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Former Wildcats playing big roles in NBA All-Star Weekend may be starting a trend

Former Wildcat star Anthony Davis will miss the All-Star game due to injury, but is still among the NBA MVP favorites this season (Photos from NBA.com)

Former Wildcat star Anthony Davis will miss the All-Star game due to injury, but is still among the NBA MVP favorites this season (Photos from NBA.com)


By Jonathan Coffman
KyForward intern

The NBA marks the mid-point of its regular season with a weekend of events that lead into the 64th All-Start game on Sunday night. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Kentucky Wildcats’ men’s basketball program is playing a starring role.

Three of John Calipari’s players are participating in Anthony Davis, John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins and with UK providing various NBA rosters with a number of high draft picks under Calipari’s tenure, the connection is likely to continue for years to come.

Here are facts to consider when examining Kentucky’s recent NBA prominence:

Kentucky’s three former players matches the most of any college program’s included in this year’s All-Star Game. Wake Forest is the only other team that claims three players. Tim Duncan, Chris Paul and Jeff Teague all once played for the Deacons, although none come from the magnified era of players like Kentucky.

Duncan’s last college year was 1997, Paul’s was 2005 and Teague’s was 2009. Wall and Cousins left Kentucky in 2010 while Anthony Davis departed in 2012 after his National Championship season.

Also, two out of Kentucky’s three players (Wall and Davis) were named starters while all three Wake Forest players will come off the bench. Cousins and Teague received their first All-Star nods this year.

Each of the Wildcats representatives have evolved their game to get to the All-Star Weekend in a short period of time.

Cousins is substituting for the injured Kobe Bryant in this year’s All-Star Game, but the statistics say he should have been there based on his own performance. Cousins is sixth in the league in scoring and third in the league in rebounding. The Sacramento center has taken displeasure with his past All-Star snubs, even calling the league out for including former Kentucky player Davis in last year’s event.

Ironically, Davis was ruled out of the game Wednesday night due to shoulder injury and Cousins may replace him in the starting lineup.

John Wall has seen his scoring average dip a bit this season, but he is leading the NBA in assists (NBA.com Photo)

John Wall has seen his scoring average dip a bit this season, but he is leading the NBA in assists (NBA.com Photo)

Wall has emerged as the leader of the surging Washington Wizards this season. He has taken a slight dip in average scoring from last year (19.3 points a game to 17.5) in favor of increasing his assist, rebound and steal averages. Wall now leads the league in assists.

Davis’ selection as a starter (pre-injury) is the most compelling story of the group.

“The Brow” has climbed the league rankings in major statistical categories, taking major steps each year. He leads the league with 2.7 blocks a game, accounts for 24.4 percent of his team’s average offense and is still only 21 years old.

Had he played in the era of the four-year college career, Davis would now be in the middle of his senior season.

Despite his age, Davis should clearly be a starter on the ultra competitive Western Conference team and is a viable league MVP candidate. Unfortunately, Davis will not play in the game this weekend due to injury. While disappointing for Big Blue Nation, Davis will return soon enough to continue his breakout season.

Age is an important detail for all the former Kentucky players who made the All-Star team. They are all under 25 years old and poised to blossom into the league’s best.

Calipari has gained a reputation for sending ultra-talented players to the NBA in short order (“Succeed and Proceed”), but the level of success the players have had is unmatched. The surprising part of Kentucky’s association with the All-Star Game is that it only scratches the surface of the school’s influence in the league.

Rajon Rondo, Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight are among the best former Kentucky players not selected to the All-Star Team. Rondo is 28, Bledsoe turned 25 in December, the same month Knight celebrated his 23rd birthday.

Rondo is the one former Kentucky player competing for an All-Star position that did not play for Calipari. The point guard, a four time All-Star, has had major success despite suffering injuries the past couple years that kept him out of the All-Star Game. He tore his ACL in January 2013 and did not play for that year’s team. He was still able to lead the league in assists that season.

Rondo was traded in December 2014 from the Celtics to the Mavericks into the competitive Western Conference, whose All-Star team point guards include Stephen Curry, Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook. Other point guards left off the roster include Tony Parker, Damian Lillard, Mike Conley Jr. and Bledsoe. While Rondo may not have made it this year in the crowded field of talent, he will adjust to his new team that is set to be a contender going forward and make a legitimate case to be an All-Star.

Bledsoe experiences the same problems as Rondo in the competitive Western Conference point guard field. He has not been named to an All-Star team yet but has played his whole career for the Suns and Clippers in the West, which only has gotten tougher in recent years.

He puts up solid numbers: 16.9 points a game, 5.2 rebounds, and six assists. Bledsoe leads his team in scoring, and while his numbers are solid for a starting point guard, they aren’t enough to earn a spot among the best of the West. As the Suns continue to mature (they’re the seventh-youngest team in the league, starting this season with a team average Age of 25.1), Bledsoe will find his way into the NBA’s weekend showcase eventually.

Finally, Knight has enjoyed a breakout year in the league.

While Knight has struggled at times, he is now the best player on a No. 5 seeded Bucks team that still gets overlooked by opponents. He is finding ways to contribute on both ends of the court, stuffing his average stat line: 17.7 points, 5.3 assists, and 4.2 rebounds a game while making nearly 44 percent of his shots from the field.

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All of this is coming despite Milwaukee missing Jabari Parker, the second overall pick in last year’s draft. Knight’s assists and scoring efficiency will only increase with a weapon eager to make up for lost time like Parker returning from injury next year.

Eastern Conference All-Star point guards include Wall, Irving and Teague, but Knight will be challenging for a spot soon if his restricted free agency doesn’t land him on a Western Conference team this offseason.

Kentucky’s young pros are doing more than putting up impressive numbers individually. They are leading contributors for competitive playoff teams. Players like Rondo, Bledsoe and Knight are only a few of the many blossoming former Wildcats around the league who could play featured roles in All-Star Weekend for years to come.

Kentucky has three representatives for All-Star Weekend this year, but it may be just the tip of the iceberg for up-and-coming players who once called Rupp Arena home.

The All-Star Game begins Sunday at 8:30 p.m. on TNT.

Jonathan Coffman is a senior journalism major at the University of Kentucky.

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