The legacy that has been the John Calipari-era at Kentucky all began immediately after his hiring on April, 1st 2009,when he brought in his first of what would be a profusion of top-ranked recruiting classes. Single-handedly changing the culture of the Kentucky basketball program, Calipari brought in four players that were ranked in the ESPN top 100 recruits for 2009.
Those four ranked recruits being highlighted by Demarcus Cousins (4th overall) and the eventual number one draft pick John Wall (5th overall), Calipari also lured in Daniel Orton (13th overall) and then Jon Hood (92nd overall). But wait a minute, there is an obvious name missing from this group.
Well, in specific rankings, there is not. One of Kentucky's top players on the 35-3 team from 2009-2010 was ranked outside of ESPN's top 100 recruits at the time of his commitment. A player that went on to be drafted in the first round of the 2010 NBA Draft and succeed in the NBA was completely unknown to the most of the entire country.
A 6'1" point guard out of Birmingham, Alabama that was oblivious to everybody came to Kentucky to try and make a name for himself. Little did anybody know at the time, that this was a player destined for stardom. This is the journey of an NBA star, Eric Bledsoe.
Bledsoe played his high school basketball at A.H. Parker High School in Alabama. In his senior year, Bledsoe would average a near triple double and lead his team to the Alabama 5A State Championship Game. His outstanding play earned Bledsoe more national recognition as a prospect, with Rivals and 24/7 Sports having him ranked in their top 100.
Despite that, Bledsoe still lacked recognition and the respect of a top tier recruit. He never earned that coveted 5th star as a prospect, and failed to be invited to the heralded McDonald's All-American Game.
Playing in the shadows of John Wall and Demarcus Cousins, Bledsoe enrolled at Kentucky as a massive underdog. Normally a player in this scenario only plays limited minutes, stays three or four years in school, and is lucky to be drafted in the first round. Bledsoe, on the other hand, played exponentially ahead of all his expectations and became a household name in his lone college season.
Despite being regarded by scouts as a pass first point guard capable of running an offense, Bledsoe started 35 games playing the two guard position next to John Wall. Scouts questioned whether Bledsoe could become a reliable scorer,and if his jump shot would be good enough considering that he would not have the ball in his hands as much. Bledsoe, once again, proved that he was capable of doing whatever was asked of him.
Bledsoe would average 11.3 points per game playing as Kentucky's 3rd or 4th scoring option, shot 46% from the field and 38% from beyond the arc, and averaged 1.4 steals per game. Bledsoe would finish his freshman season with 20 games of double-digit scoring and four games of at least 20 points scored. This included an NCAA Tournament game against East Tennessee State where Bledsoe scored 29 points and set the Kentucky single-game record by going 8-9 from three point range.
Bledsoe would declare for the following draft and was selected with the 18th pick by the Oklahoma City Thunder before being traded to the Los Angeles Clippers. Bledsoe's first three seasons with the Clippers had its ups and its downs. He was an NBA All-Rookie 2nd Team selection in 2011, participated in the NBA Slam Dunk Contest in 2013, and got two trips to the postseason.
However, Bledsoe struggled to get a true feel for the NBA game in his time with Los Angeles. This was most evident when the Clippers first acquired Chris Paul. Bledsoe played in just 40 games that year. His minutes were cut in half, shot under-40% from the field and just 20% from three, and even made his way to the D-League.
The same discrepancy that Bledsoe faced coming out of high school, he faced in his early years in the NBA. It was questioned if Bledsoe would ever be able to develop into a serviceable full-time NBA point guard, and if so who was it going to be with?
Slowly but surely, Bledsoe was improving his game. Playing behind and learning from a future Hall of Famer in Chris Paul gave Bledsoe the knowledge he needed to succeed. Then, after the 2012-2013 season, Bledsoe received his big-time chance.
On July 10th, 2013 Bledsoe was traded to his current team, the Phoenix Suns. To be a successful NBA player, you have to be ready for when you're given the chance to succeed. Bledsoe showed in his first two games with Phoenix that was indeed ready.
In an opening night victory against the Portland Trail Blazers, Bledsoe tallied 22 points, seven assists, and six rebounds. He would follow up the next game with a game-winner against the Utah Jazz. From there, Bledsoe fully made a name for himself.
Bledsoe's numbers boosted to 17.7/5.5/4.7/1.6 in his first season in the desert, and then 17/6.2/5.2/1.6 in his second. Despite contract deliberations and speculation on if the Suns wanted Bledsoe back, he had found a home in Phoenix.
Fighting back against every setback he faced, including a torn meniscus that caused him to miss the final 51 games of the 2015-2016 season, Bledsoe has proven that he is here to stay in the NBA. If you need anymore proof of it, just look at what he is doing this season.
Averaging 20 points per game now, Bledsoe has become the face of the franchise and the unquestioned leader of an extremely young Phoenix Suns team. A three-game stretch of 30-point scoring games, which included career high 35 points against the Denver Nuggets, made for the first time since Amare Stoudemire in 2010 that a Suns player had accomplished such a feat.
The road to the NBA has been difficult for Bledsoe, but no matter how much he's been doubted and no matter what setbacks he has faced the young star has found a way to get it done. Bledsoe has proved all of his doubters wrong throughout his journey, and has a long career ahead of him.