CRAWFORD | The latest from Calipari, the matchless marketer: Pos - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | The latest from Calipari, the matchless marketer: Positionless basketball

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John Calipari inside the UK practice facility. (WDRB photo by Eric Crawford) John Calipari inside the UK practice facility. (WDRB photo by Eric Crawford)
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — From the same mind that brought you such hits as Refuse to Lose, the Dribble-Drive, Platoon, and Succeed and Proceed, a new invention sure to have the college basketball nation buzzing:

Positionless Basketball.

That's right. You've heard of seedless watermelons, bagless vacuums and touchless car washes. Frauds, all of them.

Perhaps you've used cordless phones or wireless internet, or have noticed that at this very moment, you're reading a paperless sports writer.

(Some of you, I know, are inserting “brainless” into that last example. Hang with me.)

There is a brilliance to Calipari's creations. The one-time marketing major at the University of Massachusetts has been able to come up with concepts that not only prove attractive to recruits, but which have incredible staying power as marketing pitches all their own.

Sometimes, the marketing is a little too good, as with the platoon system. Even as he was distancing himself and his program from the platoon philosophy, I looked up in a local sporting goods' store that very afternoon and saw T-shirts screaming “Blue Platoon” and “White Platoon.” The marketing outlived the message in that case, but Calipari now is ready with a catchphrase to replace it.

Will “positionless basketball” make it onto a T-shirt? I have no idea. But you'd better believe it will make it into the language of college basketball — and onto the minds of recruits. Once Jay Bilas and the others start talking about it, you'll hear everyone pick up the phrase.

And it will be associated first and foremost with John Calipari and Kentucky, even though the notion, as he explains it, has been at play in basketball for some time (see: Crum, Denny, or any of these guys).

The idea of “positionless basketball,” from Calipari's explanation, isn't a game without positions, but the ability to build a team with players capable of playing multiple positions.

In that sense, a player's role can't be defined by a spot. You might say, Trey Lyles is a power forward. But at Kentucky, he played the small forward spot, and could've played in the post if asked.

Karl-Anthony Towns came in wanting to play a perimeter-type position.

“If he'd had his druthers,” Calipari said, “he would have been a two-guard.”

Instead, he spent much of his lone season at Kentucky proving that he could be a dominant post scorer, in addition to the perimeter skills he came in with but didn't use much at UK. Conversely, Julius Randle came to Kentucky known for being a bull around the basket, but Calipari worked with him most of the season to develop a perimeter game -- before parking him back in the post come tournament time.

The roll-out sounds like this: “I'm not trying to pigeonhole in any one position. I want them all to be multi-position players," Calipari said. " . . . It's about positionless basketball. And when you look at our guys, I think you say, ‘Wow, all of them do have the ability to play two and three more positions than before.'”

How does this help Calipari? For starters, it encourages freshmen who come into the program to be flexible, to be open to how Calipari wants to use them.

But second, and probably most important, it is attractive to prospective players because it doesn't limit their roles. It allows them to view their game in an expansive way, and who doesn't want to do that?

Is there a downside? Not really. It's sound basketball. The more you can do, the more versatile you are, the better off you'll be at the next level. And it's the nature of recruits, anyway, to see themselves at some other position than what they're naturally built for. Inside 90 percent of centers, in my estimation, beats the heart of a shooting guard.

Karl-Anthony Towns will be the likely No. 1 overall pick because he can play both inside and out, and is solid on offense and defense. He could pretty much do all those things the day he walked onto campus, but he showed a sparkling attitude and personality at Kentucky, which further solidifies his position as the top player in the draft.

Devin Booker probably can play the 2 or 3 position. Willie Cauley-Stein can guard any position. The Harrisons can play multiple spots. Dakari Johnson is a five-man, nothing more. But the others have versatility, and Calipari now has taken that versatility and given it a name — one he repeated about eight times in a teleconference with reporters on Thursday.

Expect to hear the rest of college basketball repeating it soon. If we've learned anything, it's that when Calipari gives something a name, it usually sticks.

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