Here's a stat for you: The Kentucky Wildcats have produced 43 NBA Draft picks since John Calipari took over as the program's head coach in 2009. To put that in perspective, Duke, the next closest school, has churned out 28. It's clear Lexington, Kentucky, is the place to go for young high school players with NBA aspirations. Get ready, the Kentucky all-time starting 5 is littered with one-and-done players.
I'd be remiss to say the University of Kentucky is nothing more than an NBA factory though. The Bluegrass-country team has a firm place among the blue bloods of college basketball. Its résumé speaks for itself: Eight national championships, 17 Final Fours, 59 NCAA Tournament appearances and 33 SEC titles. Only UCLA has more national championships, and only UCLA and North Carolina have more Final Four appearances.
From Adolph Rupp to Joe B. Hall to Rick Pitino to Tubby Smith to Cal, Kentucky has as illustrious a hoops history as anyone. Naturally, with this much success, that means several phenomenal basketball players have stepped on the floor at Rupp Arena. But, who would make up the program's all-time starting lineup?
I could pick all current NBA players and have a starting five that would put most schools to shame. However, this is Kentucky we're talking about, and historical players deserve just as much recognition as those of the Calipari era. So, let's get to it.
Here is Kentucky's all-time starting five.
Guard: John Wall (2009-10)
Leading off the Kentucky all-time starting 5 is a familiar face. John Wall was the most electric player in the country in his only college basketball season. Like Anthony Davis, Wall was also the SEC Player of the Year, SEC Rookie of the Year and a consensus First-Team All-American. Not bad for a diaper dandy.
The point guard, along with DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe, were the first of many elite prospects Calipari would bring to Lexington. Wall was the crown jewel, however, and used his blazing speed to average 16.6 points, 4.3 rebounds and 6.5 assists.
His crazy athleticism, scoring and passing abilities make him the perfect guy to run the show.
Guard: Tony Delk (1992-96)
It's never a bad thing to have more shooting, and there is no better shooter in Kentucky history than Tony Delk. The shooting guard shot 39.7 percent from downtown during his four-year career, including a ridiculous 44.3 percent as a senior.
Delk, along with Antoine Walker and Walter McCarty, headlined "The Untouchables" and led Big Blue Nation to its sixth national championship in 1996. The natty was the cherry on top of an already unbelievable season for Delk, who was subsequently named the NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player and already had an SEC Player of the Year award to his name.
Delk left Lexington as the program's all-time leader in three-pointers with 283, a mark he still holds to this day.
Forward: Jamal Mashburn (1990-93)
Pure and simple, Jamal Mashburn was a stud in his three seasons at Kentucky. He had strong underclassmen years, but he really stepped up his game as a junior. That year, he was a consensus All-American, the SEC Player of the Year and led the Wildcats to the 1993 Final Four, where they barely fell to Michigan's Fab-Five.
Mashburn was a dynamic bucket-getter and left Kentucky as the program's fourth-leading scorer (he's now sixth). Had he stayed for his senior season, it's likely he would hold the top spot.
Forward: Anthony Davis (2011-12)
Anthony Davis had one of the most dominant college basketball seasons in recent memory. For one, he was a defensive force and averaged an astonishing 4.7 blocks per game — making it nearly impossible to get a clean look against him in the paint.
Two, you don't need to look further than his performance against Kansas in the 2012 national title game to gauge his impact. Davis only scored six points, but swatted six shots and snagged 16 rebounds en route to a 67-59 win. It's rare to find a player who can make that big a difference without needing to score.
Three, the big man took home every imaginable award he could such as National Player of the Year, SEC Player of the Year, SEC Rookie of the Year, SEC Defensive Player of the Year and NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player to go along with First-Team All-American and First-Team All-SEC nods.
As the catalyst of the Wildcats' most recent national title run, Davis was a bonafide lock to make the all-time team.
Center: Dan Issel (1967-70)
I could very well defer to recency bias and put Karl-Anthony Towns here (Trust me, it's a difficult omission being a Minnesota Timberwolves fan), but who would I be to leave off arguably the best player in program history and a Basketball Hall of Fame member?
Like his fellow Wildcats in the lineup, Dan Issel received his fair share of individual recognition such as being a two-time All-American and a three-time All-SEC player. But, part of what makes Issel's career noteworthy, aside from being the program's all-time leading scorer, is his cold rivalry with LSU star Pete Maravich.
Maravich averaged a ridiculous 44.2 points per game in his college career (he was obviously great, but let's not forget his dad was the coach) while Issel averaged 25.9 points per game — including 33.9 as a senior. Issel and Maravich were the top-two finishers for SEC Player of the Year in each of their three seasons at their respective schools with Maravich coming out on top each time. However, Issel had far more team success, with Kentucky making two Elite Eight appearances along with a Sweet Sixteen.
"Pistol Pete" is widely considered to be the greatest college player of all time, but Issel measured up to him as well as anyone. He also went on to have an outstanding ABA and NBA career. There's no doubt he belongs in the Kentucky all-time starting five.
Off the Bench for the Kentucky All-Time Starting 5
- Cliff Hagan (1950-54)
- Jack Givens (1974-78)
- Kenny Walker (1982-86)
- Antoine Walker (1994-96)
- Karl-Anthony Towns (2014-15)
- Bam Adebayo (2016-17)
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