Kentucky Basketball's Five Biggest Recruiting misses in my lifetime!!!!!!!!!!!
Kentucky Basketball does not miss on recruits they want that often, but in my lifetime there have been more than a few. I'm going to name my Top 5 since being a Kentucky fan. Thing is with these five, things happened beyond the basketball program's control. Here we go in chronological order:
1) Darryl Dawkins, Maynard Evans HS, Orlando, Florida ( Class of 1975)- Dawkins, a 6'11" 250 pound center averaged 32 points and 21 rebounds a game in 1974 at Maynard Evans. He planned on going to college though Moses Malone went pro out of high school the previous year. Kentucky, Florida State, and Kansas was his final three schools. He had decided to attend Kentucky, but financial issues in his family led to surprisingly declaring for the NBA Draft: https://www.mcall.com/news/mc-xpm-2000-06-25-3302093-story.html. He was drafted 5th overall in first round by the Philadelphia 76ers of the NBA ending any chance of attending Kentucky. Dawkins ended up with career averages of 12 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks a game over a 12 year NBA career. He did shatter two backboards and change the way baskets are made to prevent this from happening(though Shaquille O'Neal brought a whole basket support down). Some viewed his NBA career as a disappointment, and think how much better would he have been if he matriculated to Kentucky? I still imagine Dawkins and the man I'm going to talk about next coming to Kentucky.
2) Bill "Poodles" Willoughby, Dwight Morrow HS, Englewood, New Jersey (Class of 1975)- Willoughby, a 6'8" 205 pound center with a 47 inch vertical leap was headed to Kentucky for college basketball. He changed his mind and skipped college to jump to the NBA, which he says he regretted doing so. Willoughby was drafted in the second round 19th overall by the Atlanta Hawks. He had to switch to forward in the NBA, which he had a hard time adjusting to the position. He did not have the skills to play forward and was said to be spoiled: https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/sports/1979/02/16/nba-is-not-the-place-to-grow-up/a6b512dd-7bbd-41be-ab77-17cab881d58e/. He was a jouneyman who played 8 years for 6 different teams. His NBA career averages were 6.0 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 0.8 assists per game. I still imagine Dawkins and Willoughby together in the same front court with Jack Givens, Rick Robey, and Mike Phillips. Could have won at least two NCAA titles.
3) Allen Iverson, Bethel HS, Hampton, Virginia (Class of 1994)- Allen Iverson aka "The Answer", a 6'0" 165 pound point guard, was headed into his senior year of high school was ranked the #1 prospect in America in Football(Quarterback, Defensive Back), and Basketball(Point Guard). He was headed for Kentucky because it was the only school that would allow him to play both sports: https://www.hoyabasketball.com/players/a_iverson.htm. This was before he was allegedly involved in a bowling alley brawl. It was racial because the fight was white vs black. None of the white agitators were charged, only 4 black kids were charged and one of them was Iverson. Coach Rick Pitino still wanted Iverson, but he was overruled by the University Administration. We know what happened next, John Thompson took a chance on him at Georgetown. Iverson ended up a College All-American, drafted first overall in the 1996 NBA Draft, NBA Most Valuable Player in 2001, and elected to the Naismith Basketball Hall Of Fame Class of 2016. What would have happened if the bowling alley brawl does not happen? What trajectory would his career have gone if he ended up at Kentucky? Interesting to ponder. Here's Iverson's career NBA statistics: https://www.basketball-reference.com/players/i/iversal01.html.
4) Tracy McGrady, Mount Zion Christian Academy, Durham, North Carolina (Class of 1997)- McGrady, 6'8" 210 pounds, at the end of his junior year was unranked and unknown nationally.He was playing at Auburndale High School in Auburndale, Florida. He received a last minute invite to the Adidas ABCD Camp in the summer of 1996. When he left the camp, he had played so well he left ranked #1 in the country in the Class of 1997. He transferrred to Mount Zion for his senior year of high school. All the big time schools were after McGrady but he chose Kentucky: https://247sports.com/college/kentucky/Article/Tracy-McGrady-I-was-going-to-Kentucky-147553769/. Then Adidas stepped in and offered McGrady a $12 million dollar deal to sign with them and turn pro. Once that happened forget college. He was drafted 9th overall and the rest is history. He had a slow start to his career but it really took off for him when he signed with the Orlando Magic as a free agent in the summer of 2000. He had some injuries but ended up in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2017. Kentucky at the time was in the midst of a three year run of NCAA title games which Kentucky won two(1996,1998). Kentucky still won the title without McGrady, but could they have gone undefeated? Here's his NBA career statistics: https://www.basketball-reference.com/players/m/mcgratr01.html.
5) Dirk Nowitzki, DJK Wurzburg, Germany (Class of 1998)- Nowitkzi, 7'0" 245 forward, was an unknown to American basketball fans, but not unknown to Kentucky Coaches. He visited Kentucky along with a couple of other schools, but was enamored with the program. It is explained here: https://ftw.usatoday.com/2014/03/nba-dirk-nowitzki-kentucky-tournament. Kentucky tried to hide him and did their best to keep him under wraps. He was then invited to a little known event called the Nike Hoop Summit. The Hoop Summit is United States High School players vs the rest of the World. Nowitzki played for the World Team, wowed in practices with NBA scouts in attendance, then scored 33 points on 6 for 12 shooting, 14 rebounds, and 3 steals in the game. Once he had that performance college was out. Nowitzki was drafted 9th overall by the Dallas Mavericks. He had a rough first year, but then came around and had a 20 year career(all with the Mavericks), NBA Most Valuable Player in 2007. He went on to win an NBA Title in 2011 with the Mavericks, winning NBA Finals MVP in the process. Nowitzki will be eligible for the Naismith Memorial Hall Of Fame Class of 2023. He should be a first ballot with no problem. What if he matriculated at Kentucky? It's a possibility they would have won their third title in four years in 1999. Here's his NBA career statistics: https://www.basketball-reference.com/players/n/nowitdi01.html.
Honorable mention: John Stewart, Lawrence North, Indianapolis, Indiana (Class of 1999)- Stewart was 7'0" 300 pound monster his senior year of high school. He averaged a double/double. Stewart was ranked 87th in America in Class of 1999. This is not a high ranking compared to the players John Calipari gets. This kid was considered a sleeper and diamond in the rough. He was a total monster on the interior. He signed a Letter of Intent with Kentucky in November of 1998. I was looking forward to checking him out at Kentucky. Alas he collapsed in the third quarter of a Indiana Sectional Playoff game in his senior year and died: https://usatodayhss.com/2014/the-john-stewart-story. It was tragic in every way and I'm sure his family is still mourning the loss: http://www.bigbluehistory.net/bb/Statistics/Players/Stewart_John.html. He was in a fabulous 1999 Kentucky class with Keith Bogans, Jason Parker, and Marquis Estill. I still think about the damage these guys would have done. Could they have beaten Marquette and Dwyane Wade in Elite Eight in 2003? Unfortunately we'll never know.