Ulis swept SEC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year honors and won the Bob Cousy Award as the nation’s top point guard. Murray (20 points per game) became the second UK player of the 21st Century to average 20-plus points in a season (Jodie Meeks scored 23.7 per game in 2008-09).
In the future, will all of that be enough for either player to see their jerseys retired and hanging in Rupp Arena’s rafters? With the passing of time, how to honor big basketball stars who spent a short amount of time at Kentucky will become an intriguing issue for UK to address.
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Five years after a person has departed the university, they are eligible to be inducted into the UK Hall of Fame. To be eligible for a retired jersey, one must have been gone from UK for 10 years and first be chosen a member of the school’s athletics hall of fame. A UK-appointed committee makes those selections based on “athletic and academic accomplishments of the individual while at Kentucky, as well as post-UK accomplishments and character.”
Though the inclusion of one-and-done players in jersey retirement discussions stirs debate, there is nothing preventing early entrants into professional sports drafts from having a UK jersey retired. Kentucky long ago so honored Jamal Mashburn (men’s basketball) and Tim Couch (football), who each left college after three years.
Below is my ranking, from most deserving down, of John Calipari-recruited Kentucky players with plausible cases for someday having a retired jersey hang in Rupp Arena:
1.) Anthony Davis
The case for retiring his jersey: Davis was the best player on a team that won the 2012 national championship. He swept every major national player of the year honor, including the Wooden Award. In the summer after his stellar Kentucky freshman year, he was the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft and won a gold medal at the London Olympics as part of Team USA.
2.) John Wall
The case for retiring his jersey: Wall was the best player on a 35-3 team (2009-10) that relaunched the brand of Kentucky basketball. He was a consensus first-team All-American, the USBWA National Freshman of the Year and the SEC Player of the Year. After his one UK season, he became the first Kentucky player ever taken first overall in the NBA Draft. At UK, he also launched a dance craze.
3.) Tyler Ulis
The case for retiring his jersey: Winning SEC Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and the Cousy Award as a sophomore was an extraordinary individual season. As a freshman on the UK team that started 38-0, Ulis made huge clutch plays in a road win at archrival Louisville and in UK’s NCAA Tournament round of eight escape against Notre Dame.
The case for retiring his jersey: As great a player as Anthony Davis was, MKG was the heart and soul of UK’s 2012 NCAA title team — a guy talented enough to be a consensus second-team All-American yet who also oozed positive intangibles.
5.) Brandon Knight
The case for retiring his jersey: Before Murray’s 720 points this season, Knight’s 2010-11 (657 points) had been the highest-scoring season by a Calipari-era player. Hit two game-winning shots in the 2011 NCAA Tournament, including one that eliminated No. 1 overall seed Ohio State, that helped end a 13-year UK Final Four drought.
The case for retiring his jersey: In two UK seasons (2010-12), played on two Final Four teams, won an NCAA title (2012), scored more than 1,000 career points (1.064) — and helped a friend get new teeth.
7.) DeMarcus Cousins
The case for retiring his jersey: A consensus second-team All-American who almost averaged a double-double (15.1 points, 9.9 rebounds) in his one UK season in 2009-10. Also hit a rather memorable shot in the finals of 2010 SEC Tournament.
The case for retiring his jersey: Rare three-year player in Calipari era. As defensive and rebounding specialist, was consensus first-team All-American in 2014-15 on Final Four team.
9.) Julius Randle
The case for retiring his jersey: Power forward averaged a double-double (15 points, 10.4 rebounds) for team that made a run to 2014 NCAA championship game.
10.) Jamal Murray
The case for retiring his jersey: In addition to his prolific scoring, Murray had a rock-solid all-around year, contributing 5.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game, but his one UK season ended in the NCAA Tournament round of 32.
Remember, UK’s criteria for retired jerseys includes what one does after one leaves Kentucky.
So one-year players such as Karl-Anthony Towns and Devin Booker — whose individual numbers at UK were depressed by being part of 2014-15’s platoon system — presumably could play their ways into the Rupp Arena rafters with stellar pro careers.
What about Doron Lamb, a 1,000-point scorer (1,018) with two Final Four trips and an NCAA title to show for his time at UK?
Then, what of Aaron Harrison, who hit three straight game-winning shots in the 2014 NCAA Tournament? Does that magical run elevate a career that would not otherwise be retired-jersey worthy?
How Kentucky ultimately honors so many star players whose stays in Lexington were big on achievements but short on longevity will be fascinating.