If you want to play point guard for Kentucky basketball, you must understand one thing.
Perfection is mandatory.
Like a goaltender in hockey, a quarterback in football, an ace pitcher in baseball or a leading actor in a Martin Scorsese film, a point guard’s ability is often the determining factor in overall success.
Kentucky basketball head coach John Calipari has a gift for attracting the best high school players in the country, especially point guards. Since 2008, five Calipari-coached point guards have been drafted in the first round, and out of those five, Derrick Rose and John Wall were each picked number one overall.
During the 2014-2015 campaign, sophomore Andrew Harrison will feel the pressure of running the point for Calipari once again, but solid point guard play was begged for by the Big Blue Nation long before the arrival of Coach Cal.
Since the 2004-2005 season, eight other point guards have been under the big blue microscope at Kentucky. Some have gone on to star in the NBA, others withered under the pressure, and one decided to attempt a career in hip hop. I have created a tournament bracket titled “The Kentucky Point Guard Alumni Association Tournament” to decipher the best Kentucky point guard of the last ten years, because this is a competition, this is basketball and this is May.
Statistical comparison of per game averages and field goal percentage in player’s best season.
Wall 2009-10: 16.6 points, 6.5 assists, 4.3 rebounds, 1.8 steals, 46.1 field goal percentage
Porter 2008-09: 4.1 points, 2.6 assists, 1.7 rebounds, .9 steals, 36.0 field goal percentage
Porter is the first ever Kentucky Point Guard Alumni Association (KPGAA) Tournament version of an at-large-bid team, shockingly making it to the tournament, only to be matched up against the one seed. It is only fitting that this matchup occurs, as Porter was part of the sacrificial lamb team of 2009 that consequently brought Kentucky’s savior, Calipari, to the Bluegrass State.
Porter’s statistics are certainly pale in comparison to Wall’s, but this is likely indicative of the Billy Gillispie atmosphere Porter and his Wildcat teammates were forced to breathe. Porter may have also struggled to live up to the quarterback-style leadership he supposedly possessed according to Kentucky basketball’s commentators. Statements like “Porter, a former quarterback, dribbles the ball across the timeline for the Cats now,” or “hey, did you know Porter used to be a quarterback? He should have completed that pass,” were made seemingly every game.
If Porter had been able to stay at Kentucky the following season, he could have received playing time behind Wall, but climbing over the “playing-time” wall that stood between them would have been a daunting task for Porter.
As soon as Wall flexed his bicep in a twisting, dancing motion at Kentucky’s preseason showcase, “Big Blue Madness,” he simultaneously created a dance phenomenon and won the hearts of the Big Blue Nation.
Surprisingly, there was a brief moment when people were unsure if Wall could lead the Wildcats. That moment of uncertainty disintegrated after Wall scored 27 in his first game for the Wildcats.
With the help of Calipari, folk-hero Demarcus Cousins, an SEC Tournament title, an Elite Eight-run and a patented dance move every Kentucky fan could and did do, John Wall redirected the national spotlight back to Kentucky. Wall was a joy to watch when possible, because if you looked away from the game for one second, Wall had already stolen the ball and dunked with his left hand on the other end.
Advancing point guard: Wall.
Ramel “Smooth” Bradley vs. Marquis Teague
Bradley 2007-08: 15.9 points, 4.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.6 steals, 42.1 field goal percentage
Ramel Bradley is a name that will always resonate with Wildcat fans and Ramel “Smooth” Bradley is a name that might resonate with some fans of underground hip hop. Bradley was a magnificent player and leader for the Wildcats and clearly a well-rounded person off the court.
Bradley, a four-year player, was also well-rounded on the court. Bradley had the ability to hit dagger three-pointers at exactly the right time, or get under the skin of exactly the right opponent. The pesky Bradley waited his turn to become first-string point guard until his senior year and he did not disappoint.
Unfortunately, the same could not be said for the rest of the 2007-2008 team that finished with a first-round loss in the NCAA Tournament and an even more embarrassing loss early in the season against (if you are squeamish, read the next two words with caution) Gardner-Webb.
