It has been an exciting day in UK land, with the commitment of Sam Simpson and the countdown to football season coming oh so closer. But lest we forget that this is still a roundball state, it is time to unveil the Top 25 UK Players Since Probation. Tonight, two of my favorite UK basketball experts…the great Mosley and Duncan Cavanah, both long time KSR guys…..and I spent an hour or so on the phone going through the Pitino, Tubby and Clyde years and picking our top 25 players. It was a difficult call and we left some great guys off the list. There were lots of discussions about placement (#3-#6 were the hardest), but we came to something that resembles a consensus.
Our criteria is simple…..we look at (1) individual achievement (most important) (2) talent (3) team success and (4) impact on the program. What a player did in the NBA has no effect. In addition, while we consider those who had great team runs, one hot NCAA Tournament doesnt do it for us (which is bad news for Jeff Sheppard). We combine all of these traits to get our list, but it is open for discussion. I like what we have and think it is a reasonably good attempt at what is a very hard task. So without further ado, here we go:
(1) Jamal Mashburn — And it isnt close. Jamal Mashburn is one of the top three or four players to ever put on the jersey. His numbers are staggering and his impact on the program is even more impressive. No player at UK in this era meant more to UK basketball than the Monster Mash.
(2) Tony Delk — His number should be hanging in Rupp Arena as soon as possible as Delk has one of the best resumes ever for the Blue and White. He is 5th all time in scoring, first in three point field goals made, was a consensus First Team All American and was the best player on the best team in college basketball history. Enough said.
(3) Ron Mercer — The next four are tough, but we go with Ron right here. Two years, two national title games and a stunning Sophomore season. While playing a complimentary role his first year, he still made the All Final Four team and then dominated his sophomore year, named First Team All American by everyone. At his best, he was unstoppable and he was the reason for the 97 season.
(4) Keith Bogans — In my view, the most underrated player to ever put on a UK uniform. One of only two players to average double digits in all four of his season as a Wildcat. Fourth all time in scoring, which is higher than any other player on this list….and he was the best player on the best regular season team in UK history. Oh yeah and he was a great defender as well. One of the all-time greats who never gets his due.
(5) Antoine Walker — If you are just talking pure talent, Walker could be #1 or #2. He was a versatile big man who could shoot the three, take you off the dribble and back you down on the post. He was a great passer (although he didnt do it much) and could dominate a game when he desired. Also the source of the greatest quote ever, when asked why he shot so many threes, “cause there aint no four.”
(6) Tayshaun Prince — One of the more beloved players in Kentucky history, Tayshaun is a great player who was also a great representative of the school. Eighth all time in scoring, two-time 3rd team All American and an SEC Player of the Year. The smooth one could do it inside and outside and is one of my favorite Cats ever.
(7) Patrick Patterson — Its bold to put this young man so high so early….but it may even be too low. Patrick’s Freshman season was amazing. Had he not been hurt, he would have broken the Freshman scoring record and finished third in rebounds. He is a warrior on both ends of the court and could very well reach the #3 spot if he has the year this season we imagine. When he leaves Kentucky, will join Mashburn as the most talented UK player of this generation.
(8) Derek Anderson — Only played at UK for a year and a half, but his impact was phenonmenal. Two season on the court, two championship games and a love for the game that was contagious. His first half of his Senior season was phenomenal and his ability to score from anywhere on the court makes him a top choice. Had he been healthy, he would have contended for the top 5. And oh yeah, that 96 team only had four of the top 8 players of the generation on it.
(9) Wayne Turner — The first player on the list without an NBA career, nevertheless had a college career to remember. Second all time in the NCAA for most games won, he went to an Elite Eight all four years of his career. He was the straw that stirred the 98 Championship drink and when in the open floor, Wojo can attest that he was unstoppable. A player whose game was perfect for college and the best player to cross over the Pitino/Tubby eras.
(10) Rodrick Rhodes — The best player from UK that left actually unliked by the fanbase. However what he accomplished during his time here was impressive. Had he stayed for his Senior Season, he likely would have finished as one of the Top 10 scorers ever and had double digit point averages all four years. A true talent, whose free throws against Arkansas kept him from leaving Lexington a legend.
(11) Chuck Hayes — There was a lot of disagreement from our group on Hayes, and that is symbolic of his career. Never quite sure where to place him, UK fans never knew what to think of Chuck except the fact that every team in the country wanted him. Twice an All-SEC pick, he went to three Elite Eights and was the leader of multiple good to VERY good teams. A true warrior and the hardest worker to play at UK in this era.
