Since arriving at Memphis, Calipari has come within a whisker of a national title, gone unbeaten in three league seasons and taken more recruiting scalps than most of his peers and he did it under the cover of Conference USA, not the SEC or ACC.
Calipari is at the top of his game. A year ago, Derrick Rose ascended from high school legend to draft night lottery winner. Though the most high profile Tiger in the Calipari pipeline, he hasn't been the only draft pick. Since winning a recruiting battle for Darius Washington in 2004, Calipari has been white hot.
The coach's best class was Memphis-bound in the fall of 2009. Wing Xavier Henry, big man DeMarcus Cousins and juco bigs Will Coleman and Darnell Dodson teamed up with Texan Nolan Dennis to form the nation's most balanced and best overall class. Landing the nation's best class in C-USA is a big deal. It's the equivalent of the Yankees Triple A team winning the World Series.
However, the main roadblock to Henry and Kentucky is two-fold. Kansas was the other finalist and wants to add the son of a former KU player in the worst way. The Jayhawks, if invited into the mix and we expect they will be, quickly become a viable option.
The other factor in the Henry saga is his brother. C.J., a former Yankees draft pick, is on the team at Memphis and Xavier also said Tuesday he was intending on playing with his brother. Can and will that still happen are questions that linger.
Onto Cousins. The Alabaman is sure to have his digits dialed up by new Tide coach Anthony Grant. One of Grant's focal points in his press conference dealt with the in-state talent and importance on keeping the pipeline strong. The once-committed UAB recruit, now has a Memphis pledge gone awry on his resume. At the McDonald's game, he indicated keen interest in Washington and Kansas State, two schools that were high on his initial list. We expect EVERYONE who covets a big man will make contact. He's the more likely of the two Memphis recruits to cast a wider net in looking for a new home.
Maybe the biggest prize of them all is John Wall. The Raleigh (N.C.) Word of God product is the undisputed top point guard in the nation. Three days ago, he was a Memphis lean and openly acknowledged his affinity for the Tigers.
After Calipari took the Memphis job, the Tigers have been nixed and replaced by Kentucky but the Wildcats have yet to ascend into the role of leader. "It puts (Kentucky) in there in but I don't have a leader anymore," Wall said of UK. "It puts them in there."
The day before the UK situation reached its apex, Wall ventured over to Duke to meet with Mike Krzyzewski and the entire Blue Devils staff. He came away impressed. The Devils remain a player but don't expect Wall to officially visit there.
"I went there Sunday in the afternoon. It went well. I finally got a chance to sit down and talk (Coach K). It was great. My mom feels comfortable and Brian (Clifton) feels confident in it. He's going to use me the type how they used Jason Williams. I think I heard as much as I needed to hear."
Wall indicated on Tuesday that he had enough up close information and wouldn't require an official visit to Duke. He's also been to UK for Midnight Madness but said that in order to cement a relationship with the Wildcats, he'd need an official visit down to Lexington; he has one available. N.C. State and Baylor remain in the mix.
And finally, a glimpse into the future. Potentially, the nation's best sophomore resides at Elizabeth (N.J.) St. Patrick. His name is Michael Gilchrist and he's a gifted small forward with a huge motor and significant upside. While everyone focuses on the seniors and juniors, it's important to point out that this is UK's No. 1 target in the Class of 2011 and Calipari owns deep ties to the player. In the chaos of "the moment" many will overlook the future and Gilchrist is definitely in Kentucky's plans.
Tuesday was a significant day in college basketball. One of the nation's most storied programs aligned itself with a coach who is at the apex of his career on the sidelines and in the living room. It's a powerful connection that should sway some of the recruiting swagger back to the SEC, especially with the addition of Grant at Alabama. A league that was on the ropes in the NCAA's just became much more significant nationally.