Final Fours and national championships define Kentucky basketball. It’s why the program hangs nothing less than Final Four banners in Rupp Arena.
In 2012, Kentucky won its first national championship since 1998 in the program’s 15th Final Four appearance. It was UK’s eighth national title, the second most in college basketball. Only UCLA – thanks to its John Wooden-led dynasty in the 1960s and 1970s – has more, with 11 total titles.
The race was on during the 2009-10 season to reach uncharted territory. Locked in a battle to become the first program to capture 2,000 all-time wins, Kentucky beat North Carolina to the finish line with an 88-44 romp over Drexel.
As streamers and confetti showered the Rupp Arena floor, Kentucky legends – past and current – celebrated the historic achievement.
“We weren’t a part of many of those 2,000 wins and we had a job to do and that was drag us across the line before that other blue team got there,” John Calipari said at the time. “This is a special moment for this program and this state.”
Since that victory, Kentucky has stretched its lead over North Carolina, Kansas and Duke, the only three other schools that can claim 2,000 or more wins. With 2,178 all-time victories, Kentucky is the winningest program in the history of college basketball. Its winning percentage of .764 remains untouched.
UK’s first win was an 11-10 squeaker over Lexington YMCA on Feb. 18, 1903. Since that point, the rest of college basketball has tried to play catch-up.
If Kentucky were to try to create a Mount Rushmore of its most legendary players, coaches and figures, the debate may go on forever. The cast is simply too impressive.
But to honor some of its most storied figures over the program’s 112-year history, Kentucky has retired their jerseys. It is the ultimate honor for 43 former players, coaches and contributors. The streamlining of jersey numbers by the NCAA has ensured that the numbers remain active, but each selection has been presented with a framed jersey and a banner hung proudly from the Rupp Arena rafters.
According to former UK sports information director Russell Rice, the first jersey to be retired was Layton “Mickey” Rouse, an All-Southeastern conference guard who captained the 1940 UK squad. Two contributors have been selected for the basket program’s highest honor: Cawood Ledford, the radio “Voice of the Wildcats” for 39 years, and Bill Keightley, the lovable and dedicated equipment manager known as “Mr. Wildcat.”
Seven Wildcats have been in enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. In a who’s who list of Kentucky basketball greats, the honorees include Adolph Rupp, Cliff Hagan, Frank Ramsey, Dan Issel, C.M. Newton, Pat Riley and Adrian Smith.
Even before John Calipari arrived at Kentucky, the program was adept at putting players in the NBA. Over the years, 110 Wildcats have been selected in the NBA, with many more making an NBA roster as undrafted free agents.
At the beginning of the 2014-15 NBA season, 19 Wildcats were on an opening-day roster, more than any other school in the country.
The 2010 class set an NBA record when five players were taken in the first round of the draft. Kentucky followed that up with four more players going in the 2011 NBA Draft, a record six players in the 2012 draft, two more in 2013, another two in 2014, and six more in 2015, including a record-tying four in the Lottery.
Eric Bledsoe (Phoenix Suns)
Keith Bogans (free agent)
Devin Booker (Phoenix Suns)
Willie Cauley-Stein (Sacramento Kings)
DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento Kings)
Anthony Davis (New Orleans Hornets)
Archie Goodwin (Phoenix Suns)
Chuck Hayes (Los Angeles Clippers)
Josh Harrellson (free agent)
Aaron Harrison (Charlotte Hornets)
Andrew Harrison (Memphis Grizzlies)
Dakari Johnson (Oklahoma City Thunder)
Enes Kanter (Oklahoma City Thunder)
Terrence Jones (Houston Rockets)
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Charlotte Hornets)
Brandon Knight (Phoenix Suns)
Doron Lamb (free agent)
DeAndre Liggins (free agent)
Trey Lyles (Utah Jazz)
Jodie Meeks (Detroit Pistons)
Nazr Mohammed (Chicago Bulls)
Darius Miller (free agent)
Nerlens Noel (Philadelphia 76ers)
Daniel Orton (free agent)
Patrick Patterson (Toronto Raptors)
Tayshaun Prince (Minnesota Timberwolves)
Julius Randle (Los Angeles Lakers)
Rajon Rondo (Sacramento Kings)
Marquis Teague (free agent)
Karl-Anthony Towns (Minnesota Timberwolves)
John Wall (Washington Wizards)
James Young (Boston Celtics)
A total of 56 Wildcats have earned All-America honors. Of those players, 16 were named consensus first-team All-America 21 times, the most of any Division I program.
The latest Wildcats to earn All-America honors were Willie Cauley-Stein and Karl-Anthony Towns in 2015. Cauley-Stein was named a consensus first-team All-American, while Towns was a consensus second team All-American as a freshman.
The NCAA currently utilizes Sporting News, the AP, the National Association of Basketball Coaches and the U.S. Basketball Writers Association.
Kentucky has made 54 appearances in the NCAA Tournament, more than any other school.
UK has captured the NCAA title eight times, been the national runner-up four times, made 17 Final Four appearances and another 36 Elite Eight stops. Its current record in the NCAA Tournament is 120-48 (.714 winning percentage). The Wildcats have advanced to the Final Four in four of the past five seasons, becoming one of just three programs to ever do so.
In one of the more eye-popping statistics of dominance in college basketball, UK has won 46 SEC regular-season titles. The closest SEC school to UK is LSU with 10 titles.
Perhaps even more impressive is Kentucky’s unparalleled success in the league’s postseason tournament. In the 55 years the event has been held, Kentucky has captured 28 titles and won nearly 85 percent of its games. Next in line among the schools in tournament titles is Alabama with six.
Fourteen players have won SEC Player of the Year honors with Anthony Davis winning both the AP and Coaches awards in 2012.
An astonishing 60 players have scored more than 1,000 points in a Kentucky uniform. From Dan Issel (2,138), the program’s all-time scoring leader, to Bobby Watson (1,001 points), and everybody in between, all have made their mark at UK.
Here are the top 10 scorers:
1. Dan Issel – 2,138
2. Kenny Walker – 2,080
3. Jack Givens – 2,038
4. Keith Bogans – 1,923
5. Tony Delk – 1,890
6. Jamal Mashburn – 1,843
7. Kevin Grevey – 1,801
8. Tayshaun Prince – 1,775
9. Cotton Nash – 1,770
10. Alex Groza – 1,744