Mark Story: Davis merits consideration for Rupp's rafters

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistMay 5, 2012 

UK s Doron Lamb slapped hands with Anthony Davis, left, after a Lamb basket as the University of Kentucky played Western Kentucky University in the second round of the NCAA tournament played in the KFC Yum Center in Louisville, Ky., Thursday, March 15, 2012. This is second half action. Charles Bertram oe Staff

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In the aftermath of Kentucky's national championship victory over Kansas, several Wildcats-oriented Web sites asked whether UK should retire a jersey in honor of freshman Anthony Davis. This even though the Chicago product was going to spend only one year wearing Kentucky blue.

The arguments in favor were clear. Davis was the difference-making star of the team that claimed Kentucky's eighth NCAA title. He became the first modern UK player to essentially sweep the major national college hoops player of the year awards.

Conversely, the case against started with the question of whether an academic institution should honor someone so prominently who attends for only a year (although, obviously, one can always come back and finish school later). Others wondered whether selecting a player for a retired jersey who played at Kentucky for such a short time would be disrespectful to those who wore the UK jersey for four years.

So should Kentucky retire a jersey in honor of Anthony Davis?

College sports is filled with complicated issues and vexing dilemmas.

This isn't one of them.

Who makes it to the rafters?

As it stands, Davis will not be eligible to have his jersey retired for at least a decade.

Since Mitch Barnhart and Co. started the UK Athletics Hall of Fame in 2005, there is a waiting period for such an honor. It is five years after a player (or coach) departs UK before he or she is eligible for election to the UK Hall of Fame.

To get a jersey retired, a player (or coach) must have been gone from Kentucky for 10 years and have first been elected to the UK Hall of Fame.

Barnhart, the Kentucky athletics director, said Thursday that UK uses a committee that includes former letter winners, other alumni, some media members and some current Kentucky athletics department figures to pick Hall of Fame members and any potential retired jersey recipients.

"It takes the subjectivity out of it, in my opinion," Barnhart said of using a committee.

Since starting the Hall of Fame in 2005, UK has not added any retired jerseys to the 42 that hang in Rupp Arena.

"The Hall of Fame Committee votes on all the retired jerseys," Barnhart said. "All the guys who are eligible ... (their names) come before that committee and they vote on it, and if they get 75 percent of the vote, then they get in. I'm completely out of it."

A degree required?

Some people object to retiring the jerseys of players who have not earned their college degrees.

In the late 1990s, then-UK Athletics Director C.M. Newton had the retired jersey of Sean Woods — which had gone up in 1992 — taken down from the Rupp Arena rafters because the ex-point guard had not then earned a Kentucky degree.

When Woods subsequently did so in 2000, UK put his retired jersey back up in Rupp.

Conversely, Kentucky retired jerseys for both former football star Tim Couch and basketball standout Jamal Mashburn at a time when neither had graduated.

Back then, Kentucky said it made an exception for athletes who turned pro early. Both Couch and Mashburn, 1990s-era UK stars, turned pro after their third seasons at Kentucky.

UK's current criteria for both its Hall of Fame and jersey retirement says that the honors are based on "athletic and academic achievements of the individual while at UK, as well as post-UK accomplishments and character."

Says Barnhart: "As far as I know, there has never been a prerequisite (for having a jersey retired) that says you have to have been a graduate of the place."

Retire Davis' jersey?

At another big-time basketball school, there is precedent for retiring a jersey for a one-and-done player whose impact was similar to Davis'.

Carmelo Anthony turned pro after a freshman season at Syracuse during which he starred for the team that gave Jim Boeheim the 2003 NCAA championship. In 2009, Syracuse retired Anthony's No. 15 jersey.

So, should basketball players who enter the NBA Draft after one season at Kentucky be eligible for jersey retirement in Rupp Arena?

"I think there are some great people who have played who have not completed their eligibility at Kentucky," Barnhart said. "I think they are just as worthy of getting in as anybody else — but in five to 10 years, after the résumé is a little more complete."

That's exactly right.

Based solely on what Davis did this season at UK, and assuming nothing happens in the future that would affect his "good name," he deserves a Kentucky retired jersey after he goes through the waiting periods.

It's not a close call.

One year was enough time for Anthony Davis to have a "retired-jersey" level of impact on Kentucky basketball.

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230. Email: mstory@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: Markstory.bloginky.com.

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