John Calipari’s Recruiting Records Show Travel & Financial Investment Required to Recruit at the Highest Level

Two years ago on a Tuesday night in late March, Kentucky Head Coach John Calipari and Assistant Coach Joel Justus met with then-high school junior Zion Williamson, the soon-to-be 2019 Naismith Men’s College Player of the Year at Duke and the likely No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, in his hometown of Spartanburg, South Carolina.

Calipari extended Williamson a scholarship offer to Kentucky that night as he and Justus took a private jet from Lexington to Spartanburg, and back — a cost of $8,345.90 charged to the University of Kentucky for the Beechjet 400, accompanying ground transportation and related federal taxes.

That night Williamson posted a since-deleted picture on his Instagram account of him posing alongside Kentucky’s two-man traveling crew, announcing that he received an offer from the Wildcats.

The visit was one of at least 12 trips Kentucky’s staff took to evaluate or visit Williamson, or vice versa, according to travel documents and receipts obtained by Stadium, and past media reports.

In an attempt to quantify the financial and travel commitments that college basketball programs make on the recruiting trail, especially those that are the best in the eyes of recruiting services, Stadium obtained travel reimbursement forms containing expensed receipts for the University of Kentucky men’s basketball recruiting via a public records request.

Stadium asked for itemized lists of Kentucky’s recruiting expenses for men’s basketball, as well as travel schedules for its head coach and assistant coaches from Sept. 1, 2016 through Jan. 30, 2019.

Ultimately, the Wildcats lost out to the Blue Devils for Williamson’s All-American services, but they still finished with the second-highest ranked recruiting class in 2018, just like they did in the previous two seasons — behind only Duke each time, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings.

Kentucky currently has the No. 2 recruiting class for 2019, behind only Memphis.

Open records laws don’t apply to private universities, like Duke, so unfortunately, there aren’t any public records available for the Blue Devils program that enrolled the top-ranked recruiting class in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

Recruiting is the lifeblood of college sports and it’s a 24/7/365 discussion topic on Twitter and message boards, long after a season has ended.

But for many fans, there are lots of unknowns about the recruiting process in the time between when a player is first “discovered” — whether it’s as an eighth-grade phenom whose mixtape blows up on Instagram or as a late-blooming junior in high school — and when he makes his college decision.

How many times will members of a coaching staff visit one of their top targets over the course of a recruitment period?

How many days a year are coaches on the road recruiting?

What is the recruiting footprint for one of college basketball’s blue bloods and how far are coaches willing to travel to pursue a prized player?

We set out to answer these questions and more, using the paper trail of receipts for private jets, rental cars, hotels and coaches packets purchased to attend AAU events.

[MORE: When’s the 2019 NBA Draft? Schedule, Date, Time, Location, Channel, Combine]

Who were the recruits that Kentucky evaluated?

A total of 56 recruits were named in the 290 Kentucky men’s basketball travel reimbursement forms obtained by Stadium.

Here’s an example of one excerpt from a travel report for a recruiting trip that Kentucky assistant coach Tony Barbee took to Pennsylvania in Dec. 2016.

However, not every form listed one or multiple recruits by name.

For example, some of the forms just mentioned the cities that Kentucky’s coaches traveled to (e.g. Kentucky Assistant Coach Kenny Payne’s trip on Sept. 19, 2017 took him from Lexington to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, then to Stuart, Florida on Sept. 20, followed by stops in Leesburg, Florida and Nashville, Tennessee, then back to Lexington on Sept. 21) or the AAU events they attended (e.g. adidas Gauntlet, Nike’s Peach Jam, etc.).

Of course, one coach — let alone an entire coaching staff — can watch tens, if not hundreds, of players over the course of a weekend at major recruiting events, so that’s not to say Kentucky only evaluated 56 recruits in the roughly 2.5-year timespan covered by the travel reimbursement forms.

But that number provides some level of context for how many players were a priority for the Wildcats at one point or another during their recruitments. In the last three recruiting cycles, Kentucky offered 53 players a scholarship, according to 247Sports, which is another indication that the Wildcats’ coaching staff is able to be picky on the recruiting trail as it annually enrolls a top-two recruiting class.

