The University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville feature two of the greatest traditions in college basketball history. Numerous college and NBA Hall of Fame players hailed from the two schools and are forever enshrined in the rich history of basketball in the state of Kentucky.
With that in mind, which school can boast the greatest individual lineup in terms of all-time great players? It is an interesting topic and one that requires a deep look into the history of each program.
The first step in comparing the rosters is determining who makes them, which is the most difficult process of all. There are so many worthy candidates for each position, but I have my choices below for the greatest starting lineup in Kentucky basketball history:
Kentucky Wildcats All-Time Starting Lineup
Point Guard: Kyle Macy (1976-1980)
Kyle Macy is a true Wildcat legend and has been serving the basketball program his entire life. He is now the color commentator for Kentucky basketball games, but long before his broadcasting career started he was a collegiate star in Lexington. Macy played three seasons for Kentucky and helped lead the team to the 1978 NCAA National Championship. He was named the Final Four Most Outstanding Player that year and was selected to his first of three NCAA All-American teams. In 1980, Macy won the SEC Tournament MVP award and was a consensus Associated Press All-American. Macy went on to have a decent career in the NBA and was known as a knockdown shooter from the perimeter.
Shooting Guard: Tony Delk (1992-1996)
Joining Macy in the back court is another lights out guard, Tony Delk. He played for head coach Rick Pitino and was one of the most prolific three-point shooters to ever play for the Wildcats. During his final year at Kentucky, Delk shot over 44 percent from long-range and set a NCAA record for made three-point field goals in a NCAA national final. He is only 6'1" tall so he was often forced to play as a point guard, but his natural position is as a lights out shooting guard. Delk made big shots in big moments and led the 1995-96 Kentucky Wildcats to the NCAA championship; he was named the Final Four Most Outstanding Player. Delk went on to play for over a decade in the NBA and was a first round selection of the Charlotte Hornets.
Small Forward: Jamal Mashburn (1990-1993)
Jamal Mashburn might be the most important recruit in the history of Kentucky basketball. He committed to Kentucky right after the fallout of being placed on probation by the NCAA and was the biggest signing for the young head coach Rick Pitino. With Mashburn on board, Kentucky quickly ascended back among college basketball's elite programs. He led the 1992 team to the NCAA Elite Eight, where they lost by a buzzer beater in the sport's most memorable game. The following season, Mashburn led the Wildcats back to the Final Four. Jamal was known as a physical specimen, standing 6'8" tall and weighing 240 pounds. He finished his collegiate career as the school's fourth all-time leading scorer, despite only playing three seasons at Kentucky. Mashburn was successful in the NBA but was hampered by injuries that eventually cut his career short.
Power Forward: Dan Issel (1967-1970)
When it comes to scoring the basketball, no Kentucky player did it better than Dan Issel. Since he left campus in 1970, he still holds the record for points scored in a career, which is even more impressive since he did it all in three years. Issel poured in 2,138 points and averaged 25.7 points per game during his career at Kentucky. He was the record holder for most points scored in a game for decades, until guard Jodie Meeks broke his record by scoring 54 points against Tennessee in 2009. Issel had a stellar career in the ABA and led the 1975 Kentucky Colonels to the championship that year. No player can ever replace Issel's output at the university and he is arguably the best Kentucky basketball player of all-time.
Center: Anthony Davis (2011-2012)
A strong case could be made that Anthony Davis had the single greatest season by any college basketball player in history. During his lone season as a Wildcat, Davis won a national championship, was named the Final Four Most Outstanding Player, won all six major NCAA Player of the Year awards, was selected to the Associated Press 1st Team All-America and 1st Team All-Defense rosters, won the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year awards, broke the NCAA single season record for blocks by a freshman and capped it all off by winning a gold medal as a member of the U.S. Men's Olympic basketball team. He was then drafted first overall in the 2012 NBA Draft by the New Orleans Hornets.
As for the Louisville Cardinals, their lineup would be full of NBA greats and college superstars. Here is a look at the potential lineup derived from the school's most legendary players:
Louisville Cardinals All-Time Starting Lineup
Point Guard: DeJuan Wheat (1993-1997)
Wheat was the greatest Cardinal player during the 1990s decade and was simply a superstar on the college level. He was only 6'0" tall but Wheat was a dynamic offensive player who finished second on the school's career scoring list with 2,183 points. He is also third in Louisville history in career assists. Wheat was the first player in NCAA Division I history to total at least 2,000 points, 450 assists, 300 three-point field goals and 200 steals in a career.
