Kentucky Basketball: The 25 Best Players in the Program's Long History
With 44 SEC regular season championships and seven national titles, the University of Kentucky is arguably the most accomplished program in college basketball history. Yet, the NCAA's all-time winningest team could not have reached this plateau without the help of a plethora of talent.
Over the years, Kentucky has produced more than 30 consensus All-Americans and 33 NBA first-round draft picks. This has inevitably led to much debate with respect to the best players in the history of the program.
The following article will attempt to resolve this debate by ranking the 25 best basketball players in University of Kentucky history.
25. Jodie Meeks (2006-2008)
After an average freshman season and an injury-plagued sophomore season, it seemed that Jodie Meeks was destined for mediocrity.
That all changed in his junior year when he recorded one of the best individual seasons in program history.
On January 13, 2009, Meeks broke the single-game scoring record formerly held by Dan Issel with 54 points and the three-point field goal record formerly held by Tony Delk with 10 threes.
He would go on to finish the season with 854 total points, which ranks second in school history behind Dan Issel. He also broke the single-season three-point field goal record with a total of 117.
Meeks left after his junior year and was drafted 41st overall by the Milwaukee Bucks.
24. Scott Padgett (1994-1998)
Although his career at Kentucky was derailed early by academic problems, Scott Padgett would eventually prove to be one of the most pivotal players in recent Kentucky basketball history.
In just his second year, the Wildcats lost in the NCAA National Championship game and Padgett was named to the All-NCAA Final Four Team.
Padgett's versatility helped Kentucky win the National Championship the very next year and he was subsequently named a first team All-American.
He ended his career at UK with over 1,200 career points and 650 rebounds. He was then drafted 28th overall by the Utah Jazz in the 1999 NBA Draft.
23. Rex Chapman (1986-1987)
Although his career at Kentucky was short-lived, Rex Chapman had no trouble establishing himself as one of the best players in program history. In just two years, he was an All-American and a two-time All-SEC player.
He amassed a total of 1,073 points and is currently 17th in career three-point field goals in Kentucky history.
He was drafted eighth overall by the Charlotte Hornets in the 1988 NBA Draft.
22. John Wall (2009)
Despite playing only one year at Kentucky, John Wall left an indelible mark on the program. As the number one ranked recruit on the number one ranked recruiting class, Wall signified Kentucky's shift from mediocrity to perennial title contention.
Wall helped in building a new brand of Kentucky basketball. From his highlight plays on the court to his dancing skills off the court, Wall became a national phenomenon.
He led the team to the Elite Eight while setting both the Kentucky single-season and single-game assist records. He was drafted No. 1 overall by the Washington Wizards in the 2010 NBA Draft.
21. Patrick Patterson (2007-2009)
Patrick Patterson is a consensus fan-favorite, largely because of the conditions under which he played. He had to endure playing under dysfunctional head coach Billy Gillispie for two years before being largely overshadowed while playing alongside four other first round picks under John Calipari in his final season.
Despite this adversity, Patterson was an All-SEC selection in each of his three years at Kentucky.
He finished his career at UK ranked 13th in career points, 13th in career rebounds and seventh in career blocks. He was subsequently selected 14th overall in the 2010 NBA Draft by the Houston Rockets.
20. Keith Bogans (1999-2002)
Keith Bogans' career at Kentucky ended on a bit of a sour note as an injury suffered in the Sweet Sixteen hampered him in an Elite Eight game against a Dwyane Wade-led Marquette team, costing his team a chance at the national championship. Nonetheless, Bogans is still one of the most beloved Wildcats in recent memory.
In his four year career at Kentucky, he was twice named to the All-SEC team and was an All-American in his senior season, as well as SEC Player of the Year.
He finished his tenure at UK ranked 12th in career steals, 14th in assists, fourth in points and second in three-point field goals.
19. Pat Riley (1964-1967)
Although he is known primarily for his coaching success, Pat Riley was also a very productive player during his time at Kentucky.
He was twice named to the All-SEC team and was an All-American in his junior year. That year he was also awarded SEC Player of the Year and led Kentucky to the NCAA championship game, where they lost to Texas Western.
Riley is currently ranked 18th in career points and 25th in career rebounds.
18. Sam Bowie (1979-1983)
Sam Bowie will likely forever be known as the guy drafted before Michael Jordan, but he stills ranks amongst the best players to have ever suited up for the University of Kentucky.
Bowie was an All-SEC selection in each of his three years on the court for Kentucky and was named an All-American in 1980 and 1983.
He was plagued by a severe shin injury that forced him to sit out two entire years while at Kentucky, but still managed to play well enough in his final year to be drafted second overall by the Portland Trailblazers.
Bowie currently stands as the program's eighth all-time rebounder and third all-time shot blocker.
