By Joe Cox
This is the continuation of the Calipari Countdown. I’m ranking the 42 UK hoopsters who have played under Coach Cal — from No. 1 to Ryan Harrow. And I have received reader feedback and will share them with you. Phil expected Stacey Poole as No. 42 but admitted that he “completely got” my selection of Harrow. Jake said that the way I described Poole, it didn’t seem irrational that he left UK. I pointed out that the issue wasn’t that Stacey left and played somewhere else, which is always defensible to me .... but that he left and DIDN’T play somewhere else, at least not meaningfully. If you’re going to sit anyway, might as well sit at UK. Ask a couple of guys on this list — maybe the ones at No. 23 or No. 26. But thanks for reader feedback, Bros. You are solidly in the top of my reader ranking!
To review the previous list (which was posted recently), the bottom of the barrel of Calipari’s Cats was:
42. Ryan Harrow
41. Stacey Poole
40. Darnell Dodson
39. Daniel Orton
38. Twany Beckham
37. Brian Long
36. Eloy Vargas
35. Tod Lanter
34. E.J. Floreal
33. Dominique Hawkins
32. Derek Willis
31. Kyle Wiltjer
(Again, note this is just based on what guys HAVE done, not what they will do — sorry to some of the active players who are thus a little low for now!)
30. Sam Malone, 2011-present
Sam Malone going nine spots ahead of an NBA first round draft pick? Sure, why not. Thing I love about Sam is that first, he’s got the walk-on thing going for him, and second, unlike most walk-ons, who act horrified to take a shot, Sam is about getting his numbers. Put him in the game, give him the ball, and watch Sam score. The UK fans do the “SHOOOOOOT” thing, and Sam pretty much, “Great plan. Here goes!” He’s got six points in three years, but you’ve got to admire the fact that he plays without fear. Who am I kidding? He’s a national champion and a guy who wants to shoot every time he touches the ball. He LIVES without fear!
29. Mark Krebs, 2009-10
Krebs again has the walk-on swag, but he adds to that the fact that he earned his way on to the team. Apparently, Dwight Perry got into a fight with Boogie Cousins in the early days of the Calipari era, which resulted in all walk-ons being banished. Krebs was the lone walk-on survivor of that first UK/Cal squad, and took 23 shots in his UK career with 20 of them threes. Long live the Gunner! On a serious note, he also dealt with a situation of tremendous adversity when his mother was fighting terminal cancer during his senior season. You couldn’t avoid rooting for the guy.
28. Perry Stevenson, 2009-10
There’s part of me that wants to rank Perry in the Top 10 for surviving playing for three head coaches in four years. I always thought there was a really good player lurking inside Perry, but that Billy Gillispie scared him to death. Perry scored 602 points and ranks seventh on UK’s career blocked shots list. If he’d played most of his career under a coach who would’ve put down the Dr. Pepper and remembered that you can’t goaltend a free throw:
Then maybe he’d have had more time to throw down hellacious dunks:
27. Ramon Harris, 2009-10
Like Perry, Ramon played for three coaches in four years. Probably contributed a little more to Cal’s last squad, which is how he gets the nod over the dunkmaster that is Perry. Honestly, the fact that Razor Ramon was Scott Rigot’s best try at a last UK recruit should probably say something about the under-impressive job that Tubby Smith’s staff were doing on the recruiting trail. Razor stuck it out, played gritty defense, and scored 358 points at UK, which is still 358 more than I scored.
26. Jon Hood, 2009-14
Jon Hood is the lesson that Stacey Poole should’ve learned. Hood was about as highly regarded as Poole, but stuck it out at UK. Due to injuries and being recruited over, Hood was never an impact player at UK. He scored 95 points in four years. But he was a steady, veteran influence on young teams. He was a likeable guy and was lauded by Calipari for his high basketball IQ, becoming almost an extra assistant coach by the end of his career. And he was on three Final Four teams. He’ll never buy a meal in Kentucky.
