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Kentucky Basketball

The Ultimate John Calipari Kentucky Team

July 10, 2019

Calipari has had a lot of great players in his ten-year tenure at Kentucky. With every year comes another wave of talent and another round of "Who is the best Calipari player?" debate. You can break them into tiers, a starting five or just the singular best player, but the discussion always comes down to what each of us values most in a player. I wanted to take a different approach and try to come up with the team John Calipari would pick if he was forced to choose between all of his players (keep this in mind when I don't pick guys he didn't recruit). 

Much to the chagrin of many Kentucky fans, Calipari has his own value rankings when it comes to his players. He values talent above all else but seems to prefer athleticism, length, and defense more than anything. He is known for his physical, attacking guards and long, athletic, shot-blocking big men. So if Cal looked back at his first ten years, who would Cal pick for his ten-man rotation? Keep in mind, my goal here isn't to pick the ten best players. I'm putting together a full team that would have to share minutes and shots. I'm keeping people in the roles they played at Kentucky to keep things consistent.

The Starters
PG: John Wall - One of the three locks on the starting five, the pick here should be pretty obvious. While Calipari has had a lot of great guards at Kentucky, Wall transcends the rest. You can argue about his lack of a three-point shot, but John Wall is everything Calipari looks for in a point guard. Personally, I'm taking a couple of guys over Wall (Ulis and Fox), but I don't think Cal could resist starting Wall.

SG: Doron Lamb - I contemplated Aaron Harrison here because of his defense, but I ultimately don't think you can overlook Lamb's consistency from deep. He was a solid defensive guy but was much less streaky than Harrison. He also boasts by far the highest offensive rating and true shooting percentage of any Kentucky guard. Despite Cal's inclination to side with athleticism, he seems to have learned from his past and don't think he could pass on Lamb.

SF: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist - The second of the three locks. MKG had a motor that never quit, was the ultimate transition player and LOCKED DUDES DOWN on defense. What he lacks in half-court offensive ability he makes up for in every other category. Plus, he's an all-time locker room guy. Cal loves to have at least one perimeter stopper on the court at all times, and this is his ultimate stopper.

PF: Julius Randle - This could have gone a lot of ways, and I was tempted to move another guy like Boogie or KAT from Center to PF, but I landed on Randle. Cal loves a go-to guy he can feed in the post and know he can get a bucket. Randle was unstoppable on offense and gobbled up rebounds on both ends of the floor. Paired with the other guys on this team, he is the first offensive option down low.

C: Anthony Davis - It's Anthony Davis, do I even need to go into the reasons? (The correct answer is 'No' but I will anyway.) He's the ultimate rim protector and can play the role he played on the national championship team, stuffing the stat sheet in every way except scoring. He is the third of the locks on this starting five and is the best to ever play at Kentucky in my opinion. Did you know he took the fifth most shots on that 2012 team? 

The Bench
Sixth Man: Demarcus Cousins - It's tough that I'm going to have to leave KAT off this team, but Cal's personal love for Boogie and his consistent dominance down low puts him above Towns. As for his play, it speaks for himself. He was a man among boys in college and could slot into either big man position and would be a sixth starter for Cal to control the paint.

Seventh Man: Devin Booker - I'm taking advantage of the platoon system and slotting in Booker as the seventh man to be another shooter that could play on the wing. While this team is going to be driven by scoring in the paint, Booker would be a great shooter off the bench. I'm kicking myself that I limited myself to guys Cal recruited because Darius Miller and Deandre Liggins would be great guys to have in this position.

Eighth Man: Dominique Hawkins - Cal will need another ball handler and defensive stopper and gets both in one with Dominque. Getting him as the eighth man is a steal. Cal's lack of recruiting Kentucky kids is a point of contention with some of the fan base and this checks this box.

Ninth Man: Marcus Lee - I'm thinking about the Marcus Lee who surprised everyone, including the Michigan coaching staff when he came off the bench in the tournament. He would be a great fourth big man in the rotation and would provide another rim protector when AD needed a break.

Tenth Man: Charles Matthews - This spot proved challenging to choose because most guys who started as eligible for this spot eventually played more significant roles, so I'm using Matthews' transfer as a way to slot him in here. He has the length and athleticism that Cal loves but made enough mistakes to keep him from the floor often.

Brad Calipari - Cal is picking him for obvious reasons, but I'm also here for the drama that surrounds him. He's going to get asked about way too much and gets enough national attention that he grows the UK brand.

Jonny David - If he's here for nothing else than to interview guys after games, he's gotta be on the team. He is also from Pittsburgh, so he pulls on Cal's heartstrings.

Karl Towns, the Harrison Twins, Tyler Ulis, Malik Monk, De'Aaron Fox, Jamal Murray, Bam Adebayo, Brandon Knight, Eric Bledsoe, and so many others are left off this list. It really is a testament to the talent UK has had over the past decade. Think we missed anyone or believe you can put together a better team? Let us know!

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The Ultimate John Calipari Kentucky Team

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