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Five of the most underrated players of the Calipari era

(Photo: Mark Zerof/USA Today)

(Photo: Mark Zerof/USA Today)

Following Nick Roush’s breakdown of Kentucky’s most underrated football players from the 2000s on Saturday, KSR is switching over to the hardwood.

Today, we will highlight the most underrated basketball players during John Calipari’s 11 years in Lexington.

5. Marquis Teague

Marquis Teague, a consensus top-ten prospect out of high school, came to Lexington with high expectations and left as a national champion.

Starting all 40 games at point guard, Teague helped lead Kentucky to a 38-2 record and the program’s eighth national championship. While he didn’t put up the superstar numbers some anticipated, he still averaged 10.0 points, 4.8 assists, 2.5 rebounds, and 0.9 steals in 32.6 minutes per contest.

In the NCAA Tournament, Teague averaged 13.3 points, 4.8 assists, and 2.7 rebounds per contest, including 24 points in the Round of 32 against Iowa State and 14 points in the title game against Kansas.

Beyond individual stats, Teague was a strong on-ball defender and provided a steady presence at the lead guard position, putting stars such as Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in position for success.

Teague isn’t often thought of among the great Calipari point guards, but he’s the only one with a national championship.

4. Terrence Jones

Terrence Jones is one of three players on this list to help lead Kentucky to its eighth national championship, but his biggest success actually came in year one.

In his first eight games as a freshman, Jones was an early pick for National Freshman of the Year, averaging 20 points and grabbing five double-doubles in that span. On the year, he finished with dominant performances of 25 points (ETSU), 29 points (Oklahoma), 27 points (Notre Dame), 24 points (@Georgia), 35 points (Auburn), 22 points (@Ole Miss), and 25 points (@Vanderbilt).

He would end the year averaging 15.7 points, 8.8 rebounds, 1.9 blocks, 1.6 assists, and 1.1 steals en route to SEC Rookie of the Year and First-Team All-SEC honors.

After turning down the NBA, Jones returned for his sophomore year, where he averaged 12.3 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.8 blocks, 1.3 steals, and 1.3 assists in 29.3 minutes per contest. His role decreased alongside Anthony Davis in the frontcourt, but he still improved his offensive and defensive ratings from year one to year two. The Houston Rockets would go on to select him with the No. 18 pick in the first round, making him one of six Wildcats drafted in the 2012 NBA Draft.

3. Josh Harrellson

When Enes Kanter was declared ineligible, Kentucky didn’t necessarily need a superstar at the center position, but they did need someone to step up and provide consistent production.

After averaging just 1.3 points and 1.2 rebounds in 2009-10, Josh Harrellson took a massive step forward in year three, averaging 7.6 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks in 28.5 minutes per contest.

More importantly, he stepped up in the big games time and time again, including several productive performances against elite talent in the NCAA Tournament.

Here are just a few stat lines:

  • 14 points and 12 rebounds against Indiana
  • 23 points and 14 rebounds at Louisville
  • 16 points and six rebounds against Tennessee
  • 15 points and eight rebounds in the Round of 32 against West Virginia
  • 17 points and ten rebounds in the Sweet 16 against Ohio State
  • 12 points and eight rebounds in the Elite Eight against North Carolina

Jorts wasn’t a world-beater by any stretch, but he provided more than enough to help push Kentucky to a Final Four in 2011.

2. Tyler Ulis

During his 2015-16 campaign, Ulis broke Kentucky’s single-season assist total with 246 dimes in 35 games. Behind him? John Wall (241 in 2009-10), Roger Harden (232 in 1985-86), and Travis Ford (193 in 1993-94), among others.

We saw spurts of greatness as a freshman, but in year two, Ulis just had it. You trusted him with the game on the line. When the ball was in his hands, you felt that no comeback was impossible and no matchup was too much to handle. He was a fierce, competitive leader with the heart of a champion.

It was that competitiveness and leadership that led him to earning consensus First-Team All-American honors, the Bob Cousy Award for the nation’s top point guard, consensus SEC Player of the Year, SEC Defensive Player of the Year, First-Team All-SEC honors, and SEC Tournament MVP all in 2016.

Ulis was a fan-favorite due to his size and leadership qualities, but fans sometimes forget just how dominant he was in his time in Lexington. Averaging 17.3 points, 7.0 assists, 3.0 rebounds, and 1.5 steals per contest in 2015-16, not only is Ulis one of the top point guards of the Calipari era, he’s one of the best in Kentucky basketball history.

1. Doron Lamb

In two seasons, Doron Lamb finished with 144 made 3-point field goals on 303 attempts, good for a ridiculous 47.52 percent overall.

For those keeping track at home, that’s the best in Kentucky basketball history for a career.

As a freshman, Lamb knocked down 48.6% of 3-point attempts, followed by 46.6% from three as a sophomore, good for No. 2 and No. 3 in single-season rates, respectively. Only Travis Ford’s ridiculous 52.9% rate in 1992-93 tops Lamb’s back-to-back years of dominant finishes from beyond the arc.

