In an effort to provide readers with arguments galore, we continue today with our look at the best five starters and reserve over the last 27 years (i.e from 1980). Today, the third in a six-part series: Shooting Guard.
Other than perhaps only small forward, it could be argued that Kentucky is shooting guard U. While many of the best off-guards the school has produced have not gone on to NBA glory, they have produced some amazing results on the NCAA court, including MOPs of two NCAA title games in the 1990s and lynchpins on some of the most successful teams in recent college history.
The differentiation between a small forward and a shooting guard can be blurry, but for our purposes we focus on those perimeter-oriented players principally, and those with enough of a sample size to make it worthwhile. One victim of this is obvious, and you'll see as we continue our countdown that "tweener" position guys can get lost in the shuffle.
[Ed. note: The timeline is intentional, as it is easier for both the writers and vast majority of the readers of this blog to focus on the post-1980 era, what I consider to be the 'modern era' of college hoops. This is not a comprehensive list, and thanks to Kentucky's grand history, many of the greatest players in UK lore will clearly be missed.]
(1) Tony Delk, 1993-96 (Career UK #5 points, #2 steals, #1 3P FG, 1993 Final Four, 1996 NCAA title, First-team All-America, NBA 1st Rd. [#16 overall])
Looking back on it, there have been few players in the last 20 years with more right to hang in the Rupp rafters than Tennessee native Tony Delk. The best college player on a team with nine players who would suit up in an NBA game, Delk was the consummate leader, and was unbelievably clutch. His title-game performance in the 1996 Final Four was the stuff legends are made of, and it earned him MOP recognition, and rightfully so. The sharp-shooting Delk, who famously learned his high-arcing jumper shooting over trees in his Brownsville back yard, finished as the fifth all-time scorer in the long, celebrated history of the program and featured prominently on two Final Four teams. He is the career leader in three-pointers made and seemingly in clutch shots hit, and was a 1996 first-team All-American. And no one even talks about his defense, despite the fact that Delk finished his career as the all-time UK leader in steals (later to be passed by Wayne Turner). Gritty, gutsy and talented, Delk is, simply, the best shooting guard of the modern era, and the standard by which Kentucky fans now define the position. This pick was easy. Whatever the rules are, doctor them. Put him in the rafters.
(2) Keith Bogans, 2000-03 (#4 points, #13 assists, #2 3P FG, NBA 2nd Rd)
For every Anthony Epps or Scott Padgett -- players whose value is rightly judged on their performance as it relates to tournament success, even if the overall numbers don't wow -- there are guys whose numbers are so impressive that they outweight a lack of pure NCAA magic. We tend to forget as fans that it takes, with some exceptions, a lot of good teammates and a few breaks or bounces of the ball to make the Final Four or, even moreso, take home a title. I'm not sure there is a player whose overall value as a Wildcat has been underrated more than Keith Bogans.
Some of this is his own doing, of course. The top-5 recruit Bogans thought more of his game after two strong seasons in Blue and White than the pro scouts did, and after returning for his junior year, Bogans struggled to balance a natural team impulse with posing for NBA types. The results were decidely mediocre. However, once freed of those self-imposed shackles, K-Bo's true game came flowing out, and his senior season should (and in my opinion will) go down as one of the greatest non-title seasons in Kentucky's long history. Had Bogans gone somewhere where shots were aplenty and defense was not a premium, he might have had the career high school teammate Joe Forte had at North Carolina. But he didn't, and the results were -- however they came about -- much better in the long run for Bogans. The numbers on Bogans career are as staggering as they are underreported. The Dematha star finished his career as the fourth all-time scorer in the history of the school -- more than Mashburn, Delk and Prince -- is the only player to ever amass 500 rebounds, 300 assists, and 1,800 points, and is one of only three to even reach 200 assists, 500 rebounds and 1,700 points (Prince and Mashburn the others). Such all-around career numbers show that, more than a selfish player, Bogans was a passer, defender and a rebounder, roles he has used to stay in the league much longer than old pal Forte. That his 32-4 senior team fell one sprained ankle (and a Dwyane Wade) short of the Final Four is certainly significant for many people. But these career numbers certainly pose a compelling case for Bogans' jersey to someday hang in the Rupp rafters.
Here's a wonderful sampling of Bogans at his best ...
(3) Rex Chapman, 1987-88 (Twice 1st team All-SEC, 1000-point club, 1st Rd. NBA [#6])
One of the biggest frustrations for college basketball fans is the number of great players that are lost too quickly to the NBA. It's just a fact of life for fans these days, but it wasn't always that way. It sure wasn't when a then-sophomore guard from UK took off for the pros after two brilliant seasons in Lexington. And that wasn't just any UK guard. It was the most hyped, most beloved, most heavily recruited guard in a generation. Rex Chapman, of Owensboro, saw the writing on the wall (and, according to later accounts, felt the pressures of young fame) as the Kentucky recruiting and test scandals began to trickle out. But before he broke the hearts of Wildcats fans everywhere by becoming the first-ever player signed by the expansion Charlotte Hornets, King Rex electrified Kentucky fans, and the basketball world, with a high-flying, rim-shaking debut on the scene. Chapman's inclusion on any "best of" list must be primarily based on his unlimited potential at the college level, and his ultra-athletic and fan-friendly game. Few players have elicited the sort of adoration that the boy wonder of Kentucky did. Chapman's overall numbers are impressive for a two-year career. He led both seasons' teams in scoring, and was twice a coaches' pick for first-team in the SEC. A loss to Villanova in the regional semis ended unceremoniously Chapman's college career. But the short stint in Blue and White did have one effect: it made Chapman's comet-flash of talent legendary in the minds of an adoring Big Blue Nation.
