From Recruiting to Teams, Greatness Abounds in My Kentucky Wildcats Era

It’s nearly impossible and highly subjective to broach the topic of what team is the “greatest team ever assembled” in any sport but after seeing some statements about the Miami Heat-Indiana Pacers game last night, it got me thinking…Great teams have statement season, not games.

In the aftermath of the NBA Eastern Conference Game 3 last night where the Miami Heat demolished the Indiana Pacers, it was considered by many to be a “statement game” after the Heat lost home court advantage in Game 2.

Calling any game a “statement game” in the Conference Finals of an NBA game seems silly because to this point, there are no more hidden tricks up the sleeves of the offensive and defensive gurus. Every team knows what every other team can do and the difference between a win and a loss is who can stop the other team from doing those things. It’s also silly to call it a “statement game” because this is hailed by some as the “greatest team ever assembled.” I’m not among those. It’s ludicrous to see this Miami Heat team as the greatest ever assembled when you consider the Celtics boasted Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish; while the Lakers countered with Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabar and James Worthy. Let us not forget Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman/Horace Grant/Bill Cartwright/Luc Longley.

Our 2013-2014 Kentucky Wildcats are being hailed as the “best recruiting class ever assembled,” and to this point, there is little debate. And by little I mean there is no debate. We have the #1 ranked position players in 3 out of 5 positions and 5 of the Top 10 in the class. Since there is no debate on this being the “best recruiting class ever assembled,” let’s have a little debate as to the “greatest Kentucky Wildcats teams ever assembled” in your era.

So, I’m 31 and started watching the Kentucky Wildcats in 1992 so from that point forward; my top teams are as follows:

1996-National Championship

2012-National Championship

2003-Elite Eight

Honorable Mention: 1998-National Championship

The 1996 team was, until last season, widely considered the best team ever assembled. They blew out teams left and right, finishing with only two (2) losses on the season before steam rolling (around 33 point margin of victory) through the NCAA Tournament. They were so athletic and explosive that “dunks” were considered an official stat for some games. Antoine Walker’s “Shimmie” catapulted the class to an arrogance that matched their play. Future pros included Ron Mercer, Antoine Walker, Walter McCarty, and Derek Anderson.

The 2012 is the only team to challenge the 1996 team for the “greatest team ever assembled” title. I didn’t see the domination coming at the beginning of that season but they came every game and brought a low key confidence that hadn’t been seen at Kentucky maybe ever. Some of the best Kentucky teams had an air of arrogance and invincibility. This team had quiet leadership and quirky tendencies (I’m looking at you Terrence Jones). At best I can call the competition between this team and the 1996 team a draw. They were damn good. Future pros included Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones, Darius Miller, and Marquis Teague.

This pick will cause palpitations for some of the BBN but the 2003 team deserves to be here. They rolled into the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament riding a 26 game win streak before being lit up to the tune of a Triple-Double by Dwayne Wade and the Marquette Golden Eagles. Yes, Tom Crean was the Head Coach at the time but how tough were his decisions? “Alright guys (clap clap clap), let’s give the ball to Dwayne Wade (sweat, clap, sweat, clap). They really didn’t have what we consider super stars today but we were riding Keith Bogans, Kelenna Azabuike, Chuck Hayes, and Gerald Fitch pretty hard. Bogans, Azabuike, and Hayes are currently making their living in the NBA and after stringing together the greatest win streak I’ve seen in my lifetime, their place among Kentucky’s “greatest team ever assembled” is very solid.

Honorable Mention: This 1998 team really gives me a pause to be included in this list because of the nature of their wins being primarily of the comeback variety. Sure, they won, yes but to be among the greatest you have to be great. Part of being great is passing the “eye test” and this team didn’t pass it in anyway. The only thing I can say is being down 20 to Duke and coming back to pull off the upset was among the most amazing stretches of basketball I’ve ever seen. Future pros include Nazr Mohammed, Scott Padgett, Jamaal Magloire, and Heshimu Evans.
Will the “greatest recruiting class of all time” turn into the “greatest team of all time?” It’s too early to tell but with the mix of stud freshmen coming in (Harrison twins, Julius Randle, Dakari Johnson, Marcus Lee, James Young, Derek Willis, and Dominique Hawkins) mixed with the veteran leadership of Willie Cauley-Stein, Kyle Wiltjer, Jarrod Polson, Jon Hood, and Alex Poythress, easily this team has a chance to supplant both the 1996 and 2012 teams as the “greatest ever.” So when you really think about it, we didn’t lose Andrew Wiggins, he lost us and the chance to play on possibly the “greatest team ever assembled.”

So, BBN, where will the 2013-2014 team finish the season in the “greatest team ever assembled” discussion AND what teams do you consider to be the greatest in your generation.

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