Kentucky Basketball: The Top 50 Players in School History

Thad Novak@@ThadNovakCorrespondent IAugust 30, 2011

Kentucky Basketball: The Top 50 Players in School History

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    From the early days under legendary coach Adolph Rupp to the current John Calipari era, few basketball programs in the country have a tradition to match Kentucky’s. The Wildcats have won seven national titles and made 14 Final Four appearances in their illustrious history.

    The talent base that has made Kentucky great has produced 71 NBA players (not counting the three selected in this spring’s draft), three of whom have gone on to the Hall of Fame. A few went from (relative) college obscurity to NBA success, while many more stars dimmed at the next level after sensational careers in Lexington.

    Herein, a look at the 50 best players ever to wear the blue and white.

50. Patrick Patterson (2007-10)

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    Patrick Patterson may not have led Kentucky to the kind of success fans hoped for, but it’s hard to complain about his numbers in a Wildcats uniform. The 6’9” Patterson averaged 16.1 points and 8.2 rebounds per game (not to mention 1.6 blocks per game) for his career.

    As a rookie for the Rockets last season, Patterson showed some promise as a reserve, averaging 6.3 points and 3.8 rebounds per game.

49. Randolph Morris (2004-07)

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    Although Randolph Morris didn’t win as many games as most Wildcats stars, he developed into a valuable center in his Kentucky career.  As a junior, he averaged 16.1 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game.

    Morris signed with the Knicks as an undrafted free agent just days after his final college game, but played only 74 career games over four NBA seasons with New York and Atlanta. He’s currently playing overseas.

48. DeMarcus Cousins (2009-10)

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    For better or worse, DeMarcus Cousins is likely to be remembered primarily as one of John Calipari’s inaugural class of one-and-done Wildcats. The punishing 6’11” center averaged 15.1 points and 9.8 boards a game in his lone season in Lexington.

    Cousins faced his share of off-court problems as a Kings rookie last season, but did manage to fight through the distractions to average 14.1 points and 8.6 boards a game.

47. Walter McCarty (1993-96)

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    A mobile if none-too-physical big man, Walter McCarty was a key contributor on the Wildcats’ 1996 national championship team. The 6’10” McCarty averaged 11.3 points and 5.7 boards a game that season.

    Given every chance to succeed with the Celtics when Rick Pitino arrived there as head coach, McCarty proved he couldn’t. An underachiever even by bench standards (5.2 points and 2.6 rebounds per game for his career), McCarty had enough height to keep him in the league for 10 seasons.

46. Rick Robey (1974-78)

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    Rick Robey’s career averages of 13.3 points and 8.0 rebounds a game at Kentucky aren’t jaw-dropping, but the 6’11” center made plays. His 838 career boards are ninth on the school’s all-time list, and he helped key the Wildcats’ first national title team of the post-Adolph Rupp era in 1978.

    Robey never really panned out at the NBA level, though he was a serviceable backup who won a championship ring with the 1981 Celtics.

45. Mel Turpin (1980-84)

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    Though doomed to play second fiddle to Sam Bowie as a Wildcat, 6’11” PF Mel Turpin put up some solid numbers of his own in Lexington. As a senior, Turpin averaged 15.2 points and 6.4 rebounds while teaming with Bowie to take Kentucky to the Final Four.

    In the NBA, Turpin showed promise (13.7 points and seven boards a game in his best year with the Cavaliers), but struggled to keep his weight down and lasted just five seasons in the league.

44. Jeff Sheppard (1993-98)

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    Because of an unusually-timed redshirt year between his junior and senior seasons, Jeff Sheppard ended his college career with consecutive national titles. As a senior in 1998, the 6’4” guard was named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four as Kentucky topped Utah for the championship.

    Sheppard’s NBA career lasted just 18 games with the Hawks, though he was somewhat more successful playing overseas.

43. Scott Padgett (1995-99)

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    One of many standout contributors to Kentucky’s 1998 national champs (and 1997 runners-up), Scott Padgett did the dirty work at power forward. The 6’9” Padgett averaged 5.3 rebounds per game in a career largely spent playing alongside fellow future pro Nazr Mohammed.