(4) Jeff Sheppard, 1994-98 (1000-point club, 1996 NCAA title, 1998 NCAA title, Final Four MOP 98)
If the value of Keith Bogans' UK career can be considered calculable by gross tonnage, then Georgia native Jeff Sheppard's can be seen as the sum of several impressive parts. Never a consistently standout scorer, deadeye shooter or relentless defender, Sheppard instead relied on an overwhelming athleticism and heart to time and again show up big on the biggest of stages. In fact, 'Shep' is beloved in the Bluegrass partially on the backs of his greatest athletic moment -- the 1998 Final Four. That was when, as things looked bleakest for a Kentucky team trailing a hungry and talented Stanford club, Sheppard came off curl after curl in the second half, scoring 27 points and helping the Comeback Cats come back once again on their way to the '98 title. Sheppard led that 1998 team in scoring, at 13 points a game, but was a strong and vocal leader, as well as a clutch shooter. Based on simple numbers, the MOP of the '98 Final Four might not be considered one of the greatest players ever to suit up in Blue and White, but that is why numbers can lie. Sheppard was there when it mattered most, and was at his best when everything was on the line. And that, more than anything, is why kids will still know the name Jeff Sheppard, and not the names of Alex Jenson, Arthur Lee or Kris Weems, in 20 years.
(5) Derek Anderson, 1996-97(674 pts in two-years, 1996 NCAA title, 1997 Final Four*)
Some will no doubt disagree with my placement of Ohio State transfer Derek Anderson. But while his athletic skills and scoring ability certainly wowed UK fans, Anderson's overall legacy at Kentucky is star-crossed, in more ways than one. A former All-Big Ten Freshman Teamer, Anderson surprised nearly everyone (and certainly his Ohio St. coach) when he opted to join Rick Pitino's budding powerhouse in Lexington. Pitino hadn't heavily recruited Anderson as a high school senior, but then again, few knew that the Kentucky All-Star would turn into an NBA draft pick at the time. Anderson played a valuable role on the 1996 NCAA champs, sharing the ball and playing time for team glory. Anderson got his shot the very next year, when, minus four NBA picks, the Wildcats reloaded for another run to the title. Everything was going smashingly well until one fateful January evening when, while playing Auburn, Anderson came down awkwardly and blew out his knee. To that point, both Anderson and teammate Ron Mercer had been destroying teams, with both topping 20 points a game for much of the early season. After rehabbing his knee, the athletic marvel Anderson proclaimed himself ready to play in the NCAA tournament. But his coach balked, citing an allegiance to Anderson's future, and not just to winning the title at all costs. Some fans still begrudge Pitino's choice, but the choice was made, and Anderson's UK career would then be reduced to two free throws in a Final Four win over Minnesota. Quantifying Anderson's true impact is thus somewhat difficult, for as a role player he excelled, and as a star player, the sample size doesn't really allow for a real decision. The UK team he left in January made the Final Four without him, and yet Anderson's skill level was high enough for him to still be drafted, rebuilt knee and all, 13th overall in the NBA Draft. But one thing is certain: Kentucky fans enjoyed what they saw of the Louisville native.
(6) Derrick Miller, 1987-1990 (#10 blocks, #10 FG%, 1000-point club)
Of the players who straddled the probation years, none enjoy less acclaim, and deserve more, than Derrick Miller. While the foursome known as "The Unforgettables" would go on to fame and legend, Miller -- who actually led Pitino's first UK team in scoring -- is a mostly forgotten man. Miller was one of those first wave of players to fully embrace the three-pointer as a weapon, and as such was ideal for Pitino's "score at all costs" mentality. Despite being a Parade All-American, Miller was little used by the man who brought him to campus, Eddie Sutton, until a scandal-ridden and talent-lacking 1988-89 squad necessitated his playing meaningful minutes. Deadly from well beyond the arc, Miller emerged as one of the league's best long-range bombers. By his senior year, Miller was cast in the role of team captain, and his scrappy, conscience-free play helped energize a team of cast-offs into a fan favorite. Miller has no NCAA credentials, he wasn't drafted by any pro league or even registered on most teams' radars. He doesn't even really come to fans' minds when thinking of those beloved probation-addled Wildcats teams, but he should. Without him, there's no win over LSU (he had 27 points), there's no 14-14 finish, and who knows what kind of recruiting a severely under-.500 Rick Pitino could have done. Plus, as a pure shooter, there have been few, if any, better at Kentucky in the modern era.
Honorable mention: Gerald Fitch, Dale Brown, Jim Master, Patrick Sparks
Who was the best shooting guard at UK since 1980?
This poll is closed