17. Melvin Turpin (1980-1983)
Melvin Turpin, a 6'11" center from Lexington, KY is vividly remembered as one of the best big men in University of Kentucky history.
Turpin was a three-time All-SEC selection and a two-time All-American. He currently ranks 16th in career points and second in career blocks at Kentucky.
He helped lead his team to the NCAA Final Four in 1984 and still holds the record for most field goals made in SEC tournament play, as well as the most points scored in an SEC tournament game.
He was eventually drafted No. 6 overall in 1984 by Washington.
16. Cliff Hagan (1950-1953)
A 6'4" center known for his superb hook shot, Cliff Hagan played three years at Kentucky under Adolph Rupp, including a national championship season in his second year.
Hagan was twice named a first team All-American before being drafted in the third round of the NBA draft. He is currently ranked 17th in career scoring and third in rebounding in UK history.
His 51-point performance against Temple in 1953 stood as the school's single-game scoring record until 1970.
15. Louie Dampier (1964-1966)
Louie Dampier played under legendary coach Adolph Rupp and was a member of the 1966 squad that lost to Texas Western College in the NCAA championship game, as depicted in the film Glory Road.
During his three-year tenure at Kentucky, Dampier was a three-time All-SEC and two-time All-American selection. He scored a total of 1,575 points, which currently ranks him 12th in UK history.
Dampier was a multi-sport athlete at Kentucky, playing both basketball and baseball. He was eventually drafted by the Kentucky Colonels of the ABA and went on to play nine seasons with them.
14. Kevin Grevey (1972-1974)
Kevin Grevey's three years at Kentucky coincided with Joe B. Hall's first three years as head coach. He was a first team All-SEC selection in each of these three seasons and was named an All-American in his junior and senior years.
In his senior year, Kentucky lost in the national championship game to the Coach Wooden-led UCLA Bruins. Grevey scored a game-high 34 points and was subsequently named to the all-Final Four team.
His career total of 1,801 points currently ranks him seventh in Kentucky history.
13. Tayshaun Prince (1998-2001)
Tayshaun Prince averaged 13.2 points and 5.7 rebounds over his four years at Kentucky, while leading the team to an overall 97-39 record. He was named to the All-SEC team three years in a row and was an All-American in each of his last two seasons at Kentucky. He was also awarded SEC Player of the Year in his junior year.
In terms of UK history, he is currently ranked eighth in blocks, eighth in points, and third in three point field goals made.
Among his most memorable performances was a 32 point, 11 assist performance in a win against North Carolina. Prince scored Kentucky's first 15 points, knocking down five consecutive three-point shots.
12. Wayne Turner (1995-1998)
Of all the players on this list, Wayne Turner may have been the most reliable. The star point guard finished his career at Kentucky as the all-time leader in games played in NCAA Division I men's basketball history (before later being surpassed by North Carolina's Deon Thompson).
Turner led the Wildcats to three consecutive NCAA championship game appearances, winning it all in 1996 and 1998.
While Turner was not a prolific scorer, he was a great passer and on-ball defender. He is currently ranked fourth in career assists and first in career steals in Kentucky basketball history.
11. Frank Ramsey (1950-1953)
Frank Ramsey was a multi-sport athlete at UK, playing both basketball and baseball, but he is most well-known for excelling on the court under the tutelage of coach Adolph Rupp.
Ramsey played only three years at Kentucky, but was an All-American selection in each of them. He also helped lead the Wildcats to a national title in 1951.
His senior season was forfeited due to a point-shaving scandal involving some of his teammates, so he played his final season while in graduate school. Because of a rule in place at the time, he was ineligible to play in the NCAA tournament, so the team did not have the opportunity to compete for another title.
He is currently the second-leading rebounder in Kentucky history, behind only Dan Issel.
10. Kyle Macy (1976-1979)
Although he began his career at Purdue University, Kyle Macy quickly became one of the most beloved players in Kentucky's storied history.
Macy was a three-time All-SEC and two-time All-American selection in his three years on the court for UK. He helped lead the Wildcats to a national title in 1978 and was the first Kentucky player to be named the consensus Southeastern Conference Player of the Year.
Macy is still Kentucky's all-time leader in free throw percentage, with an 89% career average.
He was selected by the Phoenix Suns with the 22nd pick of the 1979 NBA draft, but decided to play out his last year of college eligibility before joining the Suns in 1980.
9. Ralph Beard (1945-1948)
Ralph Beard played under coach Adolph Rupp and was a member of the renown "Fab Five." The speedy guard helped lead the Wildcats to back-to-back national titles in 1948 and 1949.
He was UK's first four-time All-SEC selection and was also a three-time All-American. His 1,517 points ranks him 15th on the school's career scoring list.
