John Calipari lost Andrew Wiggins to Kansas, but Kentucky will still be ranked Number One to start next season by many.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Andrew Wiggins will play college basketball for, oops, Kansas. Good thing I didn't enter the office pool.
No, John Calipari does not get them all – and neither do North Carolina or Florida State, the other also-rans. Let's take some time to reflect on how much losing the nation's Number One recruit punishes the University of Kentucky program for the 2013-14 season.
OK, that's long enough.
"Are you kidding me?" Dick Vitale said. "They're still my Number One team for next season."
Vitale isn't the only one saying that. In fact, some are saying more than that. They're insisting that Kentucky can be just as powerful without Wiggins and all the suffocating expectations about Calipari delivering a 40-0 super team with Wiggins in the lineup.
Maybe the Wildcats can play with less drama than would have surrounded Kentucky if Wiggins had decided to join UK's eight-player freshman class. Now every loss will only be treated like a crisis, not the end of civilization.
A blatant lie?
Some will say that, but stay with me. Keeping every 18-year-old happy has never been high on the list of things that Calipari has worried about during his coaching career. He's from the school that argues that 18-year-olds need to worry about keeping the coach happy.
But he's also never recruited an eight- or nine-player class until this season. And even though chemistry has rarely been an issue during his first four seasons at Kentucky, this is different – even from the John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe and Daniel Orton class of 2009.
We've all heard the stories about guys who start frowning, complaining and talking about transferring because they aren't getting enough A) touches; B) shots; C) points and D) mentions by Vitale and his buddies on ESPN.
Kentucky has mostly been vaccinated from those issues during the Calipari Era. But adding Wiggins to a group that already includes six other Top 25 recruits was going to ensure that another very, very good prospect was very, very, very likely to be watching a significant amount of basketball from the bench next winter.
Make no mistake. Wiggins is an alpha dog. As is power forward Julius Randle. As well as point guard Andrew Harrison. NBA scouts have been charting all three of those guys for several years. That's a lot of ego for Calipari to teach about the value of playing nice with new friends in the sand box.
The absence of Wiggins could make the UK locker room a more serene place because that's 33 minutes a night that Calipari can sprinkle across the rest of his playing rotation.
Let's play general manager for a day and pick Kentucky's opening day lineup:
Andrew and Aaron Harrison at guards.
James Young and Randle at forward.
Willie Cauley-Stein at center.
That's the first unit.
With Alex Poythress, Kyle Wiltjer, Dakari Johnson, Marcus Lee and a cast of thousands pressing those guys for minutes off the bench.
"You know what I told John?" Vitale said. "He'll be the only guy in the country who will be coaching two Top 20 teams next season."
You bet. But there's no reason to pass the Kleenex for Calipari. He lost Wiggins, just as he lost Jabari Parker, the guy who was supposed to be the best prospect in this class until Wiggins decided to leave Huntington Prep a year earlier than expected.
He's still got four or five more likely first-round draft picks than anybody else he's going to play. He protected himself from the loss of Wiggins by getting Randle. John Beilein, Bob Huggins, Matt Painter, Brad Stevens, Tubby Smith and a hundred other coaches would love to start the season with the talent that will be lined up in Kentucky's locker room.
Kentucky, as Calipari likes to say, isn't for everybody. Sometimes that's merely coach speak. With Wiggins, that appears to be the proper post-script, for whatever the reason.
But Kentucky will be fine without Wiggins. Maybe even better.