In the state of Kentucky college basketball beats deeply through the veins of every citizen in the blue grass state. Fans of the Kentucky Wildcats and the Louisville Cardinals have been fortunate to witness their perspective programs return among the nations elite due Rick Pitino and John Calipari restoring the luster to two tradition rich programs. However, each coach took different routes to becoming title contenders.
Always known as a elite recruiter Calipari assembled some of top recruiting classes of all time which rivals and surpassed the infamous Fab Five from the University of Michigan. Unable to lure similar talent Pitino assembled his team by unearthing diamonds in the rough and developmental projects from other countries like Senegalese-born center Gorgui Dieng. Calipari’s Wildcats garnered more national headlines due to his rosters being loaded with charismatic players who were destined to be early NBA Draft lottery selections like John Wall, Demarcus Cousins, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
Despite being second fiddle in their own state the Cardinals had the luxury of returning experience and leadership each year since no players left early for the NBA Draft. Last year both programs made it to the Final Four and the Wildcats led by freshman phenom Anthony Davis won the title.
Since Calipari took the reins the program’s success has been dictated by unproven freshmen either fulfilling their high school press clippings and failing miserably. So far the Calipari gamble has paid off but this season provided a harsh reality check as the Wildcats missed the NCAA Tournament and was eliminated in the first round of the NIT Tournament by Robert Morris.
As the Wildcats return to the drawing board the Cardinals find themselves back in the tournament as the number one overall seed and favorite to cut down the nets in Atlanta. Both of these prominent programs have found their own formula for success but Pitino has reminded us all, that quick fixes are great for highlights but do not assure long term success.
The Wildcats will welcome another star studded freshman class and the Cardinals will yet again not be as fortunate. The Cardinals clearly got the last laugh this year, what will happen next year. Stay tuned I know I will – A. Denmark