The 10 Greatest Centers in Kentucky Basketball History
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John Calipari has led a resurgence to national prominence during his tenure at the University of Kentucky. During his time, the Wildcats have had an influx of point guards, 5-star recruits, wins and media coverage, among other topics.
However, what has seemingly gone unnoticed is the resurgence of dominant post players who play for "Big Blue Nation." Great centers such as DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis and Josh Harrellson have been catalysts for Kentucky's success during the past three seasons, and 2012 recruit Nerlens Noel intends to keep that success streak alive in the near future.
The Kentucky Wildcats have established themselves as one of the best schools in the nation for developing post players. In fact, they have had a long and storied tradition of featuring successful centers.
With that being said, read ahead to take a glimpse at the 10 greatest centers to ever suit up for the Big Blue.
10. Randolph Morris
Courtesy of Draft Express
One of the most intriguing players on this list is Randolph Morris. He came to Kentucky as one of the 10 best recruits of the 2004 recruiting class, joining fellow freshmen Rajon Rondo, Joe Crawford and Ramel Bradley in forming the nation's top-ranked recruiting class.
The foursome were supposed to lead Tubby Smith's Wildcats back to national prominence, but they failed to do so.
However, Morris managed to play three seasons for Kentucky and he left after posting a monster junior season, averaging over 16 points, seven rebounds and two blocked shots per game.
The talent was there for Morris—he stood over 6'10" tall and weighed over 250 pounds. Physically, he outclassed nearly every other big man in the SEC and could hold his own against anyone in the paint. Morris also possessed an advanced post game that featured an array of shots that seemed to become automatic by the end of his junior season.
However, Morris did not pan out in the NBA.
In fact, he has a very interesting path there. Randolph actually declared for the NBA draft after his freshman season, which proved to be ridiculous, as no NBA team drafted him. Since he did not hire an agent and was not drafted, the NCAA decided to reinstate Morris and allow him to return to Kentucky.
He did so and had two successful seasons for the Wildcats, then quickly left for the NBA one week after his junior season was over. He signed a two-year contract with the New York Knicks but never stuck on with an NBA team.
Despite his lack of on-court accomplishments and questionable judgment, Morris was an extremely talented center and played especially well during his junior season in Lexington.
9. Walter McCarty
Courtesy of Kentucky Basketball Forum
Walter McCarty is the one player on this list who might not be a prototypical "center," compared to the others. He did play inside and stood 6'10" tall, but he had an unbelievable all-around game that saw McCarty play all types of interior and "tweener" positions. His three-point shot was a major weapon and his quickness allowed him to move past normal big men on the court.
McCarty did most of his dirty work during Rick Pitino's years coaching the team.
He played three seasons for Kentucky, and he saved his best for last. The 1995-96 team won the national title in large part to McCarty's great interior play and perimeter shooting. This championship group might be the single-greatest team in school history, and Walter is a big reason why.
His versatility on the court helped propel Kentucky to greatness and McCarty to a lengthy NBA career. He was drafted by the New York Knicks in the 1996 NBA draft, but was traded in 1997 to the Boston Celtics. There, he reunited with coach Pitino and had the most successful seasons of his NBA career.
Walter McCarty will forever be remembered fondly by Kentucky fans as a member of that fabled 1996 "Untouchables" team. He was one of the most versatile and talented big men to ever play for the school and continues to serve as a valuable former Wildcat off the court.
8. Jamaal Magloire
Courtesy of www.secfanatics.com
NBA fans may recognize Jamaal Magloire's name from his playing days as a professional. However, he began his basketball career at the University of Kentucky, where he helped lead Tubby Smith's first team to the 1998 NCAA National Championship.
Only a sophomore at the time, Magloire was a key shot-blocking presence during their run to the title. He received much bigger roles in his final two collegiate seasons, where he broke out and cemented himself as an all-time great center at Kentucky.
Magloire dominated SEC play during his junior year, leading the conference in rebounding and finishing third in blocked shots. He then returned for his senior season and emerged as a true force in the paint. Jamaal nearly averaged a double-double and finished his UK basketball career as the school's all-time leader in career blocked shots.
After his impressive on-court success for Kentucky, Jamaal Magloire entered the NBA and became an All-Star selection in his fourth season. Magloire last played for the Toronto Raptors and is nearing the end of his career. Although his playing days will soon be over, Magloire will be forever loved by Kentucky fans for his great play on the court and his help in winning a national championship.
