With all the hoopla surrounding the departure of John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson, Daniel Orton, and Eric Bledsoe, a couple of Wildcat seniors received little-to-no love from either the "mainstream" media or the UK blogosphere upon their departure from the Kentucky campus.
I'm here to right that wrong.
Let's begin with the fact that Ramon Harris and Perry Stevenson are the only Kentucky players since at least 1931, the year Adolph Rupp was hired as head basketball coach, to play for three different head coaches: Both were recruited and played one year (half-a-year in Harris' case) for Tubby Smith; both played two years for Billy Gillispie; and both played their senior season for John Calipari. The fact that neither player considered leaving UK in the midst of the coaching changes and ubiquitous turmoil swirling around the program during their tenure, is a testament to their loyalty. And in today's environment, loyalty is an attribute lacking to a great degree in big-time college athletics. Driving the point home further, Stevenson and Harris are the only two players out of their recruiting class who used up their collegiate eligibility at Kentucky: Derrick Jasper, Jodie Meeks, Michael Porter, and Mark Coury who all arrived in Lexington with Stevenson and Harris, departed the Bluegrass for various destinations prior to exhausting their eligibility.
Obviously, a Big Blue thank you is long overdue for UK's departing seniors.
Harris, of course, came to UK a bit of a mystery man. Recruited out of the great state of Alaska, and arriving on campus in December of 2006, Harris was a complete unknown to most Kentucky fans. And although he played sparingly during his freshman year, he displayed an ability to defend the perimeter with vigorous energy. An ability that would become the one constant throughout his three-and-a-half years in Lexington. Always eager to contribute, Harris' strong defense made it easy for all three coaches to justify playing the offensively limited player -- When an opponent had a player who posed a problem for UK defensively, more often than not Harris was at least given the opportunity to cool off the hot hand. Oftentimes resulting in the threat being eliminated, or at least significantly curtailed.
Although Harris ended his UK career by averaging only 3.4 points per game, he always played hard, sometimes with reckless abandon. And in a sport where players are apt to take time-off on the defensive end of the court, Harris was at his best when trying to put the kibosh on an opponent's offensive efforts. His defensive effectiveness, while partly due to his solid fundamentals, was a result, in large part, of his effort and hustle. Harris could many times be found sprawled on the floor going for a loose ball, or diving through the air to deflect a pass. His defensive intensity also proved to be contagious to his teammates, making him one of the defensive leaders of the team during all three-and-a-half seasons.
What I respect Harris most for, though, is the manner in which he dealt with his "demotion" during his senior year. After starting 53 games and averaging 22 minutes per game during his sophomore and junior years, Harris started only two-games his senior season, and averaged 11.0 minutes per game. But, did Harris demonstrate a woe-is-me attitude? No, he simply went about his business both on and off the court the same way he had done for his first two-and-a-half years. Never any complaints, never wondering why he wasn't playing more. Harris became one of the teams biggest cheerleaders from the bench, and set the example on how to deal with what had to be a disappointment.
For this, I say thank you to Ramon. During his time in Lexington, he became someone any of his coaches could rely on to play hard, play fundamentally sound defense, and have a team-first attitude regardless of his playing time.
Arriving on campus from Lafayette, Louisiana, Perry Stevenson could be best described as a pogo stick with a pulse. Super model-thin at 6-9, 178 lbs, Stevenson came north to Kentucky with a demonstrable ability to block shots and score down on the blocks. So effective was Stevenson that he averaged a triple-double (points, rebounds, blocks) at Northside High School.
Stevenson will perhaps be most remembered for his time at UK because of the admirable job he did filling in for the injured Patrick Patterson at the end of his sophomore year: In the final fives games of the '07-'08 season, Stevenson averaged 9.4 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks per game. His impressive play during that stretch enabled UK to give the No. 1 ranked Tennessee Volunteers a serious run for their money in Knoxville, coming up just short of upsetting the Volunteers, 63-60; UK also beat South Carolina on the road, and ended a nasty seven-game losing streak to the hated Florida Gators, 75-70, on Kentucky's Senior Day. Without Stevenson's clutch play, Kentucky probably doesn't accomplish any of those feats.
The strongest part of Stevenson's game while at Kentucky was his shot blocking. An opinion bolstered by the fact that he leaves UK as the fifth-ranked shot blocker in Kentucky history with 159 (67 his junior year). That's a number that places him in front of the more celebrated Patrick Patterson and Jules Camara. And considering Stevenson averaged only 7.6 minutes per game during his senior season, 159 is a remarkable number of swatted shots.
And just as Harris endured a precipitous drop in minutes played, Stevenson suffered the same fate. With the arrival of DeMarcus Cousins and Daniel Orton, Stevenson saw his minutes dissipate down to the previously-mentioned 7.6 minutes per game. Coming off a junior season in which Stevenson started 34 games and averaged a combined 26-minutes per game during his sophmore and junior seasons, he, like Harris, not once belly-ached about his lack of minutes. Instead, whenever coach John Calipari called on the thinnest of 'Cats, Stevenson answered the call with intensity. Doing what he could to help the team to victory.
And for this Perry Stevenson deserves the respect and admiration of the entire Big Blue Nation.
One fact that can never be taken away from either player is that neither performer ever gave the coaching staff a hint of trouble. They both simply went about the business of being student-athletes to the best of their respective abilities. Neither had the spotlight shown on them for more than a fleeting minute, yet they continued to practice and play as hard as they knew how. They continued to be good citizens, and solid representatives of Kentucky basketball. No small task, indeed.
So my Big Blue thanks to Ramon Harris and Perry Stevenson. You are now Kentuckians by adoption, and forever covered in Big Blue mist. We all appreciate the fine example and sacrifice you made by enduring decreasing playing time with steadfastly displaying what it means to be a good teammate. A higher complement I cannot think of.
Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats!