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 Officially Abandons Platoon System, But Did it Already Hurt Recruiting?
John Calipari officially killed off the platoon system in a post to his CoachCal.com site on Tuesday, but did the platoon system already hurt Kentucky in recruiting the 2015 class?
“This last season these kids saw how they operated with the platoon system and kids got scared away,” one D-1 assistant coach at another school told SNY.tv.
This spring alone, Kentucky has missed out on a Who’s Who of elite recruits: Jaylen Brown (Cal), Cheick Diallo (Kansas), Brandon Ingram (Duke), Malik Newman (Mississippi State), Stephen Zimmerman (UNLV), Caleb Swanigan (Michigan State), Thomas Bryant (Indiana) and Antonio Blakeney (LSU). They also lost out on Shaun Kirk (N.C. State).
Each one of these players made his own decision as to what was best for him, and it’s unclear how much the platoon system — combined with negative recruiting from another schools about the platoon system — factored into their thinking about Kentucky.
“Recruiting is cyclical and personality-based,” a second D-1 assistant said. “Decisions to attend a school are very personal and what is good for one family isn’t the same for the next. In the case with Jaylen, he doesn’t like attention and Kentucky isn’t the place if you don’t like attention.”
What’s somewhat ironic here is that because Kentucky will have a much smaller group of core guys in 2015-16, anyone who might have committed late likely would have gotten a lot of playing time next year anyway, especially backcourt or wing guys like Malik Newman or Jaylen Brown, two projected top-5 NBA picks in 2016.
Kentucky has Tyler Ulis returning and McDonald’s All-American Isaiah Briscoe and JUCO shooting guard Mychal Mulder coming in, but Calipari certainly would’ve found ample playing time for the 6-4 Newman and/or the 6-7 Brown. Briscoe has never shied away from competition in the backcourt.
In the frontcourt, Kentucky has Alex Poythress and Marcus Lee returning and Skal Labissierie, the projected No. 1 pick in 2016, coming in. That might have played a factor for some of the frontcourt targets who chose to go elsewhere.
At any rate, the platoon is dead and Calipari can return to playing a rotation of six or seven or eight guys who he deems the best.
“If you ask me if I’m ever going to platoon again, my answer is NO,” he wrote. “Last season was an absolute outlier. It’s just not the way I like to coach. I would rather play seven or eight guys because I believe that gives us the best chance to win. I think we wrote the book on platooning this year, but I hope we stick it on the shelf and never have to use it again.”
Calipari was forced into the platoon after Andrew and Aaron Harrison and Willie Cauley-Stein all told him they were returning to campus. Really, what other alternative did he have?
“The only way I could figure out for all of them to eat was to platoon,” he wrote. “I didn’t feel comfortable trying to sub 10 guys in and out. I thought it would hurt every player if I did that. I needed a way for every player to help themselves, their team and their teammates.”
The team won its first 38 games before losing to Wisconsin in the national semifinals in Indianapolis. Had Kentucky gone 40-0, as many figured they would, Calipari would have been hailed as a genius for making it all work with so much talent and so many personalities.
“It was a terrific run,” Calpari wrote. “I’m disappointed we didn’t win two more games because I really believed we were going to. It never entered my mind that we would lose, even late in the Wisconsin game or the Notre Dame game.
“Even though things didn’t end the way we wanted them to, it was a season we will never forget. It was also one I would never change in terms of how we approached and executed it. Why? Because for as long as I am the head coach at Kentucky, we will always put the players first.”
Calipari said all along the goal was to put all eight NBA prospects in position to be drafted and now seven of them (minus the injured Poythress) are projected to be drafted by DraftExpress.com.
They range from Karl-Anthony Towns as the projected No. 1 pick to Aaron Harrison at No. 60. Four players are projected to go in the first round — Towns, Cauley-Stein, Devin Booker and Trey Lyles — with the Harrisons and Dakari Johnson projected as second-rounders.
“Karl is going to be at the front of the draft, Willie is going to be shortly thereafter, I believe Trey and Devin will be in the lottery, and the other three have chances for being in the first round,” Calipari wrote. “Seven players drafted from one team has never been done in the history of the draft. Six has only been done once, and that was in 2012 when we did it. And in 2010 we had five drafted in the first round, which also had never been done.
“By this summer we will have had 26 guys in six years drafted, potentially 13 lottery picks and maybe three No. 1 draft picks. Again, that will be in the last six years. Derrick Rose, John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe have signed max deals. Anthony Davis has a max deal coming. Tyreke Evans and Patrick Patterson have signed new deals. Terrence Jones, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Brandon Knight have new deals coming. It’s not stopping.”
A year from now, Labissiere is projected at No. 1 in 2016, with Lee at 29 and Poythress at 52.
It will be interesting to see if Labissiere and the others benefit from playing without a platoon or if they are exposed somewhat by playing too much.
“It will help tremendously because players only get better by playing, especially at the college level,” one NBA scout said.
“If they can play, it helps,” a second NBA scout said. “If they can’t, forget about it.”
The platoon is dead. Long live the platoon.
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, 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.