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If Kentucky Flames Out Will It Prove That Calipari’s One-And-Done Doesn’t Work?

john-calipari-shockedGet ready.

If/when Kentucky stubs its toe in the NCAA Tournament, you can be sure hundreds of columnists and media types (like us) will opine that we all finally have definitive proof that John Calipari’s one-and-done system won’t work.  An NIT washout in 2013 and a disappointing 2014 will be all many need to see before pronouncing judgement.  And that’s because so many of us questioned Calipari’s recruiting plan from the get-go.  If you doubted it in the beginning, it’ll be a heckuva lot easier to rip it after a pair of humdrum seasons.

That isn’t fair, of course.  Kentucky is 22-9 and the #2 seed in the SEC Tournament.  Yes, 22-9 is enough to make spoiled Wildcat fans yelp for Coach Cal’s scalp on Twitter and messageboards, but to most fans 22-9 would be a pretty good year.  Especially for a team loaded down with freshmen.  Any other big-time program going 22-9 with an inexperienced line-up would be described as “rebuilding” by the press.  But we won’t give Calipari that kind of break.

The reality is that a flameout in the NCAA tourney won’t at all prove Calipari’s system doesn’t work.  It will only prove that fielding teams made up of one-and-doners makes things more difficult for the coach himself.  Each year he has to learn a new group of starters.  Each year has to coax them into buying into a “team first” mentality.  And each year he has to pray that one of his rookies doesn’t go down with an injury.

Since he started pushing Kentucky as an NBA stepladder, Calpari has reached an Elite Eight, two Final Fours, a national title game (which UK won), the NIT, and now another NCAA tourney.  (The NIT bid came in a year in which Kentucky went 4-5 down the stretch after an injury to dominating big man Nerlens Noel.)  Most coaches, schools and fans would take that five-year record and smile.

In fact, isn’t it possible that we in the media overhyped this particular Wildcat recruiting class in the first place?  This was about the fourth year in a row in which America’s best-known basketball gurus declared that Kentucky had landed “The Greatest Class Of All-Time.”  (Pause for trumpets, fanfare.)  And if we in the press — along with rabid Big Blue fans — called it the best class ever, well, by gosh it has to be the coach’s fault he’s only gone 22-9.  To hell with chemistry.

This comes from a writer and website, mind you, that has questioned Calipari’s one-and-done plan.  Specifically, we wondered if fans would connect with any of these drive-thru players.  In 20 years, will anyone in the Bluegrass State remember which 9-month Kentucky residents were on a Final Four team and which were on the NIT team?  We believe all those faces and names will run together.  (For comparison, Florida fans will have a much easier time remembering the four seniors who led them to a perfect 18-0 SEC record this year.)

We’ve also written that toughest part of recruiting NBA superstars-in-waiting will be getting them to play team-first basketball.  Every blue-chipper UK signs was the brightest star on his high school team.  Attitudes have to be adjusted and some are more maleable than others.  Remarkably, Calipari’s first three batches of one-and-doners did yield to the team.  At least well enough to reach Elite Eights and beyond.

But even though we don’t believe a revolving door approach to recruiting is the best way to build a basketball program, we can’t claim that the past two seasons prove Calipari’s system won’t work long-term.  At least no more than we could have said after Calipari’s first three seasons, “Yep, this is going to be a breeze for Kentucky.”

The one-and-done approach makes things more difficult for the coach.  But four NCAA tourneys in five years with an Elite Eight, two Final Fours and a national title in the books doesn’t look too darn bad from where we sit.

Besides, what’s Calipari supposed to do?  Not sign star players who want to slip on a Kentucky jersey?  Please.  Wildcat fans would revolt.

But be ready.  If/when the Cats are ousted pre-Elite Eight from the Big Dance, Calipari’s one-and-done system will come under heavy fire.  Very heavy fire.

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Georgia’s Richt Warns About Dangers Of Football Early Signing Period

gfx-they-said-it4For years there has been an assumption in the press that most football coaches would fall all over themselves to rubber stamp an early recruiting period for their sport.  But that has not been the reaction to word that the NCAA will soon discuss creating just such a window.

Speaking to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, here’s what Georgia’s Mark Richt had to say:

 

“I always say, ‘Be careful what we ask for’ because I don’t know what that will do to our recruiting calendar.  I think there’s some sanity to it right now.  I think if everybody plays by the same rules, then it’s good as it is.  I’d be afraid to change it.  I don’t want to turn the regular season into such a recruiting frenzy that you can’t even coach your team on a weekly basis.  I enjoy coaching football, too.

