I cant physically write about John Wall for another night. And John Calipari is having a press conference tomorrow at 10:30 am (for which I will be in attendance) that will dominate the morning news. So lets do something that I have wanted to do for some time. Below is my list of my personal 25 favorite players to wear the Blue and White. These are not the BEST players of all time, but simply the ones I liked the most while they were on the court. And as you know, we like who we like. There are two important caveats I must make….(1) this doesnt include players pre-1984, mainly because I wasnt old enough to know those guys and (2) it doesnt include guys after they took off the jersey. If that were the case, the top four would be Woo, Bobby Perry, Sky Walker and Mike Pratt in no particular order. This is only about how I liked them when they played, and the rationales as to my list are below. So lets go:
25. Derrick Miller: The often forgotten hero from Ricky P’s first year. As a kid I loved his crazy box hair cut and the fact that in that first season, he would shoot it anywhere at any time. Miller was the original Pitino bombino and is too often forgotten by UK fans.
24. Gerald Fitch: A perfect example of the kid of good Tubby player that worked for him. He was not ranked highly, came from Georgia as an unknown, but found the court early in his career and rarely got off of it. He became one of my favorites in 2004, when he was the leader of a team that didnt have the talent to be a #1 seed, but had the heart and desire to pull it off. Now only if he had hit that shot against UAB….
23. Nazr Mohammed: Nazr’s time at UK had it all. He started on the JV team that was basically created to allow his overweight self to have a chance to play. He later found himself hitting crazy game winners, winning national championships and eating at Waffle House every single time I ever stepped foot in that establishment. One of the more unlikely first round picks in history from UK and a key part in the great late 90s run.
22. Nehemiah “Jr” Braddy: UK fans love walk-ons and here was one of the originals. Part of the early Pitino teams, Braddy was a contributor during his last couple of seasons in Blue. He makes this list for me because of his name and the fact that a young Matt Jones juked him as an 8th grader at a basketball camp in Middlesboro. He still feels the pain to this day.
21. Cameron Mills: My relationship with Cameron was love/hate. He once heard me making fun of him at a Graeters in 1998 as he was standing behind me without my knowledge. But because he was so nice, he didnt kill me and went on to hit some of the biggest shots in UK history in the 97 and 98 postseason runs. The visual of him pumping his fist after the Duke three pointer is one for the ages.
20. Razor Ramon Harris: It isnt a secret that after Woo left, the blog’s crush became the Razor. With his defense, inability to dribble, Alaskan ancestory, WWE nickname and overall awesomeness, Razor is a Matt Jones favorite. But beyond all of that, he is one of the nicest guys to ever wear the jersey, gives 140 percent at all times and absolutely loves the Blue and White, doing more off the court for the program and its fans than any player I have seen. I hope he finishes his career this year as a winner.
19. Wayne Turner: Has there ever been a more thorough beatdown that the one Turner gave to Wojo in 1998? During the 98 and 99 seasons, no player was more fun to watch go one on one than Turner. He had a funky jumpshot, but a wicked crossover and he graduated one of the winningest players to ever play college basketball. The only thing from Boston that I can truly embrace.
18. Eric “E-Diddy” Daniels: Whether it was his smooth as silk jumper (he made something like his first ten shots as a Cat) or his dynamic ‘fro, Daniels was simply cooler than anyone else playing basketball. He was part of a host of winning teams and was always better than anyone ever gave him credit for being. He also led the NBDL in scoring last year, so his future in the NBA may not be over. The first player to embrace the internet (his mom was an early message board poster), nobody rocked it like Diddy.
17. Heshimu Evans: Destined to be the player that all UK transfers are likened to, Heshimu came from Manahattan with a chiseled phyisique and the mentality to do anything to win. He helped win a national championship and was one of those UK players who found himself outhustling everyone on the other team. When I was at Transy, we would see UK players everywhere at parties and in town. Only one made me nervous and that was Heshimu….which in case you forgot (because no announcer ever said it) means “warrior.”
16. Andre Riddick: We love absurdity at KSR and Anre may have been the first absurd KSR favorite. He would dunk in your face and lift his legs up in the air until it looked like he would walk the backboard. I loves his attempt at choking Rasheed and the way his blocks against Geert Hammick in the SEC Tournament made him blush. Riddick was never great, but you could not help but be entertained by his crazy game.
15. Tony Delk: I am on a mission to have this man’s jersey retired. The greatest player on the greatest team in UK history. Tony Delk had no neck but he was still smooth as silk on the court. For my money, the best all around shooter Kentucky has had in my lifetime and a guy who hit big shot after big shot. Add to the fact that he threw up 50 in a game in the NBA and Delk will always have the KSR love.
14. Bobby Perry: While Bobby and I have become friends after his playing days, my affinity for his game started when he was in high school. I was at Duke Law while Bobby was in Durham and with another Kentucky fan, we went to a number of his high school games after he committed to UK. His brother would be at the game reading a Che biography (which I dont think he ever finished) and Bobby would be lighting up the other team. Likely the most intelligent player to put on the uniform in the last decade and certainly the nicest, UK is lucky to have him as an alumnus.
13. Ramel Bradley: My view of Ramel mirrors most of the fans. I loved the guy even as he frustrated me more than anyone alive. His play was at times brilliant and at times crazy, but that was also his life. Doing the Barnstorming Tour, I could find myself laughing with Ramel one minute and wanting to have him deported the next. But he always played with energy and was the best player with kids who were UK fans of anyone I have seen. A great guy who embraced all of life as a UK player.
