Chalk up the first week of the Sea of Blue User MVP project to growing pains. While fans voted, there wasn't enough bickering. I fully expect greater response to Round 2. You are capable of it. Bring it.
To recap ...
To elucidate why and what the UK fanbase most values in a player by breaking down a top 10 list of fans' (and my own) list of the 10 most valuable players of the last 25 years.
I use the last 25 years intentionally, as they represent a wedge of time that encapsulates four different coaches, and which compomises the bulk of the modern era, not to mention the fall and rise again of the UK program.
Each week, I will unveil a new group of names and biographies detailing players whose individual career can be perceived to be meritous of Most Valuable Player status.
NOTE: Please remember that these players are being chosen not solely for statistical prowess nor for fan favoritism. They are being chosen for their all-around value to their respective teams.
Fans are encouraged to chime in with comments, arguments for and against each player and, ultimately, cast their vote at the right-hand navigation. The cumulative list will be unveiled in a truly ceremonious (and as yet undecided) manner.
Round 1 results
A little surprisingly, one of Rick Pitino's favorite players, Dale Brown, and one of the Bombinos' best, Reggie Hanson, were roundly trounced by early 1980s star guard Dirk Minnifield (36%) and late 90s enforcer Jamaal Magloire (40%).
This week, things get a little tougher still ...
The Round 2 CandidatesWinston Bennett, PF, 1983-88
My family simply knew him as Winst-awn Been-ay in some mock French accent -- because he was just stylin'. This former Mr. Basketball from Louisville Male was one of Joe B. Hall's biggest recruits, a McDonald's and Parade All-American, though many forget it. Bennett had a UK power to his game, an aggressive and athletic floor game with echoes of Kenny Walker and Rick Robey.
How good was he? Bennett's freshman year was among the most loaded rosters in school history, with seven (!!) McDonald's All-Americans on it. And he still played in all 34 games, averaging 6.5 points and 4 boards. By the end of his junior year, Bennet was ready for the spotlight when injury struck. But it only made his return that much sweeter when, with clearly less pop, he cemented his status as a fan favorite by helping a young team to a surprising 25-5 record (That was, of course, later vacated as per NCAA sanctions ... ahem). Taken in the 2nd Round (64 overall) of the '88 NBA Draft, the original WB played two-plus seasons with the Cavs and Heat before going into coaching. But his rebounds, putback stuffs and all-out heart live on.
Walter McCarty, F, 1993-96
The forgotten piece of Pitino's finest Kentucky class, McCarty would go on to play a key role in returning the program to its greatest heights, and along the way would play major parts in some of UK basketball's great moments -- the LSU comeback, the 86-point first-half demolition of LSU, the Miracle in Maui, title No. 6. With a wide smile and a choir boy's personality, McCarty was a perfect fit with Big Blue Nation, whether it was singing the national anthem a capella before a game or proving his resolve by returning from academic purgatory to earn himself an NBA career that continues 10 years later.
McCarty's above-the-rim game on wiry pogo stick legs defied categorization; Was he a power forward, a small forward or a modern-era center? Plugged into Pitino's full-court attack, McCarty was lethal, hitting threes, blocking shots into the stands and dunking everything near the goal. The kid from Evansville, Ind., may have arrived with less fanfare than Rodrick Rhodes, Tony Delk and Jared Prickett, but his lasting imprint on the program exceeds all but that of Delk, McCarty's partner in crime.
Cliff Hawkins, PG, 2000-04
He was almost a part of New Mexico basketball history. Hard to imagine now, since the onetime Oak Hill star used his guile, lightning fast hands and quirky offensive game to finish in Kentucky's top 10 in career steals, assists and number of times fans said "Don't shoot that! YEEESSSS!"
Hawkins was, for a defensive coach like Tubby Smith, a dream; a selfless ball hawk with a penchant for dagger-to-the-heart plays at the end of games. Even with a first-semester academic stumble his junior year, Hawkins helped guide the Cats to 105 wins in four seasons, and was an indispensible member of the 2003 SuffoCats, whose 26-game win streak and perfect SEC run in this day and age is a feat that will live in Kentucky lore. Was Cliff Hawkins one of Kentucky's most talented players? No. Was he one of its most gutsy and clutch? Definitely.
Melvin Turpin, C, 1980-84
The 1984 Cats, led by Sam Bowie, Kenny Walker and Mel 'Big Dipper' Turpin, were denied Big Blue immortality by a second-half shooting display against Georgetown the likes of which may never be seen again. But that should not diminish the feats Turpin -- nicknamed "Dinner Bell" later for his healthy appetite/expanding waistline -- accomplished for the Big Blue. The former Bryan Station High School (via Fork Union Military Academy) star was a deft offensive center in the era before David Robinson and was a dominant force in the paint for some of the most talented Kentucky teams in history.
Turpin arrived with less hype than some of his teammates, but improved each year, culminating in an All-American senior year and a 6th overall selection in the 1984 NBA Draft. For much of his career, Mel was yin to Bowie's yang, but never deferred on the offensive end. Turpin's 1,509 points ranked 10th all-time at UK at the time of his graduation, and more importantly, Mel's quiet leadership on the Bowie-less 1983 edition of the Cats helped set the stage for the 1984 Final Four trip. Fans will forever wonder what history held for that Cats team, who was headed to a win over eventual titleist Georgetown before that woeful second frame. Still, Mel's Kentucky career was stellar, and his role in one of the program's dominant eras vital.
Marquis Estill, PF/C, 1999-2003
Another in a long line of offensively gifted big men, Estill, more than anyone on this list -- and more than all but a very few players in Big Blue history -- overcame a combination of a real lack of expectations and chronic ailments to become a dominant college player. Nearly forgotten as a late blooming redshirt (knee surgery) from nearby Richmond, KY, Estill would anchor the paint for three SEC East champs, had games of 18, 22 and 28 points in NCAA play. Estill finished in the top 10 in career blocks despite playing just three seasons, and his 11.6 ppg and 6 rebounds his senior year were a major part of the 2003 Wildcats team that was a Bogans sprained ankle away from the Final Four and who knows what else.
Some still think that had Estill -- who had a young family at the time -- not decided to seek pro money and instead gained his extra year of eligibility, the 2003-04 Wildcats could have also had a season for the ages. In any event, such 'what if' moments tell the tale of how UK fans felt about the contributions of Marquis, and of the place that scrappy overacheivers gain in the hearts of Big Blue Nation.