In this edition of “Talkin’ Tubby”, we look at the top five players of the Tubby era. Any time we talk about top players or best players, it gets personal, and it can get heated!
As objectively as possible, here are the top five players of the Tubby Smith era:
Full disclosure: It was VERY challenging to make a list of five - which is why I chose to list a couple of honorable-mention selections. And for the record, it does NOT matter whether players were recruited by Tubby or Pitino, just that they played in the Tubby era. And secondly, I am only taking into consideration their accomplishments at Kentucky, there will NOT be consideration put into NBA careers, only what was accomplished while playing for Tubby.
#5: Wayne Turner
Yes, recruited and brought to UK by Rick Pitino, but was a 2-year starter for Tubby Smith and the starting PG on Tubby’s national title team. Leading UK to the 1998 National Championship, Turner averaged just under 10 points, along with 4 assists and 3 rebounds. He led the SEC in assists during this season and won the SEC Tournament MVP award.
On his way to the national title, he earned the NCAA Regional Most Outstanding Player award. Check out this stat line from the comeback thriller against Duke in 1998 NCAAT: 16 points, 8 assists, 5 rebounds, and 2 steals. Each game on the way to the title, Turner could be counted on for at least 8 points, 2 steals, 4 assists, 4 rebounds.
He was outstanding.
In his senior season, he averaged 10.5 points, 4 assists and 3 rebounds. He earned All-SEC honors, along with SEC All-Tournament Team honors. In his 2 seasons with Tubby, Turner has 2 of the top 30 best single-season assists totals. In those same 2 seasons, he has 2 of the top 30 single-season steals totals as well.
At the conclusion of his career, he was the all-time leader in program history for games played with 151 total games.
He scored over 1,000 career points, ranking 42nd in program history. Turner finished as the all-time steals leader in program history, still to this day holding the record. He is ranked 7th all-time in UK history for NCAA Tournament scoring. In 3 of his 4 seasons at UK, his season totals in assists rank top 50 in program history.
In 2020, Wayne Turner was deservedly inducted into the UK Athletics Hall of Fame.
#4 Scott Padgett
Another 2-year player for Tubby Smith, Padgett helped lead Tubby’s team to the 1998 National Championship, most notably the dagger 3-pooint shot he drilled against Duke from the top of the key (along with 6 rebs).
The 97-98 season was terrific for Padgett: averaging 11 points per game, 6.6 rebounds and 2.1 assists. In the Final Four game vs. Stanford, Padgett had 10 points, 6 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 assists.
Against Utah in the National Championship, Padgett’s 17 points and 5 rebounds helped UK win the title.
Padgett’s junior season was highlighted by earning Wooden 1st Team All-American honors, along with All-SEC honors and SEC All-tournament honors as well. Padgett was NCAA Championship Player of the Game as well. Padgett was 1 of 3 All-Americans in the Tubby Smith era at UK.
Padgett’s senior season ended with an Elite Eight loss to Michigan St. but still a tremendous season on his part. He averaged 12.6 points per game, along with 6 rebounds and 3 assists. He again earned All-SEC honors, SEC Tournament MVP, and NCAA All-Regional team. He scored over 1,200 points in his UK career, ranking him 32nd all-time in program history. He is ranked 3rd all-time in UK history for scoring in the NCAA Tournament.
Padgett had a tremendous career, no doubt about it. But let’s also give special credit to him for the CLUTCH 3-point shot he made against Duke in the 1998 Elite Eight game, a crucial shot from the top of the key.
It was a clutch shot by a clutch player, an unforgettable moment in UK history.
#3 Chuck Hayes
Hayes quickly went to work, making an immediate impact as a freshman for the Wildcats and earning a spot on the SEC All-Freshman team in 2002. He did so averaging 6 points and 4.5 rebounds per game his first year on campus.
As a sophomore, Hayes started all 36 games, averaging 8.6 points and grabbing 6.8 rebounds. In this season, Hayes helped the Cats to an undefeated 16-0 SEC record, and 32-4 overall. The Wildcats were the SEC regular-season champs AND won the SEC Tournament.
Hayes started to really break out during his junior year, averaging 10 points per game along with 8.8 rebounds, career highs in both. Again, Hayes started every single game the Wildcats played during this season, bringing his consecutive starts up to 68 games. The Cats finished 27-5 this year, 13-3 in the SEC. Kentucky once again won the SEC Tournament.
Hayes’ senior season saw the highest scoring output of his career, averaging 10.9 points per game along with 7.7 rebounds. He started all 34 games, bringing his all-time consecutive start record to an amazing 110 straight starts for the Wildcats.
In his career, the Cats' record was 110-25 (CRAZY!) for an impressive 81% winning percentage. Twice he was SEC All-conference. His senior year, he was the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, and he was awarded NCAA All-Regional Team.
Hayes’ won 3 SEC Tournament Championships and 2 SEC Regular Season Championships.
When Hayes finished his career, he was ranked 7th all-time in career rebounds, 8th in steals, and ranked 9th all-time in blocked shots.
At the time he graduated, he was also ranked in the top 35 all-time in career scoring, 40th today. In a Cal Ripken-type manner, Hayes graduated with the school record of consecutive starts, get ready for this, 110 consecutive starts!
