I have counted down my favorite John Calipari teams, and so far there has been little argument. It seemed that most people argued for the Brandon Knight team to be higher on the list, and that’s something that I can’t really disagree with at all.
I doubt there will be disagreement with my top two choices, unless you disagree with the order.
#2- AD, MKG, and the Title Team
Record: 38-2 (16-0 SEC) SEC Regular Season Champs, SEC Tournament Runner Up
Roster: Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones, Marquis Teague, Doron Lamb, Kyle Wiltjer, Darius Miller, Jon Hood, Jarrod Polson, Eloy Vargas, Brian Long, Sam Malone, Twany Beckham, Ryan Harrow (red shirt)
Postseason: National Champions
Signature Wins: vs. #5 UNC, at #16 Florida, vs. Indiana (Sweet 16), vs. Baylor (Elite 8), vs. Louisville (Final Four), vs. Kansas (National Title)
Postseason player accolades: Anthony Davis- National Player of the Year, SEC Player of the Year, Consensus All American, MOP of the NCAA Tournament, First Team All SEC, National Defensive Player of the Year, Pete Newell Big Man Award, SEC Freshman of the Year; Michael Kidd-Gilchrist- Consensus Second Team All American, First Team All SEC; Terrence Jones- Second Team All SEC; Doron Lamb- Second Team All SEC
Anthony Davis- No. 1 to the New Orleans Hornets
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist- No. 2 to the Charlotte Bobcats
Terrence Jones- No. 18 to the Houston Rockets
Marquis Teague- No. 29 to the Chicago Bulls
Doron Lamb- No. 42 to the Milwaukee Bucks
Darius Miller- No. 46 to the New Orleans Hornets
Why They’re Here: It’s not difficult to see why this team is in my top two if you take a look at all of the hardware above. Anthony Davis is the best Kentucky Wildcat in the John Calipari Era and one of the best Wildcats of all time. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is one of the more beloved Wildcats because of his struggles with public speaking and his relentless effort on defense.
But the excitement of the season all started with Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones returning after a wonderful run to the Final Four from the previous season. It was thought that Lamb would return, but many were surprised when Jones returned, spurning the NBA lottery for his sophomore season. One of the reasons was the fear of a looming NBA lockout.
When Terrence Jones returned, he was expected to be the best player on the team and a contender for Player of the Year nationally. But then we all got a look at Anthony Davis, a kid that grew exponentially from a point guard to a center. His freakish athleticism and a nose for blocking opponents easily set him apart from the rest of his team and the rest of the players in the country.
Add Michael-Kidd Gilchrist, one of the hardest-working players to ever grace Rupp Arena, and there wasn’t a more dynamic duo in the country. With Lamb, Jones, Marquis Teague running the point and senior Darius Miller coming off of the bench, there weren’t six better players on any team in the country.
They were so good, they lost only twice all season: once at IU on a buzzer beater from Christian Watford, and the last game of SEC play in the tournament finale against Vanderbilt.
There were so many iconic moments during the season that it is difficult to remember them all. The win over North Carolina in Rupp Arena after Anthony Davis blocked John Henderson’s game-winning shot was the individual play of the year. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist turned in two great performances against the hated Louisville Cardinals: once in the regular season and once in the tournament.
Then there was the revenge game against the Indiana Hoosiers in the Sweet 16 where the Wildcats destroyed IU by 16 points.
Going into that tournament, Kentucky was the overwhelming favorite to win it all. There was plenty of pressure on them and John Calipari, a coach with the reputation of not being able to win the big game. But as they faced the Kansas Jayhawks in the final game of the season, there was little doubt who the best team in the country was that night.
After the title, Cal toured around the state in celebration of UK’s first title since 1998. It was one of the best teams in the history of the program and the second best of the Cal era.
#1- John Wall, Boogie, and Cal’s Inaugural Season
Record: 35-3 (14-2 SEC) SEC Regular Season Champs, SEC Tournament Champs
Roster: John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe, Patrick Patterson, Jon Hood, Daniel Orton, Ramon Harris, Perry Stevenson, Darius Miller, Darnell Dodson, DeAndre Liggins, Josh Harrellson, Mark Krebs
Postseason: Lost to West Virginia in the Elite Eight
Signature Wins: vs. #10 UNC, vs. #14 UConn, vs. #21 Vanderbilt, vs. Mississippi State (SEC tournament title game)
Postseason Player Accolades: John Wall- Consensus First Team All American, Adolph Rupp Player of the Year, National Freshman of the Year, SEC Player of the Year, First Team All SEC, All Freshman Team, District IV Player of the Year; DeMarcus Cousins- Consensus Second Team All American, First Team All SEC, SEC Freshman of the Year; Patrick Patterson- First Team All SEC; Eric Bledsoe- SEC All Freshman Team
John Wall- No. 1 to the Washington Wizards
DeMarcus Cousins- No. 5 to the Sacramento Kings
Patrick Patterson- No. 14 to the Houston Rockets
Eric Bledsoe- No. 18 to the Oklahoma City Thunder
Daniel Orton- No. 29 to the Orlando Magic
Why They’re Here: Forget the heartbreak loss to West Virginia in the Elite Eight. Instead, remember the two disastrous years under Billy Gillispie. Remember how the proud tradition of the Kentucky Wildcats was reduced to a national joke.
Remember how you felt when John Calipari was introduced and talked about having the top recruiting classes in the country and returning to Final Fours and winning national titles.
Remember the first time you saw John Wall dance at Big Blue Madness. When you saw him dominate UConn at Madison Square Garden. When you realized you haven’t seen a rock star of his caliber since Rex Chapman. When you watched him speed down the court, you knew he was different from every player in college basketball.
Remember DeMarcus Cousins and his enduring relationship with the fan base, his quirky personality, and his love for coach Cal. Remember his call to president Obama, his taunting of the Mississippi State crowd, and his putback to tie that same Bulldog team in the SEC tournament championship game and the unbridled joy of his teammates.
Remember Patrick Patterson return after two trying years as a Wildcat and how his leadership drove the team. Remember watching Eric Bledsoe blossom into a first round draft pick before our very eyes.
Remember the feeling of losing to Rick Pitino for two straight years and how his only answer to combat the athleticism of UK was to try and bully them. The response: Boogie not taking their crap and fighting back.
It was a special season and a special group of guys. The joy was back. We could hold our heads up high again. The Wildcats were back to being the best of the best. And we haven’t looked back sense.