For the first time since the Unforgettables left the program, the graduating seniors honored for Senior Day this Sunday will all be Kentuckians.
- Patrick Sparks (Central City), who was not heavily recruited by Tubby Smith, came in from Western Kentucky after his coach there, Dennis Felton, moved on to Georgia. He flirted with Louisville as well, but ultimately went with his heart in signing on with the Wildcats. His three-point heroics against Michigan State and Louisville (free throws) in 2005 will forever live in Wildcats lore.
- Ravi Moss was a throw in to the class that once had Kelenna Azubuike as its jewel. Moss had starred at University Heights when UHA was pumping out Division-I prospects (Isaiah Victor, the Buckners, etc.), even being named Sweet 16 MVP. But when no offers came, Moss had to decide whether to play at a small school or try to eke out some PT at a big school. I guess we're just lucky his heart was big enough that he chose the harder path.
- Brandon Stockton came to Kentucky as Mr. Basketball, a 30 points-per-game scorer with a big game mentality. Tubby Smith had been getting flack for not recruiting Kentucky's best, then got blasted for three years as Stockton became a cheerleader and practice player. Then, in his senior year, everything changed. Stockton -- now the veteran presence -- was part of a lineup shuffle and has become instrumental in the Kentucky resurgence. Such is the stuff Kentucky a boy's dreams are made of.
- Preston LeMaster was your more typical walk-on, the guy whose name echoes in Rupp's hallowed halls only in 30-point blowouts. And then there was Feb. 22, 2006. With Kentucky's guard rotation shortened due to injury, LeMaster was Tubby's surprise choice early off the bench, and, oh, what a choice it was. LeMaster nearly topped his career point total with four rainbow three-pointers to help the Cats to a feel-good win, and help himself to a slice of Kentucky basketball history.
As one of those kids who spent hours on the hard blacktop driveway perfecting Jamal Mashburn's pump fake or Kenny Walker's dunks or Rex Chapman's three-pointers, I can understand the pull of wanting to be a part of the Kentucky program, even if it meant subjecting one's self to a career of practice time and towel waving from the end of the bench.
I can still remember playing Intramural games at Seaton Center and realizing that the guys pumping in 25-foot jumpers against our hapless bunch of losers were probably D-II talented, but had decided to come to Kentucky just to be near the thing, that grandest of hoops dreams.
On Sunday, four players will say goodbye, and they won't be the most talented, the most decorated or even the most beloved Cats to suit up in blue and white, but they will be forever part of something only a precious few can say they were a part of. And that one thing, for these four, was worth all the sacrifices.