On the contrary, Marquis Teague’s 2012 team did not disappoint. The Wildcats hoisted the championship trophy for the eighth time, this time led at point by a freshman.
Teague certainly cemented a legacy of his own as a member of a championship squad, but how truly effective was Teague during that championship season?
The 2012 Wildcats did a phenomenal job sharing the basketball, as all five starters scored in double-figures. Teague was certainly a major part of this team, but was not relied upon exclusively.
Neither was Bradley, but Bradley did not have Anthony Davis as a teammate. Despite Bradley’s 11.0 field goal attempts attempts per game compared to Teague’s 8.8, Bradley was the more effective offensive player. Not only did Bradley shoot a better percentage from the field overall, he shot 37.9 percent from beyond the arc while Teague connected on the three ball only 32.5 percent of the time.
Defensively, Bradley was a more focused player than Teague, and his advantage in steals per game is not the only reason. Bradley was loathed by the opposition because of his irritating style, which meant he was embraced by the Big Blue Nation.
The defining ratio that decides this matchup is 4:1. Bradley spent four years at Kentucky, improving each season, while Teague made the NBA leap after his freshman year. Teague could have benefitted from another year at Kentucky both skill wise and for the sake of this incredibly important tournament. (Joking aside, he made the right choice.)
Advancing point guard: Bradley.
Rajon Rondo vs. Derrick Jasper
Rondo 2005-06: 11.2 points, 6.1 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 2.0 steals, 48.2 field goal percentage
Jasper 2006-07: 3.9 points, 3.6 rebounds, 2.9 assists, .9 steals, 61.3 field goal percentage
Watching Rondo’s play at Kentucky was like watching a child prodigy blatantly refuse assistance from mentors and showcase his raw talent instead. The 2005-2006 season was Rondo’s sophomore year and overall best, despite his record-setting freshman year when he broke the single-season steals record.
Rondo was absurdly quick and at times seemed to be playing at a different speed than his teammates. Although not a good shooter in any capacity, Rondo was a thrilling finisher at the rim, especially on a break-a-way after one of his 156 combined steals.
Rondo certainly blossomed with the Boston Celtics in the NBA, which has led many Wildcat fans to question why his All-Star award-receiving play did not exist at Kentucky, and if that potential would have been tapped if Calipari had been his head coach.
Calipari may have helped bring Rondo’s potential out while he was in college, but only for one year. Under Calipari’s tutelage, Rondo would have either shot his draft stock soaring or transferred out of spite for Cal, which is not an insult, but a testament to his strong will. Rondo is an outstanding player and his recklessness was a joy to watch at Kentucky.
Derrick Jasper fought hard for playing time at Kentucky. The 6-foot-6 Jasper was similar to Rondo as both scored a majority of their points in the paint, but Jasper simply could not stay on the floor. His best season came as a freshman, his lone season as starter for the Wildcats. Jasper was a smart player and also like Rondo had untapped potential at Kentucky.
If the oft-forgotten Jasper could have stayed healthy, he could have stood a chance in this matchup. Either way, defeating Rondo in this point guard tournament is a tall task, even for a 6-foot-6 point guard.
Advancing point guard: Rondo.
Brandon Knight vs. Ryan Harrow
Knight 2010-11: 17.3 points, 4.2 assists, 4.0 rebounds, 2.3 threes/gm, 42.3 field goal percentage
Harrow 2012-13: 9.9 points, 2.8 assists, 2.8 rebounds, .7 threes/gm, 41.4 field goal percentage
Looking at this matchup for a long time only increases the chances of saying “poor Ryan Harrow” in your head for the 3,000th time in your life.
Harrow was handed a tough seed in the KPGAA Tournament, similar to the mortifying hand he was dealt as a sophomore transfer from North Carolina State. Harrow was asked to take the reins from championship-winning Teague and lead the Wildcats straight back to the pinnacle of college basketball glory.