While there’s inconsistency in which, and how many, travel reimbursement forms list individual recruits by name, the cities listed can provide clues to which players Kentucky’s coaches were visiting, especially when cross-referenced with past media reports regarding in-home visits and scholarship offers.

For example, Zion Williamson’s name was only mentioned once in the nearly 300 travel reimbursement forms, but there were numerous trips to Williamson’s hometown of Spartanburg, and media reports confirmed that members of Kentucky’s coaching staff had visited Williamson on those dates.

Spartanburg is a town of just over 37,000 residents, so receipts for private flights that arrived in and departed from Spartanburg on the same day certainly stick out compared to a commercial flight to a major travel hub like Atlanta, for example.

You can also connect the geographical dots to other players like Tremont Waters (New Haven, Connecticut), James Wiseman (Memphis, Tennessee) and Tyrese Maxey (Dallas, Texas).

The average national recruiting ranking of the 56 recruits named in the travel reimbursement forms was 31.4, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings. That means the average player Kentucky has evaluated or recruited in recent years is consistently one of the nation’s highest-rated four-star recruits.

Keep in mind that there are typically 24 to 29 five-star recruits in a given recruiting class, according to 247Sports.

34 of the 56 players entered college as five-star recruits or currently hold such a status as a high school prospect, including 14 players who were ranked in the top 10 of their respective recruiting classes.

There were 27 players (48%) ranked in the top 20, 35 (62%) in the top 30, 45 (80%) in the top 50 and 54 (96%) in the top 100.

Being — at worst — a borderline top-50 recruit is almost a prerequisite to earn attention from Kentucky.

Ranked No. 165 in the 2019 recruiting class, 7-2 Maryland signee Chol Marial was the lowest-ranked recruit named in Kentucky’s travel reimbursement documents, but he was previously ranked in the top 10 of his recruiting class during 2016 and 2017, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings history.

Of the 48 players who have made their college commitment among the 56 that were named in the travel reimbursement documents, 13 have enrolled or will enroll at Kentucky.

Nine other programs have received multiple commitments from those 48 players who have decided on a school.

  • Duke: 6 (Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, Vernon Carey, Matthew Hurt and Wendell Moore)
  • Maryland: 3 (Jalen Smith, Aaron Wiggins, Chol Marial)
  • LSU: 3 (Tremont Waters, Emmitt Williams, Javonte Smart)
  • Kansas: 2 (Billy Preston, Silvio De Sousa)
  • Louisville: 2 (Brian Bowen, Aidan Igiehon)
  • North Carolina: 2 (Cole Anthony, Anthony Harris)
  • UCLA: 2 (Moses Brown, Chris Smith)
  • Villanova: 2 (Brandon Slater, Bryan Antoine)
  • Wake Forest: 2 (Jaylen Hoard, Isaiah Mucius)


It’s no secret that Kentucky is usually big-game hunting on the recruiting trail, as seen by the recruiting rankings of the players its coaching staff flies around the country to visit and the schools where those players ultimately commit.

Alabama, Creighton, Memphis, Miami (FL), NC State, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Texas, Texas Tech and Washington each received one commitment from the group of 56 players.

How much money do schools spend in recruiting — and where does it go?

Here’s a breakdown of Kentucky’s recruiting expenses for men’s basketball from Sept. 1, 2016 through Jan. 30, 2019.

*Calculated by dividing the respective “total expense” by 29 months (representing the time from Sept. 1, 2016 to Jan. 30, 2019) and then rounding up to the nearest cent.

Kentucky’s coaches spent $25,520.93 on Hertz rental cars and $728.28 on Uber rides from Sept. 2016 to Jan. 2019. There was $3,053 in parking expenses at Blue Grass Airport in Lexington.

Marriott is one of the biggest winners of Kentucky’s recruiting efforts. UK spent more than $43,000 at hotels that had Marriott somewhere in their name during this 29-month span that we analyzed.

By multiplying the average total monthly expenses by 12, you get an average annual expense total of $605,580.68 that Kentucky spent on recruiting during the roughly 2.5-year stretch from Sept. 2016 to Jan. 2019.