Shooting Guard: Darrell Griffith (1976-1980)
Known as "Doctor Dunkenstein" to longtime Cardinal fans, Darrell Griffith is arguably the greatest player in school history and sits atop the list as Louisville's career leading scorer. The hot-shooting guard was one of the great athletes of his time and was a member of the "Doctors of Dunk" that were known for they high-flying acrobatics during fast breaks and runouts. Griffith led the school to their first NCAA national championship in 1980 and went on to have his jersey retired by the NBA's Utah Jazz. As a member of the Jazz, he formed a potent scoring duo along with Adrian Dantley and finished as the franchise's career leader in made three point field goals.
Small Forward: Derek Smith (1979-1982)
Derek Smith was a teammate of Griffith on the 1980 NCAA championship team and was one of Denny Crum's favorite players during his time at Louisville. Smith played the small forward position and was a perfect compliment to Griffith on the wing. Derek was a one-time conference Player of the Year award winner and is sixth on the school's all-time scoring list with over 1,800 points poured in.
Power Forward: Wes Unseld (1965-1967)
The oldest player on this list is arguably the greatest NBA superstar to come out of Louisville's long and storied tradition. Wes Unseld is a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, led the Washington Bullets to the 1978 NBA Championship and won the NBA Rookie of the Year and NBA MVP awards in the same season. Unseld was a dominant rebounder inside and stood up against the likes of Wilt Chamberlain and Artis Gilmore during his time in the NBA. At Louisville, Unseld excelled at every facet of the game and averaged over 20 points and 18 rebounds per game throughout his three-year college career.
Center: Pervis Ellison (1985-1989)
"Never Nervous" Pervis was a four-year starter for Denny Crum's dominant 1980s teams and was the star player for Louisville's 1986 NCAA championship-winning squad. Ellison left Louisville as the school's all-time leading shot blocker and is third on the career scoring list. He is the only player in the school's history to be drafted first overall in the NBA draft and will always be a Louisville legend.
As you can see, both schools feature stellar starting lineups that rival the best from any school in the country. The matchup between the two would be extremely fun to watch unfold on the court, as the two teams appear to be evenly matched.
In the back court, both teams feature excellent three-point shooting combinations. Kentucky's duo of Macy and Delk would be difficult for the Cardinals to stop, as they might be the two greatest shooters from long range at Kentucky.
Louisville's duo of Wheat and Griffith are good shooters in their own right but would be a matchup nightmare in terms of athleticism and running in the open floor. They are superior athletes and have better size than the Kentucky tandem. At the same time, the Kentucky back court features two former Final Four Most Outstanding Players so their championship pedigree is unmatched. The guards likely come to a draw between the two schools.
When looking down low in the post, you have yet another close matchup of similar players. Kentucky's Issel and Louisville's Unseld played in the same era, were both extremely successful in the NBA/ABA and both are arguably their program's greatest player. Unseld gives Louisville a rebounding advantage and is the better all-around player, but Issel would me a matchup nightmare because of his scoring from all over the court.
The center position features two players who excelled as freshmen and share similar strengths on the court. Louisville's Ellison is the best shot blocker in Louisville's storied history and he led the team to a national championship. Kentucky's Davis carries the same accolades but had a more dominant single season in comparison to Pervis Ellison. The slight edge goes to Anthony Davis because of his superior shot blocking ability and his ability to run the floor and finish lobs, although Ellison can arguably push this matchup to a draw as well.
It all comes down to the small forward position, which is where Kentucky has the advantage. As great as Derek Smith was, he was no Jamal Mashburn. In fact, Mashburn was one of the best college players of the past 25 years and was a superior scorer, defender and rebounder to Smith. Both would be a terror to guard in the open floor, but the edge goes to Mashburn in this case.
Even though the two teams feature very similar all-time starting lineups, the slight edge goes to Kentucky's roster. With that being said, Louisville's is arguably more balanced and excels more on the boards. Either way, these two rosters serve as a great example of the greatness of each basketball program. They have produced some truly incredible players that were among the best to ever play, as evidenced by the greatness of the ten players listed above.