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VOL. 133 | NO. 153 | Friday, August 3, 2018
Don Wade

Don Wade

Notice Served: Penny Taking Recruiting Fight Straight to Calipari

By Don Wade

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How’s this for a headline, not to mention rock-solid truth: “John Calipari vs. Penny Hardaway is college basketball’s best new recruiting rivalry.”

That headline from SBNATION followed the news that DJ Jeffries, a four-star prospect from Olive Branch, had decommitted from Kentucky.

And that news was followed by headlines quoting Jeffries’ father saying UK (read: John Calipari and his staff) was “unprofessional” in handling the player’s change of heart and mind; for that is what Corey Jeffries said in an interview on the Memphis ESPN radio affiliate a few days ago.

So it’s full-on now.

Calipari has lost Jeffries from the 2019 Class and No. 1 prospect James Wiseman could be in jeopardy, too.

Yes, the Lexington Herald-Leader can always find one recruiting analyst or another to reassure Big Blue. One mouthpiece or another that will say that Jeffries, who played for Hardaway on AAU Team Penny last year, will not automatically come to the University of Memphis and instead might go to Mississippi State.

Sure, Jeffries passed on Kentucky and all that tradition to go to Starkville. That’s about as likely as Calipari sending Penny and lead assistant Mike Miller a 1959 bottle of Dom Perignon (price tag $42,350).

Whether Wiseman, who moved from Nashville to play for Penny at East High School, is now more likely to choose Memphis is still conjecture. But doesn’t it seem like more informed conjecture than it was just a few short days ago?

At 247Sports, the “Chrystal Ball” now gives Memphis a 67 percent chance to land Wiseman and Kentucky a 33 percent chance.

To put it in horseracing terms that any Kentucky fan can understand: Calipari and the Wildcats could be in for a “bad trip.”

Calipari’s long-held trump card was that he was the one college coach that could just about guarantee you go to the NBA and probably as a lottery pick. That promise perhaps doesn’t carry the same juice it once did. Hardaway starred in the NBA. Miller had success there, too. They were players. And they’re younger.

They simply have a sales pitch – we were there, we played the NBA game, we know how to make you ready – which Calipari doesn’t. At least not in direct comparison.

So from the moment Memphis hired Penny, Calipari had to know this fight was coming. And it hardly begins and ends with Jeffries and Wiseman. There are other top-tier recruits in play that both Kentucky and Memphis appear to be among the small group of schools with a serious shot.

If Hardaway gets both Jeffries and Wiseman, he wins. If he gets Jeffries and a couple of other elite recruits and Calipari only gets Wiseman, it’s at worst a stalemate.

Trendon Watford, Chandler Lawson, C.J. Walker and Jaykwon Walton are other names to watch, players that could end up at Memphis and be part of a Top-5 2019 recruiting class.

The coming 2018-19 season should be fun and Penny delivered immediately as a recruiter by reeling in local players Alex Lomax and Tyler Harris, better prospects by far than Tubby Smith ever got in his time here.

But what might be possible in 2019 is something else altogether. That recruiting class has the potential to again make Memphis special on a national level. And as a sweet bonus, leave John Calipari as college basketball’s most-pissed-off also-ran.

Don Wade’s column appears in The Daily News and The Memphis News. Listen to Wade on “Middays with Greg & Eli” every Tuesday at noon on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM.

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