Should John Calipari have won more titles with Kentucky basketball?

LEXINGTON – John Calipari has his answer ready.

The criticism is not new, but it has seemingly popped up more regularly as Calipari’s Kentucky basketball program has failed to reach the NCAA Tournament’s final weekend in three consecutive seasons despite churning out first-round NBA draft picks. 

“When we won the (2012) national title, my wife, when I grabbed her, I said, ‘OK, that’s over now. We don’t have to deal with this anymore. They can’t say it,’” Calipari said in a recent interview with local reporters, referring to the former criticism his resume lacked a national championship. “Now the next thing is, ‘Well, you haven’t won enough. You should have won more. You’ve had all these kids, why haven’t you won more?’

“You’re right. I should be John Wooden. I should have won nine, 10, 11. … Maybe someone here could have, maybe the next guy will. Have at it.”

Calipari’s sarcasm is unlikely to silence all his critics.

Kentucky has now produced 26 first-round picks in Calipari’s nine seasons with one national title to show for that revolving door of talent. Kentucky’s 35 total draft picks in Calipari’s tenure are 14 more than the program with second-most selections (Duke) in that time period.

Yahoo Sports columnist Dan Wetzel, one of multiple reporters to make that point on Twitter during the most recent draft, went a step further, noting Alabama football coach Nick Saban has produced the same number of NFL draft first-rounders since arriving in Tuscaloosa in 2007 but has five national tiles. 

Of course, Saban’s five-star recruits are required to stay in school for at least three years before leaving for the NFL draft. Of Calipari’s 26 first-round picks, 22 were only at Kentucky for one season and one, Enes Kanter, never played for the Wildcats at all due to the NCAA ruling him ineligible.

But basketball allows individual elite players to make a larger impact on a game than football, adding fuel to the argument Calipari’s first-round picks represent an even more staggering talent gap with opponents than Saban’s group.

The notion that Kentucky's high number of early-entry draft picks should have translated into more national titles doesn't make sense to former UK player and current radio network analyst Mike Pratt.

“I think people use that as a crutch,” Pratt said. “If you don’t like one-and-done, OK don’t like one-and-done — if you don’t think that should be part of college, that’s fine — but don’t say because he’s had so many that he should have won more championships. Because it’s a one-game deal (in the tournament). It’s a one-game deal, and so many times matchups are really important. It’s one-and-out. It’s a different ball game.

“It’s hard to make that statement about (he) should have won more with the talent he has, because when you see that talent in the NBA, that’s not the same talent you saw at Kentucky. It’s a different game.”

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