For those of you who didn’t hear Matt’s appearance on the “Big EZ show with Sweeney” on Tuesday, you missed an interesting conversation about jerseys being retired, and whether John Wall would/should be up there. The last UK player put up there was Jamal Mashburn, who left school in 1993, so I think it is about damn time to get somebody else in the rafters. Before I give you a list of my group, one point to consider is this: those of you who think the retired jerseys club is elite, Matt made a good point that UK put ALOT of players from the 1940’s and 1950’s who might not necessarily have the goods to back up such an honor. I won’t call out any players, but if you look at the list, there are some guys who simply don’t belong. From 1930-1970, UK put 24 players in the rafters. In the 40 years since, UK has put 11, and 4 of those were the Unforgettables. Personally, I like the guys in the rafters to have ELITE careers at UK, and for it to be VERY difficult to make it, but some might disagree. Anyway, here is the list of guys that are often discussed for the honor, and where I would rank them in terms of who NEEDS to get there (not necessarily who will or in what order):
1) Tony Delk: He is the obvious choice here, plus he is coming up on 5 years in the UK Hall of Fame, so he will be eligible in the next couple years. National champion, All-American, and has the stats to back it up. There is not any weak spot on Delk’s record.
2) Tayshaun Prince: This might not happen until Prince is out of the NBA, but Prince was just too much of a fan favorite and has too good of stats to back it up. Plus he was a big winner, just never made the Final Four. Well newsflash, neither did Dan Issel. Prince has a couple iconic moments in UK lore, continues to be a great representative of the university, and that little gold medal he won doesn’t hurt either. His recent inclusion in the UK Hall of Fame means he will be eligible in 5 years, so we could see him there in 2015.
STRONG CASE BUT NOT SLAM DUNKS
3) Keith Bogans: I know that Bogans was not a fan favorite during his time in Lexington andnever made the Final Four, but I find it hard to believe that UK will keep its 4th leading career scorer out of the rafters, but Jerry Bird can make it. Bogans was a leading player all 4 years at Kentucky, and had 3 VERY productive seasons. He was also the go-to player on the undefeated SEC squad.
4) Mike Pratt: He has certainly helped his case by being Tom Leach’s right hand man for many years now, but Pratt has the goods to back it up. The problem he had was being overshadowed by Dan Issel for years. But, he is 26th in scoring all-time, ahead of Sam Bowie, Frank Ramsey, Wah Wah Jones, and numerous other UK legends. And he did it all in 3 seasons. Now that he is headed to the UK Hall of Fame, look for him in the Rupp rafters in 5 years.
5) Patrick Patterson: The most loved player since Mashburn, and maybe even more than Mashburn. Without last season, he doesn’t have a strong case with 2 bad team years. But, his impact on the program was enormous, his stats are fantastic, and he was an amazing off the court ambassador too. But, no Final Fours is a serious dent in his chances. I think he likely gets honored in 15-20 years for what an amazing person and player he was, but if you put him up there, don’t you also have to put Chuck Hayes there too?
6) Ron Mercer: I think this is higher than most people would put Mercer, and ahead of some people that are more likely to be there, but Mercer is a guy that too often gets overlooked in UK historically great players. Mercer went to Final Fours in both seasons in Lexington, won a title, and was a consensus 1st team All-American his sophomore year. Only Bill Spivey, Rex Chapman, and Bob Burrow scored more points in 2 seasons than Mercer. Spivey and Burrow are in the rafters. Frankly, the ONLY hole in Mercer’s resume in he was a 2-year player. And that is not enough to keep him out for me.
WORTH ARGUING BUT WITH HOLES
7) Wayne Turner: The ultimate winner at Kentucky is a very difficult argument amongst fans. Those who say yes to Turner point to the 3 Final Fours and 2 titles. Those who say NO to Turner point to all the great talent he had around him. I lean more towards the NO because having your jersey retired is an INDIVIDUAL honor, and all of the wins that Turner accumulated in his career are a TEAM stat. Turner’s individual stats are pretty good, but not all-time great.
8 ) Chuck Hayes: Here is the tough thing about Hayes, in a vacuum, Hayes doesn’t have a shot at this honor. His stats are only so-so. He was only the leader of one team at Kentucky, and he never made a Final Four. But, he was the EPITOME of what you want in a UK basketball player. Hard-nosed, incredibly hard worker, never give up attitude, and a truly team player. He also won a TON of games, and he would be a near lock for this honor if they beat Michigan St. in 2005. But it didn’t happen, and it leaves a big gaping hole in a resume that is not super strong statistically. I actually think UK will end up putting Hayes there because the fans will call for it, but I am not so sure he completely deserves it.
