|Donovan spoke at Thursday's SEC media day about Kentucky getting a Hard Knocks-like show on ESPN. (AP)|
John Calipari is the nation's biggest and baddest coach who is leading the nation's biggest and baddest basketball program, proof being that he took the nation's best recruiting class, won a national title, lost pretty much everybody, reloaded with another top-ranked recruiting class and is on the verge of signing yet another top-ranked recruiting class that will make Kentucky the favorite to win the 2014 national championship regardless of what happens this season.
The guy is operating on another level.
He needs no further help.
But ESPN is giving Calipari additional assistance this month by producing and broadcasting All-Access Kentucky, a reality show documenting the Wildcats' preseason. That's how the series is described, at least. But anybody who's watched the first two episodes knows the show is basically a recruiting tool that's actually featuring unsigned recruits.
Class of 2013 stars Andrew and Aaron Harrison were in the first episode.
Class of 2013 standout James Young was in Wednesday's episode.
It wasn't shocking that those prospects were referenced as much as it was a little surprising when it became clear ESPN sent cameras to spend time with Young and his family in advance of his announcement for Kentucky, and I couldn't help but wonder whether that would've happened if Young had been set to pick, say, Michigan State. Trust me when I tell you other coaches noticed this and wondered about it, too. Which brings me to Florida's Billy Donovan.
"If you're using [the show] as a recruiting tool," Donovan told USA Today's Eric Prisbell at Thursday's SEC media day down in Alabama, "I don't think that is right."
To be clear, Calipari has been securing commitments from top recruits for years, meaning it's silly to suggest this show is getting him recruits. So, understand, that's not what I'm suggesting. (Repeat: That. Is. Not. What. I. Am. Suggesting.) I'm confident UK would've gotten the Harrison twins and Young regardless of the show, and I'm sure Donovan agrees. But there's no denying that this nationally televised weekly commercial is an insane (and possibly unfair) advantage that can be stacked on top of all the other insane (and possibly unfair) advantages Calipari is using -- things like a strong Nike affiliation, Drake, Jay-Z, LeBron James and, depending on whom you ask, World Wide Wes.
Young must've known well before he announced that he could pick Michigan State and, well, just pick Michigan State. Or that he could pick Kentucky and that ESPN would send cameras to his hometown to talk to his family, and that he'd then be prominently featured in a reality show like Lauren Conrad or something. Again, I'm not saying that's why UK got Young, but what I am saying is that it couldn't have possibly hurt.
You'd be naive to suggest all this isn't making an impact on prospects pondering futures.
ESPN is featuring unsigned recruits on a show built around and for Kentucky basketball, allowing Calipari to speak to prospects in an unfiltered manner and producing something close to an on-campus visit for every elite hooper in the nation. Obviously, other coaches are noticing and wondering whether a line somewhere has been crossed. But the truth is that there's not really anything they or anybody else can do about it.