Editor’s note: This is the third piece in a series commemorating John Calipari’s dominant decade at Kentucky. Coming Thursday: Ranking all 10 of Cal’s UK teams

Here at Saturday Down South, we know that time sometimes flies. But even we had to check the calendar when we realized Kentucky has been coached for a full decade by John Calipari.

Yes, we love the oblong pigskin at SDS, but Calipari has kept the SEC relevant in roundball — and now, the SEC is repaying the favor. The past few years have seen a resurgence in the quality of SEC hoops, but it started in Lexington, and it started with Calipari.

As the NCAA Tournament looms — Kentucky’s 9th trip in Calipari’s dominant decade — it’s time to look back and remember … the players who made it happen.

This might not be the 10 best players Calipari has coached in Lexington, but if we’re playing for some sort of mythical honor tomorrow, here’s the squad Coach Cal is leading.

Starting PG: John Wall, 2010

A decade on, it’s hard to remember exactly how electric Wall was in Calipari’s initial season in Lexington. Kentucky basketball was stumbling out of the dark ages of Tubby Smith’s latter years and Billy Gillispie’s horrifying two seasons, and Wall—well, Wall was light. Not only was he good (16.6 points per game, 241 assists, 66 steals), not only was he clutch, but he was cool. The first NBA Draft top pick in UK’s history, he danced, he posed, and mostly, he made Kentucky basketball relevant again.

John Wall was Calipari’s first freshman-to-No. 1 overall pick at Kentucky. Photo courtesy of University of Kentucky Athletics.

PG: De’Aaron Fox, 2017

Yes, no Final Fours for Fox (thanks again, Luke Maye), but he was one of the smoothest players Calipari has recruited. An articulate, funny leader, he’s best remembered for owning Lonzo Ball in the NCAA Tournament. Posted only the third triple-double in UK history, and averaged 16.7 points and 4.6 assists per game.

Starting SG: Jamal Murray, 2016

Murray’s 2016 season is sometimes forgotten, but his 113 3s that year are a UK record. The sharp-shooting Canadian’s 20.0 points per game remains a Calipari record as well. His “bow and arrow” routine on big 3-point shots is often imitated, but never equaled.

SG: Brandon Knight, 2011

Knight played point guard, but given his shooting ability, he could also play off the ball. His big shots in the 2011 run from a fairly underwhelming regular season to a Final Four berth (see game winner over Ohio State in Sweet 16) make him a natural fit for this team. Scored 17.3 points per game

Starting SF: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, 2012

He’s under the radar today, mostly due to an NBA career that has been severely limited based on his inconsistent shooting, but Kidd-Gilchrist was the heart of the 2012 NCAA title team. Whether it was his seven double-doubles (including 19 rebounds against Louisville) or drawing the toughest defensive assignment in most games, MKG was a player who no coach would leave off his team. His team-first ethic would make him a favorite on this squad.

SF: Kevin Knox, 2018

The one thing missing on this all-Calipari team, which was often missing from each of these individual teams, is a ton of great three-point shooters. The combination of size and his feathery shooting touch  help Knox earn the last spot on this roster.

Starting PF: Willie Cauley-Stein, 2014-2015

Cauley-Stein was the defensive stalwart of the 2015 team that entered the Final Four 38-0, and is also on this list because he’s a kid who didn’t especially love playing basketball.

He was a sometime fashion icon and burgeoning artist who happened to be 7-feet tall. Calipari helped transform a former high school wide receiver into a first-team All-American and an NBA lottery pick. Yeah, he averaged under 9 points per game as a junior, but he kept about nine buckets a game off the board for the opposing team.

PF: DeMarcus Cousins, 2010

So there’s a little fudging here. Cousins is a center, but Calipari is one of the “positionless basketball” advocates, so there ought to be a little wiggle room. In a single season, Calipari brought the Alabama big man from slow and sulky to an unstoppable low block force with a personality to match. His 9.9 rebounds per game are third-most in the Calipari era.

Photo courtesy of University of Kentucky Athletics

Starting C: Anthony Davis, 2012

A once in a generation talent, maybe a once in a lifetime talent, Davis was the sword-in-the-stone greatest defensive player of his era who brought home an 8th NCAA title to Big Blue Nation. Davis was the first consensus National Player of the Year in UK history, and will remain the poster child for Calipari’s one-and-done success in Lexington. He set a school record for blocked shots in a season, is tops in rebounding in the Calipari era, and was the leading scorer on a 38-2 title-winning team.

Anthony Davis dominated the paint in leading Kentucky to the 2012 national championship. Photo by Chet White | UK Athletics

C: Karl-Anthony Towns, 2015

Like the jokes about Dean Smith at UNC being the only coach who could hold Michael Jordan below 20 points per game, Towns’ one year stats at Kentucky (10.3 points per game) don’t tell the story of just how good he was. That 2015 team completed an undefeated regular season and dominated college basketball and Towns was the impossibly precocious centerpiece, blocking shots, shooting jumpers, and posting up like a grown man while being a teenager.

Apologies to the guys who almost made the team. Those included Tyler Ulis, Aaron Harrison, Devin Booker, Darius Miller, Julius Randle, Patrick Patterson, Doron Lamb, Bam Adebayo, Malik Monk, and PJ Washington.


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