I think if you moved the signing date up, I think you push more official visits to the football season.  Sooner or later, they’ll say, ‘We don’t want all these official visits during the season.  Why don’t we move them to the summer?’  Then we’ll have official visits in the summer, and no one will get any time away.  Not me, not our assistant coaches, not the kids, not the high school coaches, and not the families.  Where does it end?”

 

That’s just one concern.  Stanford’s David Shaw voiced another and his concerns make as much sense as Richt’s:

 

“What’s going to happen is, if a kid wants to change his mind late after the early signing period, he’s going to appeal and that appeal is going to go through because the committees that decide those appeals, they always give in toward the student-athlete.  So you have a kid that might be 16 going on 17 that commits and then really has a chance to think about it and changes his mind and we’re going to try to hold him to it.”

 

The NCAA’s consideration of an early signing period for football appears to be very real.  But the devil is in the details, as they say.  And the more one compares the pluses — some coaches won’t have kids flip on them late — versus the minuses — no downtime for coaches and players, committees to rule on signed kids who want to flip, a tougher landscape for coaches at academic schools and at schools with little in-state talent — the more the negatives appear to outweigh the positives.

The official MrSEC.com verdict on this idea?  It’s unnecessary.  Don’t do it, NCAA.

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SEC Recruiting Notebook: Defensive End Jennings Chooses Alabama

sec-recruiting-notebook-gfxDefensive end Anfernee Jennings from Dadeville (Ala.) High School committed to Alabama on Thursday.

Jennings received a scholarship offer from the Crimson Tide during a visit to Tuscaloosa last weekend. He only needed a few days to pull the trigger on his commitment.

“I just felt like it was time,” Jennings told AL.com. “(Alabama) is the place that suits me and where I fit in the best. Not only will they help me become a greater football player, but become the man I would love to be later on in life.

“I kept praying about it and will continue to.”

Jennings, whose offer list includes Arkansas, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, Arizona State and Louisville, will continue to consider other schools. He said he plans to take all five official visits this fall, according to AL.com.

Alabama will continue to recruit Jennings to keep him from going elsewhere. He was a key target for the Crimson Tide after coaches were able to evaluate him in person, according to Andrew Bone of TideSports.com. He wrote in part:

“(Jennings) has the ability to do a lot of different things. He can play defensive end or linebacker. He has been coached well throughout his high school career.  He knows and understands the game.  He knows how to shoot his hands and fight off blocks.  He is an aggressive defender coming off the ball.”

Jennings is the eighth prospect to commit to Alabama’s 2015 class, which is ranked No. 2 in the nation behind Texas A&M in the Rivals Team Rankings.

 

Dean chooses Arkansas

Defensive end Daytrieon Dean committed to Arkansas last weekend.

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Top Five Wide Receiver Signees For 2014

RECAPExpect more passing in the SEC’s future.

Wide receivers like A.J. Green and Julio Jones and more recently Mike Evans and Jordan Matthews have made the SEC an attractive place for big-play athletes in the passing game.

The SEC will have plenty of talent at the wide receiver position arriving this fall. It should make for a fun year watching the newcomers play a key role immediately.

Here are the top five wide receiver signees in the SEC in the 2014 class.

1. Malachi Dupre – LSU

LSU gladly waited out the recruitment of Dupre, who was a must-get for the Tigers on signing day. Dupre (6-3, 188) has the ideal size to be a big play threat. With Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry off to the NFL, Dupre will have a chance to play immediately in LSU’s offense. He’ll team up with running back signee Leonard Fournette to create

2. Josh Malone – Tennessee

Like Dupre, Malone (6-3, 202) has terrific size coming out of high school. Malone enrolled early at Tennessee, which should prepare him to help the Vols immediately. Malone will team up nicely with Marquez North, who shined at receiver as a freshman for Tennessee last fall.

3. D’haquille Williams – Auburn

It’s scary to think what Auburn’s offense will be able to do now that it has a dynamic player on the outside. Williams (6-3, 210) arrived on campus last month with the goal of becoming the Tigers’ go-to option at receiver. Auburn coach Gus Malzahn promised a more balanced offense in 2014. Williams is the reason.

4. Speedy Noil – Texas A&M

Another elite athlete in coach Kevin Sumlin’s offense? The rest of the SEC can’t be too excited to see Noil (5-11, 190) choose Texas A&M, which will work quickly to find ways to get him the ball. Sumlin described Noil as “extremely explosive” on signing day. That sounds like a good fit with the Aggies, who already have Noil on campus.

5. Von Pearson – Tennessee

Pearson is another big athlete who has already enrolled for the spring semester. Pearson (6-3, 181) was ranked the nation’s No. 2 junior college receiver (behind Williams) by Rivals. Pearson has the athleticism to make big plays and the size to be an every-down target in Tennessee’s offense. The Vols’ passing game got a lot better on signing day.