    Padgett played eight NBA seasons, most notably as a backup in Utah, but his lack of post scoring ability doomed him to obscurity at the pro level.

42. Cliff Hawkins (2000-04)

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    A 6’1” point guard, Cliff Hawkins was a perfectly respectable offensive player whose average of 5.2 assists per game as a senior is tenth-best in school history. It’s his defense, though, that opened eyes in Lexington.

    Hawkins is third in Kentucky history with 199 career steals, and his senior-year average of 2.3 per game is second-best on the school’s list.

    Hawkins, who was undrafted out of Kentucky, played one season in the NBA D-League before heading overseas to continue his pro career.

41. Chuck Hayes (2001-05)

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    A stereotypical college power forward at 6’6”, Chuck Hayes anchored a pair of Elite Eight teams for Kentucky. Though he was never a top-drawer scorer, he pulled in 910 career rebounds, good for seventh on the Wildcats’ all-time list.

    Hayes has been a solid backup at the NBA level, though he’s struggled when pressed into service as a starter in his six seasons as a Rocket.

40. Roger Harden (1982-86)

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    The epitome of the pass-first point guard, Roger Harden never scored more than 6.8 points per game, but he stands third on the Wildcats’ all-time list with 498 career assists. His average of 6.44 assists per game as a senior is the second-best season in school history.

    Although Harden was drafted in the fifth round by the Lakers, he never played in the NBA.

    Image from bigbluehistory.net

39. Nazr Mohammed (1995-98)

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    After an inauspicious freshman season in which he averaged just 5.5 minutes a game for a national title winner, Nazr Mohammed became a valuable player for some other terrific Kentucky teams. He would go on to two more national title games, winning one, while finishing in the school’s all-time top 10 in blocks in a season and a career.

    A very literal journeyman, the 6’10” Mohammed has served as a backup center for seven teams in his 13 NBA seasons.

38. Mike Casey (1967-71)

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    SG Mike Casey was an accomplished passer, but he’ll be remembered for a shooting touch that helped him average 18.7 points a game for his career. As a sophomore, Casey outscored even his celebrated classmate Dan Issel, 20.1 to 16.4 points per game.

    Although Casey recovered admirably from the broken leg that forced him to sit out a year after his junior season, it’s hard to imagine that health concerns didn’t play a role in his lasting until Round 8 of the 1970 draft, or in his failure to make an NBA roster.

    Image from bigbluehistory.net

37. Pat Riley (1964-67)

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    The best shooter of the many future coaches on this list, Pat Riley was a first-rate scorer who averaged 18.3 points for his career in Lexington, As a junior, he averaged 22 points and 8.9 rebounds while leading Kentucky to the national championship game.

    Riley had an unremarkable career as a backup in the NBA, but he did win a title as part of the legendary 1971-72 Lakers squad that won 69 games.

36. Anthony Epps (1993-97)

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    Anthony Epps served as the floor leader for the Wildcats’ 1996 national title victory over Syracuse, but it’s his individual accomplishments that earn him his place on this list. Epps dished out 544 assists in a Wildcat uniform, the second-highest total in school history.

    Unfortunately for Epps, like so many point guards on this list, he couldn’t provide enough of a scoring threat to make it as a pro, and never played in the NBA.

35. Brandon Knight (2010-11)

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    It feels a bit soon to give Brandon Knight a place on this list, but he certainly impressed in his one season in Lexington. The unquestioned leader of a Final Four team, Knight averaged 17.5 points and 4.2 assists (plus an impressive 3.9 boards) per game.

    Much of Knight’s ultimate legacy will rest on whether he can overcome the largely negative history of Wildcat point guards and make a name for himself in the NBA.

34. Travis Ford (1991-94)

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    Travis Ford’s Kentucky career got off to a slow start, as the 5’9” point guard transferred in from Missouri and then languished on the bench as a sophomore. He made his last two seasons count, though, becoming the first Wildcat to hit 100 three-pointers in a season and finishing with 4.3 assists per game for his career (fourth-best all-time at Kentucky).

    Although Ford never played in the NBA, he put his apprenticeship under Rick Pitino to good use in another way: he’s currently the head coach at Oklahoma State.

