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2020 NBA FINALS — Triumph of John Calipari’s one-and-done system


Roughly a decade ago, the University of Kentucky head coach John Calipari introduced an innovative system called One and Done. It enabled high-school gems to spend a year in the UK program before eventually declaring themselves eligible for the NBA draft. Over the following years, he was heavily criticized by many of his colleagues. Now, on the eve of the 2020 NBA finals, Calipari must be laughing aloud. Some of the most recognizable faces in the upcoming series come from straight out of his system. 

“Everybody laughed when Calipari started this ‘One and Done’ thing. Well, he’s a genius! How you’re gonna recruit? Kids would only stay for one year. I said, ‘Yeah, but he’s got a selling point.’ If the player goes to another school, if he starts, yeah, people will see him play. Now, if he goes to Kentucky, John is going to play him at least a little.”

Al Menendez, NBA scout

Since the 2006 NBA draft, the league introduced the new eligibility rule, which claimed that all the draftees must be 19 years old during the draft’s calendar year. Players are eligible for the draft if a year had passed from their high-school class graduation.

From the point he took over the helm of a traditional NCAA powerhouse, the University of Kentucky in 2009, John Calipari never hid his agenda. From the moment he arrived in Lexington, he was explicit - his ultimate goal is to prepare his players well for the NBA in one-year time. Since then, Calipari’s system attracted high-school phenoms in great numbers. Players like John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, and Anthony Davis became a reality in the UK uniform.

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“They come here on a mission. They know why they are here: ‘I’m not here to play college basketball and be a rec player. I wanna be professional. I want to be an NBA player.’ They are not embarrassed to say it. And I don’t want them to be.”

John Calipari, BR

Even though this approach wasn’t favored by the players’ parents, many of whom wanted their son to score substantial numbers already over the freshman campaign, Calipari offered them something else in return. He calmly explained to the parents that the real hidden value lies in the tough competition the players will face in their daily scrimmages.

“John is teaching them the game the right way, and the practices are the games. Because in practice, he (player) is playing against a player that’s better than anybody else, he’ll be playing on those other collegian teams. And this is how he improves - by playing against another possible NBA player.”

Al Menendez, NBA scout

For the last decade, Calipari’s One and Done approach had been instrumental had worked out for the incredible total of 37 players who heard their name loudly pronounced by the NBA Commissioner on the draft night. Now, more and more colleges are adopting the same approach. 

”Mike Krzyzewski was against it from the beginning. He said, ‘No, that’s terrible! I’ll never do that. I’ll never do that.’ Well, he’s doing it now. Last five years, Mike Krzyzewski became a ‘One and Done’ coach. Just like Calipari.”

Al Menendez, NBA scout 

A quick check-up of the Lakers and Heat rosters reveals that not only the leading big man for both of this year’s NBA finalists Anthony Davis and Bam Adebajo, come from the UK’s One and Done environment. Heat players like sharp-shooting guard Tyler Herro and Derrick Jones Jr. are also One and Done products.

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