He was drafted in the second round of the 1949 NBA draft and played two seasons for the Indianapolis Olympians before being banned when he admitted to participating in a point-shaving scandal in college.
8. Alex Groza (1944-1948)
Alex Groza was the captain and starting center for Adolph Rupp's "Fab Five." He helped lead the team to back-to-back national championships in 1948 and 1949.
Additionally, he was the leading scorer on the gold-winning 1948 U.S. Olympic basketball team.
During his four years at Kentucky, Groza was both a three-time All-SEC and three-time All-American selection. He also was named the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player in both of the Wildcats' consecutive championship seasons.
He is currently 10th on the team's career scoring list with 1,744 points.
He was drafted in the first round of the 1949 NBA Draft by the Indianapolis Olympians, but along with Beard, was banned for participating in a point-shaving scandal in college.
7. Tony Delk (1992-1995)
Tony Delk made his name as arguably the most prolific sharpshooter in Kentucky history. He currently holds the team's career record for most three-pointers with 283. He is also ranked fifth in points scored, with a 14.2 career average.
Over four years, Delk was named to the All-SEC team three times and was an All-American his senior year. He was also named the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player as he led the Wildcats to a national championship in 1996.
Delk was drafted by the Charlotte Hornets with the 16th overall pick in 1996. He went on to play a total of 11 years in the NBA.
6. Kenny Walker (1982-1985)
Over the course of his four years at Kentucky, Kenny Walker was named to the All-SEC team four times and was twice an All-American. He was also twice named the SEC Player of the Year.
Walker is currently ranked second in total points, sixth in rebounds, and 13th in blocked shots in team history. He led the Wildcats to a Final Four appearance in 1984, before ultimately losing to Georgetown.
Known for his extraordinary jumping ability and electrifying dunks, he was often referred to as Kenny "Sky" Walker. This reputation followed him all the way into the NBA when he won the 1989 Slam Dunk Contest.
5. Cotton Nash (1961-1963)
Often overlooked by UK fans, Cotton Nash played only three years at Kentucky but was named an All-American and All-SEC player in each of these years.
He averaged 22.7 points per game, which currently lands him at No. 9 on UK's all-time scoring list. He also averaged 13.3 rebounds per game and is currently No. 5 in total career rebounds. In recognition of his efforts, his No. 44 jersey was eventually retired.
After leaving Kentucky, Nash was drafted No. 12 overall by the Los Angeles Lakers. Known for being an outstanding multi-sport athlete, he also played three seasons of professional baseball with the Chicago White Sox and the Minnesota Twins.
4. Jack Givens (1974-1977)
The No. 4 spot belongs to arguably the most decorated player in Kentucky history, Jack "Goose" Givens.
Givens played in a total of 123 games over four seasons at UK. He is currently third on Kentucky's all-time scoring list with 2,038 points, which gives him a career average of 16.6 points per game. He was named to the All-SEC first team three times and was a second team All-American in 1977.
Givens also helped lead the Wildcats to two Final Four appearances, including a National Championship in his senior year. He scored a career-high 41 points in the National Championship game against Duke and was named the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player.
3. Wallace Jones (1945-1948)
Wallace "Wah Wah" Jones is likely one of the most athletically talented players to come through the University of Kentucky. He was a multi-sport athlete and was named an All-American in both basketball and football. He is also the only person in school history to have his jersey retired in both sports.
He was a first team All-SEC selection in each of his four years at Kentucky and was also an All-American in three of those years.
Jones was a member of two NCAA championship teams, as well as the United States' gold-winning basketball team in the 1948 Olympics.
He was selected No. 9 overall by Washington in the 1949 NBA Draft.
2. Jamal Mashburn (1990-1993)
Jamal Mashburn finds himself at No. 2 because of the way in which he almost single-handedly altered UK's history.
Mashburn was the first blue chip player to sign with Kentucky after the program had endured a very dark probation period. He had been named a Parade All-American as well as Mr. Basketball in the state of New York.
Nicknamed "Monster Mash," Mashburn was a member of one of Kentucky fans' most beloved teams, the "Unforgettables" of 1992. He helped the Wildcats reach the Final Four in 1993 and was named a first team All-American.
Mashburn currently stands as Kentucky's sixth-ranked career scorer. He was drafted by the Dallas Mavericks in 1993 with the fourth overall selection. More importantly, he was able to help UK return to national prominence.
1. Dan Issel (1966-1970)
Despite Kentucky's storied history, Dan Issel notably stands out amongst the crowd.
Although he played only three seasons, Issel is Kentucky's all-time leading scorer with 2,138 career points. This gives him a remarkable average of 25.7 points per game.
He is also Kentucky's all-time leading rebounder with a total of 1,078.
Issel was twice named an All-American and held the school's single-game scoring record (53) until 2009.