That annual average falls in line with The Courier-Journal reporting that the University of Kentucky budgeted $670,000 for men’s basketball recruiting for the 2018-19 season.

The figure also indicates a continued increase in the school’s recruiting budget in the last decade as Kentucky reportedly saw a 60 percent increase from $289,229 in 2009 (the final year of Billy Gillispie’s tenure) to $461,529 in 2013, according to an old USA Today database for NCAA men’s basketball recruiting spending.

That’s over a 100 percent increase in the last decade from Kentucky’s reported spending on recruiting in 2009 to its reported recruiting budget for 2019.

For the sake of comparison, LSU — Kentucky’s conference foe that enrolled the No. 4 recruiting class in 2018 — spent $511,401 on men’s basketball recruiting during the 2018 fiscal year, a significant increase from the $193,023 the school reported spending during the previous fiscal year, according to the school’s NCAA Final Reports.

How much does a school spend on recruiting one of its top targets?

Kentucky is set to enroll a five-player freshman class this summer that ranks No. 2 nationally, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings. The Wildcats landed three five-star recruits this cycle — combo guard Tyrese Maxey (No. 10 nationally), small forward Kahlil Whitney (No. 12) and small forward Keion Brooks Jr. (No. 23) — along with four-star small forwards Johnny Juzang (N0. 32) and Dontaie Allen (No. 104).

By cross-referencing recruiting profile pages on 247Sports, which list the dates of notable events during players’ recruitments such as coach visits, unofficial and official visits, and college commitments, with the travel reimbursement forms obtained by Stadium, we were able to identify — or at least make an educated estimate for — how much individual recruiting trips cost.

We attempted to quantify how many recruiting trips Kentucky’s coaching staff took to visit its three highest-ranked incoming freshmen — and vice versa — and roughly how much those trips cost the university, in an effort to show the time, travel and financial commitments it takes to enroll one of the country’s top recruiting classes.

Of course, this isn’t a perfect exercise.

For example, we’re limited to travel reimbursement documents that fall between Sept. 1, 2016 through Jan. 30, 2019, so there isn’t sufficient data for Kentucky’s latest commit, small forward Johnny Juzang, who recently reclassified to the class of 2019 and committed to the Wildcats on May 10.

He didn’t receive his scholarship offer from Kentucky until April 19, which is after the timeframe in which we have Kentucky’s travel reimbursement forms.

Another caveat is that it’s difficult to provide an exact number of times members of a school’s coaching staff evaluated a player at various recruiting events around the country or how much the school spent recruiting one prospect at one of those events. Which is why the tables below aren’t comprehensive lists of every single time a member of Kentucky’s coaching staff observed a player.

Keeping that in mind, we listed below the three five-star recruits in Kentucky’s 2019 freshman class — Maxey, Whitney and Brooks — along with the notable visits and events in their recruitments, each of which culminated in a commitment to the Wildcats.

In the last column for each player, we listed the estimated expenses of each recruiting trip, based on the travel reimbursement forms obtained via our public records request. These expenses include commercial and private flights, rental cars, per diems for food, gas, hotels and parking, among other travel expenses.

Expenses listed in bold font are believed to be the exact amount spent on a trip, meaning one or more of Kentucky’s coaches only evaluated or visited the player mentioned on that specific recruiting trip.

Expenses not listed in bold font with the estimate sign (~) in front of the expense total are rough estimates of how much Kentucky spent recruiting the player mentioned on a trip in which Kentucky coaches evaluated or contacted multiple prospects.

We attempted to evenly divide the expenses among recruits, so if one of Kentucky’s coaches visited two prospects in the same city, we divided travel expenses to that city by two, for example. But if a Kentucky coach visited a recruit in Philadelphia, then another in Dallas, expenses related to the coach’s travel to Dallas wouldn’t be counted towards the recruit from Philadelphia.

Note: Players and their families are responsible for funding unofficial visits to schools, while a recruit is allowed up to five official visits in which the host school can pay for the recruit, his/her parent or guardians, transportation, lodging, meals and tickets to home sporting events. Costs related to official visits are unavailable as they weren’t included among the travel reimbursement forms.

