Kentucky Basketball: Anthony Davis and the Wildcats' Most Dominant Players Ever
The Kentucky Wildcats’ basketball program is one of the most storied and successful in NCAA history.
The Wildcats have the most wins in Division I history and have won seven national championships.
It is therefore no secret that Kentucky has also had its fair share of dominant players.
Certain players simply have an ability to take over games, affecting the outcome on every possession. While many great players are lights-out scorers, there are certainly other ways to change the outcome of a basketball game.
This season, Anthony Davis is wreaking havoc on the defensive end, changing teams’ entire pre-game preparations.
The Wildcats have had some amazing scorers in the program’s history, as well as outstanding rebounders, shot blockers and point guards.
So who makes the list as the most dominant of all-time?
Alex Groza was perhaps the Kentucky Wildcats’ most dominant player ever.
Groza led the Wildcats to two national championships—in 1948 and 1949. He was named the NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player both times.
When he left Kentucky, Groza was the school’s all-time leading scorer. Over 60 years later, he still ranks 10th overall with 1,744 points scored.
Groza was also a three-time All-American and All-SEC in addition to playing on the gold medal-winning 1948 U.S. Olympic Team.
Unfortunately, Groza’s basketball career after Kentucky was marred by a scandal in which he and two teammates were accused of point-shaving during the 1948-49 season.
In the aftermath of the scandal, Groza was banned from the NBA for life. While his legacy at Kentucky is still intact, the rest of the basketball world may not remember him as fondly.
Antoine Walker was an integral part of the Kentucky Wildcats’ national championship season in 1996.
Despite being just a sophomore, Walker averaged 15 points and eight rebounds per game and served as an all-purpose scorer for the Wildcats.
Walker was able to play a variety of positions—he could post his man up on the block and score in the paint, shoot outside jumpers and drive down the lane.
In his sophomore season, Walker was named to the All-SEC First Team and the NCAA Regional Team.
In the subsequent NBA Draft, Walker was selected sixth overall by the Boston Celtics.
In each of his four years with the Kentucky Wildcats, Tony Delk improved.
He played sparingly during his freshman year, averaging less than 10 minutes per game and barely registering in the scoring column.
However, in his sophomore year, Delk played almost 30 minutes a night, averaging over 16 points per game. He simply went up from there.
Delk became Kentucky’s steady point guard, a player who could shoot, pass and defend against anyone.
Delk’s shooting and his defense were his two most dynamic skills. He shot 47 percent from the floor for his career and an impressive 40 percent from three-point range.
In his senior season, Delk’s hard work culminated by his leading the Wildcats to a national championship.
The team, led by Delk, was one of the most dominant in history, winning their first four games by at least 20 points and every game thereafter by at least seven.
In the tournament, Delk was named the NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player and the NCAA Regional Most Outstanding Player.
During the season, Delk was also voted a Consensus first team All-American and the SEC Player of the Year.
Not only was John Wall the headlining player of the Kentucky Wildcats’ first recruiting class under new coach John Calipari, he was expected to single-handedly lead the program back into the national spotlight.
If it’s possible, Wall did that and more.
In his first collegiate game, Wall hit the game winning shot. Over the course of his only season at Kentucky, he showed an ability to take over games when his team needed a boost, penetrating into the lane and scoring at will.
Even more impressive, Wall was able to see what the team needed most. If the Cats weren't scoring enough, he would shoot, but if another player had the hot hand, Wall could finish a game with 10 assists simply by reading the team.
When running a fast break, there was absolutely no one on the court, let alone the planet, that could stay in front of him.
Wall was simply breathtaking to watch. He led the team, had at least two ridiculous moves a night and made Kentucky basketball relevant again.
In his only season as a Wildcat, Wall averaged 16 points, 6.5 assists and four rebounds per game.
More importantly, he helped transform a team that was .500 in SEC play and just 22-14 on the season, into a national title contender.
Despite all of John Wall’s success, it is hard to say if he could have taken the Kentucky Wildcats to the same heights if not for DeMarcus Cousins.
Cousins will go down as one of Kentucky’s most dominating big men ever. He had strength that was unmatched by almost any other Wildcat, but more importantly, he was skilled and quick enough to harness his body.
He narrowly missed out on averaging a double-double in his one and only season at Kentucky, finishing with 15 points and 9.8 rebounds per game.
