Tom Bogert, CBS Local Sports
Looking back at collegiate basketball rosters every so often is a fun thing to do, especially so if you’re a basketball nerd. It’s cool to reminisce on the more baby-faced, less tattooed versions of the brightest stars in the league today. There’s some inherently superior feeling in remembering where the stars started.
It feels like cheating to grab a pair of John Calipari teams because it seems as if all of his rosters are oversaturated with NBA talent. He’s been an absolute factory, taking 5-star high school prospects in October then sending them down the conveyor belt and churning them out as lottery picks next June. But these two teams specifically have been particularly spectacular in talent levels.
It’s also more mind boggling than remembering where you left your car in a parking garage to think how neither of these teams won an NCAA title, highlighting how ‘mad’ March Madness can be, one might be so inclined say.
2009-10 Kentucky Wildcats
Current NBA players: John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe, Patrick Patterrson, DeAndre Liggins
Not only did this team not win the title, they lost in the Elite Eight which feels purely insane.
Wall and Cousins headline this class of Kentucky stars, as they’re two of the best in the league today. Neither were fortunate enough to land at a stable, respectable franchise but that’s not atypical for top picks. Wall is in Washington, where they haven’t won their division since they were known as the Washington Bullets and 1980 hadn’t struck yet. Cousins is stuck in basketball purgatory in Sacramento where it’s been well documented the revolving door of underwhelming point guards, coaches and general managers he’s had to endure. The narrative could’ve been different on them by now had they lucked out better.
The first pick of the draft 2010 NBA Draft was Wall while Cousins went fifth. Patterson didn’t lag far behind at 14th overall with Bledsoe four picks behind at 18th. Kentucky produced nearly a quarter of the first 18 picks in the 2010 NBA Draft, which is absurd.
On top of the two bonafide superstars this team has produced, the two above average NBA and a rotation player on the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers, this team includes another treble of players who had a stint in the NBA before going to Europe. They have eight players from that team currently getting paid to play basketball.
Part of the Euro trio includes Josh Harrellson, best known for a fleeting yet fun stint with the New York Knicks and the fact that his nickname is Jorts. Seriously. His twitter handle is @BigJorts55.
I’ve always fancied seeing what would happen if there was a way to get some college teams together on an NBA roster. How far could a core of Cousins, Wall, Bledsoe and Peterson go in the league?
On a slightly related thread, the same goes for international teams. Maybe now that Spain isn’t exactly as great as they were when both Gasol brothers were in their prime, what if there was one combo Euro team? How much fun would it be to watch something that could include the likes of Ricky Rubio, Kristaps Porzingis, Pau and Marc Gasol, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Rudy Gobert and the eternal Dirk Nowitzki? Sign me up.
Wait, where were we? Oh yeah. Kentucky.
2014-15 Kentucky Wildcats
Current NBA players: Karl-Anthony Towns, Devin Booker, Willie Cauley-Stein, Trey Lyles, Tyler Ulis, Andrew Harrison
There’s an abundance of potential in this crop of Kentucky products. They’re hardly a year and a half into their basketball careers, yet Towns and Booker are carrying the weight of propping their organizations on their shoulders. Cauley-Stein will have a long, successful NBA career barring any physical impairment and Lyles has been promising for every hipster’s favorite playoff dark horse Utah Jazz.
Towns, Booker, Cauley-Stein and Lyles were all drafted in the lottery, the first time four college teammates have all been drafted in the lottery. They produced nearly a third of the first 13 picks in the 2015 NBA Draft, which is absurd.
On top of those six currently in the league, there are another three in the D-League. With this group being younger than the 2009-10 team, that number may be inflated. Who knows if either of the Harrison twins will stick around in the league, same for Ulis.
Towns may well have been built in a lab by the analytic guys in the Minnesota front office. He’s a perfect specimen for the modern game and no matter which direction the league trends, he has a fluid skill set that will succeed anywhere. Towns being as highly regarded that he is shouldn’t be all too surprising considering he was the consensus first overall pick, but that wasn’t the case for Lyles and Booker, who went 12th and 13th. Booker was the youngest player drafted that year and quickly turned into the Phoenix Suns’ most coveted asset.
Also: there were serious discussions during this season that if Kentucky played the Philadelphia 76ers, they’d have more than a fighting chance of winning.
Verdict: The 2009-10 version
Okay. It’s not exactly fair considering that the 2014-15 team has had less than two seasons to develop in the league. It’s entirely possible that Towns and Booker will reach the heights of Cousins and Wall, and out of this quartet it’s tenable to say Towns has the highest ceiling, but that’s just betting too much on potential.
Cousins has already been named to two All-NBA second teams as well selected to three NBA all-star teams while Wall is a four time NBA all-star himself. Both players are just 26 years old, entering what should be the most fruitful period of their careers.
Check back in 15 years.