Tyrese Maxey, 6-3, combo guard, Garland, Texas

Date of Visit Type of Visit Coach(es) Reported By Estimated Expenses
Sept. 28, 2017 Coach Visit Tony Barbee Travel Documents $1,098.74
Oct. 10, 2017 Coach Visit John Calipari 247Sports $9,576.98
Oct. 13-14, 2017 Unofficial Visit for Big Blue Madness; Received offer 247Sports
Nov. 24, 2017 Coach Visit John Calipari 247Sports ~$6,303.48
Feb. 9, 2018 Evaluation John Calipari, Tony Barbee Travel Documents $3,889.89
Feb. 17, 2018 Unofficial Visit 247Sports
April 5, 2018 Coach Visit John Calipari, Tony Barbee 247Sports ~$8,594.30
April 15, 2018 In-Home Visit John Calipari, Tony Barbee Travel Documents ~$7,121.34
April 21, 2018 Evaluation John Calipari, Tony Barbee 247Sports ~$205.13
May 9, 2018 Commitment 247Sports
Sept. 11, 2018 In-Home Visit John Calipari, Tony Barbee Travel Documents ~$677.12*
Sept. 21, 2018 Official Visit 247Sports N/A
Oct. 12, 2018 Unofficial Visit 247Sports
Oct. 24, 2018 Evaluation Tony Barbee Travel Documents ~$560.70
Nov. 14, 2018 Signed National Letter of Intent 247Sports
Nov. 24, 2018 Coach Visit John Calipari 247Sports $6,975.00
Dec. 14, 2018 Evaluation Tony Barbee Travel Documents ~$426.01*
Jan. 26, 2019 Unofficial Visit 247Sports

*Cost of flights unavailable


Kahlil Whitney, 6-6, small forward, Roselle, New Jersey

Date of Visit Type of Visit Coach(es) Reported By Estimated Expenses
July 18-22, 2018 Evaluation; Received Offer John Calipari, Tony Barbee 247Sports ~$6,504.91
Aug. 3, 2018 Official Visit 247Sports N/A
Aug. 8, 2018 Committed 247Sports
Sept. 9, 2018 Coach Visit John Calipari Travel Documents ~$3,749.37
Sept. 18, 2018 Coach Visit John Calipari 247Sports ~$5,351.77
Oct. 12, 2018 Unofficial Visit 247Sports
Oct. 23, 2018 Coach Visit Tony Barbee Travel Documents ~$980.50
Nov. 19, 2018 Coach Visit Tony Barbee Travel Documents ~$178.24*
Dec. 17, 2018 Evaluation Tony Barbee Travel Documents ~$503.32*
Jan. 30, 2019 Coach Visit John Calipari N/A
April 12, 2019 Coach Visit John Calipari N/A
May 3, 2019 Signed National Letter of Intent

*Cost of flights unavailable


Keion Brooks, 6-7, small forward, Fort Wayne, Indiana

Date of Visit Type of Visit Coach(es) Reported By Estimated Expenses
Sept. 18, 2017 Coach Visit John Calipari, Tony Barbee Travel Documents ~$7,881.35
Sept. 23, 2017 Unofficial Visit; Received Offer 247Sports
Oct. 13, 2017 Unofficial Visit 247Sports
Feb. 16, 2018 Evaluation Tony Barbee Travel Documents $5,780.37
April 6, 2018 In-Home Visit John Calipari, Tony Barbee Travel Documents ~$6,390.09
Sept. 14, 2018 Coach Visit John Calipari 247Sports N/A
Oct. 9, 2018 Tony Barbee Travel Documents $219.56
Oct. 19, 2018 Official Visit 247Sports N/A
Oct. 23, 2018 Coach Visit John Calipari 247Sports ~$2,635.00
Dec. 8, 2018 Coach Visit John Calipari 247Sports ~$7,446.89
Jan. 12, 2019 Coach Visit Tony Barbee Travel Documents $491.31
Feb. 16, 2019 Unofficial Visit 247Sports
March 12, 2019 Coach Visit John Calipari 247Sports N/A
March 15, 2019 Committed 247Sports
April 18, 2019 Signed National Letter of Intent 247Sports


How many flights do Kentucky’s coaches take in a year for recruiting?