Virtually no one could stop Cousins in the post. He was agile and had an impressive arsenal of post-moves that he could use to score on just about anyone in the country.
Perhaps his best game came early on in his Kentucky career against Sam Houston State. Cousins scored 27 points and pulled down 18 rebounds to lead the Cats to a win.
Double-doubles became routine for Cousins, as he and Wall helped take the team to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, where the team eventually lost in the Elite Eight.
Despite beginning his career with the Kentucky Wildcats as a backup, when Cliff Hagan was given a starting role, he made it count.
Hagan came off the bench during his sophomore year, but in his junior and senior seasons, Hagan averaged 21.6 and 24 points per game respectively, to go along with 13 rebounds per game both years.
Although Hagan played just 77 games in his career at Kentucky (fewest for any player ranked in the Top 20 of any statistical category for the Cats), he ranks 17th in career scoring and third all-time in rebounding.
Hagan scored 51 points in a game in the opening contest of the 1951 season. His feat stood for almost 20 years as the most points in a game for a Kentucky player.
Hagan was a two-time All-American as well as a two-time member of the All-NCAA Regional team.
In Hagan’s senior year, the Wildcats’ finished the season with a perfect 25-0 record and No. 1 ranking by the Associated Press.
Derek Anderson and Ron Mercer
In the 1997 basketball season, Derek Anderson and Ron Mercer together were virtually impossible to stop.
Anderson was the senior leader, a high flying guard who was a fan favorite. His length, athleticism and shooting ability made him a nearly impossible defensive assignment.
Mercer was the youngster, just a sophomore, but relishing his moment in the spotlight. He was the flashier of the two, making every play look smooth and effortless even when posterizing his opponents.
The Kentucky Wildcats had two superstars on their roster and, even better, the two superstars coexisted well and seemed to make each other better.
The year before, Mercer and Anderson had won a championship on a great team in which they were not the biggest stars. 1997 was their year to lead.
What could possibly stop the Wildcats’ attack?
Unfortunately, one of the saddest moments in Kentucky basketball history. Derek Anderson tore his ACL halfway through the season.
Even without him, the Wildcats made a run to the championship game and took the Arizona Wildcats to overtime before eventually losing.
But with Anderson? Kentucky would have been one of the biggest juggernauts of all time.
Rex Chapman was one of the most popular Kentucky Wildcats athletes of all time.
He was named Mr. Basketball in the state of Kentucky and, to the delight of all Wildcats’ fans, chose to sign with the hometown team.
Chapman did not disappoint once on Kentucky’s campus. He played just two seasons for the Wildcats, but he made them count.
Chapman was named to the All-SEC Team twice, selected as SEC Tournament MVP and voted an All-American in his final season.
In his brief two year career, Chapman averaged 17 points per game and shot an impressive 40 percent from three.
He had a beautiful shot that served him well in the NBA as he made a living as a three-point specialist.
In the 2008-09 basketball season, the Kentucky Wildcats had almost nothing. The team would finish the season a disappointing 22-14 and go to the National Invitation Tournament instead of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament for the first time in 17 years.
But that Kentucky team did have one thing: Jodie Meeks.
Coming off of an injury plagued sophomore season and a freshman year in which Meeks averaged just eight points per game, he shocked everyone when he was finally healthy.
Meeks was simply amazing in his junior season. He averaged almost 24 points per game and often seemed to be the only offense the Wildcats had.
Despite teams focusing on Meeks, he continued to put up huge numbers. He scored over 30 points per game seven times, including his record-breaking 54 point performance against the Tennessee Volunteers.
In that game, Meeks hit 15-of-22 shots overall and 10-of-15 three pointers.
Meeks was the ultimate competitor. Despite the mounting losses and a discouraged fan base, he kept performing every night, scoring almost at will.
Wallace “Wah Wah” Jones
Despite his incredible skill on the basketball court, Wallace "Wah Wah" Jones could not settle for playing just one sport.
He is the only player in Kentucky Wildcats’ history to play basketball for Adolph Rupp and football for Bear Bryant.
Did I mention he had his number retired in both sports?
It’s safe to say that Jones was no ordinary athlete.
Jones was a three-time basketball All-American and led the team to back-to-back national championships in his last two seasons wearing Kentucky blue.
