Kentucky Basketball: When it started?

The University of Kentucky Wildcats basketball began in 1903. A member of the SEC, the Wildcats currently play at the Rupp arena in Lexington, Kentucky.

They are one of the most prominent programs in the history of NCAA basketball, leading in all time wins and winning percentage.

Among their other impressive list of accomplishments, the Wildcats lead in NCAA tournament appearances, games played and wins. Their 8 tournament titles is second to only UCLA’s 11 titles. The program has also produced the most coaches (5) to have won a national championship.

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Notable Kentucky Basketball Coaches

Over their illustrious history, the Wildcats have had 22 coaches. The longest run as coach was by Adolph Rupp, who lead the Wildcats from 1930 to 1972. A Naismith Hall of Fame inductee in 1969, Rupp was NCAA Coach of the Year 5 times and 7 time SEC Coach of the Year.

He also lead four teams (1948, 1949, 1951 and 1958) to the national championship. The 1948 team went 36-3 and defeated Baylor in the title game, 58-42. The 1949 squad finished 32-2 and defeated Oklahoma State in the championship game, 46-36.

The 1951 team also went 32-2 and took home the title by defeating Kansas State, 68-58. Finishing 23-6 in 1958, the Wildcats defeated Seattle, 84-72 to the the championship.

Succeeding Rupp was Joe B. Hall, who lead lead the team from 1972 through 1985. Winning the title and NCAA Coach of the Year in 1978, Hall was a 4 time SEC Coach of the Year. The 1978 team finished 30-2 and defeated Duke in the NCAA Championship, 94-88.

Rick Pitino, who was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame in 2013, coached the team from 1989 through 1997. He was a 3 time SEC Coach of the Year, twice earning national Coach of the Year honors .

In 1996, Pitno lead the Wildcats to a 34-2 record and their sixth National Championship , defeating Syracuse, 76-67.

Tubby Smith was SEC and national Coach of the Year 3 times (1998, 2003 and 2005). His 1998 squad finished 35-4 gave the program their 7th championship with a 78-69 victory over Utah.

Currently coached by John Calipari, the Wildcats went 38-2 in 2012, culminating with a 67-59 win over Kansas in the National Championship game. Calipari took home SEC Coach of the Year honors in 2010, 2012 and 2015 and twice was named national Coach of the Year.

While Eddie Sutton and Billy Gillispie didn’t lead Kentucky to a National Champsionship, had success with the program, both earning SEC Coach of the Year honors once.

Notable Teams

Relatively early in the program, after a poor season in 1919-1920, the Wildcats rebounded to finish 13-1 to win the Southern Intercollegiate Association title.

Moving forward six year, the 1927-1928 team started a very successful four-year run. Behind coach John Mauer, the teams won nearly three-quarters of their games, finishing 40-14 over the stretch. Oddly enough, despite the great overall record, the Wildcats didn’t win any conference titles in that period.

Known as “The Fabulous Five”, the 1947-1948 teams was the basis for the gold medal winning Olympic team. The team ended up winning consecutive NCAA Championships and the 1950-1951 team brought home the third title in four seasons, ending the most dominating four-year period in program history.

Three seasons later, the Wildcats were perfect for the regular season, winning all 25 games, but they failed to win the title due to coach Rupp disallowing the team to play in the tournament.

The reason behind his refusal was the team had some players who graduated the previous year and couldn’t play in the tournament.

The Kentucky Wildcats would have to wait a few more seasons before capturing their next title in 1957-1958.

One of the more remarkable teams in NCAA history was the 1965-1966 team that went 27-1.

Many teams have lost only a single game in a season, but the Wildcats did so without a starter taller than 6′ 5”. The team’s quickness and defensive dominance lead them to a NCAA Finals, unfortunately losing. Notable players on that squad were Pat Riley and Louie Dampier.

In 1995-1996, the Wildcats put together perhaps their most talented team, as nine players went on to play in the NBA. Those players included Derek Anderson, Tony Delk, Ron Mercer, Walter McCarty, Nazr Mohammed, Mark Pope, Wayne Turner and Antoine Walker.

