This is one of the most difficult things I’ve done. Here’s the deal. CBS is doing a “Championship Bracket,” involving the six greatest programs of college basketball, based on number of championships – UCLA, Kentucky, Indiana, North Carolina, Duke and Kansas. UK is the #2 seed because of the seven championships. Each team’s roster will consist of a starting five and a sixth man. The only criterion for making these rosters is a championship ring. Also, the rosters will be based on the players’ performances in college rather than in the pros. This makes the determination of the Kentucky roster very difficult, as many of the best UK players (Issel, Mashburn, Grevey, Riley, Dampier, Nash, Walker, Bowie) didn’t win rings. Three of the positions were pretty easy for me to figure out. I’m only one man, and these are not the official picks for the roster, but this is who I think should make the cut.
PG – Ralph Beard (1946-49)
I can’t say a whole lot about Ralph Beard, except that he was one of the greatest winners in the history of the game. He was a three-time All-American, a two-time National Champion and an Olympic gold medal winner. People who remember watching Ralph still say he was not only the greatest point guard in Kentucky history, but they usually said he was the best guard they had ever seen play in person. I never saw him play, but those opinions are good enough for me.
SG – Tony Delk (1993-96)
This is the zone buster. I’m sure that better shooters have put on the jersey, but did any of them win championships? I know Tony Buckets did. Tony Delk may be one of the most underrated players In Kentucky history, if that’s possible. You already know about the incomparable shooting ability, but that only scratches the surface of what he could do. His pressure on the ball was a huge factor in the greatest full court press ever. His athleticism was off the charts, and his rebounding skills were amazing for a 6’1” guard. Tony Buckets could do it all. This was a no-brainer for me, just like Beard was and the next guy is.
SF – Jack Givens (1975-78)
Nobody had a better midrange game than the Goose – ever. Goose is one of the smoothest players that has ever lived, with one of the purest jumpers as well. Scoring 41 points against Duke in a national title game is incentive enough to put him on this list. Banking in a shot from the corner in said game is the icing on the cake. I don’t care if he’s undersized. The goal is to put the ball in the basket, and you’d be hard pressed to find a championship player at Kentucky who could do that better than Goose Givens.
PF – Wallace “Wah Wah” Jones (1946-49)
Is anybody tougher than Wallace Jones? He’s the only player I know of whose number is retired both at Rupp Arena and Commonwealth Stadium. Like Ralph Beard, he was a three-time All-American, a two-time National Champion and an Olympic champion. So far, this team has representation from Louisville, Lexington and Brownsville, TN, but we need somebody who is country strong, and if you come from Harlan, KY, there’s a good chance you’re country strong. I realize this is an undersized team, especially if somebody like Jones has to match up with James Worthy, Scott May or Danny Manning, but I think Wah Wah can handle his own.
C – Alex Groza (1946-49)
I personally believe that the Fabulous Five was the greatest collection of individual talent ever at Kentucky. They weren’t the best team, because the 1996 team was the greatest college basketball team ever, not just Kentucky. But the individual players were better in the 40s. Groza was the third three-time All-American on one roster. He earned the same accolades as Beard and Jones, and for a long time was considered one of the finest players at his position in college basketball history. That’s good enough for me.
Sixth Man – Ron Mercer (1996-97)
A controversial pick for sure, but of the guys on the 1996 and 1998 teams, I thought the two best were Tony Delk and Ron Mercer. People forget how good Ron was in 1997 when he willed a depleted team to a title game after Derek Anderson got hurt. He was one of the most versatile players I’ve ever seen. He was an extremely smooth shooter, probably the best midrange game of any UK player of my 22 years. He could jump out of the gym, and he stepped up like nobody else in big games. I remember one time when Villanova came in with Tim Thomas, and all the hype was about how Tim Thomas was going to own Ron Mercer, and the opposite happened. He isn’t the Goose, and he isn’t Tony Buckets, but of my team’s champions, he’s probably the next best thing.
I’m Seth Stogsdill, and like Norman Dale, my team is on the floor.