John Calipari says on podcast Arkansas could have ‘eight or nine guys’ on 2024-25 roster

John Calipari has talked about a different approach to roster building in the past. He appears to be considering a completely new idea at Arkansas.

Calipari suggested the Razorbacks might have a smaller roster going into the 2024-25 season, looking at the possibility of having only “eight or nine guys,” he said while on the “Ways to Win” podcast with former Oregon State coach Craig Robinson.

Why would Calipari opt to not make use of Arkansas’ full allotment of scholarships? We explain below.

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Why would John Calipari limit Arkansas’ scholarship players in 2024-25?

Calipari expounded on his idea of having just “eight or nine guys” on Arkansas’ team this year. 

“They’re leaving anyway, and why would I develop a kid for someone else? Why would I do that?” Calipari said on the podcast.

Calipari has had his work cut out for him this offseason. Arkansas’ roster had five players that had no eligibility remaining and the other nine players with eligibility left either entered the transfer portal or declared for the 2024 NBA Draft. That meant Calipari had a completely blank slate in Fayetteville.

He has since added seven players, including three freshmen — Boogie Fland, Billy Richmond, and Karter Knox. The rest have had at least one year of collegiate experience, including two — Adou Thiero and Zvonimir Ivisic — who played for Calipari at Kentucky.

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Though collegiate teams have 13 scholarships available, Calipari suggested not using all of them. He would instead fill out the roster with walk-ons and graduate assistants who can help prepare the team for opponents rather than having more competion for playing time.

“I want those [graduate assistants] to have played in Europe or just got done playing and can still play,” he said. “We can use them in practice. The women’s programs have five guys that they call ‘managers,’ but that’s who they scrimmage against. Maybe I do it that way. We have some walk-ons, we have some [graduate assistants], we have eight or nine guys and that’s it. And if there is a 10th guy, he knows he’s the 10th guy.”

The Kentucky rosters Calipari assembled in the past have been littered with several of the biggest names in recruiting. However, the Wildcats won only one national championship under Calipari and did not reach the Final Four since 2015. The 2024 NCAA Tournament run for Kentucky ended abruptly in a stunning upset by No. 14 Oakland
.

After the loss to Oakland, Calipari described Kentucky as a “really young team” and noted all the mistakes came from freshmen
. He also said during the game that, because many of his players are freshmen, the coaching staff didn’t know how the players would respond to different adjustments.

He acknowledged a change was needed, even if it wouldn’t be a completely new philosophy.

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“I’ll look at other ways that we can do stuff, but, you know, there’s — this thing here, it’s a different animal. We’ve been able to help so many kids and win so many games and Final Fours, national titles, and all this stuff, win league championships with young guys,” Calipari said after the loss. “It’s changed on us. All of a sudden it’s gotten really old. So we’re playing teams that our average age is 19. Their average age is 24 and 25. So, do I change because of that? Maybe add a couple older guys to supplement.

“I’ve done this with young teams my whole career, and it’s going to be hard for me to change that, because we’ve helped so many young people and their families that I don’t see myself just saying, okay, we’re not going to recruit freshmen. I mean, the thing that we’ve been blessed with is families bring their sons to us and we do what we’re supposed to do to help them prepare for the rest of their lives.”

Many teams that have found success in recent years have featured rosters that have retained older, more experienced players. Much was also made of rosters like North Carolina having a higher average age than even some NBA teams.

Calipari will be looking to help guide an Arkansas program that hasn’t reached a Final Four since 1995 get over the hump. A new approach to roster building could be what helps turn both coach and program around in an ever-changing period of college basketball.

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