How John Calipari Made Kentucky Cool Again

Y.O.L.O. It’s a motto reserved for Drake bonus tracks and 19-year-old girls Facebook statuses, but in a way, the abbreviated form of “You Only Live Once” defines the current state of the most powerful program in college basketball.

Kentucky basketball has always been a traditional top-five program- look no further than its seven national championships- but from 2000-2009, it seemed more likely that the Wildcats would wind up better known for their romanticized history (like Notre Dame football) than for revolutionizing college basketball. Sure there were some decent UK teams over the course of the previous decade, including the 2004 team that earned a No. 1 overall seed in the tournament, but the Wildcats never advanced past the Elite Eight and only put three memorable players (Jamaal Magloire, Tayshaun Prince, and Rajon Rondo) in the NBA over the span of 10 seasons.

The peak of Big Blue Nation’s sudden irrelevance came in 2009, when the Wildcats found themselves on the outside looking in at the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1991. That was enough for UK to give up on coach Billy Gillespie after just his second year on the job and turn its head towards the future.

In college basketball, you win in March with NBA talent. That’s not an opinion, it’s a fact. Look at a list of the past 15 national champions and you won’t find a team that didn’t possess either a sure-fire lottery pick or multiple players who would go on to be drafted at the next level. The best teams have both (Florida 2006-2007, North Carolina 2009) and for a decade, Kentucky had neither. Enter John Calipari. Continue reading