The University of Kentucky is the most successful college basketball program in the United States in terms of wins total. Kentucky wildcat fans are well aware of the championship pedigree of the school.
The Kentucky program may be a mystery to some of us who wish to know why they have been so successful. Have you ever wondered why this school gets so many prospects to commit to their program? Have you ever wondered why so many Wildcats get drafted to the NBA each season? We agree that these are all valid questions, and we would like to investigate on your behalf.
We will use this in-depth article to cover the basketball greatness of this school. We will be looking at the great players and coaches that went through the Kentucky Wildcats program and their impacts on the NBA.
A Brief History of Kentucky Basketball
Kentucky boasts an NCAA Division I record win total of 2,320. They also have the record for all-time winning percentage. They have gone to the NCAA tournament more than any other school, and they have a record NCAA tournament 131 wins. They have played 184 tournament games to lead all schools.
Pretty much they lead all schools in every possible category for appearances in the NCAA tournament. They have the record for appearances in the NCAA sweet sixteen at 45, the elite eight at 38. They have been champions of the regular season 51 times, and to top it off, they have been to the final four 17 times, played in 12 championship games and has won eight of those championship games. This puts them in second place behind UCLA.
The Kentucky Wildcats also have the record for plus 20-win seasons at 63 and + 30 win Seasons at 16. In addition to this greatness and they have won over 35 games in a season six times.
The Kentucky basketball program’s success can be attributed to very talented players and also extremely well-versed coaches.
They have the most NBA draftees, three of which have gone first in the NBA draft. To attest to the quality of their coaches, the University of Kentucky is the only school in college basketball history that has won the NCAA Championship with five different coaches. These coaches are Adolph Rupp, Joe Hall, Rick Pitino, Tubby Smith, and John Calipari. John Capri is the current coach of the Kentucky Wildcats. Four of the coaches that coached at the University of Kentucky have been enshrined in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. They are Adolph Rupp, Eddie Sutton, Rick Pitino, and John Calipari.
The University of Kentucky won its first Conference Championship in 1926. This was in the Southern Conference. Adolph Rupp AKA Baron of the Bluegrass coached the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team from 1930-72. He guided the Kentucky Wildcats to their first four NCAA championships. These championship wins came in 1948, 1949, 1951, and 1958.
Rupp was one off of the first coaches to utilize the fast break offensive style of game. He used his intense competitive spirit to lead the team to 6 Final Four appearances while capturing 27 Conference titles along the way. He also led the team to 13 SEC tournaments wins. For its first Championship win in the NCAA, Kentucky managed to remain undefeated at home for the entire season.
There 1949 Championship win was the only back-to-back NCAA Championship win in the school’s history. This win also made them only the second team in the history of the NCAA to win championships back-to-back.
In their 1954 season, the Wildcats managed to do something incredible. They posted an undefeated season going 25-0. Unfortunately, the coach decided to skip the tournament to protest a previous eligibility ruling made by the NCAA. The team was awarded the 1954 Helms national championship.
The Kentucky Wildcats won their third championship in 4 years in 1951. In 1958 they managed to win their 4th championship. This championship team was not as impressive as previous teams but still managed to get the job done.
Joe Hall took over as head coach at the University of Kentucky in 1972. He coached the team up to 1985. In 1978 he managed to lead the team to its fifth NCAA tournament championship win. He was also named coach of the year that year.
There have only been three persons to play on an NCAA championship team and coach one too. Coach Hall was one of them. Both of these championship teams were the Wildcats, 1949 and 1978.
The Kentucky Wildcats would win their sixth national title in 1996. This title put an end to an 18 years NCAA Championship drought. The team that won this championship was nicknamed The Untouchables. This was a very powerful team that comprised of nine players that would go on to play in the NBA.
The Wildcats managed their seventh NCAA Championship in 1998 with their brand new coach, Orlando Smith. This team may not have been considered the best team, but their tenacity led them to the prize.
This was the first championship team in over 20 years to win a championship without a future NBA lottery pick.In the 2011-12 season, the Kentucky Wildcats once again and became national champions. This is their most recent championship to date. To win the title, they had to defeat Kansas in the finals.
This is the one and only championship for their current coach John Calipari. This team was star-studded as they had six players drafted in the NBA draft that year. The now Los Angeles Laker, Anthony Davis, was one of them.
Which NBA Players Went to Kentucky?
The University of Kentucky leads all schools when it comes on to players that went on to the NBA. It’s no surprise that they have this record as they boast an exceptional collegiate program. Over the past decades, the wildcats have been blessed to have had outstanding leadership from various world-renowned coaches that undoubtedly contributed to their NBA draft success. Let’s take a look at the seven Wildcats that were drafted in the top three of the NBA draft.