Though Jones averaged just over eight points per game in his Wildcat career, he shot 63 percent from the field.
Jones was also one of the few players not to be implicated in the point-shaving scandal that marred the success of Adolph Rupp’s early Kentucky teams.
Anthony Davis does not dominate in the traditional way—scoring points at will and muscling guys out of position. Let’s get it straight, Davis is no Shaq.
But what is he? Possibly the best defensive force in Kentucky Wildcats’ basketball history.
Davis broke Kentucky’s single season record for blocked shots with 12 games left in the season. He is now going for SEC and national records.
In every game but two this season, Davis has blocked three or more shots. He has blocked over five shots in a game seven times.
But even when he is not blocking shots, Davis is a defensive force. Opponents are afraid to take the ball inside for fear of getting it swatted right back at them. Players alter their shots when Davis is on the other side of the lane, just in case he can get over quickly enough.
And what makes Davis even more dangerous is that he can block shots from anywhere on the court.
He blocks shots when he is guarding the shooter, he loves swatting balls when playing help defense and he has rejected his fair share of three-point and jump shot attempts this season.
Davis is simply an athletic freak. He is long and spindly, but quick and agile, allowing him to play solid defense and block shots without fouling.
Despite not even having played a full season for the Wildcats, Davis is one of Kentucky’s most dominant players of all time.
It is an impressive feat to top a school’s all-time career scoring list. The feat becomes even more impressive when the school is the University of Kentucky Wildcats.
The cherry on top? Topping the scoring list in just three years, playing only 83 games and doing it in the 1960s.
Dan Issel scored 2,138 points in his Kentucky career, averaging an absurd 34 points per game in his last year with the Wildcats.
If that wasn’t enough, Issel also tops Kentucky’s all-time career rebounding list, totaling a ridiculous 1,078 rebounds in just three years, for an average just shy of 13 rebounds per game.
Famously, Issel dueled against “Pistol” Pete Maravich when his Kentucky teams would play the LSU Tigers.
There was simply no way to stop Issel when he started shooting. He shot 51 percent from the floor for his career, including a 55 percent clip in his last season. That number becomes even more remarkable when you consider that Issel also took over 650 shots that year.
Issel’s record of 53 points in a game (scored against the Mississippi Rebels in 1970) remained the standard for almost 40 years until Jodie Meeks scored 54 in 2009.
Jamal Mashburn did not play a full four years for the Kentucky Wildcats, but he certainly made his three years count.
Mashburn averaged almost 19 points and eight rebounds per game for his career, including a senior season in which he averaged 21 points, 8.4 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game.
He is one of the most versatile players in Kentucky history, ranking sixth all-time in scoring and 18th all-time in career rebounding.
Mashburn’s all-around game led the Cats to two NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament appearances (in which the results should never be mentioned in the state of Kentucky).
Mashburn was one of those players who had a nice shot from deep, but could also power the ball up inside, making him an offensive threat no matter where he was on the court.
Louie Dampier is (perhaps unfairly) known by the general public best for playing on the all-white Kentucky Wildcats’ basketball team that lost in the 1966 NCAA Tournament to Texas Western. The game was chronicled in the movie Glory Road.
Outside of that one game, however, Dampier should be remembered as an amazing scorer and team leader.
Dampier averaged 19.7 points per game in his three-year Kentucky career. When he graduated, he ranked third on the all-time scoring list. He is currently 12th.
Despite being just six feet tall, Dampier could get into the lane at will and had a silky smooth jump shot—for his career he shot over 50 percent from the field.
Dampier was a two-time All-American and was voted to the All-NCAA Final Four Team in his junior year.
Kenny “Sky” Walker
Kenny “Sky” Walker goes down as a player who was able to take over a game when his team needed a boost.
In the 1986 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, Walker set a record by shooting 11-for-11 from the field in a game against Western Kentucky.
Walker was a pure scorer, able to get off his shot against any type of defense. His nickname came from his ability to “sky” over defenders and put in a shot or snag a rebound.
For his career, Walker ranks second all-time on Kentucky’s career scoring list and sixth all-time on the school’s career rebounding list.
In one season, Walker averaged 23 points and 10 rebounds per game.
In his four year career with the Wildcats, Walker was a two-time All-American, four-time All-SEC and two time SEC Player of the Year.