Kentucky Basketball

From National Champions to NCAA Underdogs: The Rise and Fall of Kentucky Basketball under Calipari and NIL

Why does it seem that Kentucky Basketball (men’s team) has fallen from greatness? It was very recent that every year under Calipari, all of us Kentucky Fans were clamoring to watch the next game and a shot at the NCAA Tournament Title.

Since NIL and Covid, the wildcats are not the same as we used to be. The Gold Standard of basketball.

In this article, I plan to cover Kentucky Basketball as a whole, what it has been like to be a fan for most of my life, and what has happened and gone wrong in the Bluegrass world of sports.

In another disappointing season, the Cats fell out of the NCAA Tournament in 2nd round to Kansas State University.

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A Brief History of Kentucky Basketball

Kentucky Basketball, for decades, was the winningest program in NCAA Division-1 Basketball history. That’s what we’ve always been known for, winning ball games and championships.

Adolph Rupp, a legendary coach in the History of Kentucky Basketball, grabbed our program so many championships back in the day that the court we play on is known as Rupp Arena.

However, Kentucky hasn’t been without its bumpy roads. Kentucky got caught cheating and was once on the brink of never returning to the “Gold Standard” of basketball.

From out of the depths of shame, another legendary Coach, Rick Pitino, got Kentucky back to where it belonged. Whether you love him or hate him now, this can not be denied.


After Rick was the Tubby Era and another Championship. But for some reason, Tubby couldn’t make it to the big game anymore and was effectively run out of Lexington, Kentucky. Many have heard of the “for sale” signs thrown up in Tubby’s yard at night.

After Tubby was annexed from Kentucky, another Dark Period came with the Billy Gillespie era. Upon proving himself to be a drunken fool, Billy G was fired, and Kentucky was looking for another coach to right the ship; yet again…

That’s where John Calipari comes in.

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The Calipari Era in Kentucky

John Calipari brought Kentucky Basketball to where it belonged… In the spotlight, winning, and winning in style.

“Coach Cal” brought new life to the team. As well as a new way of recruiting some of the Best Basketball players Kentucky has ever had with the 1-and-done recruitment. Recruiting players for only 1 year and shipping them off to the NBA had never been done. It was known as the “1-and-done” era. That’s where Coach Calipari used the current NCAA system to his advantage. He would use the 1-and-done system to get a fresh group of players every year and have a chance at the Championship.

While he didn’t pull it off in the first few years, it finally came together in 2012 with the Anthony Davis Team.

Now that NIL (Name Image Likeness) is in place, Kentucky and Calipari seem to have fallen to the wayside. Covid and college players’ ability to rake in exuberant amounts of money seems to have had very negative effects on Kentucky’s sports legacy.

The Impact of NIL on Kentucky Basketball

Kentucky Basketball
Photo by Chet White | UK Athletics

While we could use the excuse of Covid and NIL to blame everything that is going on at Kentucky… why is it that other teams have found success?

In my opinion, NIL has hurt Kentucky Basketball way more than it has helped. For now anyways…

It has been sort of a “Wild Wild West” show, with no monetary caps and players asking for crazy amounts of money.

The thing is, there really is no ROI (return on investment) with how everything is set up now. Basically, they are just handing these players money and not expecting much else; other than for them to play basketball. This really isn’t how business is done. You don’t make a TV commercial for an athlete like Lebron James and expect not to sell a few more shirts, clothes, or cars. Normally, it benefits everyone if the person is popular enough.

I can’t imagine some of the players on Kentucky’s current roster in 2023 are helping anyone sell much merch. The only player with some “Star Power” is Oscar, and he isn’t even allowed to make local commercials for some reason.

But is it really a talent thing? Are we just not getting the players we used to get when the 1-and-done rule first began because of NIL?

It’s extremely hard to tell. I mean, Kentucky isn’t known for enormous amounts of wealthy people wanting to give millions so someone can shoot a basketball at The University of Kentucky. As I said, if there was a great ROI, people would be all for it.

Now it’s resting on the shoulders of the everyday fan to donate to a NIL cause, and why would you want to donate to the cause as it currently stands? Kentucky has a team that’s not beaten a Top 5 Team since 2017.

