Arkansas’ John Calipari eyes new ‘formula’ for roster building

DESTIN, Fla. — The most jarring sight at the SEC meetings in Destin has been John Calipari walking through the hotel lobby with an Arkansas logo on his pullover.

The most jarring sound Wednesday came from Calipari admitting it will take a new “formula” to win in the NCAA tournament after persistent postseason failures in recent seasons at Kentucky.

Calipari, in his first SEC meetings as the coach at Arkansas, referenced No. 3 seed Kentucky’s loss to No. 14 Oakland in the first round of the 2024 NCAA tournament. It included a 32-point outburst from a 24-year old Division II transfer named Jack Gohlke.

“The lesson was you can’t do this now with seven freshmen,” he said. “You just can’t. You’re going to hit a team that’s 25 years old on average, one was 26, and that team is physically going to get you, and so now we have a couple transfers that are older, some kids that transferred from Kentucky that went through it, and they’re a year older, and some freshmen.”

While Calipari’s age estimates contain some of his penchant for exaggeration, the point of him addressing his postseason failures and making a concise pivot in his team building is significant.

Calipari left Kentucky after just one NCAA tournament win in the past four seasons and a feeble 1-4 mark in SEC tournament games over the same period. The NCAA tournament lowlights included a loss to No. 15 seed Saint Peter’s in the first round in 2022.

In the wake of those postseason flops, Calipari admitted his formula of collecting a bevy of top high school talent doesn’t work in modern college basketball. He’s making a direct effort to skew older and take more transfers.

“We’re not going to take six, seven freshmen now,” Calipari said. “It’ll be three or four. Hopefully retain a few, get a couple transfers, and that is the formula.”

He added with a smirk: “Now that may not work. And then you’ll say, ‘Well, you said … ‘ Well, I changed my mind. I didn’t like how it looked.”

Calipari said he’s been energized by the new job at Arkansas, calling it a “breath of fresh air.” He called his time at UK “15 great years” and defended his final season at Kentucky, saying “we got a lot done” amid the 23-10 season that included a second-place SEC finish.

Calipari reflected on his term at Arkansas, which officially began April 10. He said there was “no team” and “no schedule” when he began, stressing that there were zero players.

He joked that he got happy when the roster jumped up to five players, as that meant Arkansas could field a team this year. He said the Razorbacks are at eight players now and potentially looking for one more.

The incoming class includes three top-40 players in the ESPN high school recruiting rankings, led by Boogie Fland, a guard from New York who is ranked No. 15.

The transfer class includes three Kentucky transfers, highlighted by guard D.J. Wagner, who arrived at Kentucky as a top-five player in 2023 before an underwhelming freshman year. He averaged 9.9 points.

Calipari defended the idea of not filling out all 13 scholarships with recruited players, as he said they are likely to finish at nine.

“The ninth? It depends on who it is,” he said. “That’s what we’re looking for. Is it a shooter? Is it a 4-man that could shoot? Is it a strong physical [presence]? Is it a defensive guy? Or just right now I can breathe because we got eight and I’m hoping there’ll be nine. But what if there’s not? Somebody said, ‘Well, what if you have injuries?’ If the wrong guy gets injured on any team in this country, you’re done.”

Source link

Spread the love

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *