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Who have been the best defenders in UK basketball history


Bleacher Report columnist Bobby Reagan had an interesting post this week about the five all-time best defenders in Kentucky basketball history.

He went with Anthony Davis No. 1 and Nerlens Noel No. 2. They were followed by Dale Brown, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Rajon Rondo.

All certainly were legitimate defenders and there’s no way to dispute Davis being No. 1. He played just one year at UK, but was spectacular. Same with Noel.

However, there are a few other players I would have to strongly consider for honors.

Start with guard Larry Johnson. Final Four MVP Jack Givens says he was the best perimeter defender he played with or saw.

Jamal Maglorie was a physical, dominating player. He could block shots or just knock a defender out of the way.

I thought Chuck Hayes did a terrific defensive job. And what about John Calipari’s first defensive stopper, DeAndre Liggins.

I could list more — and I am sure you can, too.

So let me know who you would rate as your top defenders. Do yo ugo all-in with Bleacher Report’s Reagan? Do you have a completely different five? Let me know.

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  1. Karen Sprinkle

    I can’t argue with any of the choices, either Bleacher Report or yours, Larry. I would add Cliff Hawkins to the list. From what I’ve read, the other players on the 2003 Suffocats team felt obligated to play as great a defense as they could or Hawkins would be mad. I was at the Ole Miss game in which Hawkins infuriated the point guard he was defending so much that the guy (he was that short dude–about 5’4″ as I recall) jumped up and hit Hawkins with a forearm, earning a technical foul. This was right after Hawkins and Tayshaun Prince had trapped the guard. The guard looked like he tried to go after Hawkins then, but Prince intervened (which was one of the funnier sights I can remember since Prince is a long, lanky 6’9″).

    1. TrueBlueJohn

      Karen, I am inclined to agree with you. It must have been the opposing point guard’s worst nightmare to look down the court and see Hawkins waiting for you.

      Another name that I would throw out goes way back. The Fiddling Five might not have won in 1958 without the job that John Crigler did on Elgin Baylor in the championship game. He was just one of those hard-nosed blue-collar defenders that the state produced in those days.

  2. King Ghidora

    People always want to look at the last 10 years to get their “all whatever” lists. UK has been good a lot longer than that. I certainly agree about Larry Johnson and Prince has the reputation of being one of the best defenders going. He shut down Kobe when the Pistons beat them for the NBA title. I mean he made Bryant look sick.

    Mike Pratt was a great defender as was Larry Steele. Steele made a long NBA career out of his ability to play defense. I guess I’m looking at the players I’ve seen play too. But somewhere back during the days before the middle 60’s, when I started watching, there were likely some other great defenders. I’ve heard that Wah Wah Jones was a great defender and so was Bill Spivey not to mention Cliff Hagan. But I have to go by what I’ve seen and there have been some greats over the years. Rick Robey was a good defender. Stan Key was solid. Sam Bowie was very good especially before the injury. Dicky Beal was a great ball defender before his injury. Winston Bennett belongs near the top. And Ed Davender should be a lock for the top 5 IMO. And how could we overlook Wayne Turner who is the all time steals leader for UK Tony Delk is second followed by Hawkins then Davender. Magloire is at the top of the shot block list but that was over 4 years. Davis is near the top after just one year. And WCS is right behind Davis after only playing 2 years. He is #6 all time for UK. Keep in mind that he’s played just 66 games for UK. Davis played 40 so WCS isn’t that far off the pace set by Davis. Then I look at Walter McCarty who had more steals than Liggins and is also ranked pretty high on the blocked shots list. He was a great defender. Of course the style of play of their particular teams had much to do with these numbers.

    In the end I come to the same conclusion I always do about the “best at X” lists for UK players. UK has been too good for too long, things have changed dramatically over the years and it’s hard to compare eras, and there are just too many good players at whatever you might want to ask about. In short you just can’t make a good list for UK when it comes to singling out players. They have been too good for too long. I haven’t even gotten into the Basil Hayden discussion here and it certainly applies to to this list. He last played 92 years ago and was the first UK All American. He gets the tag of being the last UK coach to have a losing season before the Sutton sanctions but that really isn’t fair. He took over a team that was totally depleted of talent and coached just one year. Ray Eklund left him with 2 returning players neither of which was actually good.

  3. Grant

    Todd swvobda

  4. Hoffmeyer

    My high school coach always encouraged me to play defense like Ralph Beard, of the Fabulous Five. I tried to do it. I got a breakfast paid for me by Coach Diddle and I didn’t even know he was in the restaurant. When the cashier told me who had paid, I went over and thanked Coach Diddle and asked him why. He said he remembered recruiting a player who I had to guard. Based on my performance that night he did NOT offer a scholarship to that player who went on to sit on the bench for four years for a top collegiate program. So I guess defense was important, and I tried to be a defender like Ralph Beard.

    About 10 years after high school, I married a girl who said we were going to a party thrown by her father’s cousin. Ralph Beard. Small world.
    So I think Ralph Beard should be in the mix for best defender as his teams also won the NCAA a couple of times and went on to win the Olympics.

    Keep up your great work Larry.

    1. larryvaught

      Great story Claude Hoffmeyer

  5. David

    Back in the day, the first player that stood out for me was Larry Stamper, a tough no nonsense defender that would wear out the opposing player. Memorial Coliseum was a wonderful venue, the students behind the visitors bench, Rupp on the sidelines, Caywood on the radio.

  6. donv

    Without a doubt Cliff Hawkins. He picked so many pockets that the opposing PG would just get rid of the ball if he could get it into frontcourt.

  7. Bob

    There has been so many players threw the years that played grest D it would be an toss of the coin. However after dusting off the Cobb Webs i thought about the great full court pressure teams of Pinto’s years at Kentucky .I think D was an huge part of Pinto’s sucess because he lacked having the best team alot however his strong D made up for his short falls . I wouldn’t know where to start trying to pick one player. Mash was an great D player, Davis was tyed with anyone for #1 he was an solid Rock on D.. Good Luck on this one


    Turpin and Bowie!

  9. Larry Pup

    Anthony Davis hands down. Imagine if he had stayed four years.

  10. Jinx

    Anthony Davis was the second coming of Lew Alcindor & Bill Walton. Had he stayed for three or four years he and the players that would have surrounded him would have absolutely dominated the game. AD wasn’t as far along when he arrived at college as Alcindor or Walton, but as he’s shown in the NBA, he learns quickly, extremely quickly – just think, this coming season would have been his senior year and he’s already being spoken of as being one of the NBA’s biggest impact players.

  11. LexJim

    Larry, I don’t think anyone mentioned Jack Givens but he was a terrific defender. In the 1978 Mideast Regional final he pretty much shut down Magic Johnson after he had destroyed Western Kentucky in the semifinals.

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