Since John Calipari first arrived in Lexington, the Kentucky basketball program has seen superstar talent line the roster every year, many of which moving on to find great success in the NBA.
In a recent appearance on the March Madness 365 Podcast, Andy Katz of NCAA.com not only asked Calipari to discuss some of the top stars we’ve seen at UK over the years, but single them out for superlatives.
On the show, Katz asked Calipari to build his “dream” basketball player by pointing out some of the best players for individual traits such as “ultimate playmaker,” “Mr. Clutch,” and “best glue guy.”
While the UK head coach struggled to keep individual categories down to one or two players – he has had 38 players drafted at Kentucky, after all – he did provide interesting insight on numerous fan-favorites, including a few responses that may come as a bit of a surprise.
Here are the categories, followed by Calipari’s response to each:
We’ve had terrific [playmakers], from John Wall to Eric Bledsoe to Brandon Knight to Isaiah Briscoe to even Jamal Murray. They were all kind of lead guards. Marquis Teague from my NCAA championship team. You go even further, Andrew Harrison, Ashton [Hagans], some of these other guards we’ve had. But you have to look at Tyler Ulis in that grouping.
For scoring points, Brandon Knight was a scoring point guard, and he did it well. Ulis was more in the tune of a, with his size, he just didn’t care. Never bothered him, and he was nothing but a big-time guard. He was unique in that.
John Wall made one against Miami (OH), Brandon Knight made a couple in the NCAA Tournament to help us advance. We all remember Aaron Harrison, all the shots he made. Devin Booker and Tyler Herro, they both made clutch baskets in big games, too. Immanuel Quickley became a clutch shot-maker.
But Aaron probably had the biggest two [against Michigan and Wisconsin]. We had five freshmen starting on that team, and they put us in the final game of the year for a national title.
The ultimate bucket-getter
You had Doron Lamb who could do that. Devin [Booker] and Tyler Herro. Eric Bledsoe, by the end of the year, that’s what he was able to do. He could just go get you a bucket.
As a finisher, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist would do that. Anthony [Davis], by the end of the year, he was ridiculous. He could just go get buckets ten different ways. You look at our past teams, Karl Towns, all we did was go to Karl Towns. We needed a bucket, we’d go to him.
Kyle Wiltjer could make a basket, he could go get a basket for you.
Those are some guys I’d pick there.
The ultimate defender
Hmm, probably Tyler Herro would be right there. Julius Randle was such a beast physically and could go get a rebound, guard who he had to guard. He guarded multiple positions. Terrence Jones was another one who could do that, he could go block a shot.
Obviously Anthony Davis, and how about Nerlens Noel? The way he could block shots? I’m probably missing a couple guys.
But we’ve always had shot blockers. Always had that. That’s been our forte.
PJ [Washington] was so physically tough, he could go get a rebound. Defense is also about rebounding, it’s not just about stopping a guy from scoring. He could go get a ball.
You go right down the list, what about DeMarcus Cousins? He was an absolute beast. He’s another one, a bucket-maker. . You go to Terrence [Jones], Nerlens [Noel], Anthony [Davis], obviously. Karl Towns. What about Willie Cauley? Trey Lyles was a terrific rebounder. Dakari Johnson rebounded the ball, was able to go get balls in traffic, all of that. How Nick [Richards] blossomed, which was incredible last year.
I know there’s some guys that would be mad, but I would tell you, when Devin Booker got it going, it was hard to say anybody was better. Tyler Herro was edging up on him, but this guy, he was unconsious. Every time he shot it, everybody in the building thought it was going in. When he missed a couple, you were like, “What happened?”
There were other guys, clutch shots, but when you talk about pure making shots, [Booker was the best]. Doron [Lamb] was in there somewhere, too. He was one of those guys that could really shoot the ball. He had 22 in the championship game.
Best glue guy
I would say Darius [Miller] was one of them, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was one of them. I’m saying “glue guy,” and he was the second pick in the draft. We had a bunch of guys, and I’ll give you an example.
We haven’t talked about Shai Alexander, who I believe, he and Jamal Murray will be All-Stars. I believe that. Both scorers, both clutch players, but both willing to step back so other people could step up. Shai Alexander doesn’t start his first nine games. Are you kidding me? They step back and made room, so you’ve got to call those guys “glue guys” too.
I’ll just give you one story, because we’ve had like 20 guys that were [massive athletes]. I mean, I had Derrick Rose, Marcus Camby. Marcus, for his size, and Derrick, he was scary sneaky, crazy.
Let me just zero in on two guys. I had John Wall, who was so fast. He was crazy. And I looked at Eric Bledsoe, and I said, “How fast is John Wall?” And he said, “Coach, he is so fast.” I go, “He’s faster than you?” And he goes, “Oh, no. He’s not faster than me. But he’s really fast.”
You talk about two athletes at guard, Eric Bledsoe could put his head on the rim, and so could John. Fast, strong, that was a hard thing to try and put a team together that had never been coached by me, never been together. Patrick Patterson, left him off as a glue guy. Terrific player, in the NBA all these years. That’s why I didn’t want to name names, I’m remembering more as I go. I’m apologizing for any names I forgot, talking about 40 guys is hard, especially when you’re my age.
Best basketball IQ
We’ve had so many smart guys, smart basketball players. It’s more about who was more of a coach on the floor. You start going to Tyler Ulis being a coach on the floor. I thought Ashton Hagans started to be a coach on the floor. It took time, because he’d never done it before, but he grew into it.
We’ve had different guys who could do that, but we’re talking about a guy who was 5-8, 140 pounds, and was in the NBA. He’ll be back in the NBA, had a hip operation. I’ve had many guys, really good basketball IQs.
Anthony Davis could be a team captain, and I’ll tell you why. Because he would step back if he had to, and step up if he needed to. He was the ultimate teammate. You see him in the NBA, he could’ve gone here and shot 30 balls a game, but we probably wouldn’t have won a title with young guys. They said at that time you couldn’t win with freshmen. He accepted what he had to do, and by the end of the year, he ends up being [National] Player of the Year, First Team All-American, he ends up being the first pick of the draft, ends up being on the Olympic team, ends up being an All-Star in the NBA. He did it all by stepping back. You say, “Well, he should’ve done this, this, and this,” and you’re right, but he did what he did by stepping back. It helped Michael Kidd, second pick of the draft. He helped Terrence Jones. He helped every player on the team that year because he was able to do it.
Normally, I don’t pick a captain. The officials come to me before the game, ask me who our captain is, and I say, “I don’t know, ask them.” Whoever is captain, they’ll step up and be it. I want it to be truly organic and I want it to be from them, not me.
To listen to Calipari’s entire appearance on March Madness 365, check out the podcast here.