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John Calipari slammed Duke’s recruiting tactics after losing out on Zion Williamson

Losing Zion Williamson to Duke has put Coach Cal in a bad mood.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at South Carolina Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Duke is beating Kentucky at its own game in recruiting.

That’s a column this website wrote in July of 2015 after Jayson Tatum picked Coach K’s Blue Devils over Coach Cal’s Wildcats. At the time, it felt like a tipping point in the five-star recruiting wars between college basketball’s two biggest programs.

It also feels as relevant today as it was two-and-a-half years ago.

Zion Williamson is going to Duke. This was a bigger surprise than it probably should have been. The No. 2 rated high school player in the country was thought to be favoring hometown Clemson in the weeks leading up to his commitment, but he ultimately chose to be part of Duke’s latest and greatest freshman super team.

In Durham, Williamson will team up with ESPN’s No. 1 recruit in R.J. Barrett and No. 3 recruit in Cam Reddish. No program has landed the top three recruits in the same class in the modern era. There was a time not so long ago when that type of coup would have felt possible for Kentucky and no one else.

Kentucky wanted Williamson badly. Kentucky also wanted Tatum, and Brandon Ingram, and Marvin Bagley. They all picked Duke, too.

Calipari is aware of this. And he’s mad.

Calipari was hit with multiple questions about recruiting during his Monday press conference. He didn’t let us down:

“I don’t sell, like, ‘When you come here, the university and the state will take care of you the rest of your life,’ ” he said. “You may buy that, and I’ve got some great property in some swampland down in Florida to sell you, too.”

Is this Duke shade? Oh yes, this is Duke shade.

Let’s jump back to the spring of 2016. Hamidou Diallo, now one of Kentucky’s stars, received an offer from Duke and Kentucky around the same time. When asked to break down how each school made its pitch, this is what he said:

“Kentucky’s pitch was just the NBA thing,” Diallo said. “Duke’s pitch was if you come to Duke, you’re going to be set for life. It’s more than just basketball. (John Calipari’s) pitch was he gets guys ready for the next level. Look at the numbers: It shows. It’s the best place for you if you want to make it to the NBA.

Calipari kept going in

“Every one of us in this country is based on you’ve gotta take care of yourself. And then when you make it, you make sure that you’re helping [others]. And along the way you bring other people with you,” Calipari said. “And that’s what we’re trying to do; just give these guys the best opportunity. We’re not trying to say this university or this state will take care of you the rest of your life. There’s no socialism here. This stuff is, ‘You’ve gotta go do it and we’re gonna help you do it.’ Some [recruits] like that. Some don’t like it.”

“There’s no socialism here.”

But that’s not even the best part. Turn your volume up. Get your headphones if you have to. Because this is a gem:

One billion dollars

One billion dollars.

The timing of the Williamson decision couldn’t have been worse

Kentucky has lost back-to-back games to South Carolina and Florida and is currently tied for fourth in the SEC. And for the first time in 68 weeks, the Wildcats are unranked in the Top 25.

Kentucky’s problems this season have more to do with fit than talent, but it’s worth noting Calipari’s one-and-done factory might not have a top-10 NBA draft pick this year. That can be directly tied to recruiting, too. Look at the top 10 of the 2017 recruiting rankings. You see four Duke players before the first Kentucky player:


Calipari is still an incredible recruiter, obviously. His 2018 class might not have Williamson, but he does have three five-star players in Keldon Johnson, Immanuel Quickley and Tyler Herro.

The benefit of not getting the top top top level talent? Kentucky might actually have some sophomores next year. Maybe even a junior or two. If the Wildcats can actually find some shooting next time around, it just might work.