By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer
John Calipari values point guard play on his basketball teams. One constant at every school he has coached has been his use of point guards that can score and distribute the ball starting with Derrick Rose at Memphis. His dribble-drive offense is also a natural for point guards that are athletic and can beat their man off the dribble.
Players like John Wall, Brandon Knight, Tyler Ulis and De’Aaron Fox were standout scoring point guards for each of Calipari’s teams at Kentucky. Those are the point guards that seem to be universally recognized as the best from the John Calipari era. They are also the players that averaged the most points – between 16 to 18 points per game – from the point guard position.
Each of those players saw great personal success in college and the NBA. John Wall was the first pick in the 2010 NBA draft and is a four-time NBA All-Star. Brandon Knight was the eighth pick in the 2011 NBA Draft and made the 2012 NBA All-Rookie Team. Tyler Ulis and De’Aaron Fox have also had excellent careers in college and the NBA with Ulis winning a starting spot on the Phoenix Suns and being named Western Conference Rookie of the Month while De’Aaron Fox was picked fifth in the 2017 NBA Draft by the Sacramento Kings.
But what else does this list have in common?
Only one of those players took his team farther than the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament. John Wall and De’Aaron Fox made it as far as the Elite Eight, Brandon Knight made the Final Four and Tyler Ulis only went as far as the Round of Thirty-Two.
What is even more interesting is the list of point guards that are not considered the elite of the John Calipari era at UK. That would be Marquis Teague from the 2012 team, Ryan Harrow from 2013 and Andrew Harrison who led the 2014 and 2015 teams. Those players averaged around 10 points per game for their respective teams. Each was not recognized highly in college or the NBA and were not dominant scoring guards in college. Marquis Teague was drafted 29th in the 2010 NBA Draft and is currently playing in the G-League. Ryan Harrow transferred after one unsuccessful year at UK. He is currently playing in the Polish Professional League. Andrew Harrison was the 44th pick in the 2015 NBA Draft and is currently playing for the Memphis Grizzlies.
What do two of these three players have in common? Although their personal success has been limited their team success is the best of the best for the John Calipari era. Marquis Teague led his team to the NCAA Championship in 2012 by being a point guard that could get out in transition, play good defense, distribute the ball and score with medium range jump shots and drives to the basket when needed.
Andrew Harrison led his team to the Runner-Up spot in the NCAA Tournament in 2014 and to a 38-1 record and the Final Four in 2015. He did that through the ability to distribute the ball to his teammates, get the ball to the basket using his superior size and strength for a point guard and his toughness in leading the team.
Why is that important? Because this year UK has two point guards that seem to fall into that same category. Neither Quade Green or Shai Gilgeous-Alexander appear to be “score first” point guards. Green can get out in transition, has the skills to play good defense and is an excellent mid-range and long-range shooter. He can score when needed.
Gilgeous-Alexander is a point guard with size and strength that can overpower his defender taking the ball to the basket and has a toughness about him that is reminiscent of Harrison or Isaiah Briscoe taking the ball to the basket.
It appears — based on past UK history — that John Calipari teams have had the most success when the point guards fit the mold of the current two running the team this year. Here’s hoping that each of them can lead the Wildcats to the same level that Marquis Teague or even Andrew Harrison were able to experience during their time as Wildcats.