12. Rex Chapman: Everyone’s boyhood hero was actually not that for me. During the Rex days, I followed Ed Davender, mainly for his goggles. But you couldnt help but be amazed by Rex, who came into UK with expectations larger than life and generally met them. He was the epitome of the Kentuckian who made good and his decision to come to UK was likely the single biggest recruiting moment ever, and it happened BEFORE the internet. To a generation just before mine, Rex is UK basketball and now with his son a future player, the Chapman lore just continues.
11. Chuck Hayes: Seriously how can you not love Chuck Hayes? 6’6″ (at best) and at times playing CENTER, Hayes was the player that no coach in the country wouldnt want. No one played harder, no one did more for his team and very few won at the rate of the Chuckster. His last three seasons saw two #1 seeds, one #2 seed and some of the greatest regular seasons in UK history. Now he is in the NBA still defying odds. You cant not love that.
10. Jamal Mashburn: Simply put, the greatest player at UK of my lifetime. I would say that behind only Issel, no one has been better when a Cat. And with the state of the program when he committed, no player has been more important to the program than the Monster Mash. He came as a Top 5 recruit even though he knew the team would be on probation his Freshman year. He left a legend and his role in the 1992 team makes certain he will be remembered forever.
9. Kenny Walker: The first player who I remember playing at UK and thinking, “I want to be like that guy.” Sky has been everywhere and done everything. He was Kentucky basketball in the mid 1980s and is probably more visible around the UK program than almost any player to ever lace them up. I loved him because of his nickname and his monster dunks, but those that were better analysts at the time would say that he was the best all-around player of his era. Oh yeah and he has crazy glamour shots on the internet. Everybody loves Sky.
8. Woo: Bottom line, no player entertained me more at UK than Woo. When I started covering UK, one person made me laugh every time I saw him and that was Woo. Whether it was his great postgame lines (after the Louisville game saying, “it was so loud that I thought the roof would come off….but luckily it didnt”) his aggressive playing style or his overall Wooness, he was the original KSR favorite. After his playing days he became an early KSR radio legend (“I like gummi bears and other fruity snacks”) and was the highlight of the Barnstorming Tour even when it wasnt his class. There is no better person than Woo, period.
7. Keith Bogans: For my money, the most underrated UK player of my lifetime. He was the best player on the 2003 team that is one of only TWO IN HISTORY to go undefeated in the SEC regular season and win the conference tournament. He had a rough Junior year that soured some fans, but his career numbers are brilliant and he will one day likely see his jersey in the rafters in Rupp. He once told me, “there was no better time in my life than my time in Lexington.”
6. Gimel Martinez: Admittedly, my love of Gimel is a bit strange. Best known for his moustache, Gimel drove many UK fans crazy during his time here. Yet for me, he was my favorite non-Eastern Kentuckian of the era of UK basketball that made me hooked as a fan. I loved that he was a big man shooting threes, that he had no problem fouling people crazy hard and that he broke his nose at an absurd rate. Gimel is the best and a reader of this blog. He would even be Top 5 if not for….
5. Patrick Patterson: P-Pat moved up on this list this week with his decision to come back and give another year to UK. Since I have been following the program, there isnt a more well-rounded player who also is amazingly talented that I have ever seen take the court. Patrick is so good that if he didnt exist, you would have to create him. Gives 110 percent, is the best player on the floor and is still as gracious off the court as any player could be. When his career is done, it is a good bet that he will be even higher on this list.
4. Derek Anderson: If I could be any basketball player, I would be Derek Anderson in 1997. On a great team, Anderson was a star, but a star that had fun. He always played with a huge smile on his face, dunking on fools and then dancing after he did it. His little shimmy after his Indiana dunk (which led to Vitale saying “no Derek, dont need to do that Derek, no dipsy dooo”) is still a top 5 highlight for me. Two years, two title games….doesnt get much better.
3. Tayshaun Prince: Any player that can make me watch over 200 Detroit Pistons games, must be something special. I love the baby hook, the defensive ability, the five threes against North Carolina and the fact that he comes back to UK every year and puts on basketball camps. I have never met anyone who had anything bad to say about Tayshaun. Consistently undervalued, he also now has an Olympic Gold Medal. His jersey will hang in the rafters as well some day.
2. Jamaal Magloire: He gave me the name that started my internet writing career. Simply put, no player was more fun for me to watch than Jamaal at UK. He played exactly like I would have if I were good. He was bigger than everyone else, more awkward than everyone else, and looked to be worse than everyone else. Yet he somehow managed to be First Team All SEC, an NBA all star and one of the baddest mofos on the planet. When he put Wojo in the rack and knocked down the Miami (OH) mascot, he showed why he was the impetus for Magloire52 as a poster. He is a bad dude, but also the first player to have his own internet site (remember that?). We love Magloire.
1. Richie Farmer: Probably no one will ever pass Clay County’s finest. I still remember my grandfather taking a 9 year old Matt Jones to the basketball courts on 30th Street in Middlesboro to watch Richie come from Clay County and play against Laurence Buell from the Boro and Nick Sanford from Cawood in pickup games. I went to every Richie high school game I could go to in the 13th Region and followed him in the state tournament. Then he went to UK and he was the mountain boy made good and the pride of everyone in my county and my region. I saw him at the Derby and told him that he is the one Republican (besides my mother) that I would vote for and he said, “I am not a Republican, I am a Kentuckian, specifically an Eastern Kentuckian.” So am I Richie…and that is why you likely will always hold this spot.
So there you go, thats the list. Took a long time to do, but worth it. If you are reading this and want to check out the tv show tonight, tune into Louisville Sports Buzz for live streaming at 11:30 and an archived replay afterwards. Calipari press conference coverage here tomorrow….