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SportsColumnistsGreg Logan

John Calipari well aware of 'one-and-done' cynicism

Head coach John Calipari shouts to his players

Head coach John Calipari shouts to his players against the Michigan Wolverines during the midwest regional final of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 30, 2014. Credit: Getty Images / Jonathan Daniel

ARLINGTON, Texas - Kentucky coach John Calipari knows what you think. It's him. He's to blame for the "one-and-done" syndrome afflicting college basketball.

He says, "I don't listen to it and I don't read it and I don't care."

In fact, Calipari takes credit for "changing the paradigm," as he put it this past week before his all-freshman starting five of NBA prospects earned the right to play Connecticut for the national title by beating a veteran Wisconsin team, 74-73, last night at AT&T Stadium.

Since ascending to the head-coaching mountaintop at Kentucky in 2009-10, Calipari has embraced the notion of building a drive-thru dynasty of sorts with a fresh class of five-star recruits every year.

It worked in 2012 when he won his first national title with No. 1 overall draft pick Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Not so much last season, when the Wildcats lost to Robert Morris in the first round of the NIT. This season's 10-loss edition struggled but found its groove just in time for the tournament.

So Calipari once again commands the bully pulpit to respond to his critics thusly: "It's not my rule. So the columns are written. If you want to pile on and say it's me, I'm OK.

"All I care about is the players I'm coaching, that they're prepared to reach their dreams, whether it's after one year, two years, three years, four years. I've had guys stay all those times. I think some of my suggestions would be good to cure some of this. At the very least, we've just got to do right by these kids."

If it seems a little disingenuous that the man who has exploited the NBA's 19-year-old age limit better than anyone else wants to "fix the system," that's the contradictory nature of Calipari. As much as it might pain Calipari's detractors to admit it, what he does is really hard.

Not so much the recruiting. With a track record of having sent 22 players to the NBA since 2008, including his last two seasons at Memphis, recruiting is the easy part.

The hard part is the coaching. The current class of recruits entered the season No. 1 in the polls and played their way out of the rankings.

Rule No. 1, Calipari said, is "don't believe all the hype, including me. Each of these kids needs to be coached. You have to define their roles however good they are. At the end of the day, they can't do it by themselves."

This season, Calipari got it sorted out to make a run to the national championship game. But even he must wish there were a mechanism to keep his top players in school a little longer.

Calipari noted that college basketball people generally are growing more agitated because the "one-and-done" syndrome has spread well beyond Kentucky. But it's up to the NBA and the NBA Players Association to amend the rules.

Calipari suggested that the age limit be raised to 20, which effectively would require most players to remain in college for two seasons. He said the NBA could make it up to the players by reducing the length of the rookie contract from four years to three. As if they would welcome free agency earlier for their multimillion-dollar investments.

That's where the hypocrisy comes in. Calipari, as well as everyone else, knows that never will happen.

So Calipari has come up with the perfect modern answer to fight the stigma attached to the "one-and-done" syndrome -- rebranding.

"The connotation that's been built around 'one-and-done' is so ridiculous to make it a bad thing, it's a negative thing," Calipari said. "So the thing we have been talking about is 'succeed and proceed.' You cannot proceed until you succeed."

Problem solved, no?

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