In late August, as Kentucky wound down its televised exhibition trip to the Bahamas, John Calipari's solution to his very enviable problem -- having 10 elite players in a sport that allows just five players on the court at any given time -- became clear. Kentucky would run a platoon. And it would be awesome.
A week after that trip ended, Calipari made a hire that went mostly unnoticed outside Lexington, Kentucky. Joel Justus, a former Eton assistant fresh off a successful high school run at Davidson (N.C.) High School, joined the Wildcats as director of men's basketball analytics. According to Kentucky's release, Justus would be charged with "analyzing player and team performance, utilizing various stats and data to help develop efficient strategies through video."
The news of a major, deep-pocketed program like Kentucky's adding a coach whose sole responsibility is to filter advanced analysis is hardly news in its own right. Plenty of programs have devoted at least some resources to the idea lately. The benefits of an all-seeing statistical eye are fairly obvious. Concerted analytical effort yields better information, from simple things like per-possession numbers to hyper-detailed practice tracking, or video analysis the likes of which NBA franchises are obsessed. Better information yields better decisions. Better decisions yield better results. This all goes without saying, and doesn't require justification.
In other words, Calipari didn't really need to explain why he hired an advanced analytics type. But on Monday, at a UK alumni luncheon in Louisville, he did so anyway. His motivation? The platoon.
"If you're playing 20 minutes, what will your NCAA stats look like?" Calipari said. "Terrible for NCAA stats. So we're going to have big data stats, per-minute and efficiency stats that we can send to NBA teams."
The last bit is most interesting. Calipari says he wants to speak the analytical lingua franca not because he feels his own program needs it to win basketball games, but because he wants to be able to sell his players to NBA front offices. He wants to, in his own words, make sure "every one of these kids eats." That means revealing their abilities even when their counting stats -- or, as he calls them, their "NCAA stats" -- take a platoon-related hit.
It can't hurt. Still, one has to wonder: Didn't Kentucky collect per-possession stats before? (Probably.) Don't NBA franchises have enough resources devoted to scouting talents like the Wildcats'? (Yes.) Do they really need UK's proprietary data? (Almost certainly not.)
The real message here lies a little deeper: Calipari is devoted enough to the platoon system that he's willing to create a new position on his staff to make sure every player gets his eventual due. That's good news for anyone excited to see Kentucky try to pull off a borderline ridiculous idea. It's also good news for UK's players, who can rest easier knowing that joining a team with this many good players need not hurt their NBA chances. If UK prospects hear the message, even better.
UK's new director of men's basketball analytics may well help Kentucky win. But Calipari's real victory comes -- as usual -- in the marketing department. Whatever Justus cooks up in the video room is a bonus.