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SEC Recruiting Notebook: Florida’s Class Grows By Four

sec-recruiting-notebook-gfxFlorida’s junior day last weekend helped the Gators added four commitments to their class of 2015.

Florida received commitments from the following in-state prospects in the last week: wide receivers Deondre Farrier from Orlando and Tristan Payton from Jacksonville, offensive lineman Tyler Jordan from Jacksonville and linebacker Camrin Knight from Tallahassee.

“It feels great to be a Gator,” Payton told the Orlando Sentinel. “I remember liking Tim Tebow … and Percy Harvin was my favorite.”

Payton has become a favorite receiver of First Coast quarterback De’Andre Johnson, who’s committed to Florida State.

“He’s a ‘Nole,” Payton said of Johnson. “He was proud of me with the decision I made and stuff like that, but he was all in my face talking about, ‘Go Noles.’ But not too much. When I came over here I didn’t have any offers or anything, so he was proud of me  for getting that offer from Florida.”

Florida was the first SEC school to offer Knight, who had already received official invitations from schools such as Cincinnati, Georgia Tech and North Carolina. Florida’s proximity helped the Gators land Knight.

“I chose Florida because it’s close to home,” Knight told Rivals.com. “It’s like two and a half hours away, it’s a nice school, has nice facilities and I like what they are going to do this upcoming season.”

Florida, which has five commitments for the 2015 class, will continue to try to build recruiting momentum before the season begins. Several highly-touted prospects, including quarterback Dwayne Lawson from Tampa, Fla., and receiver Preston Williams from Hampton, Ga., visited Florida recently.

Williams told Rivals he is “100 percent” committed to Tennessee but plans to visit other schools to make sure. Gainesville was the most recent stop.

“It was a great experience,” Williams said of his Florida trip. “I like Florida a lot. They showed me everything. I saw the whole city and I really saw more what they have on campus.”

Lawson liked what he saw when he visited Florida. He told Rivals the Gators and Tennessee are standing out along with Central Florida and Ohio State. All four schools have offered Lawson.

“Those schools really do a good job recruiting me,” he said. “They show me the most love. They message me whenever they have time and they come to my school when they are allowed to.”

Lawson’s decision could come sooner than he originally planned. He said he will likely take unofficial visits to Tennessee, Central Florida and Ohio State before he chooses a school.

“I don’t really know what I should do right now,” Lawson said. “I think I need to talk to my coaches a little bit more about it before I do anything. I was going to wait until National Signing Day, but I don’t think that would be the best idea right now. I know some schools are going to want to know who their guy is.”

 

Sullivan chooses Auburn

Auburn received a commitment last weekend from linebacker Elijah Sullivan from Tucker (Ga.) High School.

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Tennessee’s Jones: “We Treat Georgia As A Home State For Us”

gfx-they-said-it4Tennessee enjoyed a recruiting revival earlier this month when the Vols signed what most services considered to be a top 5 class.  Worries about Butch Jones — a Michigan native — being able to recruit in the South were nixed.

As usual, the Volunteers dipped into the state of Georgia for some of their newbies.  Four Peach Staters total signed on with neighboring Tennessee.  Asked by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about his sales pitch inside the state, Jones said the following:

 

“We treat Georgia as a home state for us.  You look at the proximity from Georgia to the University of Tennessee.  This is home territory for us, and I think we’ve proven we’ve had great success with players from the state of Georgia when you look at players like Jamal Lewis, Inky Johnson, Chuck Smith, Deon Grant and I could go on… Eric Berry and Willie Gault.  You look at the success now with Ja’Wuan James that he’s having in pursuing his goal to play in the NFL.  And Ja’Wuan also has his degree from Tennessee as well.  You look at our past history, the proximity, and we have a tremendous amount of respect for the high school coaches in that state and the produce that they produce.  And they obviously have great players as well.”

 

Kudos to Jones for knowing the names of so many ex-Tennessee Georgia natives.  One wonders if Derek Dooley could have named one.

As we’ve noted on several occasions, the state of Georgia is raided by numerous schools each February.  South Carolina and Auburn snare top prospects from the state.  Alabama has had greater success since Nick Saban opened his football factory.  Pre-Mark Stoops Kentucky targeted Georgia more than it did Ohio.  Vanderbilt has gone into Georgia.  Missouri is trying its best to make inroads with billboards and mailers.

For years, the state boasted only two FBS programs in Georgia and Georgia Tech.  With the amount of talent produced in the state, there were enough top players left over for all those schools mentioned above to pluck a few stars.