25. Marcus Lee, 2013-present
Quick, name a guy who played a total of 47 minutes in all of conference play, but ended up on an NCAA All-Regional Team. Yup, this is him. Remember why?
Marcus was a casualty to the incredible bench depth of the 2013-14 team, but when his number was called, he was ready. This guy may be one of the best natural athletes in UK hoops history, and the sky is the limit for his future.
24. Archie Goodwin, 2012-13
ARCHIE!?! An all-frustrating team member with Ryan Harrow. Archie could play some of the worst 1-on-5 basketball in history. He was a 27% three-point shooter, a 64% free throw shooter, and led the world in throwing up awful shots to try to draw fouls. But a large share of Archie’s problems were brought on by the injury to Nerlens Noel and the fact that Calipari apparently decided to play out the 2012-13 season with about six players. More than any other Cal player, Archie needed some bench time. As bad as the team was, he couldn’t get it. I don’t dislike Archie or his game. But I can’t say the memories are particularly fond either.
23. Jarrod Polson, 2011-14
If you had told me in the summer of 2012 that in two years, I would rank Calipari’s UK players and that Jarrod Polson would be almost in the top half of the ranking, I’d have laughed out loud. And then probably gotten really worried about the next two years. Polson scored seven points in his first two years at UK. And then promptly scored 10 in the first GAME of his junior year. He also scored in double figures in the season-ending embarrassment at Robert Morris and in the 30-point beatdown that UT put on the ‘Cats. What does this mean? It means that when all of the “talented” players got fat and lazy and cashed in their chips, Polson fought and scrapped for Kentucky basketball. He finished his career with 140 points, a title ring, and three Final Four appearances. And he got the absolute most possible out of his talent. That’s why he’s above Archie Goodwin.
22. Dakari Johnson, 2013-14
May well end up in the top 10 of this list. All the guy does is ball. A throwback player, not blessed with a ton of athleticism, but with a soft shooting touch for a guy his size. Reminds me a lot of Nazr Mohammed for those reasons, and will be a key for the 2014-15 team. Not much to not like here, but just hasn’t done enough yet to inch into the top 20.
21. Julius Mays, 2012-13
Has the odd distinction of being the most likeable player on one of the most unlikeable UK teams ever. Scored 306 points in one year, leading the team in three point and free throw shooting. Like Jarrod Polson, nobody can ever accuse Uncle Julius of not leaving it all on the floor. UK die-hards will never forget his huge game against Missouri on ESPN Game Day in February after Nerlens had blown out his knee. Wish UK had a Julius-type guy for 3-4 years instead of one. But even in one year, he did enough to make the top half of my ranking of Cal’s Cats.
* * * *
So there are 20 players remaining in Cal’s group of 42. As for the other 20, every guy who is left either has played in the NBA, is about to play in the NBA, or is still at UK (and will play in the NBA). Is that nuts or what? You can be an average player on a team in a five-year span and still be a solid pro! The Cats fans are spoiled!!!
In the next Cal Countdown, we’re going No. 11-20. This was where it got tough because ALL of these guys are great. Any way, if you’ve got something to say about the rankings (or want to guess at who ended up at No. 1, give me a shout at email@example.com or look me up at facebook.com/joe.cox.98. Make me laugh or raise a good point and I’ll address it in the next post. Back soon with more of the Cal Countdown.
Joe Cox has lived in Kentucky all of his life. He has supported the Wildcats from Letcher and Bell County up to Jefferson County and down to western Kentucky, where he lives with his wife and their two children. Cox practices law in Bowling Green, and has co-authored two books, “100 Things Wildcats Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die” and “Fightin' Words: Kentucky vs. Louisville,” with Ryan Clark. His third book, “Voice of the Wildcats: Claude Sullivan and the Rise of Modern Sportscasting,” written with Alan Sullivan, which will be published in September.