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BTI’s Rants and Ramblings: Was Jack Givens Better than Dan Issel?

It’s always been a given that Dan Issel is the greatest player in UK history.  The guy holds the scoring record and has held that record for 43 years now.  He still has 4 of the top 10 scoring games in UK history.  And he did all of this in 3 seasons, as freshman were not allowed to play during Issel’s time.  We debate so many things within the UK fanbase though: greatest team, greatest shot, retired jerseys, best coach, etc etc, maybe it’s time we look a little deeper into the certainty that Issel was the greatest player in UK history.  Because I think you can argue Jack Givens was the greatest.  Look at the numbers:

Points: 2,138 (1st)
Rebounds: 1,078 (1st)
Assists: 98 (not ranked)

Points: 2,038 (3rd)
Rebounds: 793 (12th)
Assists: 270 (26th)

Now, it seems hard to argue against the guy who is 1st in both points and rebounds, right?  But, follow me for a second as I argue Givens should be given a serious look:


-Yes, Issel scored 100 more points than Givens during his career.  But, Givens actually played a role in 2,578 points (his scoring plus 540 points in assisted baskets) while Issel played a role in 2,334 points.  So, while Issel scored more than Givens, he actually played a role in less points than the Goose.  Remember, basketball isn’t all about scoring.


-In Issel’s senior season, the one in which he scored a school record 948 points, he also attempted 667 shots to get those points, the most shots attempted in 1 season in UK history.  In Jack Givens’ senior year, he only attempted 430 shots.  If Givens had attempted the same number of shots that Issel did that season, he would have scored 150 more points than he actually did in 1978 and Givens would be the school’s all-time leading scorer, not Issel.  The point being, Issel’s records are incredible.  There is no denying that.  But he also played on a team where he was required to take an extreme number of shots.  Despite the fact that Issel played 3 seasons and Givens 4, Goose only attempted 47 more shots than Issel.

Sophomore: Givens 494, Issel 390
Junior: Issel 534, Givens 459
Senior: Issel 667, Givens 430


-When trying to compare 2 guys and their individual skills, it’s tricky to include team success into that discussion.  But, you have to include the fact that Givens won a title and Issel never made a Final Four into the talk.  And not only did Givens win a national title, he did so scoring 41 points in the title game.  While Issel’s scoring prowess is undisputed, in the 3 games that UK was eliminated in the NCAA Tournament during Issel’s career, he scored 19, 13, and 28 points.  And fouled out of his final game with 10 minutes to play.  Point being, Givens has that big game moment that Issel doesn’t.


I think this post is more a highlight of the career of Goose Givens, and the belief he may have the most complete career of any UK player in history.  It’s my belief that Givens could have played in the era of Issel and scored nearly as many points as Issel.  But in the late 1970’s, the game had slowed down and thus less shots were being attempted.  Plus, Givens’ teams were generally deeper and the shots were spread out more.  If Givens had been allowed to shoot the ball as often as Issel, he likely would have scored nearly as much in his final 3 seasons as Issel.

That being said, what Issel accomplished on an individual level in 3 years is unquestioned.  The fact he is both the scoring and rebounding leader after just 3 seasons is quite amazing.  I just think when talking about the greatest player in UK history, Issel should be 1A and Givens 1B.

Article written by Bryan the Intern

52 Comments for BTI’s Rants and Ramblings: Was Jack Givens Better than Dan Issel?

  1. dubowski
    9:07 am August 1, 2013 Permalink

    you suck.

  2. Cats in my house
    9:09 am August 1, 2013 Permalink

    Never ever like comparing great players of the BBN. Who are we the BBN to judge? Really dislike this article!!!!

  3. Jumpin Joe
    9:12 am August 1, 2013 Permalink

    Football starts in less than a week. Glad you are interested and following football.

  4. mcayce
    9:15 am August 1, 2013 Permalink

    Sorry- though Givens was a great player he is not Dan Issel. (nice try)

  5. Musehobo
    9:17 am August 1, 2013 Permalink

    Oh gawd. Here we go again. 2 things:

    1. You can’t penalize Issel for the quality of his teammates. Issel can’t get assists if when he dishes the ball they suck it up. You are rewarding Givens for playing with other more talented players to which he could dish it.

    2. Issel’s job was harder. Be the ONLY man. If he took all the shots, then everyone knew they only had to shut down Issel. They couldn’t do it. When he was surrounded by inferior teammates, and an opposing team that knew they only had to guard him, he still took them down. That is flat out amazing.

  6. Azubuike's Bicep
    9:18 am August 1, 2013 Permalink

    I get what you’re saying, but it’s still a pretty big stretch to say that Givens is better.

