Former Kentucky center Daniel Orton isn’t often credited with the success that has been crafted since John Calipari took over as the head coach of the Wildcats back in 2009, but he was a vital component in building the legacy that we see 10 years later.
Orton is back in Lexington this weekend, participating in The Basketball Tournament (located in the gymnasium of Frederick Douglass High School) on team Loyalty is Love, managed by former Wildcat teammate DeMarcus Cousins.
Orton doesn’t make his return with a massive NBA contract or significant interest from the Association, and he’s typically referenced after players such as John Wall, Cousins, Eric Bledsoe, Patrick Patterson, and Darius Miller when we think about the 2010 Kentucky team. With that being said, he still understands the important role he played in building the program to where it is today.
“Talking to past teammates, you know we talk about everything: ‘We really started this’. We know this is long before us, Kentucky basketball was here before us, it’s gonna be here after us,” Orton told reporters following a morning practice at Frederick Douglass High School. “But, I feel like the Cal-era has been a changing point in the school’s history. It was pretty amazing to feel that.”
Plenty has changed since Orton’s year in the Bluegrass State. His eyes nearly popped out of his head when asked about the differences from his time on campus compared to now. He said he is “envious” of all these extra amenities, but is happy the new guys get to experience something that he was a part of building.
The 6-foot-10 big man averaged only 3.4 points and 3.3 rebounds in under 14 minutes per game during his lone season at Kentucky, but that didn’t prevent him from being selected in the first round by the Orlando Magic with the 29th overall pick. His selection capped what would turn out to be the only NBA draft in history to have five players from the same college selected in the first round.
Even if Orton’s production on the court during his freshman season was minimal, it was him being drafted despite all that, which might go down as one of Calipari’s most impressive feats. You can’t talk about the 2010 Kentucky team without mentioning Orton. And if you do, you’re doing history a disservice. He was the fifth five-star recruit from that class, the fifth first-round pick. He was a Billy Gillispie recruit that decided to stick around.
Knee injuries early in Orton’s career ravaged what could have been a long run in the professionals, but he’s back looking to showcase what he’s made of on national television.
When Cousins initially asked Orton if he wanted to play on his team, Orton jokingly responded by saying “You don’t have to ask. Just let me know I’m on the team.”
The Basketball Tournament will be broadcasted on ESPN3 throughout Friday, ESPN2 on Saturday, and ending with the final game on Sunday airing on ESPN. You can watch Orton and Loyalty is Love Friday night on ESPN3 at 5:00 p.m.