Sam Bowie played three seasons at The University of Kentucky before moving on to the NBA. While he was at The University of Kentucky in 1979-84, he averaged 13pts, 9rpg and 1ast. He went on to the NBA, where he was drafted 2nd overall by the Blazers in the 1984 draft. During his 11 years in the NBA, he averaged 11PTS, 8RPG, and 2AST.
Alex Groza played four years at The University of Kentucky before moving on to the NBA. While he was at The University of Kentucky in 1945-49, he helped the team win two NCAA championships.
He also won a Gold medal with the 1948 US Olympic team. He went on to the NBA, where he was drafted 2nd in the 1949 draft by the Olympians. During his 2 years in the NBA, he was an all-star that averaged 23PTS, 11RPG, and 2AST.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist spent one year at The University of Kentucky before moving on to the NBA. While he was at The University of Kentucky in 2011-12, he helped the team to an NCAA championship.
He went on to the NBA, where he was drafted 2nd in the 2012 draft by the Bobcats. During his 9 years in the NBA, he was NBA All-Rookie Second Team in 2013, and he is averaging 9PTS, 6RPG, and 1AST for his career.
Anthony Davis spent one year at The University of Kentucky before leaving for the NBA. While he was at The University of Kentucky in 2011-12, he helped the team to win an NCAA championship.
He was drafted 1st in the 2012 draft by the then Hornets. During his 9 years in the NBA, he has been a 7-time all-star, averaging 23PTS, 11RPG, and 2AST.
Karl-Anthony Towns played one year at The University of Kentucky before moving on to the NBA. While he was at The University of Kentucky in 2014-15, he averaged 10pts, 7rpg and 1ast.
He was drafted 1st overall by the Timberwolves in the 2015 draft. During his 5 years in the NBA, he was ROY in the 2015-16 season and a 2-time all-star that’s averaging 22PTS, 12RPG, and 3AST.
John Wall played one season at The University of Kentucky before moving on to the NBA. While he was at The University of Kentucky in 2009-10, he averaged 17pts, 4rpg and 7ast.
He was drafted 1st in the 2010 draft by the Wizards. During his 10 years in the NBA, he has been a 5-time all-star that is averaging 19PTS, 4RPG, and 9AST.
Rick Robey spent four years at The University of Kentucky before moving on to the NBA. While he was at The University of Kentucky in 1974–1978, he helped the team to win the 1978 NCAA championship.
He went on to the NBA, where he was drafted 3rd overall by the Pacers in 1978. During his 8 seasons in the NBA, he was an NBA champion that averaged 8PTS, 8RPG, and 1AST.
Here is a list of the 117 players who played in the NBA after leaving The University of Kentucky.
How Many NBA Players Played for Kentucky Wildcats?
Currently, there are twenty-nine NBA players that once played for the Wildcats. These players are a mixture of one and done players and longer staying players. You can see the flexible playing style of coach Calipari shining through in these guys.
All of these players, regardless of position, are open to using the natural abilities to help their current teams. Here are 10 of the best Kentucky wildcats NBA players. They were chosen based solely on their stats.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was drafted into the NBA by the Hornets in 2018. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was drafted 11th overall. He is one of the few Canadian players currently active in the NBA. Shai was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers on draft night.
During his first season in the NBA, he was named to the NBA All-Rookie Second Team. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is now with the OKC Thunder as he was a part of the trade package that brought Paul George to the Clippers. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is averaging 19PTS, 6RPG, and 3AST in the 2019-20 season.
Jamal Murray is another Canadian NBA player. He is an emerging star playing for the Denver Nuggets. After playing one season at Kentucky, he was drafted 7th overall by the Nuggets. He was named to the NBA All-Rookie Second Team in 2017.
Since he arrived at the Nuggets, Jamal is continuously improving his game and is definitely one to watch for all opponents on the offensive end. He scored his career-high of 48PTS against the Boston Celtics in a win on the 5th of November, 2018.
Julius Randle was drafted into the NBA by the Lakers in 2018. Julius Randle was drafted in the first round. The Lakers drafted him with the 7th overall pick. Julius signed with the Pelicans in 2018.
During his one season with the New Orleans Pelicans, He averaged career-high in points at 21.4. Julius Randle is now with the New York Knicks. Julius Randle is averaging 19PTS, 10RPG, and 3AST in the 2019-20 season.
Karl-Anthony Towns is a Dominican-American NBA player. He is an all-star playing for the Minnesota Timberwolves. After playing one season at Kentucky, he was drafted 1st overall by the Timberwolves in the 2015 NBA draft. He was named the NBA Rookie of the Year in 2016.
Since he arrived at the Twolves, KAT is continuously improving his game and is definitely one to watch for all opponents on the offensive and defensive ends. He scored his career-high of 56PTS against the Atlanta Hawks in a win on the 28th of March, 2018.
John Wall was drafted into the NBA by the Wizards in 2010. John Wall was drafted in the first round. The Wizards drafted him with the 1st overall pick. John passed Wes Unseld for 3rd on the all-time scoring list of the Wizards on November 26th, 2018. John Wall is suffering from an injury and sat out most of the 2019-20 season.
