John Calipari’s best recruiting class of all time fell apart

John Calipari address the press on his first day as Kentucky basketball coach.
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John Calipari address the press on his first day as Kentucky basketball coach.

John Calipari stuggled to recruit top players to Memphis the first 4 years he was there because the “one and done” rule had not been put into place yet and many of the talented recruits of his skipped college and went straight to the NBA. Then everything changed.

Memphis reaped the benefits of the talented recruits Calipari brought to Memphis. In 2008 Derrick Rose led Memphis to the NCAA finals and he was chosen first in the NBA draft. This is where his recruiting really took off and Jerry Meyer called the Memphis Tiger 2009 class “arguably the best recruiting class ever.” However, it all fell apart because of the private agreements that Calipari had made the families of the players he had recruited.  The NCAA quickly moved to abolish these type agreements with a new rule which many have called the “John Calipari Rule.”

Below is an article that talks more about this rule:

the-calipari-ruleTru_tiny by Glenn Logan on Oct 27, 2009 8:15 PM EDT in Kentucky Wildcats Basketball.

I did an interview for a sports radio program today, and on the preliminary call to ask if I could come on with short notice (today at 1:00), he asked me about the “Calipari Rule.”

I told him I had no idea what he was talking about, and asked him if this was something that cropped up this morning, maybe, before I had a chance to check the sports news.  I have been a bit busy lately — not like I was with the Annual, but still busy.  He said it had been out for a while, and told me what it was all about.

What it is is the new rule by the National Letter of Intent program that forbids side deals like Memphis (among others) was willing to grant their players — i.e. a separate agreement between the school and the player where the school agreed to cancel the NLOI if the coach left, or was fired.  The term “Calipari Rule” was apparently coined by Moondog Sports.

I told him that I totally supported the stance of the College Commissioner’s Association in this case.  The “amendments” (actually separate agreements since the NLI program is explicit about what signing an NLI means, and has been before now) were being put in place in order to entice players to sign a letter of intent by promising (in writing) to release them from it if the coach left or was fired.


The amendments essentially rendered the NLI something it was not intended to be.  The letter of intent is supposed to protect the school, but some players (notably DeMarcus Cousins at UAB) had refused to sign letters of intent unless the school would agree to release him if the coach left or was fired.  UAB, to their credit, refused to compromise the intent of the NLI program.  Memphis had no such compunctions.

To what extent Calipari was actually complicit in this arrangement is something I do not know.  The coach has no authority to release players from an NLI — that has to be done by the school, and understandably so since the NLI program was created to prevent athlete defections due to coaching changes or other outside influences.  The schools have always retained the right to release players, and most often they do, but not always by any means.

Anyway, I fully support the right of individuals to enter into fully informed agreements, and to be forced to live with the terms of those agreements.  The NLI program was being sabotaged by the very schools it was designed to protect, and even though there are tons of good reasons not to enforce NLI provisions as a matter of course when players want to leave, there are also times when enforcement makes sense (see Crawford, Joe).

At the end of the day, to Calipari’s critics, this is a fair example of envelope-pushing.  There is no doubt that R.C. Johnson didn’t just unilaterally decide to modify the NLI program to gain advantage in recruiting (which ultimately came back to bite him in the hind parts — see Henry, Xavier and Dennis, Nolan) — Calipari undoubtedly was a significant part of that decision, absent other information. 

But let’s be honest, loopholes exist to be exploited, and if the NLI program was unable to crack down on this issue previously, they have now remedied that situation.

And that is a good thing.


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