July 15, 2024

Top Kentucky NBA players under John Calipari: Reed Sheppard, Rob Dillingham expected to be drafted in lottery

The John Calipari era at Kentucky ended earlier this spring when he took over as coach at Arkansas after 15 years in the Bluegrass State. Calipari departs UK having produced some of the top recruiting classes in the modern era and dozens of players selected in the NBA Draft. 

During his time with the program, Calipari produced 35 first-rounders, 23 lottery picks, and three No. 1 overall selections in NBA Drafts from 2010 onward. With Rob Dillingham and Reed Sheppard projected as lottery picks during the first round of the 2024 NBA Draft on Wednesday, that number should grow before Calipari officially coaches a game as the head man at Arkansas.

Sheppard is ranked No. 3 in CBS Sports’ final NBA Draft Prospect Rankings, while Dillingham finished four spots behind him at No. 7. Another member of Kentucky’s star-studded 2023 recruiting class – Justin Edwards – ranked No. 30 on the final big board and could also sneak into the end of the first round.

Calipari’s first recruiting class at Kentucky produced three lottery picks: John Wall (No. 1 overall), DeMarcus Cousins (No. 5), and Patrick Patterson (No. 14). Wall, Anthony Davis (2012), and Karl Anthony-Towns) were players from his tenure that went No. 1 overall. Thirteen of the 15 players on this list are still playing in the NBA, and most are either in their prime or approaching it. 

With Sheppard, Dillingham and Edwards set to join the list of Kentucky players drafted, here are the best NBA players who played for Calipari at Kentucky.

Anthony Davis led UK to the 2012 NCAA Tournament title.
Getty Images

1. Anthony Davis

When Davis is at his best, he’s in the conversation for the best big man in the NBA. In his lone season at Kentucky during the 2011-12 campaign, he put up monster numbers that also have him in the conversation as the best one-and-done prospect in modern college basketball history. Davis was drafted by the New Orleans Hornets (now the New Orleans Pelicans) in 2012 and spent the first seven years of his career there before being traded to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2019. He is an eight-time NBA All-Star, made the All-NBA First Team four times, and appeared on the All-Defensive Team five times. Davis appeared in a career-high 76 games during the 2023-24 campaign for the Lakers.

2. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

Gilgeous-Alexander’s rise from star to superstar during the last two seasons has been fascinating to track. SGA was drafted by the Los Angeles Clippers in 2018 and spent one season in Southern California before getting shipped to the Oklahoma City Thunder as part of the Paul George trade. SGA finished the season third in scoring (30.1 ppg) and helped the Thunder earn the No. 1 seed in the West. When ranking NBA career peaks last summer, SGA checked in at No. 5. His steady rise and emergence as one of the top MVP candidates in the league is why he made (another) massive jump in these rankings.

3. Devin Booker

Booker came off the bench during his lone season at Kentucky as a freshman. That didn’t stop him from becoming a lottery pick and being one of the youngest players selected in the 2015 NBA Draft. At 20 years old, Booker became the youngest player in NBA history to score 70 points, and his career has been on a steady climb since. The addition of Chris Paul helped jolt the Suns from a lottery team to champions of the Western Conference. Booker is a four-time All-Star and appeared on the All-NBA First Team in 2022. Booker is coming off another season in which he averaged over 27 points (27.1 ppg) while recording a career-high 6.9 assists. Booker has a strong argument as the best player to play at Kentucky under Calipari.

4. John Wall 

The prime of Wall’s career can not be overshadowed by his final seasons in the NBA, which included holding out a full season with Houston and being traded back to the Rockets after spending just over half a season with the Los Angeles Clippers. During his peak, Wall was an explosive and flashy guard and one of the best two-way players in the league. Wall was the first selection from the Calipari era at Kentucky and became a five-time NBA All-Star. He was named to the NBA All-Defensive Second Team in 2015.

