It is now clear that many Memphis Tiger basketball fans’ opinions have totally changed about former coach John Calipari. Cal was in Tunica last night for a charity event he had previously committed to and the reception was described as “lukewarm” when he was introduced. While some just feel betrayed by Calipari deciding to leave Memphis after nine years as head coach, others are angered by what they see as the unethical move of taking many, if not all, of his top Memphis recruits with him to Lexington.
In defending their outrage over this “unethical” move by Cal, they all seem to come up with the same two examples of coaches that left jobs, but “chose” not to take their top recruits with them. Those two coaches are Roy Williams, when he left Kansas for North Carolina, and Bob Huggins, who left Kansas State for West Virginia, both leaving behind some top recruits. It seems reasonable that people, such as my friend and colleague Will Askew below, bring up these two examples, because they seem to back up their contentions about Calipari. The problem though, is that if you simply research the facts of these situations, you’ll see that they’re not at all like the Calipari situation, and in one case, one of these bastions of ethics actually wanted one of his former recruits to join him at his new school. So let’s take a closer look at the actual facts of each situation and the top recruits involved:
We’ll start with Roy Williams and his move from Kansas to North Carolina. The two recruits most talked about in this case are J.R. Giddens and David Padgett. In the case of Giddens, this story about himincludes this quote about Bill Self, who replaced Williams at Kansas, and the Jayhawks program,
“[Coach Self] is from Oklahoma, so I felt pretty comfortable with him,” Giddens said. “After talking I decided to still go to Kansas; there’s just so much tradition there so it wasn’t like I was only going originally because of Coach Williams. I knew that I would get a great college experience, they sell out every game, and I knew I’d be playing in front of big crowds.”
So Giddens, an Oklahoma native, felt comfortable with another Oklahoma native, Self, and unlike the Memphis recruits, he was going to the school for reasons other than just playing for a certain coach. Interesting, you mean it wasn’t because Williams told him to stay at Kansas?
Even better is the case of Padgett. Padgett was one of the top recruits in the country and committed to play for Williams at Kansas. When Williams left, Padgett and his family felt betrayed by Williams,
“Coach sat in my living room and sat in my office and said he was going to be there for four years to coach David,” Pete Padgett said by phone from the family’s residence in Reno, Nev.
Those broken vows stung, but a final disappointment came Friday.
“They assured me Friday that we would not hear about this from the media,” he said. “But that’s what happened. We’re really, really disappointed that they didn’t contact us.”
That betrayal, and the fact that he would have had to ask for a release from his letter of intent, likely were big reasons why Padgett decided to give it a go under Self at Kansas. After one year, however, it wasn’t working out so Padgett decided to transfer elsewhere, and low and behold, who was there trying to get him to come join him, it was Williams. How do I know? He admitted he wanted him in talking about it a couple years later when his Tar Heels were about to meet Padgett and Louisville in the NCAA Tournament.
“I think David made a great decision because he decided to break away from the Kansas-North Carolina confusion and start completely new with Louisville,” Williams said. “I think it was a great decision. But I did want him.”
It’s just crazy how facts get in the way of a good argument isn’t it? People will continue to talk about the class act that Roy Williams was for not trying to get recruits to follow him, but how much of a chance did he have? How many really wanted to follow him to Chapel Hill? Show me some evidence that kids wanted to go with him and he told them no. What I do know for sure is that when one of those recruits became available a year later, Williams sure was ready to pounce.
Now moving on to the case of Bob Huggins’ departure from Kansas State to West Virginia. This was a big deal because Huggins’ recruiting class featured Michael Beasley, one of the top players in the country. So what people say, is that Huggins could have taken Beasley with him to West Virginia, but chose not to. That’s just dead wrong. Beasley was only going to Kansas State because his former AAU coach and close friend Dalonte Hill was on Huggins’ staff at Kansas State. K State then paid Hill a bunch of money to keep him on Frank Martin’s staff in Manhattan as associate head coach and thus, Beasley followed through on his commitment. If you don’t think that Beasley was simply going wherever Hill was, explain to me why he was committed to Charlotte when Hill was on Bobby Lutz staff, before he took the job with Huggins at Kansas State and explain this quote from Beasley from an article by Grant Wahl of SI.com after Hill had taken the Kansas State job,
“My first question for Dalonte was, ‘What is Kansas State?'” says Beasley. “I couldn’t find Kansas on a map. I didn’t know it was a big-time school. But then my trust kicked in. Loyalty means everything to me.”
Really sounds like a player who would leave Hill behind just to follow Huggins doesn’t it? Further complicating the issue was that Kansas State AD Tim Heiser had said he would not release Beasley from his letter of intent so if he did go anywhere else he would have had to sit out a year. That’s a tough predicament for a guy known by everyone to be planning to head to the NBA after just one year of college. The bottom line is that the only way Huggins could have gotten Beasley to WVU would have been to hire Hill on his staff AND talk Heiser and K State into releasing him from his LOI. Not exactly a case of Huggins simply making the ethical decision not to recruit Beasley to come with him.
The other player brought up in the Huggins situation makes no sense at all. For whatever reason, people keep throwing Bill Walker’s name in with Beasley in this case. What they fail to realize is that Walker was already at Kansas State at the time and had played six games during the second semester before getting injured. So, he would have had to sit out if he transferred and he was also looking to get to the NBA as soon as possible so that wasn’t really an option for him.
So before anyone gets on their soapbox about how Cal is dirty and unethical, and praises other coaches for their classy behavior, maybe an examination of the facts would help.
In many, if not most, instances, kids sign to play with a coach more than a program. If that coach leaves a program for a new one, it’s not surprising to think that some of his recruits will want to follow him. I don’t think anyone would expect that coach to tell the kid he can’t come to the new school with him. Should he be out actively trying to steal kids that are still committed to his old school? No. However, if the kid opts out of his old commitment and wants to commit to the new school, the coach should not be expected to turn his back on the recruits and tell them “No, you must either go to the old school or elsewhere, but I will not take you here.” That is ridiculous! If a kid wants to play for him and has opted out of his LOI or previous commitment and is now essentially a free agent, any coach, including the one he was originally committed to, should have the right to recruit him and given the opportunity I think most coaches, not just John Calipari, would do just that.