The team went undefeated through the SEC and claimed the National Championship.

The following season, Kentucky made an unbelievable run to the NCAA Finals, and although lost, was a tremendous accomplishment given that they had only eight players available to play in the tournament.

Kentucky made a great comeback the following season, not only in winning the NCAA Tournament, but by overcoming the biggest halftime deficit to win the title.
Although the 2009-2010 team did not win the NCAA Tournament, they were notable for having five players selected in the first round of the 2010 NBA Draft.

The most recent NCAA title came in 2011-2012 on a team that set the NCAA record for most wins in season with 38. They dominated throughout, going 16-0 in the SEC and average double digit wins in their six NCAA Tournament games. To top it off, the top two picks in NBA Draft (Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) both came from Kentucky.

Career Statistical Leaders


Dan Issel (1967–1970) 2,138
Kenny Walker (1982–1986) 2,080
Jack Givens (1975–1978) 2,038


Dan Issel 1078


Dirk Minnifield (1979 – 1983) 646

Blocked Shots

Jamaal Magloire (1996 – 2000) 268


Wayne Turner (1995 – 1999) 239

SEC Player of the Year

Pat Riley (1966)
Kevin Grevey (1972, 1975)
Kenny Walker (1985, 1986)

Famous NBA Players

There are several Kentucky Wildcats basketball players who play in the NBA. Top players include 2 5 time All-Star and 2012 1st pick Anthony Davis, 4 time all-star and 5th overall pick in 2010 DeMarcus Cousins, 5 time all star and 1st overall pick 2010 John Wall, 4 time all star and 21st pick in 2006 Rajon Rondo, and 1st pick overall and 2018 All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns.

Notable Former Kentucky Basketball Players

Pat Riley played 524 games over nine NBA seasons from 1967 to 1976. He averaged 7.4 points in 15.5 minutes per game. As a Hall of Fame coach, Riley won 1210 games and 5 NBA Championships over 24 seasons with the Lakers, Knicks and Heat.

Kevin Grevey played from 1975 through 1985 for the Washington Bullets and Milwaukee Bucks. He averaged 11 points and 23 minutes in 672 career games.

Dan Issel is the greatest professional player to come out of Kentucky. Issel, a 7 time All Star and Hall of Famer, averaged 22.7 points and 9.1 rebounds in 1218 games in t15 seasons in the ABA and NBA combined. Issel also coached 388 games for the Nuggets, finishing with a modest 180-208 record.

Kenny Walker, nicknamed “Sky”, played seven seasons in the NBA for the Knicks and Bullets. He averaged seven points and four rebounds in 448 career games.

Jamal Mashburn played for four teams over a 12-year NBA career. He averaged 19.1 points and 5.4 rebounds in 611 games. He made his lone All-Star appearance in his second to last season, playing for the Hornets in 2002-2003.

Tony Delk was a well-traveled in the NBA, playing for eight teams over a nine-year career. He averaged 9.1 points and 21.5 minutes in 545 career games.

Tayshaun Prince had a solid 13-year career with four different teams. He had his most success with the Pistons, averaging 12.6 points in 792 games. Prince also played for the Grizzlies, Celtics and Timberwolves, last playing in 2016 with a career scoring average of 11.1

Jamaal Magloire had a 12-year NBA career playing with eight different teams. He was an All-Star in 2003-2004 with the Hornets, averaging 13.6 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. In 680 career games, Magloire averaged 7.2 points and 6.5 rebounds per game.

Derek Anderson played for six teams over an 11-year NBA career. He averaged a career high 16.9 points per game in 1999-2000 with the Los Angeles Clippers. In 615 NBA games, Anderson averaged 12 points and 3.2 rebounds per game.

Antoine Walker was a 3-time NBA All Star and played for five teams from 1996 through 2008. He averaged more than 20 points per game four consecutive seasons and retired with averages of 17.5 points, 7.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game.

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