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College Basketball 4-Star Fever, Vol. I: The Kentucky Wildcats

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There are ~4,500 scholarship D1 NCAAB players in any given year. Only ~20 of them are 5* recruits. That's less than 1%. Here is the first in a three-part series appreciating the overwhelming majority of college basketball players -- the non-5*s.

Josh Harrellson and Darius Miller are two of the most prominent non-5* 'Cats during the Calipari Era.
Josh Harrellson and Darius Miller are two of the most prominent non-5* 'Cats during the Calipari Era.
Chris Trotman/Getty Images

John Calipari's most magnificent Kentucky teams have been headlined primarily by dynamic 5* freshmen.

But it would be foolish and ignorant to posit that UK would have claimed the NCAAT in '12 without Darius Miller or that the '14-'15 team would have reached the Final Four without Willie Cauley-Stein's defense.  Do you believe that UK could have upset #1 seed Ohio State in the '11 NCAAT without Josh Harrellson's double-double or DeAndre Liggins' 15 points?  No way.

Not every vital contributor to a Cal-coached Kentucky team has been a top 20 blue chipper.  I appreciate the 4* (and lower) UK alums since 2009 below with a slotted list of all the scholarship non-5*s who have donned the blue and white during that span.

I ranked them based first on their contributions to their UK team(s) and secondarily, on their individual talent.  I also considered their presence in the Lexington community and any memorable cultural "endowments" to the University.

1. Darius Miller (Consensus 4*; 2008-2012)

Miller, 2008's Kentucky Mr. Basketball while playing for Mason County, completed his UK career as the steady and efficient sixth man (logging 26.1 minutes and scoring 9.9 points per game) on the 2012 National Champion squad.  He also played starter's minutes for Cal's first two UK teams, including a career high of 1,178 on the '10-'11 Final Four team (also leading the group in FT% [85%] and contributing 10.9 points and 4.6 rebounds per game).

Key Stats: 152 games played and 1,248 career points

Miller is the all-time UK leader for games played and also the only 'Cat from the Cal Era in the top 35 (#34) in career scoring, ahead of other 4-year UK legends such as Deron Feldhaus (#34), Chuck Hayes (#40), Wayne Turner (#42), and Dirk Minniefield (#51), among many others.

2. Willie Cauley-Stein (Consensus 4*; 2012-2015)

Staying on campus for three years, WCS matured into an all-time defensive great at UK, especially as a rim protector. WCS also collected 655 rebounds during his career, which is good for #28 all-time.  Fans (including myself) warmed to him quickly for his unorthodox and creative personality, as well as his volunteer activities.

Key Stats: All his BLK numbers

Consider these: 233 for his career (2nd all-time at UK); 106 (2.9/game) in a season ['13-'14] (2nd all-time); 9 in a game twice (tied for 2nd all-time); 4 in his debut (tied for 3rd all-time).

3. Doron Lamb (Scout/ESPN 4*; 2010-2012)

Coming to Lexington primarily as a shooter, Lamb stuck around for two years and developed into one of the steadiest and most dependable two-way SGs during the Cal era in the midst of his sophomore year.  Also, even including the 5*s, Lamb is by far the most gifted and efficient blue and white perimeter shooter not only since 2009, but since Cameron Mills in the late 1990s.

Key Stats: 49% 3FG in '10-'11 and 47% 3FG in '11-'12

These remarkable numbers are good for the 6th and 10th best season-long 3FG% performances in UK history, and the top 2 during the Cal Era.

4. DeAndre Liggins (Consensus 4*; 2008-2011)

Liggins was the first among Billy Gillispie's class of 2008 to commit to UK.  Like several others on this list, Cal revitalized Liggins' career, carving out a defensive role player spot for him on the '09-'10 squad and then leaning on him heavily the following season on both ends of the floor.

Key Stats: A '10-'11 season line of 8.6 points, 4 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.2 steals and .7 blocks in 31.6 minutes per game

Guess who played the second-most minutes on the '10-'11 squad behind Brandon Knight?  Super-frosh Terrence Jones?  No.  It was Liggins.

