By LARRY VAUGHT
Veteran Sporting News columnist Mike DeCourcy has covered college basketball for over 20 years and knew Kentucky coach John Calipari long before he got to Kentucky.
DeCourcy is one of the nation’s most respected journalists — that’s why he is in the United States Basketball Writers Hall of Fame.
During a recent conversation, I asked him who he thought were the three best UK players he has seen play. There were no restrictions. It could be four-year players or one-and-done guys or anything in between.
He said picking two of them — Jamal Mashburn and Anthony Davis — was easy.
“Jamal Mashburn is an easy choice. Despite that Christian Laettner moment (in the 1992 NCAA Tournament when Laettner’s last-second shot beat UK in overtime), that was one of pivotal minutes in Kentucky history,” DeCourcy said. “Kentucky went toe to toe and lost on miracle when nobody really thought they had the talent to stay with Duke.
“That is why they dominated the 90’s. They were never that until that night and Kentucky basketball was reminded of what it could be and the next five or six years were great, and it began that night.
“Mashburn, I was there that night, he was phenomenal. I was there in New Orleans when UK made the Final Four with him (the next year). He is an easy choice in that trio of great Kentucky players.
“Without a doubt Anthony Davis is in there. It’s kind of tricky because he only played one year. But Anthony Davis’ one season was phenomenal. At midseason that year we do an All-American team and Anthony was on the second or third team. But I remember writing he would be national player of the year, and he was. He was incredible all year and was in the tournament as well.”
DeCourcy debated going with Tony Delk for the third spot. However, he opted for Karl-Anthony Towns.
“Karl was such a force at the heart of that undefeated team, and such a surprise to me in his one year,” DeCourcy said. “I saw him going into his junior season of high school playing with John (Calipari) on the Dominican national team. I knew he had great ability, but all he did was play on the perimeter.”
DeCourcy thought he might eventually be like NBA all-star Dirk Nowitzki of Dallas, a big guy with extraordinary perimeter skills.
“John convinced him that playing around the basket would make him special. He could do lots of things that nobody else could do. He has been all of that and more in the NBA, too,” DeCourcy said. “At Kentucky he abandoned the perimeter game because that was not what the team needed. He added inside play and defense.
“He was a 100 percent different player after a year at Kentucky. He came there with a lot of talent, but left with even more.”