@wildcatnews amazing how much talent this state produced in ’60s and how little it produces now in contrast
— Mark Story (@markcstory) July 15, 2012
After the inaugural class of the Kentucky High School Basketball Hall of Fame was inducted this weekend, a debate was sparked on Twitter by Kentucky media speculating on reasons why the state was once was able to produce so much home-grown talent and no longer is able to do so. Oscar Combs, Mark Story, and our own Matt Jones joined in on the discussion, but a consensus was not made between the three. Nobody could seem to come up with a reason that is unique to only Kentucky that would explain why we once developed so much high level talent and no longer do. There’s no doubt that the number of overall D-1 recruits from Kentucky is way down, but I’d argue that Kentucky is still developing top level players as well as they ever have. Fewer players from Kentucky are making it on D-1 rosters, for whatever reason, but the ones that DO make it have had a lot of recent success. Since the turn of the new millennium, we haven’t seen a large number of D-1 recruits come out of the state in any given year, but we’ve had our fair share of college stars and NBA success stories.
There was once a time when UK and UofL both had rosters fielded of primarily in-state talent, but recruiting today isn’t what it was fifty years ago. Extensive recruiting coverage on the internet and the AAU circuit, among other reasons, has pushed all D-1 schools to recruit nationally and from outside of their backyards and state boundaries. It’s not just Kentucky, or Calipari, or the top programs who recruit nationally–everyone does. Once upon a time, it was considered shocking that Adoph Rupp had signed a player all the way from New York City by the name of Pat Riley. Today, it’s the exact opposite–we are accustomed to signing players from New York, such as Ramel Bradley and Doron Lamb, but eyebrows are actually raised when we offer a scholarship to an in-state kid like Derek Willis. But let’s not forget about the instate kids who have gone elsewhere and have done big things for other programs, such as Chris Lofton and Shelvin Mack. Also, we’ve even lost some great players who have transferred to out-of-state high schools (Rajon Rondo and even OJ Mayo, who played H.S. ball here, but never lived here), something that would never have happened years ago. Lofton, Mack, Rondo, and now Darius Miller arguably have had as much success as any collection of Kentucky-born players over the years.
Below, I have separated the 11 male athletes who were nominated into the state’s basketball Hall of Fame this weekend by the decade in which they played high school ball:
• 1940s: Ralph Beard, Wah Wah Jones, Cliff Hagan.
• 1950s: “King” Kelly Coleman
• 1960s: Wes Unseld, Clem Haskins
• 1970s: Darrell Griffith, Jim McDaniels, Geri Grigsby
• 1980s: Rex Chapman, Richie Farmer
The 1940′s brought us three UK legends who are now hanging from the rafters in Rupp, including NBA Hall of Famer Cliff Hagan. The 1950′s were highlighted by “King” Kelly Coleman, who was considered the greatest high school basketball player ever from Kentucky at his time, but a successful college and pro career never materialized for Coleman due partly to alcoholism and an amateurism scandal. In the 1960′s, another NBA Hall of Famer came out of the state: Senaca and UofL star Wes Unseld. Another UofL star, Darrell Griffith, highlighted the 1970′s era of Kentucky high school basketball, and the 1980′s were led by two UK greats in Rex Chapman and Richie Farmer.
Granted, I am only 25 years old and didn’t watch any of those guys play (Richie Farmer was a high school senior when I was a 1-year-old), I still think that the best players to come out of our state since the 2000′s are nothing to sneeze at, even in comparison to this weekend’s Hall of Fame inductees.
• 2000-present: Rajon Rondo, Chris Lofton, Shelvin Mack, Darius Miller
I’m not sure if Rondo will ever make the Kentucky High School Basketball Hall of Fame since he finished up at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia, but he is from the state, played at UK, and could possibly be a future NBA Hall of Famer. Lofton and Mack will never be considered legends in this state to the same degree as Rex Chapman and Richie Farmer, but what if they had gone to UK? What if Shelvin Mack, who just finished his rookie season with the Wizards, had led Kentucky to two straight Final Four’s instead of Butler? Lofton appeared destined to the NBA as well throughout his All-American career at Tennessee, before being diagnosed and fighting through cancer. Then, of course, there’s the story of Darius Miller, who became the first player to win Kentucky Mr. Basketball, win a Kentucky state championship, and win a National Championship at UK. These four guys, with the exception of Darius, are not celebrated in the same way as the great players from the state have been before them (due mostly to the fact that only 2 of them played at UK), but the four great Kentucky players since the 2000′s have combined for one possible NBA Hall of Fame career, an NBA Championship, three NBA All-Star appearances, two AP NCAA All-American seasons, four NCAA Final Fours, and one NCAA National Championship. That’s not too shabby.
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