ARLINGTON, Texas -- The biggest impact John Calipari hopes to have at this year's Final Four -- aside from winning his second national title -- is to eliminate one-and-done from college basketball.
Not the doctrine, just the maxim. He's tired of the cynical nature behind the three-word mantra that's created a perception problem for the sport and, in part, led the NBA to consider increasing its minimum age requirement from one to two years removed from high school. And so Calipari -- who's been his typical, playfully brambly self with the media amid this unexpected drive to Dallas -- is looking for more positive infusion.
"Succeed and proceed."
That's the phrase, the new Cal crusade. A propitious slogan for his program. The twist on one and done came about after fans made suggestions to local Kentucky radio. Kentucky picked which one it liked best.
"It will be on T-Shirts," Calipari said.
So was "40-0" at one point, but this is more realistic. This is about the hopeful essence of being good and not having ability to attain early wealth be a bad thing. It's positivity for Calipari, for his program, for college basketball. It's also image control. Whether it's Saturday or at some point in the future, Kentucky players will don the shirts and stump for a credo they didn't even come up with, but will certainly and gladly help campaign for. The succeed-and-proceed push is an initiative that Calipari hopes can bring in a more appreciative tone to the empire he's built in Lexington, and across the sport.
"Well, I have the bully pulpit right now so I can talk about it, but my thing is I'm proud of what we have done for these young people," Calipari said. "We have had 17 players drafted. Many of those just changed the whole direction of their family. Every one of them in the league right now. It's not like guys are going and they should have never left. They didn't make it. Look at this. They're all doing well. Not only are they doing well, they're giving back to their communities."
With this Calipari's also attempting to alter what he sees as an ongoing conversational smear campaign against college basketball. It's another season with another crop of freshmen that have treated college hoops as a stopover to the pros. Andrew Wiggins, Noah Vonleh, Zach LaVine, Tyler Ennis are four freshmen who've already bolted. Within a week from now, we'll have at least double that group.
Not that there's anything wrong with that. You'd expect any legitimate first-round talent to go, based on the option to earn millions for himself and his family, regardless of what year he just completed.
Said Calipari: "Every player that I've recruited, and they will tell you, I say the same thing: 'Don't plan on coming to school for one year. You make a huge mistake. But if after one year you have options, that will be up to you and your family. You plan on being in school two or three years. But if after one year you have options, that's up to you and your family. Enjoy the experience, enjoy the college environment, because the rest of it is work, it's not about family, it's about business.'"
For a lot of players -- a lot of Kentucky players -- this is about business. Show up, learn to take your lumps, get better, then go off and get drafted. Get better, make us better, then go represent us well at the next level. Calipari once famously said the 2010 draft, when a record-five Kentucky players went in the first round, was the best day in the program's history. He got a lot of blowback for those comments.
But undoubtedly Calipari's total tally of UK players selected in the draft will crack 20 in five seasons at Kentucky come this June. More than half the programs in major conferences haven't had 20 players picked since Calipari began as a head coach in the 1990s. And the UK recruits worthy and able of hanging around one year won't necessarily slow. Just how it is. Might as well embrace the process rather than impugn a kid's life for being good at something and looking to improve his situation.
This is Cal's vision, his recruiting pitch, his need to change the conversation. It's working, evidenced by the fact I'm writing this.
"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. "It's not used other sports, it's not used in other areas of life where people stay in school a year and leave. So the thing that we have been talking about is succeed and proceed. Succeed and proceed. You cannot proceed until you succeed. Succeed and then proceed."
Kentucky's again the example of success -- this is Calipari's third Final Four in four years -- with youth. In starting five freshmen, Calipari's inadvertently (sophomore Willie Cauley-Stein is out with a foot injury) being allowed to prove a point. He's able to turn his players into driven, unafraid men by challenging them about playing at Kentucky. Or he'll outright warn them against ever coming, never promising playing time or starting roles.
"At first it scared me," Cauley-Stein said Friday. "You grow up at that point."
Cauley-Stein said Calipari's blunt recruiting pitch lingered with him, and as he reflected on how different the pitch was to everyone else, he realized UK had to be the place.
"You could tell the other coaches' stuff was all fake," Cauley-Stein said.
"Don't believe all the hype, including me," Calipari said. "Know that each of these kids needs to be coached, needs to be challenged. You need to define their roles, however good they are, and at the end of the day, they can't do it by themselves."
That's what Cal said to start his press conference. It's boilerplate, but it's a message that has to be pounded into these players, whose egos can't help but be uplifted when the best recruiter in the history of college basketball comes calling.
"It made me want to come here," sophomore Alex Poythress said of Cal's tough-love living room sell.
And as for Poythress, he's a sample of how it doesn't always work so smoothly. His freshman year wasn't great. Calipari was right. Minutes and performance didn't add up. Poythress sucked up his pride and returned for a sophomore season. Now he comes off the bench. But he's not bitter. He was told this could be the case.
"So the connotation is, no one wants to put their arms around this, and I don't care if you do or not, this is about the kids to me," Calipari said. "So when I said, 'Why don't we make this about succeed and proceed. If you don't succeed, you can't proceed. If you do succeed, you can proceed.'"
You get the sense he'll say it so often not until he believes it -- because he clearly does -- but until he can convince most everyone else as well. He's not been able to fully succeed in this area, ever, but it won't stop him from proceeding yet again.