  7. Andres Gallaraga
    9:27 am August 1, 2013 Permalink

    BTI sucks..that’s why he is still an intern.

  8. btowncatfan
    9:27 am August 1, 2013 Permalink

    BTI must be getting tired of the commentors generally praising his posts. This is one that would surely get him beat down, figuratively speaking. Probably into S&M also.

  9. rick
    9:29 am August 1, 2013 Permalink

    Who cares, God guys give us some football news. Who’s looking good, whos hurt, whos is going to be starting Quarterback and the CARDS SUCK.

  10. Laughing
    9:32 am August 1, 2013 Permalink

    This had to be written by a youngster who is still wet behind the ears. The Goose was Golden but he was no Dan Issel. And if we want to carry this past the University of Kentucky, how did each do in the pros?

    Mike Pratt might argue that Dan did not have good teammates. Dan Issel was fortunate in that he played for Adolph Rupp who knew how to run an offense with super stars. As far as Issel fouling out in his last game. I hope you watched the entire game. The fouls were very questionable to say the least.

    This article was a waste of valuable cyberspace

  11. SaratogaCatsFan
    9:34 am August 1, 2013 Permalink

    Short sided. What about the 300+ rebounds that Issel had over Givens which surely wouldve led to kickouts and a swing pass for points or a fast break where he didnt get the assist.

    Also, I cant find blocks for these two but I would have to assume Issel stopped more baskets from scoring than Givens.

    Nice try, not really, but Issel gets the nod.

  12. brain
    9:34 am August 1, 2013 Permalink

    Issel’s had the best career for a UK BB player ever so no, Givens wasn’t better than Issel. 5- You Don’t know what you’re rambling about. Issel’s team was rated #1 all year and even after the season in the AP poll. He was surrounded by excellent players. Pratt and Steele played in the pros. Really stupid post.

  13. dpvatty
    9:40 am August 1, 2013 Permalink

    Stupidest post ever. Givens is awesome. But not better than Issel. Horrible. yes it is hard to argue against first in rebounds and points, in one fewer year.

  14. Jake from State Farm
    9:44 am August 1, 2013 Permalink


  15. Elzekeo
    9:45 am August 1, 2013 Permalink

    Why is this clown on our wonderful site? He gives the Goose 500 some points more than Dan because of the assist, didn’t mention the fact of the more than 285 rebounds in Dans favor. He is a jerk, then making this statement,”Remember, basketball isn’t all about scoring”. Hey just be thankful they both played for UK, and were two of the many great players who has.Why doesn’t he get off here and go to the Dirty Red Birds west of here.

  16. Monstermash
    9:47 am August 1, 2013 Permalink

    The Goose is golden.

  17. bung
    9:48 am August 1, 2013 Permalink

    Dan’s Soph. season Mike Casey led the team in scoring. Casey and Pratt took 808 shots to Dan’s 390… 5 players avg in double figures…just the facts man…

    9:50 am August 1, 2013 Permalink

    Issel only played 3 years. If had played his freshman year, this wouldn’t even be debatable.

  19. MustangCat
    9:51 am August 1, 2013 Permalink

    Seriously? How do you compare a player who averaged 16.6 pts a game for his career to a player that averaged 25.7???? Issel scores 100 MORE points – in what? 40 less games??? Issel was a machine. No one has approached his production. If you wanted to measure the most IMPORTANT or most VALUABLE against the BEST INDIVIDUAL player? Then there is a slight argument. But, not Issel vs Givens. That argument would be Issel vs Mashburn. You’d have to take AVERAGES and PERCENTAGES, not totals. THEN, you’d have to PROJECT. THEN, you’d have to measure the careers of many of our recent players who only played a year or two. How far would Givens be down that list? Especially if we project improvement ratios?! How much did Givens improve from year to year? Figure Cousins and Wall, and even Knight and Davis according to those ratio’s?!! Givens was an all-time great at UK. No doubt there. But the best? Not even close. Wonder how far ahead Issel would be if he played another year? I bet his freshman season would have been better statistically then Givens senior year…..

  20. nowis
    9:54 am August 1, 2013 Permalink

    #2 I agree. I never rank UK players. We have had so many great players over the years that I feel rating them is impossible. They played at different times, with different teammates, different opponents and all of these things would have an effect on their stats.

  21. Fan
    9:55 am August 1, 2013 Permalink

    I had the honor of having lunch with Jack Givens several months ago. He is a super person, doing great things. Whoever was the “greatest Wildcat player” of all-time, Goose is unquestionably a great guy.

  22. classof68
    9:57 am August 1, 2013 Permalink

    Big Dan all the way. Sorry Goose.

