Calipari’s Pitch to Razorback Recruits at First Blush Appears Shameless – But Look Deeper

Photo credit: @CoachCalArk

You get what you pay for. When Arkansas boosters, including chicken mogul John Tyson, ponied up more than six million dollars per year to sign former Kentucky coach John Calipari, expectations soared.

Tyson, a friend of Calipari’s, and other boosters paid him and his staff well as well as dropped a pot of money in the coach’s lap to attract recruits with lucrative NIL deals. Since it’s legal to pay players now, the expectation is that the well-compensated Calipari return to his peak form and guide Arkansas to the Final Four. By any nearly means necessary, really. Get elite talent to ‘The Hill’ and win big. Immediately. Those are the stakes that come with having a Brinks truck backed up to your front door. 

So, in response to that, Calipari is doing Calipari things such as using recruiting tactics that involve luring prospects to the campus by telling them they are playing at ‘Calipari University.’ That is, at least, the pitch heard by 2025 prospect Caleb Wilson.

John Calipari Raises Eyebrows

That raised eyebrows, especially by a certain media member in Kentucky, who has sparred with Hogs fans. Calipari is one of the more hated figures in college basketball.  He’s slick, wins and probably has beaten your team a time or two. Arkansas basketball fans know all too well that feeling. Arkansas fans, who for decades despised the coach, probably knew that they may not instantly warm up to him just because he now wore a red pullover with a Hog on it. There may still be some things that even though he’s on your side, you may swallow hard to accept.

Like that ego and free-flowing, brash comments that made John Chaney fly at him in a rage back in the ’90s:

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It does appear, that Arkansas is getting a mellower Calipari, at least in terms of image. As I mentioned in my last column, he’s going to coach harder to make sure his talented players execute better they did than his final disappointing years in Lexington. Don’t expect, however, that he gets into with other coaches like he did with Chaney or even counterparts on his own campus like with UK football coach Mark Stoops.

Some will take the pitch Wilson revealed as shameless self promotion. Nonsense. It’s good recruiting. Calipari is the pied piper when it comes to star basketball players. They see the number of players he’s sent to the NBA, and they are drawn to him like moths to a flame. Also, some may not like the slick hair and flashy suits, but that style is attractive to a teenage basketball player.

So, by using the cute term ‘Calipari University’ all the coach is saying is, everything you would have gotten and Kentucky you will get at Arkansas. The same head coach, the same style of play and the same opportunity to bolt after one year and millions playing professional basketball. That is all that is. A catchphrase, a sales pitch. It isn’t him being bigger than the school or trying to show up legendary former Hogs coach Nolan Richardson. It’s Calipari’s way to land the best players to give the program a chance to win. 

Arkansas Basketball Wasn’t a Promotion, But That’s OK

Does Calipari care about Arkansas’ basketball tradition? Does he care about the program? Maybe he does a little bit at this juncture. It’s obvious he respects Richardson. But this move is a business decision. He didn’t come to Arkansas because it was a promotion. He came because things were getting uncomfortable in Big Blue Nation. The natives were restless and his friend Tyson gave him a way to start fresh, make clean money and have a chance to win a national title. 

And boosters and UA administrators such as Hunter Yurachek are fine with notion. They know Calipari may not be here more than five years. It’s like a star one-and-done recruit. Do you resent them for leaving or enjoy the fact they led your school to a national title like Carmelo Anthony did at Syracuse many years ago. You embrace Calipari and the trappings that come with it like bringing in a recruiting class in a few weeks that is better than what your former coach could do in a full cycle. 

You don’t worry about what he’s telling recruits. You are paying him to win, and he knows to win, he needs to recruit the best prep and portal players he can find. So far, he hasn’t done a bad job getting the kind of talent he knows from experience can bring home a title. He also better know that he needs more experienced, disciplined players, and I think he does. But he isn’t going to visit a recruit’s home and discuss Richardson and the 1994 title team. He is going to extoll his own resume and how that will transfer to his new program.

As far as Arkansas’ legacy, whatever success Calipari achieves will only heighten a reputation for Arkansas that’s already good. Eric Musselman proved Arkansas is a basketball school when he relatively easily revived a program that seemed to have stalled. Now, Calipari has a chance to take the program to the level Richardson enjoyed and beyond and be recognized as more than just an interloper among the ‘Blue Bloods,’ but a card-carrying member.

If he elevates Arkansas to the highest level of college basketball domination, then there shouldn’t be any complaints because that is what the boosters paid for. 


Here’s a glimpse at what Arkansas recruit Caleb Wilson can do:

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See the latest on Arkansas basketball here:

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