Take yourself back six years; John Calipari had just relieved coach Billy Gillispie from his coaching duties at the University of Kentucky. Gillispie and the Wildcats went 22-14 (8-8 SEC) during the 08’-09’ season missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1992.
The thought of missing an NCAA tournament after 18 consecutive years did not sit well with the Lexington faithful, they wanted to restructure the powerhouse. A crazed and highly regarded incoming freshman class powered by Calipari was about to change Kentucky basketball for years to come.
Calipari landed the No. 1 overall recruit in John Wall and the No. 2 overall recruit in DeMarcus Cousins, followed by No. 3 overall point guard Eric Bledsoe. Combated with the new guys on the block, Patrick Patterson and DeAndre Liggins were ready to add their experience by buying into Calipari’s scheme.
The 09’-10’ Wildcats dominated and by far collectively surpassed any other freshman class that season and in years past. The Wildcats broke countless records during the season going (35-2), winning the most games in Kentucky history.
The Wildcats moved on to win the regular season SEC title, the SEC tournament championship and got placed as a No.1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Despite the success and hype around the Wildcats potentially winning the NCAA tournament with a virtually freshman only class, Kentucky was upset in the elite eight by the Missouri Tigers.
The Wildcats did not end the season without any hardware as the SEC player of the year honors were awarded to Wall and the SEC freshman player of the year award was given to Cousins. Also, the AP would name Wall and Cousins to the first team All-American honors.
With the value of all three NBA prospects at an all-time high, the opportunity to enter the 2010 NBA draft was too intriguing for the trio. Wall ended up getting selected No.1 overall by the Washington Wizards and Cousins wasn’t too far behind when the Sacramento Kings selected him fifth overall. Patterson would be selected 14th by Houston and Bledsoe 18th by the Clippers.
The 2010 Summer League was not one to be missed, as the matchups were as intriguing as they ever been. The hype seemed to follow the Wildcats wherever they went as most assumed that they would be able to save their city from their losing ways; Sacramento, Washington D.C., Los Angeles.
There was no argument that Wall was the most NBA ready player out of the Kentucky freshman trio as he went on to be the “true” NBA rookie of the year.
Blake Griffin was named rookie of the year in Wall’s rookie campaign as he sat out a year after being drafted in 2009. Wall averaged 16.4 points his rookie year on a team where he played the most minutes and did the majority of the ball handling. Wall was the much needed new face of the franchise in D.C..
Bledsoe joined Griffin during his ROY season taking a backseat to him, Mo Williams and Eric Gordon in the scoring role in Los Angeles. Bledsoe averaged 6.7 points, but was very efficient during the first go around.
Then we have Cousins, headed to Sacramento where the 2009 rookie of the year made his presence be known in Tyreke Evans. Cousins and Evans were assumed to be one of the best one-two punch in the NBA, but it didn’t happen.
At first, Wall received all the praise in being the best Kentucky 2009 prospect on the market but statistically you can see that the progression of Bledsoe and in particular Cousins have surpassed the expectations of many.
You can say Wall has been the most consistent player out of the three right off the jump in 2009, but who’s game has evolved the most since coming into the league?
Where would you rank them?
Statistically, Cousins has surpassed both of his Kentucky counterparts in the complete evolution of his game as he currently holds the highest career points per game average (20.5) and rebounding average (10.8) of the trio. Shooting, ball handling, agility and presence, Cousins has turned himself into a do it all big and has solidified himself as the best big man in the NBA.
But what do Wall and Bledsoe have that Cousins does not? Playoff appearances. In the six years that they have been in the league, Wall and Bledsoe have been apart of two playoff runs.
Wall carried most of the responsibility for the Wizards taking them to the conference semis during the 13’-14’ and 14’-15’ seasons. In Bledsoe’s early years in seasons two and three, he reached the playoffs with the help of Chris Paul and company losing in the conference semis in 11’-12’ and the first round in 12’-13’.
Along with no playoff appearances for Cousins, he has yet to achieve a .500 record in his tenure in Sacramento. Wall has reached the .500 record mark in three of his six seasons producing two appearances in the postseason. These appearances served as a judgment of leadership for Wall as he carried the majority of the load.
Bledsoe has also reached the .500 record mark three times in his six seasons with two of those coming at the hands of Paul and company during the two playoff runs in Los Angeles. The third came during the 13’-14’ season in Bledsoe’s first year with the Suns as they barely missed the playoffs with a record that was above .500.
Yes, records and winning mean everything once you get to the next level but the trend is very obvious that the trio has not developed the correct team orientated skills to take their respective squads to the next level.
Currently all three players are the leaders of their teams, averaging the most points but still cannot find a way to bring their teams up in the rankings of the NBA.
Free agency and drafting has played a huge part in each of the trio’s success and downfalls and that has shown more than ever with Cousins in Sacramento.
Cousins has been through the ringer. Six head coaches in six years, multiple front office changes and a handful of questionable drafts. He has still been able to produce through the woes.
Wall has only been through three coaches in his six years but has seen success, so the pressure to produce isn’t as high. Bledsoe is the only one of the trio to have been traded but has been able to develop into a franchise caliber player in Phoenix.
All 26 years of age and six years into their career, the trio will soon reach the pinnacle of their careers. Therefore, when we rank the trio based on their success and their upside for their upcoming future, we place the big man at number one.
Cousins is currently averaging a career high 28.7 points per game and there is no signs of slowing him down. With two consecutive All-Star appearances, Cousins has become an un-guardable force every single night.
Second, the man with the most upside would have to be Bledsoe. The amount of time Bledsoe puts into his game shows in his ongoing climbing stats.
Lastly, ever since Wall came into the league, he has been able to produce but the stats and winning remain the same besides his multiple playoff appearances.
Reports of Wall not being content with his teammates overshadow the overall success that he is capable of having. Not saying that Cousins gets off the hook here with this “teammate talk,” but the upside and potential is more apparent with the big man.
The last time all three experienced championship caliber success was back in 2009 and the idea of them playing together once again to mimic that success isn’t that far fetched.
“Do we ever talk about playing with one another? Is that your question?,” Cousins asked in response to a reporter’s inquiries. “It’s came up. They’re going to all come to Sac. Come to Sac.”
Cousins playful quotes for a reunion has given the league something to talk about over the last week. As they get older and the dream to capture a championship becomes slimmer, the thought of uniting in one uniform may serve beneficial in capturing the sought out Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy.