below for details).

Seven. That’s five starters and two more off the bench. Basically, that’s the entire KU rotation from the 2016-17 season. And, any way you slice it, that’s downright impressive.

I’m sure there are KU fans out there who rolled their eyes at that last sentence and thought to themselves, big frickin’ whoop. But if you’re one of them, ask yourself this question: If KU had signed seven of the top 28 players in this (or any) recruiting class wouldn’t you be (a) ridiculously fired up and (b) more inclined to call the feat impressive?

I’m not saying landing one-fourth of the best players in all the land in the 2017 recruiting class guarantees Calipari’s Wildcats a thing. It doesn’t. You never know how these things are going to play out. Some could become busts or get injured. Others could fail to crack Kentucky’s rotation and become two-, three- or even four-year players. It happens. And not just at Kentucky. Look no further than Carlton Bragg Jr., for proof of unfulfilled potential happening at Kansas during recent years.

Beyond the fact that landing all of those talented prospects does not guarantee Kentucky a thing is the realization that there is more than one way to skin a cat and programs all over the country — really good, really successful, really attractive programs — tend to prove that year after year.

Kansas is one of them. Again, I can all but guarantee you that if the Jayhawks had landed seven of the 28 best players in any recruiting class, the coaching staff would be jacked and the fan base would be clearing calendars to make sure they were off of work, in Lawrence or both during Final Four weekend. And those are just the humble ones. The more braggadocious KU fans already would be boasting about the Jayhawks being a lock to win the 2018 national championship.

And maybe they would win it. Maybe Kentucky will. Who knows? And that is the beauty of it all.

Right now, on May 8, 2017, the Jayhawks and Wildcats — as always — are among the betting favorites in Las Vegas to cut down the nets next April in San Antonio, separated at the top by just a couple of spots on the future betting odds.

One of them will be looking to do so with a team full of freshmen. And the other will be trying to do it with a mixed bag of four-year players, veteran transfers and talented newcomers.

Again, I’m not saying one way is right and the other is wrong. But, for my money, I sure like the roster construction KU coach Bill Self seems to shoot for — a couple of talented and proven veterans mixed with a few program guys all buoyed by highly rated incoming freshmen like last year’s Josh Jackson and this year’s Billy Preston.

There’s just something cool about a roster that has a little natural order to it.

Just look at the work the KU coaching staff did on the recruiting trail this year alone. The 2017 class includes a potential one-and-done player in Preston, a likely multi-year player in combo guard Marcus Garrett and a graduate transfer in Jack Whitman. Three players from various different places coming together to join the Jayhawks.

Beyond that, Self and company also brought in three more transfers in Memphis’ Lawson brothers and former Cal point guard Charlie Moore and their future paths at Kansas also figure to run different courses.

Bringing in that kind of diversity helps with roster balance and, perhaps most importantly, helps ensure that each future team will have at least a couple of veterans with the potential to become key leaders.

Could you even imagine the Jayhawks knocking on the door of national titles during the past couple of years without guys like Perry Ellis or Frank Mason? No chance.

Time will tell if that knock is answered in 2018. But, with Devonte’ Graham leading the way and the KU roster filling out from there, the Jayhawks certainly will have all of the pieces they need to make it happen.

Yet again.

In other, somewhat related recruited, we received another Trevon Duval update over the weekend and, believe it or not, it seems like the 5-star point guard’s big announcement is finally coming.

After revealing two weekends ago that he would make a decision, “soon,” Duval took that one step farther this past weekend by telling Krysten Peek, of, that he would announce his decision date in the next “couple days.”

Who knows if that means we’ll know where he’s headed by the end of the week or not, but it seems like we should at least know when he’s going to tell us.

Baby steps.

None by Chris Fisher


Dale Rogers 1 year ago

I keep wondering, if Kentucky's recruiting method is so great, why do they not win the championship every year? UCLA pretty much did that back in their heyday. But Kentucky, no. They've won, what, twice in the past 10 years? And not in the last 5? Why not? Coaching? Or is their recruiting model inherently flawed?

Titus Canby 1 year ago

I'd gladly take 2 national championships in the last 10 years. Given that, I prefer a team with 3-year and 4-year players. No matter how good Josh Jackson was (and a good kid), I have a hard time feeling loyalty toward a team of OADs.

Tim Orel 1 year ago

You left out Malik Newman - another highly rated player who has come to KU, practiced for a year and now apparently has potential for an all-Big 12 and all-American type year. That was done for last year, but that's also a way Self's KU teams differ from Calipari's UK teams and Self does this year after year. He gets players to be here for a full year of practicing with the team, learning the system, and then if they're only here a year as a player, they still contribute in ways that a Freshman new to college and the higher-level competition rarely overcomes (though Jackson I think will remain one of my favorite all-time Jayhawks).

Chris Morrison 1 year ago

I think Self has figured out how to maximize the potential of the 1-2 years players. By focusing on the high rated transfers, he can get them a year in the system, before they hit the floor. They should have an better chance to make significant contributions, right away, as opposed to true freshmen who take time to acclimate to college and Self's system. Calipari, on the other hand has to count on all the disparate, albeit talented, parts coming together by the end of the season.

Steve Jacob 1 year ago

Bill Self decided he could not compete with Kentucky in recruiting and decided the transfer route was easier. This might blow up in his face if colleges start saying they will not sign releases if they go to KU. At some point the smaller schools are going to but an end to this transferring.

Craig Carson 1 year ago

Dont see why a school would target a certain program and say they wont approve a release if they go there. That is something that wont happen. Its not that Self cant compete with UK in recruiting, its that he doesnt NEED to in order to compete for FF and championships. Self has the ability to take 4* kids and transform them into NBA prospects. As a fan, id much rather see him recruit 4 star kids that will be around for 3-4 years and improve(like Mason, Morris twins, TRob), and mix them in with 2-3 top 25 kids who he knows wont be there more than a year. As much talent as Cal gets, his teams always lack the proper experience needed to win the whole thing.

Pius Waldman 1 year ago

Steve: I'm fairly certain that players can transfer even if the school discourages it. About blocking a specific school other than a conference transfer would be difficult to attempt. About Kentucky have to say Cal can do what others can't. Think about this with 7 if 5 are starters means 2 will get substitute play yet they still sign. Signing transfers usually is lower rated players that might develop with experience. Two guys from Memphis might not be the normal as their father got job change and probably wanted sons gone as well. The senior transfer immediate eligibility is just a roster filler. I know it won't happen but if it did how would Self solve Duval coming without an open spot.

Craig Carson 1 year ago

I personally love how Self recruits. I wouldnt want to lose an entire starting 5 early to the NBA year after year. Recruiting 4 star kids that will be in the program a few years and improve and mixing them with 2-3 kids with NBA draft written all over them not only ensures his teams have NBA level talent to compete with Duke, UK, UNC ect...but his teams also have the experience needed to compete for FF. Not to mention it affords him the chance to have an off recruiting year or if the incoming HS is not as deep, and still put a team out there capable of 30 wins and a FF berth. Cal and Coach K are one mass exodus and 1 off recruiting year from a 15 loss NIT team.

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