The Future of College Basketball with NIL

I think NIL has taken some of the fun away from college sports. I’m not saying these players shouldn’t have made some money all along. I mean if there has been one thing in my life that’s always been consistent, it’s that I love Kentucky Merchandise. Should the Kentucky Basketball players always have been receiving some money for people wearing their number?

I don’t see why not.

Kentucky Basketball
Photo by Chet White | UK Athletics

The real problem is that there is no monetary cap. You know, that thing that NBA Teams have to deal with.

Instead of having a great coach, and a great tradition, you can pretty much “Pay-2-Win” if someone has enough money. You can just buy your talent and become a powerhouse in Basketball for that year.

Maybe there has been some cash under the table this entire time with people paying players who really know the truth? But, if it’s all legal now and there is no cap, that means players will naturally go to the highest bidder.

I mean wouldn’t you? Go ahead and change your life instantly by signing a NIL deal at East Coast Kentucky Co University this year for 1 Million $$!

It would be hard for anyone to turn down. That is the problem right now, is there is no cap and tradition has been torn down not all the way but in my opinion, it has hurt college basketball and football.

The impact that John Calipari has had on the Kentucky Men’s Basketball Program since Covid

Ever since the “Covid Year” the Kentucky Wildcats were going to have a great team the year they shut everything down. As expected, I believe we were going to win the SEC Tournament and make a decent run in the NCAA Tournament. Unfortunately, everything was shut down and everyone was told to stay home after the pandemic became widespread.

Naturally the following year, everything still wasn’t truly back to normal. But, basketball was back and many Kentucky fans like myself looked forward to at least enjoying some basketball. That was until politics decided to take over our beloved sports team.

Kentucky Basketball
Photo Belongs to Lex 18 News

That team only ended up winning 9 games that year and many, many fans were very unhappy with all the political crap currently going on in something that is supposed to bring us all together. Instead, it drove many fans away and many have yet to return. However you feel one way or another about what happened, you cannot deny it had an impact on a lot of fans.

In the 2021-22 Year, we seemed to be back on the right track, that was until we were beaten in the first round by Saint Peters in the NCAA Tournament.

Another embarrassing loss.

Now to our current year, we have the National player of the year back, Oscar Tshiebwe all should be well. I have to say, this latest team was even more frustrating to watch than the previous 21-22 season. The 2022-23 Season Kentucky Wildcats seemed to never click.

Many reports and scuttlebutt across the internet have stated that there was just a disconnect between the players and certain players and also some players and Coach John Calipari.

No SEC Tournament Run, and out in the 2nd round to Kansas State. I would have to say having a “National Player of the year” for 2 years and not producing quality wins and a tournament run is not something you would think is possible.

With players sitting on the bench during Tournament Games and going pro the next year. Kentucky Basketball just isn’t feeling the game. It feels frustrating to watch anymore.

Looking to the Kentucky Wildcats 2023-24 Season

I really hope John Calipari corrects the ship and get Kentucky Basketball back to where it used to be.

“The Gold Standard”.

The 2023-24 season is bringing tremendous talent to the roster, almost a Pre-Covid Calipari era of talent.

Many folks are ready for a new coach, and this might be Calipari’s final year as the Head coach of the University of Kentucky. As a fan, it’s always exciting to see what we can do the next year with a new group of young men. I really just hope it’s fun again.

It hasn’t been fun to be a Kentucky Fan in a while. The 23-24 season I hope puts fear in these teams whenever Kentucky rolls around.

While it’s impossible to win the Tournament every year, the expectations at Kentucky are incredibly high. We expect to compete at the highest level and at least have a shot.

This could very well be the Final year for Calipari.

Kentucky Basketball Under Calipari and NIL: Conclusion

The first few years of The John Calipari era were fun and fantastic. With NIL and the Transfer portal changing how long players stay and where they go too has opened up many doors for other schools to spend loads of money to top talent. Transfer here and receive this much NIL money.

Calipari looks like he is refusing to change his style of Basketball and since the Covid Year Kentucky Basketball IMO hasn’t been the same.

I want Kentucky Basketball to be fun again, instead of question after question. Is so-so going to play today?

Kentucky Men’s Basketball is a blue-blood but lately, we haven’t had a team that had truly qualified. The Oscar era is gone as he most likely will decide to take on a new path.

Calipari unfortunately with his lifelong contract will be here until he decides to leave not whenever the fans want him gone. If you love or hate Calipari looking back at the first few years we at least had fun.

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