  23. BTI get a grip
    10:06 am August 1, 2013 Permalink

    Dumbest article yet from BTI

  24. toddsvoboda
    10:06 am August 1, 2013 Permalink

    Dan Issel had more rebounds which led to the assists that led to the points, so that argument is silly..

    Issel all the way

  25. UKFan4Life
    10:11 am August 1, 2013 Permalink

    Issel played for 3 years and accomplished this goal playing only 83 games. Givens played 4 years and accomplished his in 132 games. Both great players but Dan was better… I also hate rating UK players because we’ve had so many and our history is so deep. Too many generations of players…

  26. The Loco Pollo
    10:16 am August 1, 2013 Permalink

    Both are UK greats. I can’t compare because I didn’t see them play during my lifetime. However, your assists argument is bogus because how many rebounds did Issel have that lead to points?

    Anyway, both are on the UK Mount Rushmore and should be celebrated and not compared.

  27. Matt
    10:25 am August 1, 2013 Permalink

    Another thing to take into account, that may be way too difficult to analyze, is the rebounds. How many offensive rebounds were there that led to possible second chance points?

  28. UKBlue1!
    10:28 am August 1, 2013 Permalink

    Dan Issel is by far the greatest in UK history. He holds the scoring record. He played in the ABA/NBA for 15 plus years. He is still in the top 25 in NBA scoring history. I remember Goose, he was a great college player. We have him to thank for #5. He in my opinion is one of top 15 players in UK history. His NBA career was not good but should not put a slight on his UK playing days.

  29. Ike
    10:37 am August 1, 2013 Permalink

    Had Dan Issel had the luxury of the 3 point line this comparison would be of a moot point ……. actually their will probably never be a consensus comparison of any player in the future with the new turn of the players leaving the college ranks earlier .

  30. UKFanInSC
    10:43 am August 1, 2013 Permalink

    It’s worth remembering that UK probably lost a national title Issel’s senior year because Mike Casey broke his leg before the season started. In the loss to Jacksonville, UK had four players foul out with several minutes to go in the game.

  31. Gar Bear
    10:46 am August 1, 2013 Permalink

    Hard choice as both are on my team but the Horse is the man with Goose as a close second. They do not come along like these very often so enjon the memories!

  32. bung
    10:50 am August 1, 2013 Permalink

    so…ur sayin that if any uk player took hundreds of more shots than they actually took and hit half of them while rebounding better than they actually did and played for 4 years while only comparing them to players with 3 years…then they too could be the greatest player ever?

  33. ky1der
    10:51 am August 1, 2013 Permalink

    Issel by a long shot. Heck, I think Kenny Walker was better than Givens.

  34. Jack
    11:13 am August 1, 2013 Permalink

    Ahhh, the joy of youth. As one blessed to be old enough to have actually watched Dan Issel and Jack Givens play the game, there’s no real comparison. Issel was the best player to ever wear the Blue and White…………..well, at least, he was until Anthony Davis, also from the Chicago area, came along. Now there you might have a serious debate. You can hang your stats, if for no other reason than Big dan was THE focus of every defense in every game. I’m not sure that Givens ever had to contend with that because Phillips and Robey were so good.

  35. 2020
    11:18 am August 1, 2013 Permalink

    BTI must think he’s Jonah Hill in Moneyball or something, but he’s using 3rd grade analysis.

    Points per Game: Issel 25.7, Givens 16.6
    Rebounds per Game: Issel 13.0, Givens 6.4
    Assists per Game: Issel 1.2, Givens 2.2

    According to BTI, the +9.1 points differential and +6.6 rebounds differential in Issel’s favor is completely outweighed by -1.0 assist differential. Moronic.

  36. ReboundsRpartoftheGame
    11:19 am August 1, 2013 Permalink

    You kind of leave rebounding out of your argument, they lead to points as well..

  37. Steve
    11:25 am August 1, 2013 Permalink

    #29 You are right How many more points would Issel have scored with a 3-point line? I saw him score a lot of points from the top of the key which would be 3-pointers now. I saw both play in person; Jack was great, but Dan was the greatest.

  38. DoggedCat
    11:46 am August 1, 2013 Permalink

    Goose had no 3 line, too.

  39. KnowYourHistory
    11:53 am August 1, 2013 Permalink

    As for that Jacksonville State team, two words: Artis Gilmore. Jack State lost to UCLA in the championship (UCLA’s 6th title).

  40. me
    11:55 am August 1, 2013 Permalink

    #19 good points! Just imagine if Wall and Cousins had stayed 4 years. They would’ve JUST GRADUATED. Wall just got an 80million contract and Cousins is a force in the NBA.

  41. UKTexan
    12:00 pm August 1, 2013 Permalink

    Did you just seriously argue that Goose is better because he scored less career points, while taking more career shots?