33. Jamaal Magloire (1996-00)

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    Even though he didn’t start full-time until his senior year, Jamaal Magloire made a mark—or, perhaps, erased one—in his Wildcats career. Magloire set a school record with 265 blocks, and posted a solid 13.2 points and 9.1 boards per game as a senior.

    Magloire may have run out of gas at the NBA level after playing just 18 games for the Heat last season, but he’s been a reliable backup in his 11-year career.

32. Larry Steele (1968-71)

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    Though Larry Steele was never much of a scorer (a career high of just 13.1 points per game as a senior), his defense kept him in the starting lineup for all three of his varsity seasons. Steele wasn’t a half-bad rebounder, either, averaging 6.7 boards a game as a 6’5” small forward

    Steele’s defense would continue to be his calling card in the NBA, as he led the league in steals in the first year that statistic was kept officially, 1973-74. He would go on to be a valuable contributor to Portland’s lone NBA championship in 1977.

    Image from bigbluehistory.net

31. Johnny Cox (1956-59)

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    One of the best 6’4” rebounders of any era, Johnny Cox is fourth on Kentucky’s all-time list with 1,004 career boards. As a junior in 1958, Cox—despite averaging a career-low 14.9 points per game—led the Wildcats to a national championship win over Elgin Baylor’s Seattle University squad.

    In the NBA, Cox lasted just one season with the Chicago Zephyrs (precursors to the Wizards).

30. Sam Bowie (1979-84)

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    Wildcats’ history is full of hybrid forward/centers like Nazr Mohammed and Jamaal Magloire, but there have been few true centers who could compare with Sam Bowie. The 7’1” Bowie topped out as a sophomore with averages of 17.4 points and 9.4 rebounds a game, but it was in his senior year (after a pair of medical redshirts) that he led Kentucky to the Final Four.

    Bowie was a decent (though fragile) NBA center as a borderline starter, but had the misfortune to be held to impossible standards. Picked second in the 1984 draft, he was taken immediately after Hakeem Olajuwon and immediately ahead (impossible as it seems in hindsight) of Michael Jordan.

29. Jodie Meeks (2006-09)

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    Jodie Meeks is one of the great one-season wonders in Kentucky history, even though (unlike some of his contemporaries) he actually stayed around for three seasons in Lexington. After an unimpressive freshman year and an injury-shortened sophomore season, Meeks exploded as a junior with 23.7 points per game (fifth-best in school history) and 117 three-pointers (a school record).

    Two years into his NBA career, Meeks is starting to find his niche as a two-guard in Philadelphia, shooting 39.7 percent from three-point land last season.

28. Sean Woods (1989-92)

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    Though he didn't play as a freshman, Sean Woods was part of the so-called “Unforgettables” class that battled through three years of sanctions before becoming postseason-eligible in 1991-92. The 6’2” Woods set a Wildcats record by averaging 5.3 assists per game for his career.

    For better or worse, Woods’ most memorable moment in a Kentucky uniform wound up as a footnote to history. His banked-in runner gave the Wildcats a one-point lead with seconds left in overtime in the 1992 East Regional final, only to see Christian Laettner hit one of basketball’s most famous shots and give Duke the victory.

    Woods never played in the NBA, but like many Pitino-coached point guards, wound up in coaching instead. He’s currently the head coach at Mississippi Valley State.

    Image from bigbluehistory.net

27. Dirk Minniefield (1979-83)

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    Like so many point guards in Wildcat history, Dirk Minniefield was a terrific penetrator who struggled with his jump shot. The latter held him to a career average of just 8.7 points per game, but the former helped him dish out a Kentucky-record 646 assists in his four years.

    Minniefield was drafted by the Mavericks and immediately traded to the Nets, but never played for either franchise. He bounced around to four different teams in his three NBA seasons (his stay with the Rockets is pictured), with his lack of an outside shot dooming him to backup duty.

26. Ed Davender (1984-88)

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    A first-rate scorer as a Wildcat, Ed Davender stands 11th on the school's all-time list with 1,637 career points. He wasn’t just an offensive force, either, as he amassed 191 career steals, the fourth-highest total in school history.

    Unfortunately for the 6'2" Davender, the NBA’s distaste for undersized two-guards kept him from playing a game in the league (though he was drafted by the Washington Bullets).

