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Kentucky Basketball: Ranking the 10 Best Freshmen in Wildcats History

Matt OveringContributor IIINovember 27, 2012

Kentucky Basketball: Ranking the 10 Best Freshmen in Wildcats History

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    As the winningest program in Division I college basketball history, Kentucky basketball has been shaped by many players and coaches throughout the years. But until recently, dominant freshman seasons were hard to come by in Lexington.

    You can credit that to John Calipari's recruiting strategy, but there has been a shift in the landscape of college basketball as a whole. 

    Freshmen have dominated the college basketball scene in the past decade, and Kentucky has not been immune. The Kentucky program was built on the backs of upperclassmen, but the current state of college basketball requires fabulous freshmen to win.

    Because of this, you should not be surprised to see several Calipari-coached freshmen make this list. 

    Let's take a look at the 10 best freshman campaigns in Kentucky basketball history.

     

10. Ron Mercer (1995-96)

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    Ron Mercer averaged eight points and 2.9 rebounds per game in his freshman season.

    Mercer dominated when it mattered. Kentucky won the 1996 NCAA championship, and Mercer played a large part in Rick Pitino's breakneck rotation.

    He was named to the All-NCAA Final Four team after scoring 20 points in the championship game. He was also named to the All-SEC Freshman team. 

    Statistics via BigBlueHistory.net.

9. Jamal Mashburn (1990-91)

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    Jamal Mashburn is one of the greatest players to ever put on a Kentucky uniform.

    And he's No. 9 on this list.

    In his freshman campaign, Mashburn averaged 12.9 points and seven rebounds per game. He earned All-SEC Freshman team honors for those numbers.

    If it wasn't for a postseason ban, the Wildcats could have made some noise in the NCAA tournament. The team finished 22-6.

    Mashburn could have put up more gaudy numbers if it weren't for the upperclassmen on the team. John Pelphrey, Reggie Hanson and Sean Woods all saw more minutes than Mashburn in the 1990-91 season.

    "Monster Mash" was a great rebounder and scorer for the University of Kentucky, and his freshman year was only the beginning of his greatness. 

     

    Statistics via Sports Reference.

8. Sam Bowie (1979-80)

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    Sam Bowie is known for his place in the 1984 draft more so than anything to casual basketball fans, but his time at the University of Kentucky was superb.

    As a freshman, Bowie averaged 12.9 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. He led the team in rebounding and was second in points scored to Kentucky legend Kyle Macy. 

    Kentucky made the Sweet 16 in Bowie's first season.

    Bowie currently sits sixth on the all-time list for rebounds by freshmen and 10th for points by freshmen at Kentucky.

     

    Statistics via BigBlueHistory.net.

7. Rex Chapman (1986-87)

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    Despite playing just 29 games, Rex Chapman scored 464 points—good for the eighth spot on the points by freshmen list for Kentucky.

    Chapman was a scorer. He averaged 16 points per game as a freshman and led Kentucky to a 18-11 record.

    He was voted to the All-SEC First team and Freshman team in 1986-87.

    Statistics via BigBlueHistory.net.

6. Terrence Jones (2010-11)

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    As a freshman, Terrence Jones flew onto the college basketball scene at the 2010 Maui Invitational.

    In three games, Jones scored 69 points, grabbed 34 rebounds and blocked 10 shots. 

    That is one of the best stat lines for three consecutive games you'll ever find for such a prestigious tournament. 

    Jones fell off (which was somewhat expected), but he still averaged 15.7 points and 8.8 rebounds per game for a team that made it to the Final Four.

    He holds the third spot in rebounds by freshmen and points by freshmen in Kentucky history. 

    His enigmatic and occasionally lackadaisical play may cloud memories of Jones' game, but there's no question: He put up huge numbers.

    Statistics via ESPN.com.

5. DeMarcus Cousins (2009-10)

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    When you think of elite SEC centers, you've got to think of DeMarcus Cousins. 

    Cousins had touch around the basket that was uncanny for a player of his size. He averaged 15.1 points per game on 56 percent shooting from the field. 

    It's scary to think Cousins was the second-best player on his team, because he was dominant. He owned the glass (9.8 rebounds per game) and notched 20 double-doubles in just one season.

    He is second in Kentucky history for rebounds by freshmen and fourth for points by freshmen.

    Kentucky made the Elite Eight in his only season in Lexington.

    Statistics via ESPN.com.

4. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (2011-12)

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    He wasn't statistically dominant. He wasn't the best player on his team.

    But Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had "it." He had a will to win. He was a great athlete, defender and competitor. 

    He averaged 11.9 points and 7.4 rebounds per game in his freshman season. His point total of 476 is good for sixth on the all-time points by freshmen list and 297 rebounds put him fourth on the rebounds by freshmen list.

    He's a national champion. He was a second-team All American. He was the most outstanding player in the South region of the 2012 NCAA tournament.

    Statistics via BigBlueHistory.net.

3. John Wall (2009-10)

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    The man who started it all: John Wall.

    When Wall committed to play for John Calipari, it marked a change. It showed that Calipari could recruit at Kentucky like he could at Memphis—and then some.

    Wall marked the beginning of Kentucky dominance.

    His Wildcats won 35 games and made the Elite Eight behind his per game averages of 16. points, 4.3 rebounds and 6.5 assists.

    He was a consensus First-Team All-American and won the Adolph Rupp National Player of the Year award.

    Wall has more assists than any freshman in Kentucky history. He's second in points

    Statistics via BigBlueHistory.net.

2. Brandon Knight (2010-11)

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    As good as Terrence Jones was in 2010-11, Brandon Knight was better. Much better.

    When Jones slowed at the end of the season, Knight picked up the slack. He hit two go-ahead shots in the final moments of two different games in the 2011 NCAA tournament.

    Knight was clutch. He was the main reason why Kentucky made the 2011 Final Four.

    At 17.3 points per game, he sits alone atop the points by freshmen list for Kentucky. Take some time to think about the great freshman that have played under John Calipari in Lexington. Knight tops them all in points scored.

    He also added four rebounds and 4.2 assists per game for Kentucky.

    Statistics via ESPN.com.

1. Anthony Davis (2011-12)

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    The No. 1 spot could not go to anyone else.

    Anthony Davis had one of the greatest single seasons in the history of college basketball.

    SEC Player of the Year. National Player of the Year. First Team All-American. NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player. National champion. 

    Not a bad list of accomplishments.

    Davis averaged 14.2 points, 10.4 rebounds and 4.7 blocks per game as a Wildcat. He's fifth on the points by freshmen list at Kentucky, and he tops the rebound and block lists.

    He was more dominant than any other freshman in Kentucky history. That is why he is the No. 1 player on this list.

    Statistics via ESPN.com.

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