  42. mlvei
    1:06 pm August 1, 2013 Permalink

    Issel was NOT a player on an otherwise starless team. I was a freshman when Issel was a senior and I saw probably every home game, in addition to seeing him in the ABA. On Issel’s senior team were Mike Pratt, Larry Steele, and Tom Parker along with a number of good guards such as Mike Casey. Pratt was so well loved he got a louder cheer on Senior night than Issel, Steele has an NBA championship ring, and the other guys were all good to very good, considering that Issel was one year shy of integration of the basketball team. Issel’s team should have made the NCAA final four except for a bad foul call and several players kicked off the team for missing curfew. Issel had the best post up moves I have ever seen and was an exceptional jump shooter. I have the greatest respect for Givens and his abilities, but I would give the edge to Issel.

  43. Orlando Cat
    2:06 pm August 1, 2013 Permalink

    Jack “Goose” Givens is a good friend of mine and even he would say that Issel is the best Cat ever BUT Goose had the greatest game ever for a Cat. Glad they are both part of BBN. Go Cats!!

  44. Not Dan Issel
    2:35 pm August 1, 2013 Permalink

    BTI continues to demonstrate that he is an absolute fool who knows nothing about UK basketball.

  45. MN CAT
    3:05 pm August 1, 2013 Permalink

    Can you people read? He didn’t say Goose was better than Issel. He rated Issel ahead of Goose. He even said that the main point of the comparison was just to highlight the amazing accomplishments of Givens. As such, the post is a success. I’m even more impressed with Givens than I was before. By the way, I’ve never understood how that championship performance can be seemingly forgotten by the national media. They never mention it. They never show highlights. Has there been a better individual championship performance than that?

  46. EK
    3:50 pm August 1, 2013 Permalink

    They are both two of the All Time Greats but Mashburn was better than both!!! GO CATS!!

  47. JackB
    3:57 pm August 1, 2013 Permalink

    Issel gets the edge, then Mashburn, then Goose, then Walker. (I don’t know how to judge 1 and dones as all time greats – really – you can’t compare the numbers.)

    The only thing I would say is that compared to all of these guys, Issel played in an era of college basketball that was played very fast with lots of high scoring. Issel wasn’t the only person with gaudy numbers during his day – there were lots of them. Pistol Pete scored over 3,000 points in 3 years at LSU during this time frame. Just like all home run hitters look better during the live ball era, good scorers in Issel’s time flourished because of lots of fast paced offense and little defense compared to other eras. Today, Issel would not have scored as much because no teams allow themselves or their opponents to put up as many shots per game.

    But Issel still has be given the edge. The guy also played like 35 years in the NBA, so he was not just a great college player.

  48. Dan
    5:32 pm August 1, 2013 Permalink

    You cant blame Issel for having to take more shots because his team at the time was’nt as good at scoring,then turn around and say Givens accounted for more points with his assist,so he is better than Issel,thats just crazy ! Sure he accounted for more points,as you said,paraphrasing,Issel’s team was’nt as good scoring the ball,so Issel had to score more and didnt have as many points off assist,you cant blame Issel for the fact his team mates couldnt shoot and score,how idiotic ! Im sure Issel was probably a lot more tired as well and actually wished some of his team mates coulod have scored more to give him some help and releive some pressue. Make no mistake,Im a big Givens fan,the 78 season was my first UK Championship,following UK since I was 5 in 1970,and the Goose put it on the Dukies,but still,you cant blame Issels for his teams ineptness and him having to score with fewer assist.

  49. VandyCat
    6:00 pm August 1, 2013 Permalink

    Fun to debate stuff like this, but the comments are way more interesting than the post. If you weren’t around then (I was), it’s silly to try and take a position on which was better…especially if you’re going against conventional wisdom. Issel was one of the best players ever to play the game, not just at UK. For many years, he was the 2nd all-time leading scorer in the NBA (if I recall correctly) as well. Goose struggled to make it in the NBA. I was at the ’78 Final Four in the Checkerdome – Goose was incredible! One of the best Cats on one of the best UK teams (I can make a argument for it being the best), and I absolutely love him as a UK player. But not even close. Issel was one of the greatest to ever play the game.

  50. RandyB
    6:43 pm August 1, 2013 Permalink

    BTI never saw Issel or Givens play live.
    If he had, there would be no question Issel was better.

    Historic Tidbit: Issel was Rupp’s 3rd choice for center as a high school player.
    I think the internationally-unknown George Janky of Chicago was #1.

  51. Bunny
    9:53 pm August 1, 2013 Permalink

    It’s Issel and it’s not close.

  52. DamnMexicanNuggetsFan
    2:46 pm August 3, 2013 Permalink