This series counts down the greatest UK basketball teams of all time. No. 1 will be revealed in the Kernel’s basketball season preview edition on Nov. 7. Here is No. 8: the 2009-10 Cats.
The 2009-10 season began a new era in UK’s basketball program. Days after his Memphis team lost in the NCAA tournament, John Calipari accepted a job offer as the head coach at the University of Kentucky.
In a matter of months Calipari was able to reel in the nation’s top-rated recruiting class, which included the highly coveted No. 1 player, John Wall. Joining Wall were fellow five-star recruits Eric Bledsoe, DeMarcus Cousins and Daniel Orton.
The 2009-10 season was kicked off with its traditional Big Blue Madness event. However, the combination of Calipari’s address to the commonwealth and the “John Wall Dance” immediately brought expectations that UK would return to the top of college basketball.
The hype was justified throughout the entire season, as UK finished with a 35-3 record.
The young team, led by junior power forward Patrick Patterson, won the SEC regular-season championship with a 14-2 record in conference play, eventually advancing to the SEC tournament title game. And with the late game heroics by Cousins, UK managed to pull out the victory in overtime.
The amazing put-back off of a missed free throw by the 6-foot-11 freshman in the title game allowed UK to earn its first No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament since 2004, when a Tubby Smith led team lost in the second round to UAB.
Like the 2004 team, Calipari’s first team greatly underachieved. The 3-point shot was the ultra-talented team’s only weakness, and that weakness was exposed in its Elite Eight matchup against the West Virginia Mountaineers.
West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins designed a 1-3-1 zone defense that UK’s young team had never seen before, and it eventually led to the Cats’ third loss of the year and an end to their national championship hopes.
It was not until the off-season that the true greatness of the 2009-10 team was revealed. History was made on draft night when NBA commissioner David Stern announced the names of five players from the University of Kentucky in the first round.
Wall became UK’s first ever No. 1 pick in the NBA draft. Cousins and Patterson also were selected with lottery picks.
Freshman guard Eric Bledsoe was selected No. 18 overall and Daniel Orton was picked late in the first round without having started a single game during his only year at UK.
The draft dominance on June 24, 2010, is what gave Calipari’s first UK team the nickname of the “Draft Cats” and set the tone for years to come.