Kentucky Basketball: The Most Inspiring Stories in Wildcats History

Bobby Reagan@uklefty22Featured ColumnistAugust 9, 2013

Kentucky Basketball: The Most Inspiring Stories in Wildcats History

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    Inspiration and sports go hand in hand, especially when it comes to college basketball. 

    Sometimes it can be an individual person overcoming an injury on the court to help lead the team to victory. Other times it can be a story off the court that inspires an entire school to come together.

    With that in mind, read on to see the five most inspirational stories in Kentucky's basketball history.  

The Mardi Gras Mircale

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    Kentucky traveled to Louisiana with a 21-6 record to take on the 11-9 LSU Tigers. Most expected Kentucky to breeze to an easy victory.

    What happened was not that in the least, but it lead to one of the most inspiring games in the Wildcats' history. 

    LSU lead Kentucky 68-37 with less than 16 minutes left in the game. At that point, everyone in the Bayou began to celebrate an upset. However, it was all premature thanks to a furious comeback lead by Walter McCarty. 

    Kentucky would outscore LSU 62-27 in the last 16 minutes to go on and clinch a 99-95 victory. It's widely regarded as one the best comebacks not just in Kentucky's history but in all of college basketball. 

Cameron Mills

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    Cameron Mills refused a full scholarship to the University of Georgia to be a walk-on at the University of Kentucky, where his father, Terry Mills, played at. 

    Known as a three-point specialist, Mills became extremely respected by his teammates despite his walk-on status. He began to make a real name for himself in the 1997 postseason, when he drilled over 60 percent of his shots from behind the arc and averaged over 11 points per game.

    However, he will live in Kentucky lore for one shot and one shot only.

    The shot heard 'round the Bluegrass.

    Down 17 points with 9:38 remaining in the Elite Eight against Duke, Kentucky made a ferocious comeback. Sure enough, it was Cameron Mills who drilled a three, with the Wildcats down 86-84 with 2:15 left.

    The Wildcats never looked back as they went on to win the game and the 1998 title.

Nerlens Noel and Lane Goodwin

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    It started with a simple thumbs up. A gesture that seems so insignificant and easy that it can hardly mean anything as important as making a child happy.

    However, don't tell Nerlens Noel or the rest of Big Blue Nation that. 

    Lane Goodwin was a 13-year-old diehard Kentucky fan who was battling cancer. His battle sparked a campaign known as Thumbs Up for Lane, something that showed his refusal to let cancer bring him down and his continuation to fight. Even though Goodwin died last season, he had befriended the biggest of friends in a short amount of time.

    That man was Nerlens Noel, who joined the Thumbs Up for Lane campaign but took it a step further. Noel reached out to Goodwin's mother and set up a FaceTime session for Noel to get to meet Lane and invite him and his family to Big Blue Madness. 

    Despite Lane being too sick to make it to Big Blue Madness, Noel made sure he still reached out to invite Goodwin's younger brothers and aunt and uncle to Lexington.

    Noel continued to remember Lane throughout his season, and Big Blue Nation embraced Lane as one of their own, constantly giving a thumbs up.

DeAndre Liggins Hugs Victory

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    DeAndre Liggins seemed to have a permanent seat in the doghouse, no matter who the coach was at Kentucky. He started his freshman year with a much-maligned season under then-head coach Billy Gillispie. 

    Rumors of a possible transfer then arose for Liggins when John Calipari replaced Gillispie going into Liggins' sophomore season. While that was going on, Liggins sat out the first nine games of the season, and many people around the country wondered if Liggins was a cancer and the team would be better if Calipari just let Liggins go.

    However, he bought into Calipari's system and became one of the best defenders in the country his junior year, hitting over 39 percent from behind the arc and averaging over eight points a game en route to a Final Four appearance. 

    Liggins grew up in a rough neighborhood in Chicago and lost his older brother at a young age, something he remembers every day with a tattoo of his brother's face on his arm. 

    He was drafted by the Orlando Magic with the 53rd pick in the 2010 draft and currently is in the rotation for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Unforgettables

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    What's there left to say about this team? Everyone knows the story. Four players, three of which hailed from Kentucky, came together to form an unlikely team to help bring Kentucky back to the limelight. 

    After a rough couple of years coming off probation, Rick Pitino took a team lead by John Pelphrey, Deron Feldhaus, Sean Woods and Richie Farmer and partnered Jamal Mashburn with them to lead Kentucky to an Elite Eight appearance, where they played arguably the greatest game in college basketball against Duke.

    The four jerseys were retired almost immediately after the 104-103 overtime loss to Duke, something that is rare to see at any college, let alone Kentucky.

    The four unlikely players helped turn around Kentucky basketball and, most importantly, win back the fanbase. They showed Big Blue Nation that no matter who puts on the blue and white of Kentucky, they represent the entire commonwealth and will fight for the name on the front of their jersey.