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When you think about the past year in Kentucky sports, it’s likely the first image that jumps to mind is the Wildcats’ run to the program’s eight national championship.
But which face from that memorable season stands out above the rest?
That’s the question I posed to myself when assembling my ballot for the 2012 Lexington Herald-Leader Kentucky Sportsman of the Year award. The top 10 finalists for the award have already been revealed, and the winner will be announced Thursday at the Bluegrass Sports Awards Banquet.
You can read my ballot, with a short explanation of each vote below:
1 — Anthony Davis
Winning six National Player of the Year awards might have been enough to make UK freshman Anthony Davis Sportsman of the Year alone, but adding a national championship, NCAA freshman blocked shots record, No. 1 selection in the NBA draft and Olympic gold medal should give him the award in a rout. There might be arguments for other Kentucky athletes and coaches to win the award, but none performed better on a bigger stage than Davis did in 2012.
2 — John Calipari
If UK men’s basketball coach John Calipari doesn’t win Sportsman of the Year after bringing home his first national championship, when will he? Calipari also signed his fourth consecutive No. 1 recruiting class at UK and continued to positively impact the state off the court with a variety of philanthropic efforts. Calipari’s 2012 accomplishments undoubtedly shine bright, but he is the one who always preaches that UK is a “players first” program. That sentiment, if nothing else, should give Davis the edge.
3 — Randall Cobb
UK football has not been the same since Randall Cobb left early for the draft in 2011, and this season he made NFL fans realize why Wildcat fans missed him so much. Cobb finished the year with a Green Bay Packers record 2,341 all-purpose yards, which also led all NFL players. An raucous ovation from the Rupp Arena crowd when Cobb was honored on the court Saturday, shows UK fans haven’t forgotten the adopted Kentuckian either.
4 — Mitch Barnhart
It’s hard to rank any person who didn’t play or coach in a game in 2012 this high on a Sportsman of the Year ballot, but UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart earns the distinction with a banner year for his department. UK teams claimed four Southeastern Conference championships, four SEC Coach of the Year honors and four SEC Player of the Year accolades. Add a men’s basketball national championship and the galvanizing hire of Mark Stoops as football coach, and Barnhart has his best year to-date in Lexington.
5 — Charlie Strong
If Louisville football coach Charlie Strong had ended up in Volunteer Orange following the regular season, it would have been hard to consider a coach for Kentucky Sportsman of the Year who left the state to take a better job, but Strong stayed at Louisville and upset Florida in the Sugar Bowl to cap off an impressive season. Strong’s Cardinals could be ranked in the top 10 to open next season, and the fact that his name is likely to continue popping up in major coaching searches is a testament to the job he has done at Louisville.
6 — Tyson Gay
Kentucky had several connections to the London Olympic Games, but Lafayette High School alum Tyson Gay, who still holds the U. S. record at 100 meters, earns the nod here for finally finding the medal stand after injuries had stalled his career. Gay earned a silver medal as part of the U. S. 4-by-100 relay team and finished just off the podium in the 100 meter dash in fourth place.
7 — A’Dia Mathies
One of four UK athletes to win SEC Player of the Year honors in 2012, UK women’s basketball standout A’Dia Mathies continued to make a case as one of the best players in program history. The 2012 All-American could finish her career at No. 2 on the school’s career scoring list.
8 — Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
UK freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist gets lost in the shadow of Davis’ record-setting freshman season, but in most years being named an All-American and being selected with the No. 2 pick in the NBA draft would be hard to forget. Even with his impressive statistics, Kidd-Gilchrist’s biggest contribution to the national champion Wildcats may not show up in the box score: his “will-to-win” and decision to volunteer to come off the bench in the SEC Tournament championship game so senior Darius Miller could start and work his way out of a slump.
9 — Ryan Timmons
Franklin County senior Ryan Timmons lost Mr. Football to Trinity’s James Quick, but his statistics are impossible to ignore. Timmons scored an astounding 45 touchdowns while totaling 2,651 all-purpose yards. With a college decision looming on the horizon, Timmons could remain a factor on these ballots for years to come.
10 — Robbie Ross
Lexington Christian Academy alum Robbie Ross made the unlikely jump from the AA Texas League to the majors when he broke camp with the Texas Rangers in 2012. Ross, who started in all but two of his 69 Minor League appearances, shined out of the Texas bullpen. He finished second among rookies with a 2.22 ERA while compiling a perfect 6-0 record.