Now there is a third — Georgia State.  Sure, GSU is a fledgeling, struggling FBS program now.  But based in Atlanta, the Panthers have the opportunity to improve quickly just as South Florida (Tampa) and Central Florida (Orlando) have done.  Obviously, GSU won’t be on equal recruiting footing with SEC schools anytime soon.  But that does not mean Georgia State won’t be able keep at least one or two Peach State natives at home each February; recruits that might otherwise have left the state.  In 10 years, it will be interesting to see if schools like Auburn, South Carolina and Tennessee are finding it any more difficult to nab Georgians for their own rosters.

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Top Five Running Back Signees For 2014

This was a difficult group to rank.

The SEC signed some of the nation’s top talent at running back, which is expected to happen each year. The 2014 class is no different.

The biggest upset of the list: Alabama isn’t represented. That doesn’t mean the Crimson Tide failed to sign a top back. Bo Scarbrough is one of the nation’s best and should make a big impact at Alabama.

His absence here shows the strength of the SEC’s 2014 running back class.

Here are the top five running back signees in the SEC in the 2014 class.

1. Leonard Fournette – LSU

Fournette (6-1, 224) is already talking about winning the Heisman Trophy his freshman season at LSU. He also mentioned the national championship as a goal for year one. Those are high expectations for a guy who’s still in high school, but there’s a reason he believes it. The hype surrounding Fournette has exploded. With Jeremy Hill gone to the NFL, Fournette will have a chance to start at LSU right away. He expects it to happen.

2. Sony Michel – Georgia

Michel has it all. He has size (5-10, 205) to go with his speed, which makes him a dangerous threat every time he touches the ball. Michel will have a chance to help Georgia right away. Todd Gurley will return for his junior year, but Keith Marshall is still recovering from a knee injury. Gurley won’t be able to do it all by himself.

3. Roc Thomas – Auburn

Thomas seems like the perfect replacement for Tre Mason, who left Auburn early for the NFL draft. Thomas (5-11, 202) is a big-play talent who will be able to help the Tigers as a runner and receiver. Auburn made a move for Thomas before in-state rival Alabama did. The move paid off for the Tigers.

4. Jalen Hurd – Tennessee

Did you see Derrick Henry against Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl? Tennessee hopes Hurd (6-3, 227) can run like Henry (6-3, 238) from day one. Hurd enrolled early at Tennessee and will battle for the starting position this fall. He should be the home run back Tennessee’s offense has lacked in recent years.

5. Nick Chubb – Georgia

Chubb (5-10, 215) already looks like an SEC running back. He’ll have plenty of competition when he arrives on campus thanks to the Georgia running backs mentioned above. But Chubb has plenty of ability and at the very least can help the Bulldogs fight for tough yards. He has everything needed to be an every-down back in the SEC.

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Get Ready For More Canned Music At SEC Football Games

woman-covering-earsOver the past couple of seasons a number of college football stadiums have cut down on in-game band performances in order to crank up rock, rap and country music during timeouts.  Not all fans have been fond of the move to bring in gameday DJs.

Those fans won’t be happy about a change that will lead to more piped in music this fall.

According to Georgia AD Greg McGarity, the Southeastern Conference has decided to relax its rules regarding sound and music being played in between plays:

 

“If you need to get people revved up for a big third-down play, you can do that.  You could always do it with your band, but now you can do it any way you want to.  You still have to stop once the quarterback gets over the ball, gets under the center or in the shotgun…

They were able to do things in the ACC that we were not in the SEC.  The rules have changed now for 2014 where we’re able to utilize songs and music up until the point when the quarterback gets over the ball.  That’s a big change in the in-game atmosphere.”

 

So what was behind this move?  Well, McGarity is on an SEC panel charged with improving the gameday atmosphere for fans… in order to fend off the attendance declines experienced nationwide since the advent of HDTV and the explosion in the number of televised games.  ”Those of us who saw what it did at Clemson, it energized their fanbase with certain songs.”

We believe there’s another angle at play here, too — recruiting.  Each year, more schools are tossing out tradition in favor of mix-and-match uniforms that utilize black, gray, all-white and pink color schemes, to name a few.  Teenagers like bizarro uniforms, so coaches and schools trot out bizarro uniforms.  Now what do you think teenaged recruits would prefer on gameday — a fight song played by a live band or a blaring hip-hop beat or a heavy metal riff?  Our money’s on the beat or the riff.

For SEC traditionalists — meaning: older fans — the news that piped-in music will be used in between plays likely won’t be met with much joy.  But if the changes help to lure in recruits and fill the student sections once more — areas that are home to tomorrow’s donors and boosters — the old-timers will just have to hold their ears.