5. Devin Booker (Rivals/Scout 4*; 2014-2015)

Just a day over 17 years old when he committed to UK in October of 2013, Booker came in as a highly canny perimeter shooter for such a young prospect.  Memorable performances by Booker during his one season include the early season Boston blowout (see the video) and the unforgettable 78-39 shellacking of WVU in the NCAAT.  Booker was honored as SEC Sixth Man of the Year after the season, and also received SEC All-Freshman and All-SEC Second Team honors.  Booker is almost certainly the most talented basketball player on this list.

Key Stats: 47%FG, 57%eFG, 60%TS, 83%FT in '14-'15

Even though could be maddeningly streaky streaky, Booker was the most efficient shooter and scorer among the guards on the 38-1 Final Four team, and also led the entire team in FT% (note: Alex Poythress hit 86% of his free throws, but he only played in 8 games before suffering a season-ending knee injury).

6. Josh Harrellson (Consensus 3*; 2009-2011)

Dear ol' Jorts.  From perpetually languishing in BCG's bathroom stall doghouse to being "suspended" from Twitter by Cal for making certain comments to getting whipped into shape by Kenny Payne to hurling a ball at -- and mostly dominating -- an awestruck Jared Sullinger in the '11 NCAAT (below), Harrellson's UK career defies simple explanation.  What matters most is how it culminated -- in the '10-'11 season, which saw an upstart #4 seed Kentucky squad advance to the Final Four.  Harrellson anchored that group's frontcourt.

Key Stats: 9.7 rebounds in 28.5 minutes per game in '10-'11; 65 points, 40 rebounds and 9 steals during '11 NCAAT (5 games)

7. Marcus Lee (ESPN 4*; 2013-2016)

Lee, from a basketball perspective, may be remembered most for his headscratchingly inconsistent tendencies (just glance at his UK Game Log).  From an off-court perspective, though, he will be remembered as one of the nicest, most charitable and volunteer-oriented 'Cats of the Cal Era, and probably UK history.

Key Stats: FG% -- 66% during career (1st all-time at UK) and 68% during '15-'16 (also 1st all-time)

8. Eric Bledsoe (Scout 4*; 2009-2010)

In terms of single season "jack of all trades" performances, Bledsoe's sole year in the Bluegrass ranks behind only Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's '11-'12 campaign.  Bledsoe is one of the most athletic guards in UK history and came to campus more polished than people expected.  His combination of motor and talent was sometimes overshadowed by the hype surrounding 5*s Wall, Boogie, and Orton but he was a primary contributor (1,122 minutes, good for 30.3 per game) to that squad's run to the Elite Eight.

Key Stats: A '09-'10 season line of 11.3 points, 3.1 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.4 steals per contest

9. Julius Mays (Consensus 3*; 2012-2013)

It now seems plausible to argue that the '12-'13 'Cats might have been a CBI -- and not NIT team, as they were -- without Mays' steadying veteran presence after the catastrophic Nerlens Noel knee injury in February of '13 in Gainesville.

Cal's lone grad transfer while at UK, Mays (previously at Wright State) led the team -- which included 5*s Archie Goodwin, Poythress, Ryan Harrow, Kyle Wiltjer, and Noel -- in minutes (1,090), FT% (85), and assists (95).

10. Derek Willis (4* 247Sports, 3* Elsewhere; 2013-Present)

Though Willis is entering his final year at UK, he has yet to provide observers with any definitive career narrative.  He played just 114 minutes in his first two seasons, but logged 596 last season (18.6 per; 6th on the team).  He shot 44% from the perimeter (48% overall) and 89% from the free throw line, contributing 7.7 points per game.  He was also active on the boards, averaging 4 a contest.

11. Dominique Hawkins (Consensus 3*; 2013-Present)

Now a senior, the Richmond native has either seemed to make a significant impact, in spots, on a game (his 13 point performance against U of L last December comes to mind) or not see the floor at all (he's played in 83 games, out of a possible 115, over his 3 years at UK).  Still, for a 3* playing alongside a different configuration of future pros every year, Hawkins has seen a healthy 695 minutes of action (8.4 per game) during his career, scoring 115 points.

12. Darnell Dodson (4* Rivals, 3* Scout; 2009-2010)

Dodson was a primary guard option off the bench during his one year in the Bluegrass State (though Liggins surpassed him in minutes as the season progressed) , before leaving the school for academic reasons.  Dodson contributed 6 points per game.

