Do you realize that since the 1992 senior class was put into the rafters at Kentucky, only TWO players have had their jerseys retired at UK, Jamal Mashburn and Tony Delk? Yet, the program has had one of its best 25 years run since 1992, winning 3 titles and going to 8 Final Fours. Three head coaches have led UK to those titles. And yet, only two players from that era have reached the rafters. Assuming we might not have fall sports, and even if we do they will be limited in many ways, I think one thing we could do to add to the fall calendar is let’s start putting some deserving 1990s and 2000s players into the rafters. I think there are six modern era guys who are no-brainers:
1. Tayshaun Prince: If Prince could have managed to make a Final Four in his time at UK, I think he has serious consideration for a Top 5 player in school history. He was an All-American twice, a fan favorite, and one of the biggest stat stuffers in UK history. He had individual moments that were legendary, such as his five threes against UNC and his 40-point performance in the NCAA Tournament. He won an NBA title and a gold medal, not that that should be a factor but still. Prince is going to end up there no doubt; let’s speed up the process.
2. Keith Bogans: Pretty much the same argument as Prince. I think he was the most talented player of the 2000s Cats. No Final Fours taint his legacy plus a disastrous junior season. But his stats stack up with almost any UK legend. An absolute no-brainer.
3. John Wall: Wall’s one season was certainly one of the best in school history but this selection was as much for his cultural impact on the program as his on-court performance. Wall changed the trajectory of this program from Tubby-Gillispie into the Calipari era and did it with such personality that was so needed in this program. And oh yeah, he was an amazing player.
4. Anthony Davis: I shouldn’t really have to explain why Davis is a slam dunk. Every major college basketball award. National champion. Cultural icon. The absolute total package.
5-6. Tubby/Calipari: Tubby is long overdue. Win a title at Kentucky and you should be up there. Tubby did it with class and kept UK at a high level for most of his career. Rupp and Hall had down years too but just in a less sensitive society. And I say let’s go ahead and put Cal up there too. He’s already done more than enough to be there so what’s the wait? Are we worried his ego will get bigger? C’mon now. The guy is a legend and did it under the most stressful circumstances. Let’s not delay the inevitable.
Now, these are the six modern era guys that I would put in this fall. Bring some positivity to such a negative time. Now, because I have written on this site long enough to know how this discussion will go, here is why I didn’t choose the following guys:
– Wayne Turner: Nobody has a more passionate group of jersey retired supporters than Turner. While I am usually a “no” for Turner, I have softened on this a bit over the years. My argument has always been that Turner was the benefactor of the most talent rich era of UK basketball. But he was a star on the ’98 national title team, a 4-year significant contributor, and a winner. I wouldn’t raise a stink if Turner was put up there.
– Jeff Sheppard/Allen Edwards: While I don’t think these two guys are the same, I group them together because people who argue for either are not taking their total careers into consideration. Sheppard had a very good career at Kentucky, but “jersey retired” good? No. And Edwards made little impact on the program until the 1998 season. But that national title run was so good, with so many legendary moments, that we project these guys in the sphere of the legends at UK.
– Gerald Fitch: So here’s a guy that actually had a sneaky great career at Kentucky. He played second fiddle for three years and then in his senior season, was All-American good and led the Cats to a #1 seed. If they don’t get bounced by UAB, I think the argument for Fitch is strong. Alas, he is just barely a no for me.
– Ramel/Joe: Bradley and Crawford should always be shown tremendous respect for what they had to put up with at Kentucky. But neither actually had careers or impacts at the level of the greats.
– All Other One and Dones: So Wall and Davis are my only two that I put in. And that doesn’t mean that Karl Towns was not one of the 10 best players in UK history. I think Julius Randle might have been one of the best 15 or so players in UK history. De’Aron Fox is one of the 5 best point guards in school history. But jersey retirement is about the TOTALITY of a UK career, both stats and impact. And Wall’s impact and Davis’ stats get them over the top. The rest of these guys don’t.