5. De’Aaron Fox

Fox was a key reason why the Sacramento Kings broke the longest playoff drought (16 years) in Northern American sports last spring. Fox was named the inaugural Jerry West Clutch Player of the Year and earned his first nod as an NBA All-Star during the 2022-23 campaign after averaging 25 points and 6.1 assists. Fox averaged a career-high 26.6 points this past season.

6. DeMarcus Cousins

Cousins was arguably the best big man in the NBA during the peak of his career with the Sacramento Kings. Cousins made the NBA All-Star Game four times and was famously traded to the Pelicans after the 2016 NBA All-Star Game in New Orleans. Cousins suffered a handful of devastating injuries during the peak of his career, which is headlined by a ruptured left Achilles tendon. That injury knocked out Cousins for almost an entire calendar year. Cousins is currently playing in Taiwan, and it appears his NBA career is over. 

7. Jamal Murray

Murray hasn’t been named to any NBA All-Star or All-NBA teams yet, but he proved to be a No. 2 option on a championship team during the 2022-23 season when the Denver Nuggets beat the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals. Murray had electric performances in the NBA Bubble in 2020, but it still doesn’t top what he accomplished last season. Murray tore his ACL in 2021 and came back better than ever. Murray averaged 21.2 points and 6.5 assists this season.

8. Karl-Anthony Towns

Coming out of Kentucky, KAT was one of the most hyped-up draft prospects of the 2010s. The best season of his career came during the 2019-20 campaign when he averaged 26.5 points, 10.8 rebounds and 4.4 assists. He missed time last season because of an injury but returned to help the Timberwolves reach the conference finals.

9. Bam Adebayo

Adebayo has been the second option on two Miami Heat teams that reached the NBA Finals and lost. He is a three-time NBA All-Star and has made the NBA All-Defensive Second Team five seasons in a row. He is one of the best rim protectors in the league and a threat to win Defensive Player of the Year every season. Adebayo averaged 19.3 points and a career-high 10.4 rebounds this season.

10. Tyrese Maxey

After averaging just over 20 points per game during the 2022-23 campaign, Maxey took his game to another level this season. He averaged career highs in points (25.9), assists (6.2), rebounds (3.7) and steals (1.0). Maxey was named to the NBA All-Star team for the first time in his career this season and became the focal point of the Philadelphia 76ers after star Joel Embiid went down with injury. 

11. Julius Randle

Randle’s NBA career got off to a rough start. In his first NBA game, he broke his right tibia, forcing him to miss his entire rookie season. Randle is currently dealing with another injury on his right shoulder that will keep him out for the remainder of the season. Randle appeared in only 46 games during the 2023-24 season after averaging a career-high 25.1 points (in 77 games played) the year before. 

12. Malik Monk

After stints with the Charlotte Hornets and the Lakers, Monk signed a two-year contract with the Kings in 2022. Monk played a key role alongside his former Kentucky teammate (Fox) in helping the Kings reach the playoffs last season. Monk was having the best season of his career during the 2023-24 campaign before going down with an MCL sprain last month. Before the injury, Monk was one of the betting favorites to win the Sixth Man of the Year award after averaging a career-high 15.4 points and 5.1 assists. Monk will be a free agent this offseason.

13. Tyler Herro

Herro has averaged over 20 points per game during the last three seasons and played a key role on two different Heat teams that reached the NBA Finals. Herro appeared in only 42 games this past season but the skilled shotmaker should be due for a bounceback season this fall.

14. Immanuel Quickley

After spending the first four seasons with the New York Knicks, Quickely was traded to the Toronto Raptors midseason as part of the OG Anunoby deal. Quickely started in all 38 games he appeared in for the Raptors and averaged a career-high in points (18.6), assists (6.8), and rebounds (4.8). The 24-year-old will be a restricted free agent this offseason.

15. Keldon Johnson

The former No. 29 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft has found a role with the San Antonio Spurs. Johnson signed a contract extension with the Spurs nearly two years ago and had the best individual season of his career shortly after. Johnson is on one of the best-value contracts in the league and should continue to be a key contributor in the Spurs rebuild alongside Victor Wembanyama.