Kentucky’s John Calipari Upset That Older Players Are Dominating College Basketball

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The Kentucky men’s basketball team has not lived up to its standard over the past few seasons. Since reaching the Elite Eight in 2019, John Calipari’s team hasn’t reached the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

As a six-seed this season, the Wildcats beat #11 Providence in the first round before losing to eventual Final Four finisher #3 Kansas State.

In 2022, #2 Kentucky lost in the first round to cinderella #15 St. Peter’s. The Wildcats missed the 2021 tournament entirely.

Essentially, since COVID hit, Kentucky hasn’t been able to compete deep into the season. And John Calipari thinks the additional eligibility that COVID provided is hurting his program.

“Having kids still playing our game that are 25, 26 and 27 years old, where they would be professionals under any other circumstances is tough,” Calipari told FOX Sports.

Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari.
Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari. (Silas Walker/Lexington Herald-Leader/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

“If you graduate, and you want to transfer, that’s fine. But for the kids in their seventh year of school now, come on,” Calipari continued. “It’s not healthy for an 18- or 19-year-old to be playing against somebody that old.”

He said that’s also leading to the record numbers of players entering the transfer portal.

“Because a lot of guys have stayed around in college for fifth and sixth years, that’s also part of the reason why we have a lot of transfers… Some schools are not recruiting freshmen, but only transfers.”

John Calipari’s recruiting strategy at Kentucky needs an update

One of the hallmarks of Calipari’s tenure at Kentucky has been his ability to recruit top talent. He’s not afraid to get “one-and-done” guys and replace them the following season.

Kentucky won the National Championship in 2012. Of the team’s five starters, none were upperclassmen. Two freshmen — Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist — were selected #1 and #2 overall in the 2012 NBA Draft. Four starters were first-round draft picks.

In 2014, Kentucky reached the National Championship game but lost to UConn. Four of the team’s five starters were freshmen.

The team reached the Final Four unbeaten (38-0) in 2015 but were shocked by the Wisconsin Badgers in the national semfinal. That team, again, was led by five first-round draft picks, including three freshmen (Karl-Anthony Towns, Devin Booker and Trey Lyles).

That year proved to be a sign of things to come. Wisconsin was led by upperclassmen.

Kentucky Head Coach John Calipari yells instructions to his team during a NCAA Final Four game between the Wisconsin Badgers and the Kentucky Wildcats.
Kentucky Head Coach John Calipari yells instructions to his team during a NCAA Final Four game between the Wisconsin Badgers and the Kentucky Wildcats. (Photo by Adam Creech/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

It seems that Calipari doesn’t like the direction of college basketball because it’s hurting his style. His freshman stars could more easily compete against younger upperclassmen.

But they’re being out-experienced by the older crop of players.

Calipari mentioned that some teams aren’t recruiting freshman, and he seems irked by that idea. But if players in the transfer portal can help him win, then he needs to use that to his advantage.

It appears he’s trying, too. He recently met with Michigan star Hunter Dickinson. However, he lost out to Kansas.

It sounds like he’s upset that he doesn’t have the same magic with transfers as he does with high school students.

But being an elite coach means adapting to a changing landscape.

So far, Calipari has struggled with that part.

Follow Dan Zaksheske on Twitter: @RealDanZak

Written by Dan Zaksheske

Dan began his sports media career at ESPN, where he survived for nearly a decade. Once the Stockholm Syndrome cleared, he made his way to Outkick. He is secure enough in his masculinity to admit he is a cat-enthusiast with three cats, one of which is named “Brady” because his wife wishes she were married to Tom instead of him.

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  1. “Boo Hoo…I can’t win with the best Freshman anymore”…..suck it Calipari….there’s a difference between being the best coach and being the best high school recruiter. The college game has found its way back to the teams starting Juniors and Seniors depite the “one and done” recruits. Go, Fight, Win San Diego State University!

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