    Image from bigbluehistory.net

25. Ralph Beard (1945-49)

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    One of the original Fabulous Five—Kentucky’s version predates Michigan’s by fifty years—Ralph Beard helped bring back-to-back national titles to Lexington in 1947-48. The 5’10” point guard averaged 10.9 points per game over his Wildcat career.

    Although Beard was a fine scorer for the long-defunct Indianapolis Olympians (15.9 points per game for his career), his stay in the NBA ended unceremoniously after two seasons when a collegiate point-shaving scandal resulted in his being banned from the league.

24. Bill Spivey (1949-52)

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    The first seven-footer to wear a Wildcat uniform, Bill Spivey put up the kind of numbers one would expect from a legitimate big man in an era when even the NBA had precious few. He averaged 19.3 points per game for his two seasons in Lexington, and his 17.2 rebounds a game in 1950-51 is the second-best season in school history.

    Unfortunately for Spivey, he was also implicated (and indicted for perjury when he denied involvement) in the point-shaving scandal that tarred Kentucky basketball in the early 1950s. As a result, he was blacklisted from the NBA, though he was eventually found not guilty of the criminal charges.

23. Bob Burrow (1954-56)

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    One of just four Wildcats to average over 20 points a game for his career, Bob Burrow made an even bigger mark under the boards. The 6’7” center holds Kentucky’s career record with 16.1 rebounds per game.

    Burrow averaged 4.4 rebounds in less than 15 minutes a game in the NBA, but after failing to earn more in the way of playing time he was out of the league after just two seasons.

22. Jack Givens (1974-78)

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    A superior scorer as a swingman, Jack Givens is one of just three Kentucky players to break 2,000 career points. Goose also earned Most Oustanding Player honors in the 1978 Final Four while leading Kentucky to the NCAA title.

    Drafted by the Hawks, Givens proved remarkably ineffective coming off the bench, and lasted just two seasons after posting a dismal 6.7 points per game for his career.

21. Cotton Nash (1961-64)

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    A dominant scorer and rebounder as a 6’5” forward, Cotton Nash is among the most accomplished Wildcats without a national title. His career average of 22.7 points per game is second-best in school history, and he pulled in 962 career rebounds, good for fifth on that list.

    Nash is the rare athlete who put together unsuccessful pro careers in two sports. He failed as a small forward in both the NBA and ABA, while also appearing in 13 career games for baseball's Twins and Giants.

20. Wayne Turner (1995-99)

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    Wayne Turner holds the dubious honor of being the best Kentucky player who couldn’t shoot to save his life. Though he averaged just 7.7 points per game for his career, Turner made his mark on Wildcat history by racking up 494 assists (fourth-most on the school’s charts) and a school-record 238 steals in his four seasons.

    With Turner at the point, the Wildcats made three consecutive national championship games (1996-98), winning two of them.

    Unfortunately for Turner, his lack of scoring punch finally caught up to him in the NBA, where—as one of many ex-Wildcats stockpiled by Rick Pitino in his ill-fated turn with the Celtics—he played just three career games. Turner spent the 2010-11 season as an assistant under John Calipari while finishing his degree at Kentucky.

19. Wallace Jones (1945-49)

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    Though he’s been largely forgotten outside of Lexington, Wallace “Wah-Wah” Jones is one of the most beloved players in Kentucky history. A three-time All-American under the great Adolph Rupp, Jones led the Wildcats to back-to-back national titles as a junior and senior.

    Jones, who was also a football All-American, is the only player to have his number retired in both sports at Kentucky, and the only player named an All-American under both Rupp and Bear Bryant.

    In the NBA, Jones played three undistinguished seasons for the now-defunct Indianapolis Olympians.

18. Keith Bogans (1999-03)

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    You’d never know it from his NBA career, but Keith Bogans was an outstanding scoring point guard at Kentucky, averaging 14.2 points and 4.2 assists per game for his career. As a senior, Bogans led the Wildcats to the Elite Eight while earning All-America recognition for himself.

    What little scoring punch Bogans had at the NBA level is gone, but his leadership and defense were key factors in the Bulls’ surprise climb to the best record in basketball last year.

