Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Calipari Ruling Recruiting Like Kramer Dominated the Dojo
METUCHEN, N.J. — If Karl Towns’s decision to attend Kentucky and to reclassify to 2014 proved anything Tuesday morning, it is that John Calipari continues to dominate the recruiting world like no one before.
Calipari is ruling his fellow coaches on the recruiting trail the way Kramer did when he dominated the dojo.
Now with the 7-foot-1 1/2, 234-pound Towns in the fold for 2014, he says he wants to help Calipari — whose team is currently unranked — pursue another national title.
“Now we’re going to talk about what we going to have to do to get that national championship,” said Towns, 17. “You never play to lose, you always play to win. I sound like Herm Edwards a little bit, but it’s true.”
Towns, who has been compared to Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Durant, said he actually didn’t make the final decision to select Kentucky over Duke and Florida until his “second shower” at around 8 a.m. Tuesday morning.
But really this decision has roots stretching back at least a year to when Calipari opted to coach the Dominican Republic National Team. Towns’s mother, Jackie Towns, has Dominican roots, and he became part of the feeder program before eventually making the Senior National Team.
“Kentucky was on his list but this makes it better because he always liked Calipari and he always liked [former Kentucky point guard] John Wall,” Karl Towns Sr. told SNY.tv in May 2011. “Now he gets a chance to get some instruction from this man and get a chance to go out there.”
It would be purely cynical to suggest that Calipari only took the Dominican job — and then added Towns to the roster as a 16-year-old alongside several NBA players– in order to recruit him.
But it did have the effect of working out that way, giving Calipari and assistant Orlando Antigua the opportunity to coach Towns this past summer.
”He is a player who is a good player that I did not know a year ago, didn’t know anything about. He’s a pretty good player,” Calipari said this past June. ”He’s young. Will he make the team? I don’t know. He’s 16 years old. He’s 6-10 and, you know…but he’s getting muscled right now. The guys trying to make the team are throwing him around and it’s a good experience for him.”
Towns said Calipari didn’t speak about recruiting during their time together over the summer, and instead focused on simply coaching him and his Dominican teammates, who lost to Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Team USA in an exhibition in Las Vegas.
“Being with Coach Cal over the summer, it really didn’t influence my decision at all because when we were there he never talked about recruiting or anything about Kentucky,” Towns said.
“He just talked about plays and things we had to do to have an Olympic berth for the Dominican team.”
Towns said he seriously considered Duke and Florida, and it was only after he made his second trip to Kentucky Nov. 23 for the LIU game that he was finally sold on the school.
“I think the second trip went really well,” he said. “And I felt better about the school. A lot of people were asking why did I go [on the visit], and I had never seen the campus. So the second time time was the first time I actually got to see the campus and what it had to offer…Kentucky was not always on the top of the list because I had not seen the academic standpoint of the school. When I saw the academic standpoint of the school, it allowed me to put them in the top three [with Duke and Florida].”
Towns plans to study kinesiology in college and liked what Kentucky has to offer.
“It really had a great kinesiology program which I actually want to be in so it gave me both aspects of the world,” he said.
For the second time in two and half years, Calipari has now come into the Garden State and landed the top player in New Jersey. In the spring of 2010, he got Michael Kidd-Gilchrist out of St. Patrick, and we all know how that worked out.
Rutgers is only about 10 miles from St. Joe’s-Metuchen and Seton Hall is also in the state.
But even though those schools were aware of Towns early, they never had a chance when going up against Calipari.
“Well, you know what, I have the utmost respect for Coach [Kevin] Willard and Coach [Mike] Rice, I love them to death,” Karl Towns Sr. said of the Seton Hall and Rutgers coaches.
“I don’t think Cal took it, I think that Karl got a better understanding of what he wanted because we love Mike Rice, we love Coach Willard. But there were a lot of intangible things that went into effect. And like I said, I will still always be devoted to the schools in this area. I will go to their games. I will support Rutgers, I support Seton Hall because those are our home teams.
“Unfortunately, he needed to go somewhere where he fit in and he enjoyed it and it came down to that decision today.”
Of course it doesn’t hurt that Kentucky has become the home of the one-and-done, having sent three freshman to the NBA Draft first-round last year.
If Calipari lands 6-8 small forward Andrew Wiggins, another player who reclassified down and is considering Kentucky, he will almost surely be a one-and-done.
So could future Wildcats Aaron and Andrew Harrison and James Young.
So, is the one-and-done mentality influencing Towns as well?
“For me, I just want to be the best collegiate athlete I can be,” Towns said. “If the NBA comes and I play well enough to hopefully make my family some money and also take care of my family, then that’s going to be something down the road I have to choose.
“But however many years it takes, I’m just going to keep playing the best collegiate basketball I can and hopefully one day I can enter the NBA Draft and my mom and dad can be there again to help me make another big decision.”
For now, though, chalk one up to Calipari for dominating like Kramer in the dojo.
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Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.