Tom Crean, Know Thyself

Brace yourself. I’m about to say something nice about John Calipari, and not even in a backhanded compliment kind of way, like when I say, “He’s a really good coach. He wouldn’t be worth hating if he sucked.”

John Calipari knows who he is more than any other coach in college basketball. He knows he’s the villain. He knows he’s largely hated because he’s using the rules to his advantage after years of doing whatever he wanted to his advantage regardless of the rules. But that’s not what I’m talking about here. He knows who is as a coach.

Would you like to know who he is as a coach?

He’s the only guy who can do what he’s doing. It’s a crazy thing he’s trying to do, getting rid of the idea of building a program and instead focusing on fielding a team filled with whichever pro-stopovers he can get to spend a year in Lexington. It’s not something that can be replicated elsewhere, but he’s the one guy who can do this, coaching in the one place that will tolerate anything, and I mean anything, if it leads to wins.

And he has committed to being this person, and running this type of system. And to hell with each and every one of us who have added, “and please give John Calipari the clap,” to the end of our nightly prayers.

This is why he succeeds.

There’s a close second in the Coaches-Who-Know-Who-They-Are-And-Are-Just-Going-To-Keep-Doing-Things-My-Way-Because-Dammit-It-Works group and that man is Bo Ryan.

Aside from being, seemingly, just as big a prick as John Calipari, he is the exact polar opposite of Cal.

The 2014 Rankings are out and Kentucky has the #2 Recruiting class. Wisconsin isn’t in the Top 40. Because they have one kid. A 3-star kid ranked 123.

And this isn’t an anomaly.

In 2013 Kentucky was ranked #1. Wisconsin was ranked #32 with only one 4-star kid.

In 2012, Kentucky was #2, Wisconsin was not in the Top 25, though Sam Dekker was a 5-Star recruit.

In 2011, Wisconsin had a class filled with more 3-star kids.

Bo Ryan recruits none of the kids that UK recruits. He goes after kids he can develop, kids who fit his system, kids, like Kaminsky who are pretty bad for two years before becoming pretty hard to stop.

This is who Bo Ryan is. This is what he does.

This is why he succeeds.

I wish that Tom Crean knew who he was as well as these two guys know who they are.

Crean seems to want to battle UK for those one-and-done type players, except that he very rarely goes to head to head on a kid that both programs want, and I’m not sure he knows what to do with them once he gets them.

He seems to want the one McDonald’s All-American each year who wants to stay in college for two to three years. He got that in Cody and Yogi. He missed with Noah. And we won’t know about James until next year.

He seems to want to discover the guy that everyone has overlooked. This is where he’s been most successful. This is Dwyane Wade and Victor Oladipo. This is also why when he signs two kids that literally no one covering national recruiting has heard of or seen play, this news is largely greeted with a shrug and a “well, I hadn’t heard of Victor and Will either and look how that turned out.”

He seems to want the Indiana kids, but he’s also been intensely focused on recruiting Maryland. He’s been pretty hit and miss with these two targets. Last year’s class was all Indiana and DMV, except for Luke Fischer. And all of them required at least a year to become who we wanted them to be, except Noah, and he’s gone.

The problem isn’t even with the recruiting. Crean’s getting good kids, by and large, who don’t get drunk and arrested, by and large, and who want to stay for the long term and get better, by and large. The problem is that he seems not to know which type of kid he should be coaching. I haven’t seen him develop a 5-star prospect much beyond what they were when they got there, except for Yogi. But I haven’t seen him go the full Kaminsky on anyone either.

I think what he’d like to do is build a team around one or two stud players who are mentored, supported, and guided by experienced upperclassmen, and each year graduate some of the experience, only to have it filled organically from the previous year’s sophomores and juniors and add one stud per year to replace the guy who is leaving for the pros. But he’s had some problems there.

His class of 2011, Cody, Remy, and Austin, are all gone. We have no seniors for next year.

His class of 2012, Yogi, Jeremy, Hanner, Patterson, and Peter has been reduced to Yogi and Hanner.

His class of 2013, Noah, Troy, Stan, Luke, Devin, and Collin are down two from the starting group and are a work in progress.

The class of 2014, James, Robert, Max, Jeremiah, Tim, and ? seems to have the studs and the developmental projects set, but when you put all of these together you have 2 juniors, four sophomores, and six freshman. We may have a few studs, Yogi, Troy, and James all seem to have the potential to be game-changing talents, but Crean is not Calipari. He doesn’t thrive with an unbalanced team.

The balance of this team should remind you of the 2012 team, except that team had VJ3, Pritchard and Matt Roth, one starter and two role players. The 2015 squad won’t even have two seniors that some fans loved to hate. But it won’t approach the balance of Crean’s best team, and that can’t happen until 2017, assuming that Troy, Stan, Devin, and Collin stick together to become what Jordy, Mo, Christian, and Derek became, two 1000-point scorers and two role players.

That’s very possible. I could see Troy and Stan becoming Christian and Jordy, and maybe Robert or Max is a three-year Victor type.

But, and I know I don’t have to tell you what the problem is with that but I will anyway, that’s three years away, and to quote some youtube lady with diabetes, “Ain’t nobody got time for that.”

Trying to dance somewhere in the middle between John Calipari and Bo Ryan has left Crean with a program built around the remains of two initially promising, but since decimated, classes, and two classes filled with talent and question marks. He’s not playing the short game that Cal is playing, and he’s not playing the long game that Ryan is working so well. He’s playing a game Knight never had to play because it was a different time, when your best players became your best seniors.

And the roller coaster we’re currently riding tells me that he hasn’t figured out how to strike this balance over a prolonged period of time. I like the idea of it, and it can be made to work, but Crean needs to commit himself to becoming the Coach-Who-Knows-Who-He-Is-And-Is-Just-Going-To-Keep-Doing-Things-My-Way-Because-Dammit-It-Works and I’m not sure he knows himself well enough to do that yet.

Jeff Taylor