Kentucky's five star underclassmen unveiled the worst secret in college basketball Tuesday night when each announced he was declaring himself eligible for the 2012 NBA Draft.
"[Calipari] gotta find a new six," sophomore Doron Lamb said.
Cue The Lexington Line Change, part III.
At least four of those six players -- a group which includes graduating senior Darius Miller -- figures to hear his name called during the draft's first round in June. The downside of all that good publicity is that Kentucky will be losing 93.3 percent of its points, 93 percent of its minutes, 94.5 percent of its rebounds, 96.2 percent of its assists, 95.1 percent of its blocks and 96.7 percent of its steals.
At any other program in the country, the result of this sort of exodus would be an offseason where dreams of an NCAA Tournament appearance would be regarded overly ambitious. Instead, Kentucky will almost certainly begin next season ranked somewhere in the top five. The reason for that is two-fold: 1) For a fourth straight year, the Wildcats are bringing in the No. 1 recruiting class in the country; and 2) They've done this twice before, and both times the result has included a run to the season's final weekend.
A six- to 18-month stay at Wildcat Lodge has become more of the rule than the exception since Calipari arrived at UK. That's a statement which has morphed from an insult to a compliment now that Coach Cal has claimed his first national championship.
This has been the "Calipari Formula" for three years, and its ultimate validation has changed ... well, nothing outside of public perception, really.
The talk of Calipari "exploiting the one-and-done rule" has always been a bit silly. Because what does "exploitation" in this case really entail? Landing the best high school basketball players in the country, watching them have extreme success at the college level and then letting them head off to the land of guaranteed millions? OK. If this were a loophole that was readily accessible by mere choice alone, I'm pretty sure at least one more head coach of "questionable moral fiber" would have taken the same route by now.
Despite constant criticism, Calipari's formula continues to be the most effective in college basketball, a statement backed up by unparalleled on-court success. That's the thing, without winning -- that's right, those same actual on-court results that detractors brought up so freely before the first Monday of this month -- none of this would be possible.
Team success at the college level is generally the easiest way for the ambitious individual standout to meet his personal goal of playing professionally. If Butler's Andrew Smith doesn't hit a shot at the buzzer to beat Old Dominion and the Bulldogs fall in the first round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament instead of making it all the way to the title game, does Shelvin Mack leave school early and hear his name called by the Washington Wizards two months later? Of course not, and there are dozens of similar instances over the past decade.
Team success breeds individual success, and nowhere is that more evident than in Lexington. Kentucky keeps getting its players drafted, in large part, because it keeps winning. In three seasons, Calipari has produced two No. 1 seeds, two trips to the Final Four, and now UK's first national championship since 1998.
Questions have surrounded Cal's recruiting tactics for the bulk of his career, but at this point it's more suspicious when a top-ranked recruit doesn't announce that he's signing with Big Blue Nation.
The highest level of collegiate success? Sounds great. Be treated like a God in a college town for eight months? Would love to be. Guaranteed fast-track to becoming a millionaire? All I have is this blue pen, is that cool?
Now comes the hardest for Kentucky fans: keeping up with the name changes.
Anthony Davis, the insanely gifted center who was the No. 1 player in the class of 2011 and eventually became the national Player of the Year in his only college season becomes Nerlens Noel, the insanely gifted center who is the No. 1 player in the class of 2012. Terrence Jones, the beastly forward blessed with an incredible combination of size and skill becomes Alex Poythress, a consensus top 10 recruit with a nearly identical frame and game. Marquis Teague, the lightning quick freshman point guard, becomes Ryan Harrow, the NC State transfer who many said consistently got the better of Teague in practice.
The only thing Calipari will be working without for the first time is a proven returnee like he had with Miller this year, or DeAndre Liggins two seasons ago. In every other aspect, the line change is business as usual.
Going 38-2 and rolling through the NCAA Tournament should be enough to satisfy a fan base for a handful of years, but this is Kentucky. Anywhere else, the signature question of the offseason would be, "How long before we have a chance to get back there?" In Lexington, it's already "Can we be as good this year?"