17. Alex Groza (1944-49)

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    The greatest postseason player in Kentucky history, Alex Groza won back-to-back Final Four Most Outstanding Player awards while earning consecutive national championships in Lexington. The sharp-shooting forward averaged 20.5 points a game as a senior.

    After two high-scoring seasons with the NBA’s Indianapolis Olympians (now defunct), Groza was banned from the league for his ties to the point-shaving scandal that also claimed several of his Wildcats teammates.

    Groza’s brother Lou would go on to even greater athletic success, making the NFL Hall of Fame as an offensive tackle and placekicker.

16. Kyle Macy (1977-80)

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    An All-American in all three of his seasons after transferring from Purdue, Kyle Macy was the rare Kentucky PG who could actually shoot. In addition to posting what was then a school record with 470 career assists, Macy averaged 14.4 points a game for his Wildcats career and shot a school-record 89 percent from the free-throw line.

    Macy went on to a solid, if brief, pro career (mostly as a Sun) in which he led the league in free throw shooting twice.

15. Rex Chapman (1986-88)

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    Boasting one of the best pure jump shots in Wildcats’ history, Rex Chapman was a dangerous scorer who averaged 17.6 points per game in his two seasons in Lexington. He also managed to shoot 40% from three-point range for his career.

    Chapman parlayed his marksmanship into a steady job as an NBA three-point specialist, most effectively with the Hornets (who drafted him) and the Suns (where he finished his career).

14. Derek Anderson (1995-97)

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    A transfer from Ohio State, Derek Anderson arrived in Lexington in time to contribute his length (6’5”), athleticism and three-point shooting to the 1996 national title team. His senior year was cut short by a knee injury, but for the half-season he played he averaged 17.7 points and 1.9 steals per game.

    In the NBA, Anderson rarely started—though he wasn’t half-bad when he did—but had a solid 11-year career spread among seven different teams (the longest tenure coming with the Blazers).

13. John Wall (2009-10)

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    Few point guards at any school have had a year to match what John Wall did in Lexington. His 16.6 points and 1.8 steals per game were impressive enough, but he also set a school record for a season with 6.5 assists per game.

    Although the delayed rookie season of Blake Griffin kept Wall from winning Rookie of the Year honors, he had a dazzling NBA debut. The new face of the Wizards averaged 16.4 points, 8.3 assists and 1.8 steals a game last year.

12. Ron Mercer (1995-97)

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    A reserve on Rick Pitino’s only national champions in 1996, Ron Mercer starred for the 1997 team that fell to Arizona in the national title game. As a sophomore that season, the 6’7” Mercer averaged 18.1 points, 5.3 boards and 1.7 steals per game.

    An outstanding defender at the NBA level, Mercer never quite brought enough offense to become a star. Still, he was an effective starter for most of his eight seasons (spread among seven teams, including Pitino’s Celtics, who drafted him).

11. Kevin Grevey (1972-75)

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    Although Kevin Grevey was an impressive rebounder for a 6’5” swingman—6.5 per game for his career—he made his name in Lexington as a scorer. Grevey has two of Kentucky’s ten best single-season scoring averages, ending with a career mark of 21.4 points per game.

    Grevey went on to a solid career with the Washington Bullets (now the Wizards), playing a key role on their 1978 championship team.

10. Tayshaun Prince (1998-02)

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    Although Tayshaun Prince’s most prominent place in Kentucky’s record books comes from his scoring—his 1,775 points are eighth in school history—he did a little of everything as a Wildcat. As a senior, he averaged 6.3 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.3 blocks per game.

    One of the best defensive small forwards of his generation, Prince has one championship ring and four All-Defensive team selections in his Pistons career.

9. Louie Dampier (1964-67)

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    Few Kentucky players in history can rival the pure scoring ability of Louie Dampier. The 6’0” shooting guard averaged 19.7 points a game for his Wildcats career, which included a trip to the 1966 championship game.

    Dampier stayed in-state as a pro, lighting up scoreboards for the ABA’s Kentucky Colonels. Dampier holds the ABA records for games played, points and assists.