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Considering What They’re Up Against, Kudos To Ole Miss’ Freeze And Kennedy

gfx-honest-opinionI remove my hat and tip it Ole Miss coaches Hugh Freeze and Andy Kennedy.  Those guys must be world-class salesmen.  Considering the history at their school — and the never-ending string of reminders of that history — it’s dadgum incredible that they can recruit African-American males to play for their respective squads.

You know the latest story by now, of course.  Last Sunday a statue of James Meredith — the first black student at the University of Mississippi — was found to have a noose around its neck and an old Georgia state flag — complete with the Confederate battle flag — draped over it.  Meredith rose to fame when the federal government stepped in to protect him as it pushed for the desegregation the school in 1962.

Three freshman from the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity — who happened to be Georgia natives — were booted from the fraternity before the the frat itself was suspended by it national office.  The three buffoons could face some very serious, life-altering charges if the FBI views that noose as a racial threat against black students on the Ole Miss campus.

The incident made national news from The LA Times to The New York Times.  Back came reminders of the National Guard, Governor Ross Barnett, the race riots that took place in Oxford at the time of Meredith’s enrollment.  (ESPN recently chronicled that episode in a “30 for 30″ special titled “Ghosts of Ole Miss.”)

After the long list of UM controversies come the inevitable reminders of what Ole Miss has tried to do to improve matters on its campus: no more Confederate flags at ballgames, no more Colonel Reb mascot, no more “From Dixie With Love” with its chant of “The South will rise again” before football games.

But as an editorial in The Daily Mississippian — UM’s student newspaper — stated last week, nothing seems to work:

 

“This is disgraceful.  But what makes it all the worse is that it is another disgraceful moment in a series of disgraceful moments.  We are racking them up and bolstering the stereotypes that are ingrained within the national consciousness.  And we, The Daily Mississippian, continue to write editorials about them.  The campus continues to hold candlelight vigils.  The administration continues to create committees, send apologetic emails and preach to us about our Creed.  The Alumni Association offers rewards.

But still nothing has changed.  These events continue to happen semester after semester and year after year.  All of our actions seem fruitless and impotent, leaving us broken, scared, humiliated and with burning, difficult questions: What do we do about it?  How do we stop these events from transpiring?”

 

Rather damning — and bravely honest — from the school’s newspaper, no?

Fair or not, the University of Mississippi’s history is tied to racism.  The Confederacy’s economy — everything about the Old South, for that matter — was based on slavery.  Yet the school’s athletic teams are called the Rebels in a reference to the Confederate States of America.  The school’s athletic teams often wear gray in addition to their red and navy colors.  Hell, the statue of Meredith isn’t far from a memorial to Confederate soldiers on the UM campus.

It is impossible to separate the school or its sports teams from the Confederacy and the racism that was ingrained in that institution.

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SEC Recruiting Notebook: Early Commitments Keep Rolling In

sec-recruiting-notebook-gfxLSU’s 2015 class became more athletic this week.

The Tigers received commitments from running back David Ducre from Lakeshore High School in Mandeville, La., and wide receiver Jazz Ferguson from West Feliciana High School in St. Francisville, La.

“It’s a dream come true,” Ferguson told TigerBait.com. “My parents knew since I was about seven or eight that I wanted to go there and they told me to go for it. I told Coach (Frank) Wilson I wanted to talk to Coach (Les) Miles and when I told him I was ready to commit, he said thank you and he was happy to have me.”

LSU has nine commitments for the 2015 class, which is tied with Alabama for the No. 1 spot in the Rivals Team Rankings.

The commitments from Ducre and Ferguson followed a pledge from defensive end Isaiah Washington from Edna Karr High School in New Orleans. Washington committed to the Tigers earlier than even he expected.

“At first when Les Miles offered me, I didn’t want to commit,” Washington told Tiger Bait. “But the longer I sat in there and thought about what I was going to be a part of, I was like, ‘I might as well.’ I like the surroundings and everything they have going on. I just committed. I’m a Tiger.”

Washington helped LSU end a short drought at Edna Karr. Highly-touted receiver Speedy Noil (Texas A&M) and defensive lineman Gerald Willis III (Florida) both left Edna Karr for out-of-state schools in the 2014 class. LSU was able to sign Edna Karr linebacker Donnie Alexander.

It’s a good start for LSU’s 2015 class, which has five commitments from in-state prospects. The state of Louisiana will continue to be a high priority for the Tigers.

 

Rivers switches to ‘dream school’ Georgia

An offer from Georgia was too much for Chauncey Rivers to pass up.

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