Kentucky basketball is 100 plus years of nothing but tradition, history, and 8 championship banners. We have had so many great players from Kyle Macy to Anthony Davis, and also some great coaches in our history. As like any program around the nation we have had our down years, and those years for Kentucky fans were very recent.
Kentucky hired Billy Gillispie in 2007, I was very excited to hire this young and fearless coach and I think they whole Big Blue Nation was as well. The only thing we knew about him though was that he took down Rick Pitino and his Louisville Cardinals in Rupp Arena while he was at Texas A&M. We forgot that he had a great player in Acie Law that made him the coach he seemed to be. Kentucky fans got even more excited when he got Patrick Patterson from Huntington, WV. Things got worse from there on out for Kentucky fans and Billy Gillispie.
In 2007-2008 Kentucky went 18-13 with horrible defeats coming in the hands of Gardner-Webb and San Deigo State at home. North Carolina beat us by almost 30, but hey we thought it was only his first season and we should give him time. Well, in his second year we went 22-14 and lost to UGA at home on senior night. Kentucky didn’t make the tournament for the 1st time in forever and got beat in the elite 8 of the NIT by Notre Dame. This was the worst years Kentucky basketball has seen since the Eddie Sutton era and something had to change. Billy G was fired two weeks later and the coaching search began for somebody to bring Kentucky basketball back up to the level Kentucky fans are used to.
Those prayers were answered in April of 2009 when John Calipari was named head coach. We knew his great recruting tactics and how good Memphis had gotten before he left. For obvious reasons Kentucky fans were excited to have him as coach. Ever since then it has been great for Kentucky fans. In Calipari’s first year we went to the Elite 8, then final four in his second, and his third we are national champions for the 8th time in Kentucky history. Second only to UCLA with 11 titles.
John Calipari has changed the landscape of Kentucky basketball, but he hasn’t done it alone. I am going to give you the top 5 program changing players that Cal has brought in that has also changed the program into a dominate program once again.
1. John Wall- John Wall was the guy who brought Kentucky back in my opinion, he led Kentucky to a SEC championship, and a Elite 8 before getting bounced by WVU. Even with the lose Kentucky fans knew he had changed the culture with all of his highlight reel plays. John averaged 16.6 ppg and 6.4 ast and was drafted number 1 by the Washington Wizards in the 2010 NBA draft.
2. Anthony Davis- The big guy from Chicago came in with John Calipari’s most talented class. From the beginning of the season people thought this could be the year John Calipari finally got his 1st NCAA title. Anthony made sure of that as he won every major POY award, 1st team all-american, SEC POY, and SEC freshman of the year. Some people say he is the best player to ever put on a Kentucky uniform. He could’ve easily been number 1 in this poll, because he did lead Kentucky to the National title as a freshman. Anthony averaged 14.2 ppg, 10.4 rpg, and 4.7 bpg in his one season at Kentucky. Davis was drafted number 1 overall by the New Orelans Hornets in the 2012 NBA draft.
3. Brandon Knight- Brandon was another top 5 recruit for Calipari, but was mostly a scorer. John Calipari wanted him to play point guard and it took a while for him to get the point guard mind. Knight got it in mid January of the 2010-2011 season. Kentucky lost a total of 9 games that season and nobody was expecting them to make it to the final four. With Brandon leading the team they proved everybody wrong by taking down Ohio state who was the number 1 overall seed in the sweet 16 behind his buzzer beater jumper, then beat UNC in the elite 8 and he had 26 points to lead Kentucky back to the Final four. Brandon made this list because of his work ethic and amazing IQ on the basketball floor. Knight averaged 17.3 ppg, and 4.2 assist a game. Knight was drafted by the Detroit Pistons 8th overall in the 2011 NBA draft.
4. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist- While Anthony Davis was the main player on the championship team, MKG was the leader of the team. He was a glue guy that made all the big plays coming down the strecth of games. He was a defensive stopper, and never gave less than 100% in any game. He is probably one of the nicest kids to ever come through Kentucky as well. We will never have another player like MKG, but if we could get somebody with half the energy and passion for the game we would be happy with that. MKG was drafted second overall by the Charlotte Bobcats in the 2012 NBA draft. MKG averaged 11.4 ppg and 7.4 rpg at Kentucky. Also keep in mind he did all of this at Kentucky while only being 18 years old.
5. Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones- I put these two guys together because they were both part of the same class as Brandon Knight, but decided to stay one more year. Without these two coming back last year Kentucky wouldn’t have won the National title. They wre huge part of that team last year. Doron Lamb relieved Marquis Teague while he wsa struggling ealier in the season, and was deadly from outside. Terrence Jones was the muscle man that Kentucky needed to battle with some front lines last year. Doron Lamb averaged 13.1 ppg in his career at Kentucky. He had 22 in the national title game vs Kansas in 2012. Terrence averaged 14 points and 8 rebounds in his career at Kentucky. Terrence was drafted 18th by the Houston Rockets, and Doron was taken 42nd by the Milwaukee Bucks.
Darius Miller, Patrick Patterson, Deandre Liggins, and Josh Harrellson would have all made the list if they were recruited and brought in by John Calipari. All these guys played major roles in Kentucky’s rise back to the top.