Harrow was bombarded with criticism by Wildcat fans and members of the local media before he stepped on the court. Calipari is ruthless on his point guards and Harrow’s chance at pleasing a demanding fan base was diminished quickly. The loss in the first round of the NIT to Robert Morris University also did not help anyone’s self-esteem, let alone Harrow’s.
If you can look past the Harrow-bashing smog, his talent is actually transparent. Harrow transferred to Georgia State for the 2013-2014 season and dominated, averaging 17.8 points per game.
As can be customary, the pressure applied by the Big Blue Nation and Calipari was too much for Harrow to handle as a point guard, but he should be viewed as a wrong-place, wrong-time player, not a failure.
As negatively as Harrow will likely be remembered in the annals of Kentucky basketball history, the difference in opinion in this matchup is truly Knight and day.
Brandon Knight was spectacular. Like Harrow and many other Calipari point guards, he faced early-season criticism. Some viewed Knight as too careless with the basketball and weak on defense. However, Knight was able to overcome the onslaught of critique.
Knight led Kentucky to the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament in 2011 after making game-winning shots against Princeton University and Ohio State.
Knight is one of the most beloved players in the history of Kentucky basketball and the gritty, dauntless point guard is a tough out in this tournament.
Advancing point guard: Knight.
John Wall vs. Ramel Bradley
Ramel Bradley was an exciting player. He clearly loved the University of Kentucky and the fans loved him back. However, if both were on the same team for one season, Bradley would have been the best backup point guard in college basketball.
Bradley provided Kentucky fans with four years of memories, but Wall packed enough memories into one magical season to win this battle.
Advancing point guard: Wall.
Rajon Rondo vs. Brandon Knight
This is a heart-breaking matchup. On one hand, Rondo is the best defensive point guard in Kentucky basketball history, on that same hand, because of the size of his hands, Rondo was a dreadful shooter compared to Knight.
Knight lit up Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky. with his tremendous shooting. He silenced critics during the NCAA Tournament with his clutch game-clinching shots and leadership. But the “what if” game, as meaningless as it can be, must be played in this matchup.
What if the two had switched teams and Rondo was in Knight’s armor? This tournament is not about NBA performances, but the All-Star-caliber writing was on the wall for Rondo at Kentucky. Rondo could have dominated college basketball if he was surrounded by a different supporting cast.
Also, it is true that Knight would have been an excellent player for the 2005-2006 Wildcats, but would he have received the minutes Rondo did if he had to battle Bradley for playing time, as a freshman?
This one is tough, but with Rondo’s court vision, ball-handling ability and pure point guard mentality…
Advancing point guard: Rondo.
KPGAA May Madness has reached its finale. After hours of speculation and statistical compilation, only two Kentucky point guards remain.
Rondo was nearly the quintessential point guard at Kentucky. He could pass the ball effortlessly, speed past defenders with dexterity, rebound the basketball with regularity and guard forwards as well as opposing guards with tenacity, but the one facet of his game while at Kentucky that keeps him from being crowned champion of KPGAA May Madness is captivation.
Wall captivated his team, the fan base and the nation with his tantalizing play and unswerving confidence. Wall led a Kentucky program, not just a team, back to glory one year after an NIT Tournament appearance
Without Wall, Kentucky basketball may still have seven championships. Wall made Kentucky basketball exciting again and carried on the Calipari point guard tradition, immediately proving to future high school all-American point guards that they could thrive under the pressure of Kentucky basketball.
The best Kentucky point guard in the last ten years is John Wall.
Clearly, a big name was left out of this tournament. Andrew Harrison is still the active Kentucky basketball point guard, despite a magnificent tournament run. Like Wall, Harrison starred as the point guard for a team that nearly won the title after an NIT Tournament appearance the year before. Harrison could make the most compelling argument for the top spot in the future, because of one intriguing reason.
Like the majority of his Kentucky teammates, Harrison will be back.
And he will be even better.
To read the Kentucky basketball point guard preview for next season, click here.