(12) Walter McCartey — Likely hurt by the fact that he played with so many other great players, Walter took it to the alter so many times that it is amazing he is overlooked. He could post up, shoot the three and was a menace on defense. A versatile big man before all big men were versatile, he ranks high even though he has the audacity to coach at UL.
(13) Joe Crawford — Maybe the hardest person to place on the list as his career had so many ups and downs, but some things are clear. He finished his career 19th in points, was a player all four years and showed so much heart his last year that it made the Tubby-Clyde transition much smoother. His game against Marquette will be one that will be remembered forever.
(14) Nazr Mohammed — Part of the 1998 Championship team and, for a short time, a real dominant big man for the Cats. First team All SEC, Nazr didnt even play his Freshman year and left too early from UK. But for the 1998 season, he was an important key to a title and often, the best player on the court.
(15) Jamal Magloire — You cant often think about Nazr without going to my favorite Cat of this era, Jamal Magloire. Part of the 1998 Championship team, he was also All-SEC his Senior year and the best player that no one thought was good of any era. A tough warrior down low, he provided the defense needed for UK to have some of its great runs of his era.
(16) Kelenna Azubuike — Another player who did little his first year and left too early, but had an amazing array of talent while here. He could shoot the three, play defense when he wanted and is the best dunker this side of Dirk Minniefield. Azubuike was key in the 2005 run that was one Sparks foul call from Tubby’s second Final Four.
(17) Rajon Rondo — If this were just talent, Rajon ranks in the top 10. However his career at Kentucky was mixed. At times dazzling in his Freshman year, his Sophomore year was at time difficult to watch and he often seemed to mail it in at the end. But when he was good, he was amazing. His ability to get steals and make passes was unmatched and his obliteration of Louisville at Rupp will always be memorable.
(18) Scott Padgett — Scott is not only a host on my radio station, but also a guy who often isnt given his due. Padgett was money when the lights were on, twice making the All NCAA Tournament team and All SEC for two years. His knack of the big shot, most obviously against Duke in 1998, made him a key part of crucial moments during his era. An example of a guy who got better every year and made the most of his ability.
(19) John Pelphrey — It is so tough with the Unforgettables, as you want to rank all of them, but all have holes in their resumes. The one who however represents the group on this list is Pelphrey, a guy who averaged double digits for three seasons and finished his career 31st in scoring. The main ingredient of the most memorable group of players to put on the uniform….Pelphrey is a legend, period.
(20) Gerald Fitch — Ask someone to name the UK greats of this era, and they might forget Gerald, but they shouldnt. Fitch was a crucial part of two Kentucky teams who entered the NCAA Tournament as the #1 overall seed in the field. He started at times during all four seasons, was a great defensive player and could nail the three (4th most all time). If he could have only hit that shot against UAB….
(21) Jeff Sheppard — Probably the one player that many will think is put too low, Sheppard benefited from a great final month to a career that otherwise was somewhat disappointing. His achievements are obvious, Final Four MVP on a championship team and a title ring that he can show in London from now on. But he is this low because his individual resume outside of that merits it (he only made Third Team ALL SEC in one poll out of five, and only for one year). Still a great legend for the Cats and one that people still love.
(22) Derrick Miller — A forgotten player who was the best player on Rick Pitino’s first team. Miller shot it every time he got it….mainly because he had to. He holds most single season UK three point records and had the best box haircut of all time. What he would have done on a better team is unknown, but he did good things on the team he was on.
(23) Randolph Morris — Completely frustrating, at times extremely lazy, player who also may have had more talent than any post player UK had during the era. When he was engaged (usually in the NCAA Tourney….Cincy his Freshman year, Kansas his Junior year), he was unstoppable. His beatdown of Tyler Hansborough in a loss still stings today. His talent forces him on the list, but his work ethic keeps him from what could have been a Top 10 spot.
(24) Marquis Estill — Another often forgotten player, who had a great run during his career. A big man who could step out and hit the long jumper, he was an important part of the 2003 team that set the SEC on fire. Estill was able to put the ball in the basket from nearly any position, and if not for his knee issues, could have been a force on defense. Another player who maxed out on his physical abilities during his time.
(25) Travis Ford — Another tough player to rank as the discrepancy between his last two years at UK is wide. He was great in 1993, making every three he took, never missing a free throw and being the ying to Mashburn’s yang. But 1994 was difficult and made it look as if Jamal was a key part of his earlier success. Nevertheless, had great PG skills and an important piece of UK’s move up the national consciousness.
JUST MISSED THE LIST: Reggie Hanson, Eric Daniels, Sean Woods, Deron Feldhaus, Patrikc Sparks, Ramel Bradley, Cliff Hawkins, Anthony Epps
So there you have it….we will have more all day, so check it out……..