Update [2007-6-11 18:0:16 by JL Blue]:
After reflecting on my picks, I cannot believe I slighted Anthony Epps for anyone, much less Roger Harden. Consider me forever damned for not thinking more about results and less about raw numbers...
In lieu of continuing to either report on manufactured news or Florida goings-on, let's shift gears a bit this week. While we wait (again) for Jai Lucas to decide on a school (again), perhaps it's good to think about why exactly getting a true point guard is important, and what such a scenario has meant for Cats fans in the past.
To that end, we present the first in a six-part series of looks at the best five starters and reserve over the last 27 years (i.e from 1980).
Thus, first up: Point Guard.
[Ed. note: The timeline is simply easier for both the writers and vast majority of the readers of this blog, as well as 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) Wayne Turner, 1996-1999 (#1 steals, #4 assists, 1996 Final Four*, 1997 Final Four, 1998 Final Four)
The rabid fans of the Big Blue Nation knew they were getting something special when word of incoming freshman Wayne Turner's 70+ point outing as a high schol senior made its way to Lexington. What they did not know is that Turner's UK career would be more about controlling tempo, swiping the ball and floor leadership than it would be about putting up points. Turner, a stupefyingly quick Mickey D's and Parade All-American out of Boston, finished his career as the all-time school leader in steals and games played (151), and participated in three Final Fours in his four-year career, earning two rings along the way. But for all his accolades, Turner will be best remembered for a non-Final Four game, Kentucky's unforgettable comeback against Duke in the 1998 Elite Eight. In that game, all of Turner's best attributes were on display, as he drove repeatedly past Duke's heralded defender, Steve Wojciechowski, taking the Blue Devils' double-digit lead with him. Never blessed with a deadly jump shot, Turner instead relied on a nearly unstoppable floater in the lane and a crossover and burst of speed few at the college level could match. A member of the 1,000-point club, Turner's legacy is as a steady and consistent winner. For a point guard, there can be no higher praise.
* Did not play in 96 FF final win over Syracuse
(2) Dirk Minniefield, 1980-1983 (Career UK #1 assists, #10 steals, NBA 2nd Rd.)
The greatest player in my high school's history (Lexington Lafayette) came to Kentucky as part of one of, if not the, best incoming class in Big Blue history. A McDonald's and Parade All-American, Dirk was quick as lightning and possessed the physical attributes of a defensive back. How good was Minniefield? He played in all but one game of his frosh year despite the presence of All-American Kyle Macy. Never a big-time scorer at the college level, as many of the guards on this list were not, Minniefield nevertheless averaged in double figures in two different years, topping out at just over 11 ppg in 1981-82 when he was also SEC Tournament MVP. Dirk completed his Wildcats career as the top assists man in school history (figures kept since 1962). He also provided Kentucky fans with one of its greatest single plays.
(3) Travis Ford, 1992-94 (#9 assists, 1993 Final Four)
The pride of Madisonville (KY) took a circuitous route to Rupp Arena, but shone once he got there. Not recruited by departing coach Eddie Sutton, Travis Ford began his career at Missouri, but transferred to Kentucky once new coach Rick Pitino took over. The fit with the fiery, cerebral Pitino was a perfect one, and the three-time Academic All-SEC Ford excelled in Pitino's high octane attack. Ford appeared in 33 games his sophomore (first) year in White and Blue, playing primarily behind senior Sean Woods. Once handed the reins, however, Ford proved a superb floor leader and is one of the best three-point marksman ever to suit up in Kentucky digs. Ford's junior season (1992-93) saw the return of Kentucky's greatness in a Final Four trip to New Orleans. On the backs of Jamal Mashburn's considerable presence on the court and Ford's ridiculous 52.9% shooting from behind the three-point arc, the 1993 Wildcats blitzed their way to a 32-4 record, with Ford earning All-SEC, NCAA Regional MOP and SEC Tourney MVP honors along the way. The hard-working and aggressive Ford, listed at a generous 5'9", would go on to a sterling coaching career the hard way, graduating from tiny Campbellsville College (KY) to Eastern Kentucky and then on to UMass of the Atlantic 10. What happens next would surely surprise no one who watched Ford go from a decent but undersized sub to the catalyst for one of the nation's best teams.
(4) Rajon Rondo, 2005-06 (#10 steals, top 20 assists, NBA 1st Rd.)
The final member of this list will no doubt elicit the most debate, but if talent and athletic ability were currency, Louisville native (Via Oak Hill Academy) Rajon Rondo would have been a rich man long before the Phoenix Suns made him the 21st overall pick in the 2006 NBA Draft. Rondo was a triple-double threat the moment he walked on the court, and while he never reached that milestone in his two years in Lexington, the numbers the long-limbed Rondo posted were still eye-popping nonetheless. Despite lacking the caliber of teammates of some of the others on this list, Rondo posted 285 assists in just two years, becoming the only two-year player to crack the top 20. But Rondo's real commodity was his defense, the trait that helped him to a Kentucky single-season record 87 swipes in 2004-05. Rajon's Kentucky legacy has the taint of what is now considered a subpar overall record, but while rumor and innuendo have unfairly tarnished Rondo as a selfish player or some sort of clubhouse cancer, without him who knows what the end results of his two seasons might have been. It's a weak argument to think that the team would have fared better with Rondo elsewhere. As a former Wildcat, Rondo will no doubt represent his former school well. He should be afforded such respect in return. For a better look at Rondo's amazing talents, look no further ...
(4) Roger Harden, 1983-86 (#3 assists, 1984 Final Four*, NBA 5th Rd.)
Often overlooked due to his talented backcourt mates, Indiana Mr. Basketball Roger Harden had to wait for his star turn. But once he was given the chance, Harden did not disappoint, compiling 374 of his 498 career assists in his last two seasons. Never a scorer by trade, Harden was the quintessential lead guard, setting the table over and over for two-time All-American Kenny Walker. Despite a lack of eye-popping overall numbers, Harden provided the leadership that nearly got the 85-86 Cats into the Final Four and drove them to a 32-4 season in Eddie Sutton's first season. A former Parade and McDonald's All-American, Harden's selflessness is precisely the sort of game a true point guard must have.
* Played just 2 min. in FF loss to G'Town
(5) Ed Davender, 1985-1988 (#11 points, #8 assists, #4 steals, NBA 3rd Rd.)
Joining a team depleted after the departures of Final Four stars Sam Bowie, Mel Turpin and Jim Master and featuring only Bret Bearup and Troy McKinley as seniors, McDonald's and Parade All-American Ed Davender made an immediate impact on Joe B. Hall's last UK team, finishing second to Kenny walker in team scoring. A quick and nimble slasher, Davender helped lead the 85-86 Cats to within an LSU loss of the Final Four in a season few expected to go that far. More of a scoring threat than Minnieifield, Brooklyn's finest was truthfully more of a combo guard, sliding over to the two spot for his first two seasons before manning the point in his last two. An all-around talent, Davender is one of only two UK players ever to finish his career in the top 15 in assists, steals and points (Keith Bogans is the other). While he may not have been a true point guard his entire career, Davender's completle-court play and willingness to pass and defend merit inclusion on this list.