2014 was undoubtedly one of the best years in the University of Kentucky’s rich basketball history, as the program finished 38-1. Fast forward to 2016, five players on that roster are quickly making names for themselves on NBA teams out in the Western Conference.
Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns is gearing up for his second year in the league after being selected as the unanimous winner of the NBA Rookie of the Year award last season. Towns, the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2015, became the first player from the University of Kentucky to win Rookie of the Year and just the fifth player to win unanimously since the award was first given out in 1953. Towns, 20, set franchise rookie records for scoring, rebounds, blocks and field goal percentage, averaging 18.3 points, 10.5 rebounds and 1.7 blocks.
Finishing fourth in NBA Rookie of the Year voting last season was 19-year-old shooting guard Devin Booker. Booker, the No.13 draft pick in 2015, averaged 13.8 points for the Phoenix Suns, starting in 51 of the 76 games he played in. Booker dominated in the 2016 Las Vegas Summer League, finishing second among all players in points(26.0) and assists(6.5).
Booker is reunited with a familiar face in 20-year-old guard Tyler Ulis, a key component to Kentucky’s 2014 backcourt. Ulis, the 2016 SEC Player of the Year, was a second-round selection this year by the Suns at No.34. The 5-10 guard, who also won 2016 SEC Defensive Player of the Year, showed out in the Vegas Summer League, averaging 14.5 points and 2.8 steals. Ulis finished right behind Booker for third place in assists(6.3).
Trey Lyles, another former Kentucky standout, outscored both Ulis and Booker in the Summer League. Lyles led the Vegas Summer League with 29 points per game and was tied with Booker for first in minutes per game(33.5). Lyles, 20, was drafted at No.12 by the Utah Jazz in 2015, averaging 6.1 points in 80 games during his rookie campaign.
Willie Cauley-Stein was a defensive enforcer at Kentucky. The Sacramento Kings, who drafted Cauley-Stein with the 6th pick in 2015, expect the same enforcing in the near future from the 22-year-old center. Cauley-Stein started in 39 games last year but averaged just seven points, 5.3 boards and one block. The 7-footer’s numbers were similar in the Summer League but expect more out of Cauley Stein because the Kings are looking to pair him with superstar center DeMarcus Cousins in the starting lineup on a consistent basis.
Nobody on Kentucky’s 2014 roster averaged more than 11 points, 6.7 rebounds or 3.6 assists that year.
Look at them now.