We counted 232 flights during the 2018 calendar year that the four members of Kentucky’s coaching staff took for recruiting purposes, meaning that number doesn’t include travel for games or personal travel.

Any private flights in which multiple coaches flew together counted as one flight, not one per coach.

Calipari was on 96 of those flights, always flying private, and Kentucky’s travel reimbursement forms listed 264 private recruiting flights for him from Sept. 2016 to Jan. 2019 — an average of roughly nine private flights per month strictly for recruiting purposes.

How far did Kentucky travel to evaluate prospects?

Kentucky Assistant Coach Joel Justus has been all over the globe in recent years — he flew to Chile for a week for the FIBA Americas Tournament in July 2016, and he traveled to Argentina each of the last two summers for the FIBA U16 and U17 World Cups.

FIBA events provide college coaches the opportunity to evaluate some of the country’s best high school prospects playing on the same team in international competition.

Calipari and Kentucky Assistant Coach Kenny Payne traveled to Colorado Springs in June 2017 for tryouts for the USA Men’s U19 World Championship Team, which was coached by Calipari. Current and former Kentucky players Immanuel Quickley, P.J. Washington and Hamidou Diallo were among the players who made the roster.

Members of Kentucky’s coaching staff have also made multiple trips to Canada in the last three summers.

Calipari, Justus and Barbee attended the FIBA Americas U18 Championship last June in Ontario, but Kentucky’s trips to Canada weren’t limited to FIBA events.

A private jet from Lexington to Toronto, and back, from July 29-30, 2017 cost the University of Kentucky $14,137.80 as Calipari traveled to Canada for The Classic, a recruiting event where former five-star recruit Simi Shittu, who eventually committed to Vanderbilt, was playing during July’s live evaluation period.

How many cities will a coach visit in a day/weekend?

On one Friday that kicked off a weekend in September of 2016, Kentucky Coach John Calipari traveled from Springfield, Massachusetts, where he visited for a Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame event, to Philadelphia to see current Orlando Magic center and former Texas one-and-done Mohamed Bamba to Tampa, Florida (to see current New York Knicks forward and former Kentucky player Kevin Knox), and Huntsville, Alabama (for current Alabama guard John Petty).

The next day Calipari flew to Norman, Oklahoma to see Trae Young, then to Las Vegas to for P.J. Washington, the since-departed sophomore forward who was an All-American for the Wildcats last season.

Calipari’s jet-setting continued, taking him everywhere from Ocean County, New Jersey to Reading, Pennsylvania as he pursued players like Lonnie Walker and Quade Green. During the course of Coach Cal’s eight-day, 10-city trip, he saw five future Wildcats across three different time zones.

That’s where Kentucky’s recruiting and travel budget really pay dividends as Kentucky’s Hall-of-Fame coach can travel across the country in a private plane, touching down in cities as big as Philadelphia or as small as New Haven in an effort to land top-30 talent in the high school ranks.

What is Kentucky’s recruiting footprint?

Since Calipari became the head coach at Kentucky in 2009, he has enrolled high school players on scholarship from 25 different states, plus Canada and New Zealand, so it won’t be long until there are more states from which Cal’s ‘Cats have landed recruits than those they haven’t.

Going back to 2009, Kentucky has enrolled six high school players on scholarship from Texas and five from New Jersey, so you could argue that two of the Wildcats’ recruiting hotbeds (at least on a per-state basis) are the Southwest and Northeast. But Kentucky is willing to travel to all corners of the country to recruit — former ‘Cat Terrence Jones hails from Oregon, and Calipari plucked former SEC Rookie of the Year Nerlens Noel from New Hampshire.

The reality is that if you’re a top-30 recruit in your high school class, John Calipari and Kentucky’s coaching staff are going to find you, regardless of the distance from Lexington to your hometown, thanks to an increasing recruiting budget that could approach $1 million annually at the end of the next decade if it continues its growth rate from the last 10 years.

MORE: NBA Mock Draft: Pelicans Win Zion Williamson Sweepstakes