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Jamie Vaught: Legendary UK star accomplished much, but never took Cats to Final Four


With Kentucky’s regular season ending this weekend with a Saturday afternoon contest with Florida in Gainesville, there has been lots of discussion about who is the top basketball player in the Southeastern Conference.

Many folks like Kentucky standouts Immanuel Quickley and Nick Richards as among the leading candidates for the SEC Player of the Year honors.

And that certainly reminds me about one legendary Wildcat at Kentucky who had never captured the SEC Player of the Year honors. And he happens to be my all-time favorite UK athlete.

Dan Issel, a three-time All-SEC performer, is UK’s all-time leading scorer with 2,138 points. (UK photo)

Need another clue? He also never took the Wildcats to the Final Four.

He is Naismith Hall of Famer Dan Issel, a three-time All-SEC performer who is the school’s all-time men’s leading scorer with 2,138 points.

A two-time All-American who has been very active in trying to bring an NBA franchise to Louisville (which once was the home of the popular Kentucky Colonels in the old American Basketball Association), Issel didn’t win the conference player of the year honors because he played college basketball at the same time as LSU star Pete Maravich.

It was long-haired Maravich, with his famous floppy socks, who garnered three straight SEC Player of the Year awards in 1968, ’69 and ’70 as he burned the nets with his long downtown jumpers. And “Pistol Pete” still holds NCAA’s all-time leading scoring record with 3,667, averaging 44 points a game in three varsity seasons.

As a Kentucky Wildcat opponent, Maravich, who passed away in 1988 at the age of 40, has the single-game scoring record with 64 points during UK’s 121-105 road victory at Baton Rouge in February 1970. Issel and star teammate Mike Pratt also gunned in 51 and 27 points, respectively.

As the older generation of the Big Blue Nation will tell you, Issel was sensational, too. During his senior year, he had an impressive average of 33.9 points and 13.2 rebounds as the top-ranked Wildcats reached the NCAA Mideast Regional finals before losing in a stunning upset to Jacksonville and future ABA/NBA star Artis Gilmore.

Jamie H. Vaught, a longtime columnist in Kentucky, is the author of five books about UK basketball, including “Chasing the Cats: A Kentucky Basketball Journey.” He is the editor of KySportsStyle.com magazine and a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Middlesboro. You can follow him on Twitter @KySportsStyle or reach him via e-mail at KySportsStyle@gmail.com.

In an interview with this columnist many years ago, Issel said he regrets that he didn’t have the opportunity to play in the Final Four.

“I would say probably the biggest disappointment that I had in basketball was the fact I never got to the Final Four because we were real close (in 1970) and we had a real good team all three years that I was playing varsity at Kentucky,” said Issel, who thought the Wildcats had a great chance to win the Big Dance that 1970 campaign.

While Issel didn’t win an SEC Player of the Year award, there have been 14 Wildcats who captured either the coaches, Associated Press or United Press International (UPI) annual award since the AP honor began in 1965 (which was won by Vanderbilt’s Clyde Lee) and the coaches award in 1987 (which was captured by Alabama’s Derrick McKey). The UPI award was discontinued after the 1992 campaign.

The past UK’s POY winners were Pat Riley (1966), Tom Parker (1972), Kevin Grevey (1973 and ‘75), Kyle Macy (1980), Kenny Walker (1985 and ‘86), Jamal Mashburn (1993), Tony Delk (1996), Ron Mercer (1997), Tayshaun Prince (2001), Keith Bogans (2003), John Wall (2010), Anthony Davis (2012), Tyler Ulis (2016) and Malik Monk (2017).

As for this season, I really like Quickley, who has been hot in recent weeks, for POY. The 6-foot-3 guard from Maryland has become a fan favorite, hitting stunning 3-pointers. He has my vote as the 2020 SEC Player of the Year.

After Quickley’s 26-point performance during Kentucky’s 65-59 win on Feb. 22, Florida forward Kerry Blackshear Jr., a graduate transfer from Virginia Tech, commented Quickley is a “big-time player, going to make a lot of money playing this game. We understood he was a big-time player and we keyed in on him, he just made big shots.”

Quickley said, “My confidence has been great for awhile now. My teammates have been doing a great job of getting me open looks but when you see a couple of shots go down that helps. So just to be able to get my confidence higher than it’s been, great.”

And several days later, Quickley hit a career-high 30 points, including eight 3-pointers, to spark the Wildcats to a 69-60 victory over host Texas A&M.

Immanuel Quickley

“I was a little hot, I guess,” Quickley said of his outstanding performance against the Aggies. “Teammates were finding me in good spots. Credit to God, just staying to my word. Teammates were finding me in a lot of open spots, credit to them. Coaches put me in a good situation to have me be successful.”

In addition, he poured in a game-high 18 points, including 11 of 11 free throws, and grabbed a career-high 12 rebounds in UK’s 73-66 win over No. 15 Auburn last Saturday. That was his second double-double of the season.

Going into this week’s action. Quickley leads the SEC in free-throw shooting percentage with 92.2, which is good for third place overall in the NCAA. He is also very close to a school record which was established last year when Tyler Herro hit 93.5 percent of free throws.

Quickley is also the team’s No. 1 scorer with a 16.3-point average and top 3-point shooter with 42.3 percent, and ranks No. 8 in SEC scoring.

Said Kentucky coach John Calipari of Quickley, “The kid lives in the game. He’s kind of like Tyler (Herro). He’s like Shai (Gilgeous-Alexander), those guys. He’s just like them.”

ESPN’s Dick Vitale added, “The kid likes the pressure. He enjoys the moment.”


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