Anthony Davis is a 7-time NBA All-Star player. He is a superstar that plays for the Los Angeles Lakers. After playing one season at Kentucky, he was drafted 1st overall by the Pelicans in the 2012 NBA draft. He was named to the NBA All-Rookie first team in 2013.
Since he arrived in New Orleans, The Brow is continuously improving his game and is definitely a threat on the offensive and defensive ends. He was traded to the Lakers in 2019 after he demanded a trade in 2018. He is averaging 23PTS over his career.
DeMarcus Cousins was drafted into the NBA by the Kings in 2010. DeMarcus was in the first round. The Kings drafted him with the 5th overall pick. DeMarcus was traded to the Pelicans for Buddy Hield in 2017.
After his year in New Orleans, he signed with the Golden State Warriors in 2018., He signed in the following off-season with the Lakers but got severely injured before the season began. Throughout his career, DeMarcus is averaging 21PTS, 11RPG and 3AST.
Devin Booker is an all-star NBA player. He currently plays for the Phoenix Suns. After playing one season at Kentucky, he was drafted 13th overall by the Suns in the 2015 NBA draft. He was named to the NBA Rookie All-Rookie first team in 2016.
Since he arrived at the Suns, Booker is continuously improving his game and is definitely one to watch for all opponents on the offensive end. He scored his career-high of 70PTS against the Boston Celtics in a loss on the 24th of March, 2017.
Eric Bledsoe was drafted into the NBA by the OKC Thunder in 2010. Eric Bledsoe was drafted in the 1st round. The Thunders drafted him with the 18th overall pick but traded him to the Clippers. Eric Bledsoe was traded to the Suns in 2013.
He spent four seasons with the Suns before being traded to the Bucks. Eric Bledsoe is averaging 14PTS, 4RPG, and 5AST for his career.
Bam Adebayo is an emerging star in the NBA. He made the All-Star team for the first time in the 2019-20 season. He currently plays for the Heats. After playing one season at Kentucky, he was drafted 14th overall by the Heats in the 2017 NBA draft.
Since he arrived at the Heats, Bam has been working extremely hard to be the best big man he can be. He scored his career-high of 30PTS against the Atlanta Hawks in a win on the 12th of December, 2019.
Here’s a full list of all 29 players.
|DeMarcus Cousins||Los Angeles|
|Anthony Davis||Los Angeles|
|Hamidou Diallo||Oklahoma City|
|Shai Gilgeous-Alexander||Oklahoma City|
|Keldon Johnson||San Antonio|
|Kevin Knox||New York|
|Trey Lyles||San Antonio|
|Darius Miller||New Orleans|
|Nerlens Noel||Oklahoma City|
|Patrick Patterson||Los Angeles 1141|
|Julius Randle||New York|
|Rajon Rondo||Los Angeles|
The 5 Best Kentucky Basketball Players By Position
There are so many players of great pedigree that has passed through the Wildcat’s system. There are so many players that can be considered to be on the list for best Kentucky NBA Players, so this list was by no means easy to construct. Here’s our list of Kentucky all-time starting 5.
Point Guard – John Wall
John has been a phenomenal talent and a perennial all-star. He has been a valuable contributor for the Wizards from day one.
Shooting Guard – Devin Booker
Devin Booker has been underrated for a long time but no more. He is repeatedly showing us what he is capable of. He deservingly made it to the All-Star Game in the 2019-20 season. Devin Booker: The Inspiring Story of One of Basketball’s Rising Shooting Guards covers the story of Devin in case you’re interested in additional insights into Devin Booker.
Small Forward – Jamal Mashburn
After he was drafted 4th overall by the Mavs in 1993, Mashburn played for four NBA teams. He was an all-star in 2003 and Made the All-Rookie first team in 1994. His career numbers are also quite good at 19PPG, 5RPG, and 4AST.
Power Forward – Anthony Davis
The Brow is now LBJ’s running mate in LA but hasn’t let that stop him from putting up really great numbers. His 27PTS and 9RPG has helped the Lakers to the top of the Eastern Conference this season. If interested in what made PLAYER special, read this basketball book.
Center – Karl-Anthony Towns
KAT has been ballin since day one. He has shown remarkable talent while playing for the Twolves. He is an extremely dominant big that can stretch the floor from the arc and can handle himself quite well in the post. He isn’t too shabby on defense either.
Wrapping Things Up: Kentucky NBA Players
Players coming from the Wildcat’s system have more than shown out. These players are showing the dynamic nature of the Kentucky program at the NBA level. Kentucky has produced the most NBA players and has also produced some the best too.
Did you find this article helpful? Then you may also like to read other frequently asked questions on basketball here.
> Kansas NBA Players: Greatest of All Time