13. Ramon Harris (Consensus 3*; 2006-2010)

Harris, once the destroyer of all Alaskan high school basketball competition as the state's Gatorade Player of the Year in 2006, was the third guard off the bench as a senior for the '09-'10 'Cats.  He averaged 11 minutes and nabbed 2.1 rebounds per game.

14. Perry Stevenson (Consensus 4*; 2006-2010)

Stevenson, who committed to UK way back in the fall of my junior year at UK (2005; I was in class at the C-P Building when it was announced), completed his senior year during Cal's opening act at UK, like Harris.  An end-of-the-bench role player, Stevenson offered length and rebounding in support of the loaded '09-'10 frontcourt (Patterson, Cousins, Orton).

15. Jarrod Polson (1* ESPN, NR Elsewhere; 2010-2014)

I will always remember Polson, a West Jessamine High School graduate, for his play in this blowout win against Mississippi State in 2013 -- 9 points on 4/5 (80%) from the floor, 4 rebounds, 3 assists and a steal.  When he was on the floor, it seemed like he was everywhere.  Polson played 800 minutes during his Kentucky career, with distinctive grit, and averaged 1.5 points per game.

16. Charles Matthews (Consensus 4*; 2015-2016)

Once a consensus 5* prior to an injury-plagued junior year of high school, Matthews saw the floor as a freshman last season (10.3 minutes per game) but did not produce much in the box score (1.7 points and 1.6 rebounds per game).  He opted to transfer in May and will suit up for John Beilein's Michigan Wolverines beginning with the '17'-18 season.

17. Isaac Humphries (Consensus 4*; 2015-Present)

Humphries played fewer minutes (in fewer games -- 23) than Matthews did as a freshman last season, but was able to make an impact on the boards in more limited opportunities with 2.4 per game.  Current practice reports suggest that Humphries could potentially fly up this list after his sophomore season.

18. Eloy Vargas (Consensus 4*; 2010-2012)

A JuCo transfer via UF, Vargas played spot minutes (490 total) for Cal's second and third UK teams.  The only game I remember him playing in was the awful loss to then-unranked UConn at the beginning of the '10-'11 season and the box score confirms his presence -- 6 points, 6 rebounds, 2 blocks and a steal in 19 minutes.

19. Jon Hood (Consensus 4*; 2009-2014)

The beloved Madisonville native played 425 minutes during his four years on the court at UK, scoring 95 points and grabbing 66 rebounds.  Also, lake hair and his "beard."

20. Mark Krebs (NR; 2007-2010)

Krebs, a transfer from Thomas More College during the BCG years, was a Newport-born upperclassman leader for Cal's inaugural UK team and played 44 minutes that season, scoring 6 points.

21. EJ Floreal (NR; 2013-Present)

Since earning a scholarship in 2014 after starting his UK career walking on, Floreal has been a member of the SEC Academic Honor Roll.  He is a senior now and has played 40 minutes in his career, amassing 8 rebounds.  Among UK fans, Floreal will be remembered for aggressively dunking over Julius Randle in the '13 Blue-White Scrimmage.

22. Twany Beckham (NR; 2011-2013)

Beckham, a Louisville native, came to UK from Mississippi State as a junior and played approximately 50 minutes during his career at UK.  He was a member of the 2012 National Champion team and was always visible on the bench encouraging his teammates.

23. Mychal Mulder (Consensus 4*; 2015-Present)

A JuCo transfer, now a senior, Mulder's UK legacy still hangs in the balance.  Brought in as an assumed perimeter offensive specialist, Mulder was just 2-12 (17%) from long range and 4-20 (20%) overall last season.

24. Tai Wynyard (Consensus 4*; 2015-Present)

Having redshirted last season, Wynyard has yet to play in actual competition as a 'Cat, though his world champion woodchopper parents and the Haka have endeared him to UK fans.

25. Stacey Poole (Consensus 4*; 2010-2011)

Poole played sparingly in 16 games during his freshman season and then transferred to Georgia Tech.

2016 recruit Sacha Killeya-Jones was rated 4* by Scout, but I didn't include him in the ranking because he hasn't played yet.  That said, if this list is revisited in a few years, I expect that he'll be top 10, if not top 5.  SK-J is a 5* talent who projects as a multi-year college player.

Finally, an ardent shout out to the walk-ons since 2009, as well -- Sam Malone, Brian Long, Tod Lanter, Jonny David, Dillon Pulliam, and Brad Calipari.