Jamal Mashburn was the last University of Kentucky Wildcat to have his jersey retired to the rafters of Rupp Arena. That was nearly 20 years ago. Since then, the Wildcats have won 9 SEC Regular Season Championships, 11 SEC Tournament Championships , played in 5 Final Fours with one NCAA Runner Up Finish and 3 NCAA Titles. And it’s about time to reward those players that have contributed the most to that on the court success by giving them the highest honor the University and Athletic Department can bestow, adding their names to the legends already hanging with honor in Rupp.
Some schools have criteria that must be met before a jersey or number can be retired. And while that may work for them, I think the best, and more complex situation, for the University of Kentucky is the good old-fashioned eye test. Was the player spectacular on the court? Was he respectable off the court? Since leaving the University, has he continued to make the Big Blue Nation proud? Again, this is very subjective criteria, but it’s a great place to start the discussion on recognizing great players of the recent past.
So, here are my guys that need to have their jerseys retired.
The Way Past Due Group
Tony Delk. The fact that Delk hasn’t had his jersey retired is a travesty and a farce. When he left Lexington, he was fourth on all the time scoring list, fourth in steals and is still the career leader for three pointers made. But more than that, Delk spearheaded on of the greatest teams in the history of college basketball. His sacrifice of his own stats and playing time set the tone for the 1996 National Championship team. During his senior campaign of 1995-96, he was the SEC Player of the Year and was a consensus All-American as well. And after a solid NBA career, Delk has quietly become a very good college assistant coach.
Tayshaun Prince. Prince should have his jersey retired simply for this. And after leaving campus, this. But, Prince was a very solid player that had the unenviable task of following up the great 1996-98 Kentucky teams. Prince was SEC Player of the Year as a Junior and was All SEC as a junior and senior and was a second team All American as a junior. He still sits in the top 10 career scoring list. But most importantly, he made you proud to be a Kentucky fan and has to be considered one of the all time greats to play for the Cats.
My Personal Favorites
Chuck Hayes. Hayes doesn’t have the numbers. He was a key member of two teams, 2003 and 2005, that fell in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament to a superhuman Dwayne Wade and Marquette and in a double overtime thriller against Michigan State, respectively. Chuck Hayes, I believe, epitomizes what everyone in the Big Blue Nation expects out of those players privileged enough to wear the Blue and White. He worked hard and absolutely got the most of himself. And from his freshman year to that loss against Michigan State as a senior, you could tell that Hayes fully grasped what it meant to be a Wildcat. That’s something that should be rewarded. Besides that, his teams were 87-15 his last three seasons, an 85% winning percentage.
Keith Bogans. Keith was much maligned during his run in Lexington. But with the time that has passed, it may be time to re-examine his Wildcat career. He’s currently fourth all time in points, 14th in assists (as a shooting guard) and 12th in steals. He was the leader of the only team in UK, and SEC, history to go through the regular conference season undefeated AND win the conference tournament with the woefully underrated 2003 team being one of the biggest “What ifs?” in UK History. What if Bogans hadn’t turned his ankle? Would a Final Four, or more, change people’s outlook on his career?
Tough Decisions Will Be Coming
Anthony Davis. I’m not one of these folks that think you have to stay four years to make an impact on a school and a university. While there’s no reason to once again rehash Davis’s spectacular 2011-12 season, it begs the question: What makes a player all time great? With Davis sweeping every National Player of the Year Award and leading the Cats to their eighth national championship, there has to be room in the rafters for such a transcendent player. It doesn’t do our past any disservice if we acknowledge the way college basketball has changed in the one and done era. Because Michael Kidd-Gilchrist deserves to be honored as well.