KSR writer tacitly admits John Calipari was the brand at Kentucky

University of Arkansas Introduces John Calipari
University of Arkansas Introduces John Calipari / Wesley Hitt/GettyImages

Big Blue Nation has directed its collective ire at the Arkansas faithful since coach John Calipari left to coach the Razorbacks. Their responses might come off as derisive, boastful, or even delusional, but the root of it all is anger. Right now, BBN is the personification of the crying behind a mask meme.

But who can blame them? They lost a Hall of Fame coach to a conference rival and replaced him with Mark Pope. Imagine if, instead of firing Billy Gillispie and hiring John Calipari, Kentucky hired John Pelphrey. Compare the theoretical response from BBN to the last few weeks. Can you honestly say it’d look much different?

Look, everyone with eyes can see Pope is a better coach than Pelphrey, but the point is, the Wildcats downgraded.

Even the Kentucky media is in full-fledged cope mode. In an interview with Kentucky Sports Radio, five-star prospect Cameron Boozer spoke about Calipari’s recruiting pitch. Coach Calipari told him that, "it’s [still] Cal University, just moving homes,” when recruiting Boozer to Arkansas. Jack Pilgrim of KSR then wrote a story spinning it into a jab at the Arkansas brand.

Most likely, the article is supposed to be a “gotcha” moment from KSR. Even the X (Twitter) post pushing out the story took a shot at Arkansas. KSR’s post read, “John Calipari left Kentucky for Arkansas, but he's not selling recruits on the Razorbacks' brand at his new spot.” What they don’t understand is they’re tacitly admitting that John Calipari propped up Kentucky’s brand, too.

The humor is only elevated by KSR’s host Matt Jones’ X post a couple of weeks ago. He's complaining about Arkansas people blowing up his notification, yet his company continues to talk about Arkansas weeks later.

They’re like Sisyphus and his bolder, needing to push the narrative no matter how many times it rolls back on them, lest they face the wrath of reality.

Coaching hires

Sure, Cal’s selling himself more than Arkansas, and that’s okay. No rational Razorback fan is saying the Razorback brand is big enough to sign one five-star prospect after another like Kentucky did. Arkansas is not there yet. Although, it was big enough to take Kentucky’s coach.

That begs the question, why isn’t the ability to bring in an elite coach emphasized more when talking about brand? If Eric Musselman hadn’t elevated Arkansas's, more than likely, Cal wouldn’t have come to Fayetteville.

Do you think he would've given up a buyout north of $30 million to go to a school like Oral Roberts or Colgate if they magically came up with the money to match his salary? No. He went to a program with the infrastructure, money, and national presence big enough to work with his brand.

Arkansas doesn’t have to be the biggest brand in basketball, and it’s not. But together with John Calipari, they make a heck of a team. On the other hand, Kentucky and Pope are struggling to keep up. There’s no need to look further than their recruiting classes.

Class comparison

Arkansas ranks above Kentucky in 247 Sports Transfer, high school, and overall rankings with two fewer commitments. 247 Sports uses a point system that weighs ratings and the number of committed players. However, if you take just the average player ratings, they still outmatch the Wildcats in every metric.

On3 Sports' transfer recruiting rankings have Kentucky much higher than the Razorbacks. Arkansas barely makes the top-50. However, On3's rankings compare what a team lost and what it brought in. The Razorbacks lost every scholarship player after Musselman left, so of course they're lower. Calipari has only signed 6 commits. Arkansas still bests the Cats in average player ratings, though, scoring 94.00 to Kentucky's 86.51.

BBN's main criticism of Coach Calipari has been his propensity to rely on talented freshmen, which Arkansas will have. However, he’s already brought in three of the highest-ranked players in the portal, including the No. 2 overall player, Johnell Davis.

Coach Cal is out-recruiting Pope by nearly every available metric, suggesting Calipari was the bigger brand at Kentucky. If not, then Pilgrim would have to admit Arkansas's brand is better than Kentucky's. He can't have his cake and eat it, too.

Will Kentucky ever “be back”?

Arkansas has beaten Kentucky at everything for nearly a month straight, but that doesn’t mean the Cats are trash. Mark Pope is a good coach. And in time, he can develop into the coach a program like Kentucky deserves. Their recruiting class is still top-10 in the country, and BBN continues its reign as a top fanbase in college basketball. However, unfortunately for Kentucky and all the other blue bloods, NIL has evened the scales. Programs with big donors can now recruit with the best of them. The days of UNC, Kansas, Kentucky, etc., dominating college basketball are over.

With Kentucky specifically, leadership issues might keep the program down for a while. It’s obvious there was tension between Calipari and Kentucky’s athletic director Mitch Barnhart.

In his first press conference at Arkansas, Cal was asked why he chose Fayetteville. His answer revolved around Arkansas athletic director Hunter Yurachek. In his statement, he said, “I’m gonna say it again, basketball coaches win games. Administrations win championships. And you know why? Because they want to, and it’s important to them.”

Barnhart’s gotten lucky with the last few big hires. Calipari and head football coach Mark Stoops were at least his second choices. He missed on Billy Donovan in 2009 and wound up with a championship-winning coach. In 2012, Barnhart reportedly had Kirby Smart and Bobby Petrino close to the top. However, he settled on Stoops, who has brought Kentucky football out of the basement.

Barnhart again settled for his third option when Dan Hurley and Scott Drew weren't interested. Can he get lucky again with Pope? Only time will tell.


Blue Blood: Membership in a noble or socially prominent family.

In other words, the blue bloods of college basketball are royalty, including UK. But just like the royal family of the UK country across the Atlantic, the moniker 'blue blood' has lost its power. It's purely ceremonial. While it’s great for generating engagement on social media and views on ESPN, it will no longer strike fear college basketball teams like it once did.

NIL is the real King. And teams like Arkansas that have untapped NIL potential will thrive. Brands are just the sprinkles on top. The quicker fanbases like BBN realize it, the less painful it’ll be to accept.

Next. National media still clueless about Arkansas basketball. National media still clueless about the Arkansas basketball program and its fanbase. dark