For all of the scuttlebutt about John Calipari only bringing players to Kentucky’s campus for a one-season layover before entering the NBA, the list of players who have played in Lexington under Calipari includes plenty who have captured our hearts and left a legacy both on and off the court. Some have managed to do both, showering the Kentucky fans with success and things to love both on and off the court. Others have excelled in either one area or the other. A few have done a bit of both, but neither necessarily to the maximum. And finally, a handful have left Kentucky fans with an empty feeling, or major question marks about “what could have been?”
I’ve used a 5-star ranking system below to break down the players who have played under John Calipari in his time at Kentucky. Most of them are what I would call “Cal guys,” but a few were holdovers who Cal inherited from Billy Gillispie. Either way, the players are broken down into 5 categories based on the legacy they left with Kentucky fans. The factors that contribute to the on the court legacy are based upon wins, tournament success and individual success. The factors that contribute to the off the court legacy include connection with the fan base and community, and personality.
**Disclaimer: This ranking system is only considering the Calipari Era players. In the overall history of Kentucky basketball, these players might not be rated quite as highly…
Beloved off the court AND a national champion
Only 3 Calipari era players fully embody being both beloved off the court AND experiencing the highest level of success on the court. All 3 of these players hold a special place in the hearts of Kentucky fans regardless of the championship or not. The fact that all 3 were key contributors to a national championship puts them over the top and into the 5-star category.
Either beloved on/off the court OR unexpected success on the court
While all of these guys are 4-stars in my opinion, they can be broken down into more specific categories. DeAndre Liggins and Josh Harrellson stole the hearts of Kentucky fans when they stepped up to the plate to become 2 integral pieces in a surprise Final 4 run. Neither player achieved early success when Billy Gillispie was at Kentucky, yet both overcame adversity to fill a specific role during Kentucky’s Final 4 run. Liggins will forever be remembered for his defensive intensity and Harrellson will forever be remembered for his Jorts and pure heart.
John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins burst onto the scene as absolute super stars both on and off the court. Kentucky hadn’t seen the star power of guys like those 2 in quite some time. The mix of their personalities and immense talent brought back to the fun to Kentucky basketball.
Patrick Patterson and Nerlens Noel are 2 players who fit a similar mold in my mind in the hearts of Kentucky fans. In their time in Lexington, they both found a way to truly connect to the fan base, while also showcasing a generous and philanthropic side. Both players were also warriors on the court, and you never had to question the effort coming from either of them.
Brandon Knight was an interesting character off the court, though rather quiet and not necessarily a player which fans felt they “knew” deeply. Knight earned his 4-star status though when he became (as Matt likes to call them) a “stone cold killer” during Kentucky’s Final 4 run. In just one post-season, Knight hit a few of the biggest shots in recent Kentucky basketball memory.
Beloeved for something EITHER on or off the court, but not necessarily a strong combination of both
Doron Lamb, Terrence Jones, Marquis Teague and Eric Bledsoe all wound up having very successful Kentucky basketball careers. Teague, Jones and Lamb were all part of a national championship team– though the 3 probably weren’t as beloved by the fans as some of the other players on that team. All 4 of the players mentioned had great success on the court, but didn’t necessarily make deep connections with the fan base off the court.
Mark Krebs, Perry Stevenson and Julius Mays were all personalities and players who fans felt a connection with off the court. Krebs won our hearts over as one of the most beloved walk-ons in the past 10 years. We felt a connection with him as well as he shared his senior day moment with his ailing mother with all of us. Stevenson had a hilarious personality, which has only been put on display even more in his time post-Kentucky. Mays was one of the few genuinely through and through likable players on this year’s Kentucky team. The team struggled, but Mays stepped up as a leader and over-achieved in his season as a 5th year senior.
Players who fans feel generally positive about, but didn’t necessarily see tons of on the court success
Players who left Kentucky fans feeling empty…or with lingering questions
While none of these players necessarily did anything outrageous to anger fans, all of them kind of leave Kentucky fans with a “meh” type of a feeling. None of the 5 achieved huge success on the court, and the connection off the court was also lacking.
TBD/Predictions: Players who have started their Kentucky careers, but the status of their legacy is still to be determined…
Jon Hood (Prediction: 2-star)
Willie Cauley-Stein (Prediction: 4-star)
Alex Poythress (Prediction: Honestly could be anywhere from a 1-star to a 5-star)
Kyle Wiltjer (Prediction: 3-4 star)
Jarrod Polson (Prediction: 3-4 star)