#2: Keith Bogans
Keith Bogans, probably my personal favorite Kentucky Wildcat of all time, was a 4-year starter for Tubby Smith at UK. Bogans is currently ranked 4th all-time in UK program history for career scoring, only behind Issel, Walker, and Givens. Bogans was a bucket, before that saying even existed, and could be counted on for 4 years to get the Cats points when they needed them.
In 2014, Bogans was elected into the University of Kentucky Athletics Hall of Fame. In each of his 4 years at Kentucky, Bogans was awarded postseason accolades and honors, culminating with an amazing senior season: All-American, SEC Player of the Year, SEC Tournament MVP, All-SEC, and NCAA All-Region team.
In each of Bogans’ 4 years at UK, he averaged double-digits in scoring. His best scoring season was his sophomore year, averaging 17 points per game, along with 5 rebounds and 2 assists.
His 2000-2001 season is ranked 34th all-time in UK history for single-season scoring, and his senior season is ranked 41st all-time - 2 top 5 scoring seasons in program history for Bogans.
In Bogans’ All-American senior year, he averaged 15.7 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 1.2 steals per game.
In 2003, Bogans led UK to a 15-point victory against top-ranked Florida at Rupp, one of the most energetic and rowdy Rupp environments of the Tubby era. In 2001, Pitino’s 1st trip back to Rupp after leaving the program, Bogans led UK to a 20-point victory over their rivals, scoring 17 points and grabbing 8 rebounds. Bogans is 1 of 3 All-American players for Tubby at UK.
Looking back on his career: 4th all-time in career scoring; 2nd all-time in career 3-pointers made (only behind Delk); 2 of the top 16 best single-season 3-point shooting seasons in program history; 15th all-time in free-throws made; 12th all-time in career steals; ranked 8th all-time in UK history for NCAA Tournament scoring.
It was impressive to say the least.
#1 Tayshaun Prince
Prince had an absolutely tremendous career for Kentucky, truly a player UK fans will never forget about. Across his 4 year career with the Cats, Prince averaged 13 points and just under 6 rebounds per game. He played in 135 games in his UK career, starting 109 games.
Tayshaun was the SEC Player of the Year his junior season, averaging 16 points per game, along with 6.5 rebounds, 3 steals and 1 block per game.
Most UK fans will NEVER forget his performance in 2001 at Rupp against North Carolina. Prince scored the first 15 points of the game for the Cats, making FIVE consecutive 3-point shots, including one from the UK logo! Prince’s stat-line from that game: 31 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals
In the 2002 NCAA Tournament, Prince scored a career-high 41 points against Tulsa to send the Cats to the Sweet 16. Along with his 41 points in the game, Prince also grabbed 9 rebounds, dished out 4 assists, and recorded 3 blocks.
Tayshaun ranks 5th all-time in UK history in NCAA Tournament points scored. He is ranked 30th in career steals, 19th all-time in career rebounds, and 11th all-time in career blocks.
Prince is probably most remembered for his 3-point shooting. He is ranked 3rd all-time in UK history for career 3-pointers, only behind Delk and Bogans. In the NCAA Tournament, only Padgett and Delk made more career 3s than Prince. Tayshaun’s junior and senior seasons are both ranked in the Top 50 all-time in season scoring totals.
Tayshaun Prince was the 3rd of Tubby’s All-Americans, but Tubby’s only 2-time All-American (both 2001 and 2002). Prince was the 2001 SEC Player of the Year, All-SEC in 2002, and SEC Tournament MVP in 2001. In 2010, Tayshaun was inducted into the Kentucky Athletics Hall of Fame.
Fitch might be one of the more unsung heroes of the Tubby era, a truly dependable and consistent player for the Cats. Fitch made the SEC All-Freshman Team his first year in Lexington, then followed that in 2003-04 with First-Team All-SEC honors AND was the SEC Tournament MVP that season.
Fitch averaged 12 points and 3 rebounds his junior year but bumped those numbers up his senior year to 16 points per game and 4 rebounds. It might surprise many of BBN to learn that Fitch ranks 24th all-time in career scoring for Kentucky, just shy of 1,400 points. He’s also top-30 all-time in program history for scoring in the NCAA Tournament.
Fitch was another one of Tubby’s terrific 3-point shooters. He ranks 4th all-time in program history for career 3-pointers made, behind Delk, Bogans and Prince. His best shooting season is ranked 13th all-time, making 79 threes in the 2003-04 season.
Fitch is ranked 13th all-time in program history for career steals. He’s also ranked in the top-40 in program history for career assists. Surprisingly to some, Fitch ranks in the top-50 all-time in UK history for career rebounds.
Rondo only played 2 seasons for Kentucky, but they were a pretty significant 2 years for the program. As a freshman, Rondo filled the stat sheets every night. He averaged 8 points per game, along with 3 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and nearly 3 steals per game. Rondo started all 34 of UK’s games his freshman season, helping Kentucky win the SEC Regular Season Championship. Rondo’s sophomore season was the difference-maker in his career. In year 2, Rondo averaged 11 points and 6 rebounds per game, 5 assists per game along with 2 steals per contest.
Rondo was on the SEC All-Freshmen team and was All-SEC as a sophomore. In his freshman season, he set the UK single-season record for steals (87), and in his sophomore season, he set the No. 5-ranked single-season steals (69), giving him 2 of the best 5 single-season performances in the category.
His freshman season ranks 52nd all-time in assists, but his sophomore season places him 15th all-time. His career assists mark him 22nd all-time in UK history. He ranks 10th all-time in career steals.