SHANE SHACKLEFORD: Who are Tubby Smith's Best Players at Kentucky?
I love history and I love to read.
I also love sports.
So when I have the opportunity to do all three at the same time, oh boy. The possibilities are endless.
As I went through the pages of UK hoops history, my mind began to wonder. What if a monument was erected for Kentucky basketball? What would it look like? Being that UK has such a gloried history that covers an expanse of over 100 years, a single monument wouldn’t do the program justice. But since we live in America, greatest country on Earth, we have a monument with several figures. Mount Rushmore.
Quick history lesson. Mount Rushmore is located in the Black Hills of South Dakota and is comprised of the carved heads of former presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. History class over. Back to UK history.
The object of this series of articles is to establish who in UK history deserve a spot on the mountain. Knowing it is simply too hard to compress UK basketball as a whole to four spots, I felt like it would be easier to divide UK basketball into championship coaches eras. The eras are the Adolph Rupp Era, the Joe B. Hall Era, the Rick Pitino Era, the Tubby Smith Era, and the John Calipari Era.
I also knew that I couldn’t undertake this endeavor alone, so I called upon my crack group of sports loving friends and family to help me put this together (in case people hate this, I won’t mention their names.) Each person had 4 spots to fill and I totaled every vote together to come up with the four selections. To also give credit where it's due, each person who didn’t make the monument will be mentioned in a “Receiving Votes” section.
With the parameters laid, let’s begin sculpting shall we? Our next era is the Tubby Smith Era.
Quick refresher in case you forgot. Smith won 263 games in his 10-year run in Lexington, including one national championship (1998), five SEC regular season titles, and five SEC tournament championships. He also reached 100 wins at UK faster than anyone not named Rupp. Smith is also a member of the UK Hall of Fame. Pretty good credentials I’d say.
Receiving Votes are:
Cameron Mills: The fan favorite guard from Lexington was a member of the 1998 Championship squad and hit big shots for that club.
Gerald Fitch: The hard-nosed guard is 24th on the All-Time scoring list (1391) and ranks in the top 50 All-Time in rebounds, assists, steals, and three pointers made.
Jodie Meeks: The high-scoring wing was an All-SEC performer and scored 1248 points in his career. He also owns the single-game scoring record at UK with 54 against Tennessee in 2009.
Scott Padgett: He was a two-time All-SEC performer, 1999 SEC Tournament MVP, and a two time All NCAA Final Four selection. Scored 1252 points in his career.
Jeff Sheppard: The high-flying guard from Georgia was an integral part of the 1998 NCAA Championship squad, earning All-SEC and All NCAA Tournament selections. He was selected as MVP of the 1998 Final Four. Netted 1,091 points in his career.
Randolph Morris: The big man had a big impact in his three years in Lexington. He was a two-time All-SEC selection and scored 1,123 points. He was named All-American in 2007.
And now, without further delay, let’s unveil the four faces that appear on the Mount Rushmore of the Tubby Smith era.
4. Rajon Rondo. The point guard from Louisville did it all for the Cats in his two-year stay. He was an All-SEC freshman, ALL-SEC, and holds the UK records for steals in a season (87) and most rebounds in a game for a guard (19.) After leaving UK after his sophomore year, Rondo embarked on a NBA career that has saw him become one of the top lead guards in the game. Among his accolades are four-time NBA All-Star, led the league in assists three times, All-NBA 3rd Team, four-time All-NBA Defensive Team, and is 11th in NBA history with 31 triple-doubles (10 in the playoffs). Rondo was also a 2008 NBA champion with the Boston Celtics. He currently plays for the Los Angeles Lakers.
3. Chuck Hayes. The undersized forward with the oversized heart was a four-year letterman for Big Blue. Hayes was a fan favorite for his supreme efforts on the floor, earning him many accolades. Those include SEC Defensive Player of the Year, two-time All-SEC, SEC All-Freshman, SEC All-Tournament, and NCAA All-Tournament selections. For his career, Hayes ranks 35th in points (1,211), 7th in rebounds, 8th in steals, 9th in blocks, and is tied with Alex Groza for most starts as a Wildcat with 110. For his efforts, Hayes was selected into UK’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2016. After graduating, Hayes enjoyed a 10-year NBA career, mainly with the Houston Rockets and Sacramento Kings. Hayes currently serves as an assistant coach with the Denver Nuggets.
2. Keith Bogans. Bogans capped off a stellar UK career with his selection to the UK Athletics Hall of Fame in 2014. Over his four years, Bogans was a four year starter who earned All-American honors and SEC Player of the Year in 2003. He was also All-SEC two times, All-SEC Freshman, and SEC All-Tournament twice (MVP in 2003) and NCAA All-Tournament. Bogans finished fourth in UK scoring history with 1,923 points. After graduation, Bogans enjoyed a 12-year NBA career highlighted with stays in Orlando and Chicago.
Congratulations to all these players who left an indelible mark on UK basketball with their exploits. But the number one vote getter, and only unanimous selection, is...
1. Tayshaun Prince. The ultra-smooth small forward has enjoyed a decorated career, both at UK and in the NBA. In Lexington, Prince was a four-year letterman (three as a starter) and finished eighth in UK scoring with 1,775 points. He was SEC Player of the Year in 2001, an All-SEC selection on two occasions, and SEC Tournament MVP in 2001 as well. Prince capped off his collegiate career by being named an All-American. Prince’s success carried over into the professional game as well. Over his 14 year career, Prince was a member of the 2004 NBA champion Detroit Pistons as a starting forward and won an Olympic gold medal with the 2008 USA “Redeem Team.” Prince was also selected as an All-NBA Defensive Team member on four occasions.
So there you have it. The Mount Rushmore of the Tubby Smith era. I think we sometimes forget that when coach Pitino left the Bluegrass for the NBA, the BBN was excited to have Tubby aboard. While I think near the end of his tenure the fans had decided his style of play didn’t match up with the frenetic, fast-paced game that Pitino introduced so well and satisfied the BBN, Tubby ran a clean program, won games, and hung a banner in Rupp. Pretty good stuff if you ask me.
The next era we will tackle is the Rick Pitino era. That should be a doozy. Stay tuned!
Shane Shackleford is a regional sports writer in Speedwell, Tenn. You can reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, Facebook, Twitter @shack_daddy_1 or his website Coach Shack’s Corner at www.coachshack50/wixsite.com/coachshackscorner,
Photo by Jamie H. Vaught