8. Kenny Walker (1982-86)

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    One of the most dominant individual players in Kentucky history, Kenny Walker is second on the school’s all-time list with 2,080 points. In addition, the high-flying forward pulled in 942 rebounds in his career, placing sixth in school history in that category.

    Walker went on to an undistinguished pro career, mostly as a Knick. The only eye-catching point on his NBA resume was a slam-dunk contest victory in 1989 (helping cement his somewhat inevitable nickname, “Sky”).

7. Frank Ramsey (1950-54)

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    A three-time All-American, Frank Ramsey averaged 19.6 points per game as a senior in Lexington. In his sophomore year, he provided some of the scoring punch for the Wildcats’ 1951 national champs.

    Although his career average of 13.4 points per game isn’t anything too remarkable, his contributions to seven NBA championships in Boston (teams led by Bill Russell and Bob Cousy) earned Ramsey a spot in the Hall of Fame.

6. Rajon Rondo (2004-06)

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    In two seasons at Kentucky, Rajon Rondo looked a lot like the rest of the Wildcats’ string of good-passing, wretched-shooting point guards. For his career, he averaged 9.6 points, 4.2 assists and 2.3 steals, though he did open eyes by averaging (at 6’1”) 6.1 rebounds a game as a sophomore.

    Though he still can’t hit the outside shot, he’s been quite a bit more successful as a pro, racking up 12 career triple-doubles and helping Boston to the 2008 NBA title. He’s been an All-Star each of the last two seasons, averaging 9.8 points and 11.2 assists in those years while leading the league in steals in 2009-10.

5. Tony Delk (1992-96)

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    A top-notch shooting guard at just 6’1”, Tony Delk was a force on both ends of the floor while helping Kentucky to capture the 1996 national title. His 210 career steals are second in Wildcat history, while his 283 three-point field goals are a school record.

    Delk’s height meant that he was frequently shoehorned into a point guard role as a pro. A career backup for eight teams, Delk was a 34.3 percent three-point shooter in the NBA.

4. Antoine Walker (1994-96)

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    Limited on defense though he may have been, Antoine Walker was one of the great scorers of his generation at PF. As a sophomore, he averaged 15.2 points (and 8.4 rebounds) as he led the Wildcats to the national title in 1996.

    Walker became an NBA All-Star under his former college coach Rick Pitino in Boston, scoring 20 points a game or better five times. He also developed a devastating long-range shot (largely absent at Kentucky), once leading the NBA in three-pointers made (and three times in attempts).

3. Jamal Mashburn (1990-93)

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    One of the best all-around players Kentucky has ever seen, Jamal Mashburn averaged 21 points, 8.4 boards and 3.6 assists per game in his All-America senior year. His 1,843 career points are fourth all-time for the Wildcats.

    Monster Mash played in two NCAA tournaments, getting knocked out of the first by Christian Laettner’s buzzer-beater in 1992. In the second, an epic overtime Final Four battle with Chris Webber and the Fab Five ended with a Michigan victory.

    As a pro, Mashburn was an impressive scorer who twice hit better than 40 percent from three-point range. He was a valuable starter for 11 years with the Mavericks, Heat and Hornets, but made just a single All-Star appearance.

2. Cliff Hagan (1950-54)

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    A sophomore backup on Kentucky’s 1951 national champions, Cliff Hagan came into his own as a junior. He averaged 21.6 and 24 points per game in his last two seasons, with the latter average (a Wildcats record at the time) tying for third-best in school history.

    At 6’4”, Hagan was a center for Kentucky, averaging 13.4 rebounds per game for his career.

    Hagan put up impressive numbers in the NBA as well, averaging 20 points or better in four straight seasons and double-digit rebounds in three. A six-time All-Star and one-time NBA champ, Hagan spent the great majority of his Hall of Fame career with the Hawks.

1. Dan Issel (1967-70)

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    The only thing that Dan Issel couldn’t do in a Wildcats uniform was win a national championship. Kentucky’s career leader in points and rebounds, the 6’9” Issel lost in the Elite Eight twice in his career.

    Issel, one of the all-time great jump-shooting big men, went on to earn a Hall of Fame plaque with the ABA’s Kentucky Colonels and the NBA’s Denver Nuggets. He averaged a combined 22.6 points and 9.1 rebounds a game for his career.

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