9) Melvin Turpin: Certainly this name comes to mindfollowing his tragic death. He is 16th all-time in points, and only Ed Davender and Mike Casey have not had their jerseys retired above him, of the players who are eligible. He was part of the Twin Towers, and a fan favorite. He was a 2nd team All-American in his senior season andmade a Final Four. So, what holds him back? For whatever reason, he just never had “it” factor that many of the players ahead of him had. Sam Bowie was always more heralded, even though Turpin actually was a higher scorer their senior seasons. His premature death may bring a greater look at his playing career and maybe we will see him there in the future, but for right now he just isn’t at the top of the list.
10) John Wall: Is he one of the 5 best TALENTS to ever play at Kentucky? I think that answer is obvious. But, that is not what gets you this honor. It’s all about CAREER’S, and Wall’s was just one great year. Other players who have had one GREAT year include Ramel Bradley, Jason Parker, and Jodie Meeks. Those guys are not under consideration, and neither should Wall. If Kentucky had won the title, then MAYBE. But, not even getting in the Final Four ends the discussion with me for Wall.
11) Antoine Walker: An amazing talent, and maybe just as important in 1996 as Tony Delk. He’s more talented that almost anybody above him, and has a national title. So what holds him back? Well, he had some rough spots with the fans, especially in 1995. And his post-UK career has been up and down. He also hasn’t really had much connection with the program since leaving, meaning many UK fans have sort of forgotten just how good he was. Walker is only seriously considered if the standards for getting in the rafters is loosened.
12) Rex Chapman: Scored more points than Mercer in 2 years. Was a home grown legend from Owensboro. Played hard and produced some great moments in UK history, in particular his performance against Louisville in 1987. But, his career rolled right into probation andneither of his teams were great. Rex is considered a legend in UK history, but unfortunately his career just wasn’t actually that legendary.
13) Rajon Rondo: Rondo will be an interesting case in the future. His NBA career has exploded and he could potentially become an Olympian in the near future. All of the sudden, Kentucky fans love him again. But his career in Lexington was only 2 seasons, and those 2 seasons had some serious ups and downs. Rondo showed flashes of brilliance but never had the leadership skills to become a fan favorite. He made one Elite 8, but his sophomore season was very dissapointing. Point being, if Rondo is ever put in the rafters, we then would know that pro careers are included in consideration of this honor.
14) Gerald Fitch: Was sandwiched in between the Keith Bogans team and the Chuck Hayes team. The only team that Fitch was “The Man” on was the 2004 team that lost to UAB in the 2ndround. But, Fitch was an overachiever at Kentucky, played hard during his time, and really was the glue guy on several teams. Much like many of the guys in the 2000’s, a lack of a Final Four really hurts his resume. And unlike Prince, his stats are just not good enough for serious consideration.
15) Jeff Sheppard: The 1998 run was so memorable that people forget that Sheppard was simply a role player his first 3 seasons at Kentucky. His missed the 1997 Final Four run due to injury, and never averaged above 6 ppg in his first 3 years. But, he was the Final Four MVP his senior season, an absolute clutch player and leader that season, and deserves to forever be called a UK great for that, but to retire his jersey would be very excessive.
16) Demarcus Cousins: Sorry, but it just isn’t going to happen for Cousins. He was fantastic, but John Wall was just a little more fantastic. Fans loved him, but they loved Wall just a little bit more. I don’t think either guy should even be up for consideration, but Cousins just doesn’t have what it take. Fantastic talent, great 1 season, nothing makes me consider him.
17) Jodie Meeks: If Meeks plays his senior season at Kentucky, he might leap up into the Keith Bogans level of consideration. But, he left slightly abruptly, and really only had one fantastic season. Was solid his first two years, but being connected with the Billy Gillispie era just hurts his resume. His 54-point performance should be honored, maybe even with a banner, but Meeks career just doesn’t hold any weight with me.
(Side note: Tubby needs to be there too. Won a national title, kept the program out of trouble, put numerous players into the NBA. Despite the fact UK fans didn’t think he did a good enough job, he was still an ELITE coach. Compare him and Joe B. Hall and Tubby is better.)