7. Rick Robey
Courtesy of Kentucky Delts
Rick Robey was a 6'11" center who starred for the 1978 Kentucky Wildcats championship team. Led by head coach Joe B. Hall, the 1978 'Cats defeated the Duke Blue Devils behind Jack "Goose" Givens' 41 points.
Everyone remembers this statistic and uses it to define the game. However, no one seems to remember that Robey's 20-point, 11-rebound effort was almost equally as impressive and important to the team's final victory.
In addition to the 1978 squad, Robey was a freshman contributor on the 1975 Wildcats team, which advanced to the NCAA finals before losing to John Wooden's UCLA Bruins. With this accomplishment, Robey joins a select group of Wildcats who played in multiple NCAA finals during their collegiate careers.
After the season, Rick Robey entered the 1978 NBA draft and was taken with the third overall pick by the Indiana Pacers. He played for eight seasons and won a NBA title with Larry Bird and the 1981 Boston Celtics.
Robey's size and on-court achievements rival that of any center in Kentucky lore and earn him a place among the 10 best centers in school history.
6. Bill Spivey
Courtesy of www.bigbluehistory.net
Bill Spivey played in the days of our grandfathers, starring for the Kentucky Wildcats from 1949 to 1951. Standing seven feet tall and weighing over 200 pounds, Spivey was a physical specimen in his day and towered over opposing players.
He played for two national championship teams, contributing as a freshman for the 1949 Kentucky Wildcats and leading the way as a monster junior during Adolph Rupp's 1951 season.
He was selected as the 1951 Most Outstanding Player after he scored 22 points and hauled in 21 rebounds in the NCAA national final. Spivey was also named to the NCAA All-American team and the All-SEC team that year.
After the season, Spivey was implicated in a point-shaving scandal that banned him from playing in the NBA. Spivey denied any involvement, but a grand jury accused him of lying under oath and willingly partaking in the scandal.
Eventually, the trial was dismissed and Spivey was cleared of all charges. However, he was banned from playing in the NBA. Spivey continued his life as a businessman in Lexington and eventually had his jersey retired in the Rupp Arena rafters. Bill Spivey was one heck of a center and a giant among boys during his era. There is no doubt that he is one of the greatest centers in Kentucky history.
5. Melvin Turpin
Courtesy of Kentucky Sports Radio
Standing 6'11" and weighing 240 pounds, Melvin Turpin was one of the most imposing centers to ever play at Kentucky. He was a Lexington, Kentucky native and eventually led his hometown team to the 1984 Final Four.
Turpin made an immediate splash when he enrolled to play for the Wildcats, landing on the All-SEC First Team during his 1982 and 1983 seasons. His 1983 block total of 83 was the single-season record until 2011-12, when Anthony Davis broke his mark.
In 1984, Turpin teamed up with Sam Bowie to form a potent "twin towers" duo who dominated opponents with their length. That season, Melvin led the SEC in scoring and was a key catalyst to leading the Wildcats to the Final Four. In fact, Turpin was named to the All-American team that season and in the 1982-83 basketball season.
His imposing physical size and college success led to him becoming the sixth selection in the 1984 NBA draft. He was taken sixth overall and had a short-lived professional career that was marred by weight issues. However, Melvin Turpin was an excellent player for Kentucky and is one of the greatest centers to play for the program.
4. Alex Groza
Courtesy of www.bigbluehistory.net
Alex Groza was the first great center in Kentucky basketball history. He only stood 6'7" tall, but he matched up with the players of that era and dominated the paint for the Wildcats.
Groza was one of the leader's of coach Adolph Rupp's first two championship teams. He was a member of the fabled "Fabulous Five", which consisted of Groza, "Wah Wah" Jones, Ralph Beard, Cliff Barker and Kenny Rollins. The team won the 1948 NCAA National Championship with a 36-3 record, steamrolling through college basketball's finest. The team repeated as champions in 1949.
After the team's first championship in 1948, Groza played for the U.S. Olympic team and was the squad's leading scorer. His highly decorated college career included three selections as an NCAA All-America and All-SEC player. Groza also won the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player award two years in a row, from 1948 to 1949.
Groza became a first-round draft pick in the 1949 NBA Draft.
He was selected by the Indianapolis Olympians and was named the 1950 NBA Rookie of the Year. After averaging an impressive 22 points per game during his first two professional seasons, Groza was implicated in a point-shaving scandal that included 32 current and former players who supposedly took part in the banned activities.
Groza was banned from ever returning to the NBA and his basketball career was over.