Regarding individual performances, Lamb finished with 15-plus points in 14 games and nine finishes of three or more makes from three as a freshman, followed by 16 15-plus-point performances and 11 games with three or more makes from deep as a sophomore.

Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist garnered most of the attention and praise from Kentucky’s 2012 national title season, but make no mistake about it, UK doesn’t win No. 8 without Lamb. In fact, he scored a game-high 22 points on 7-of-12 shooting in that title-clinching win over Kansas.

Who do you think missed the cut?

Article written by Jack Pilgrim

Follow me on Twitter: @JackPilgrimKSR

22 Comments for Five of the most underrated players of the Calipari era

  1. T-Town Cat
    9:31 pm June 8, 2020 Permalink

    If underrated means under appreciated at UK, I would say I agree with your list, although I think Gilgeous-Alexander could be there, too. If you mean underrated coming out of high school, I would list Gilgeous-Alexander, Booker, and Bledsoe, who were all forecast to be multi-year players, but became 1st Round picks.

  2. WatchutalkinboutWillis
    10:05 pm June 8, 2020 Permalink

    I agree with the list except I think you could make an argument to replace Ulis or Harrellson with Andrew Harrison. Everyone loved Ulis and everyone remembers Harrellson’s incredible development. I think to be underrated we need to have forgotten or not appreciated that they were actually good.

    • Aar
      8:55 am June 9, 2020 Permalink

      His performance down the stretch in the game against Wisconsin was Enough to keep him off my version of this list.

  3. TWhite
    10:10 pm June 8, 2020 Permalink

    Brandon Knight definitely needs to be on here. He’s probably one of the most forgotten players of the Cal era. He was really really good in 2011.

  4. Jack Pilgrim
    10:12 pm June 8, 2020 Permalink

    Here was my next five:

    6. Brandon Knight
    7. DeAndre Liggins
    8. Julius Randle
    9. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
    10. Andrew Harrison

  5. Tango98
    10:16 pm June 8, 2020 Permalink

    BRANDON KNIGHT. Most underrated & under appreciated by BBN, no contest. No one ever talks about him and he lead/willed that team to the final 4!

    • nousername
      2:00 am June 9, 2020 Permalink

      Amen. He actually gets less credit than Ullis and took his team much further. Good list but it actually sorta proves how truly under-appreciated Brandon Knight is in the past decade.

  6. Han
    10:20 pm June 8, 2020 Permalink

    I remember Teague as having some huge moments in that championship game. Moments where we were having trouble scoring or had just given up a big basket and he drove to the rim and made something happen. He wasn’t normally the one to keep us in games as has been the case with a lot of our point guards, but he was big that game.

    • runningunnin.454
      6:55 am June 9, 2020 Permalink

      You’re right; Teague gave KU fits in that game; driving to the basket, mid-range jumpers, and 3 pointers. He did it all.

  7. Bruce Dickinson
    10:23 pm June 8, 2020 Permalink

    Ulis and Harrellson are 2 of my all time favorites.

  8. CrystalBall
    11:10 pm June 8, 2020 Permalink

    Wayne Turner deserves to be mentioned.

    • StuckinLville
      11:15 pm June 8, 2020 Permalink

      Pretty sure he never played for Cal. With that said, agreed. Wall nor Cousins should have went in the HOF before him. It’s an absolute disgrace. He went to 3 title games and was huge in 98.

    • CrystalBall
      11:44 pm June 8, 2020 Permalink

      You are right. My bad. Turner played for Tubby. Have to remember to take my memory enhancing meds.

    • runningunnin.454
      6:58 am June 9, 2020 Permalink

      Hey, CB…have you got any extra memory enhancers you can spare?

  9. zoupman
    11:25 pm June 8, 2020 Permalink

    Teague would be loved and would have a lot more money, if he had stayed another year. Wasn’t ready and everyone knew it but him.

  10. UKLugo
    11:51 pm June 8, 2020 Permalink

    Devin Booker
    Deandre Liggins

  11. runningunnin.454
    7:05 am June 9, 2020 Permalink

    I would put the Harrisons up there; they were criticized by many; but, led us to two consecutive final fours.

  12. Robkycats54
    11:42 am June 9, 2020 Permalink

    1. James Young
    2. Aaron Harrison
    3. Dom Hawkins
    4. Darius Miller
    5. D. Lame

  13. BowdenQB4ever
    12:32 pm June 9, 2020 Permalink

    Not sure how Ulis fits into this list. Most UK fans I talk to seem to believe if Cal had turned the 2015 team over to Ulis/Booker instead of trying to get the Harrison twins drafted we would have finished off the perfect season. Everyone holds him in elite regard.

    • somerset bill
      3:24 pm June 9, 2020 Permalink

      I agree about Ulis not being underrated. I am not sure how he ended up on this list. Most Kentucky fans would have him as one of their top 5 favorite Cats, and he ended up a First Team All-American, SEC Player of the Year and SEC Defensive Player of the Year.

      I will say after seeing Doron’s numbers and some of his highlights, I will say I had probably underrated him in recent years.

  14. BallDontLie
    3:38 pm June 9, 2020 Permalink

    Those highlight videos were so bad.