No college basketball team has a fan base as loyal as Kentucky. Other fan bases can try and debate this, but you’ve already lost the debate. I was born in 1981 and have seen my share of great players. I’ve seen the low times such as UK being on probation and the Billy “Drunk” Gillispie days. I’ve also seen the great times like two National Titles and six Final Fours.
My dad was born in 1933 and has seen hundreds of games, if not a thousand games. Some he had to listen to via radio before TVs became popular and common. He has seen way more great players than I have. He’s been alive for all seven National Titles, all 14 Final Fours and even their 1946 NIT, when the NIT actually meant something. There’s UK fans still alive older than my dad that have heard or seen even more.
As of today, 53 All-Americans have passed through the gates of Kentucky. I’m sure Anthony Davis will make number 54 this season. Kentucky fans could debate all day on who are the top five players of all-time. Nobody is right of course. Different eras had different great players. I am going to list who I believe are the top five players of all-time. Please feel free to share yours.
5. Ralph Beard – Most lists leave Beard off their list due to his past. Sadly, Beard may be best known for a point-shaving scandal rather than his playing career. Many considered Beard the best point guard of his era, even ranking him above the legendary Bob Cousy. While at Kentucky, Beard was a three time All-American and won two National Championships. He played two seasons in the NBA before being banned and made the first ever NBA All-Star game, starting at point guard.
4. Cotton Nash – He never won a Championship, but Nash was one of Kentucky’s best players. He was a two-time second team All-American and a one-time first team All-American. He was also a standout baseball player that played in the ABA, NBA and MLB.
3. Cliff Hagan – What couldn’t Hagan do? He played center, power forward, small forward, shooting guard and could have run the point. Hagan led Kentucky to the 1951 National Championship and the undefeated season of 1953, where the NCAA screwed Kentucky from another National Title. After graduating from Kentucky, Hagan went on to the NBA and had a Hall of Fame career.
2. Jamal Mashburn – He came to Kentucky during one of their worst periods – the probation days. His first year there Kentucky went 14-14. He quickly helped transform Kentucky back into being a National Power by almost leading Kentucky to an upset win over the Duke dynasty of the early 1990’s. Mashburn made other top high school recruits want to come and play for Kentucky once again. Mashburn left Kentucky after being named an All-American and their second all-time leading scorer.
1. Dan Issel – He played during the end of Rupp’s career. Issel was a two-time All-American and Kentucky’s all-time leading scorer. He went on to have an outstanding professional career making seven ABA All-Stars and one NBA All-Star. He finished his Hall of Fame career with 27,842 points and 11,133 rebounds.