Despite this abrupt end to his playing days, Alex Groza was an incredible collegiate player who led the first two championship teams coached by Adolph Rupp. His performance in the 1948 Olympics and the NCAA finals solidified him as an all-time great Kentucky Wildcat big man.
3. Sam Bowie
Courtesy of www.bigbluehistory.net
When hearing the name Sam Bowie, what other basketball player does everybody immediately think of?
That is right, the great Michael Jordan.
The two players will forever be linked because of Jordan's rise to greatness and Bowie's injury-plagued NBA career.
It is regretful that Portland's selection of Bowie ahead of Jordan in the 1984 NBA draft is often the most notable aspect of his career, because Sam Bowie was a flat-out incredible college basketball player. During his days at the University of Kentucky, Bowie teamed up with Melvin Turpin to form one of the most intimidating front lines in college basketball of the 1980s.
Sam Bowie was a highly-rated high school recruit and was even ranked ahead of another famous star—Ralph Sampson. With an imposing 7'1", 235 pound frame, Bowie burst onto the college scene during his sophomore season at Kentucky. The big man averaged over 17 points and nine rebounds per contest and was selected to the NCAA All-American third team.
Injuries kept Bowie out of college basketball for two consecutive seasons, but he returned in 1983-84 and led the Kentucky Wildcats to the Final Four. He was selected as a second-team All-American and became perhaps the most infamous second overall selection in NBA draft history.
Bowie continued to be hampered by injuries in his professional career, although he did end up playing 10 seasons in the NBA.
2. DeMarcus Cousins
Cousins dominated SEC and NCAA tournament play
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Simply speaking the name DeMarcus Cousins generates a wide variety of opinions and debate. His fans will cite how great Cousins was with the Kentucky fanbase and his dominant SEC run that catapulted the 2009-10 team into becoming a national title contender.
His detractors will say that Cousins' talent is negated by his negative and childish attitude, which has been on display at various times throughout his entire basketball career. He has also been accused of violent reactions on the court, including an elbow to the face of former University of Louisville player Jared Swopshire.
Regardless of what you think about him, there is no doubt that DeMarcus Cousins is a flat-out incredibly talented big man.
His skills in the post have rarely been seen in a Kentucky uniform. Standing 6'11" and weighing over 270 pounds, Cousins entered college as a man-child and left college as a first-team All-American and a Wildcat legend.
Cousins averaged over 15 points and nearly 10 rebounds per game during his lone season at Kentucky, and he formed one of the most dynamic duos in school history by teaming up with point guard John Wall. The two future NBA stars carried a talented roster to a SEC championship and an appearance in the NCAA Elite Eight.
DeMarcus will forever be remembered as a special member of the team that brought Kentucky back to national prominence.
Since his playing days in Lexington, Cousins moved on to the NBA and was the fifth overall selection of the 2010 NBA draft. He plays for the Sacramento Kings and just completed an impressive second season, averaging over 18 points and 11 rebounds per game and showing immense promise to develop even more.
As great as Cousins was, there is one player that surpassed him during his lone season at Kentucky, and he is the next and final player on this list.
1. Anthony Davis
Davis showing off his 7'4" wingspan
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
As great as the previous players were at Kentucky, none were better than Anthony Davis. Simply put, he arguably has the most decorated single season of any player in Kentucky basketball history, and maybe even college basketball history.
His list of accomplishments reads like a synopsis of a Hall of Fame career, yet he accomplished everything in one season. Below is a sample of some of his amazing college feats:
- Winner of all six major National Player of the Year awards
- 2012 NCAA National Champion
- 2012 Final Four Most Outstanding Player
- NCAA Defensive Player of the Year
- NCAA National Freshman of the Year
- AP First-Team All American
- SEC Player of the Year
- SEC Defensive Player of the Year
- SEC Freshman of the Year
- SEC First-Team
- SEC All-Defensive Team
- Set an NCAA record for blocks by a freshman (186)
- Set a SEC record for blocks by a freshman (186)
- Set a UK record for blocks by any player and by a freshman (186)
In addition to all of these feats, Davis is likely to be selected by the New Orleans Hornets as the No. 1 overall player in the 2012 NBA draft. In other words, he essentially accomplished every goal that a freshman big man could dream of.
However, these feats and records alone are not the main reason why Anthony Davis is the greatest center to play for Kentucky. What makes him the best is his talent level, unselfishness, efficiency and elite basketball IQ.
No other Wildcat big man possessed Davis' mixture of these above traits, mixed with his incredible length and elite athleticism. Combine all of this with his developing guard skills and perimeter shot, and you have the greatest center to ever suit up for the Kentucky Wildcats.