John Calipari said last week he hasn’t given up hope to one day fill the NBA All-Star Game with half the players from Kentucky. There’s reason for him to stay optimistic with four players in this year’s annual showcase of talent.
Karl-Anthony Towns (Minnesota Timberwolves) and John Wall (Washington Wizards) were selected for the NBA All-Star Game as reserves on Tuesday. They’ll join starters DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Feb. 18.
Only one other time in the history of the NBA All-Star Game has a college featured four or more of its former players in an NBA All-Star Game. That took place in 1983 with UCLA’s four representatives (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Marques Johnson, Kiki Vandeweghe and Jamaal Wilkes).
Kentucky will match that Feb. 18 in Los Angeles with Cousins, Davis, Tows and Wall. Davis will make his fifth consecutive appearance and third overall as a starter. Cousins is heading for his fourth All-Star Game but first as a starter. For Towns, this will be his first career All-Star appearance. Wall will make his fifth straight appearance.
Davis and Cousins were voted in by the fans, their peers and media members. Fans could vote via Twitter, Facebook, NBA.com, the NBA app and Google search. Towns and Wall were voted in by the league’s coaches.
Kentucky is the only school in the country with two former players in the 2018 All-Star Game starting lineup. When Cousins and Davis suit up for the game, it will mark the first time a school has had two players in the starting lineup of the NBA All-Star Game since Wake Forest had Chris Paul and Tim Duncan in the 2011 game. UK had two players – Davis and Wall – voted into the starting lineup in 2015, but Davis could not play due to injury.
Under a new All-Star Game format that replaces the traditional matchup between conferences, two captains will choose the rosters from the pool of players voted as starters and reserves. The captains will be the All-Star starter from each conference who receives the most fan votes in his conference.
Towns has continued his ascension as one of the league’s brightest young stars in year No. 3 in the league. The top overall selection in the 2015 NBA Draft – Calipari’s third at Kentucky – Towns has more than lived up to the billing as a franchise player.
The 7-foot forward has turned into a double-double machine, leading the league in that category with 41 such games. Showcasing his versatility, he ranks 24th in scoring (20.0 points per game), fifth in rebounding (12.1 rpg), eighth in blocks (1.55 bpg) and 23rd in 3-point field-goal percentage (.412). His player efficiency rating, a strong indicator of a player’s overall contributions and value, is at 23.81, the 12th-best mark in the league.
Towns is the leader of a young nucleus in Minnesota that is off to a head-turning 31-18 start, currently the third-best record in the ultra-competitive Western Conference. According to the Minnesota Timberwolves public relations department, in the past 35 years, only Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan and David Robinson have recorded more double-doubles in their first 175 career games.
In 2015, Towns was tabbed the NBA Rookie of the Year, the first player in Kentucky’s storied history to win the award. Although he’ll be making his first appearance in the All-Star Game, he was at NBA All-Star weekend in both 2016 and 2017. In 2016 he won the Skills Challenge. He’s also appeared in the Rising Stars Challenge in both of his first two seasons in the league.
Towns was one of the centerpieces of the historic 2014-15 UK team that flirted with a perfect season. He was an NCAA Consensus Second Team All-American and Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year.
Wall is in his eighth season in the NBA and continues to be among the elite point guards in the NBA. Despite missing some time in November and December due to injuries, he remains among the league leaders in several categories.
He’s 29th in scoring (19.3 points per game), second in assists (9.2 apg), 32nd in steals (1.31 spg), 21st in in blocks (1.14 bpg) and 20th in double-doubles (15). Despite the nagging injuries, his player efficiency is still among the top 50 in the league at 19.41.
Wall, who has led the Wizards to playoff appearances in three of the last four seasons, is Washington’s franchise leader in career assists and steals. The All-NBA Third Team selection a season ago has averaged 18.8 points, 9.2 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game over his career, joining Magic Johnson as the only other player in NBA history to post those averages for his career, according to the Wizards. He’s also one of four players in NBA history (Isiah Thomas, Stephon Marbury and Chris Paul) with 9,000 points and 4,500 assists through the age of 26
A member of the remarkable 2009-10 team, Calipari’s first at Kentucky, Wall became the first No. 1 pick in the history of the program after averaging 16.6 points, 6.5 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game en route to the SEC regular-season and tournament championships and an Elite Eight appearance. His 241 assists were, at the time, the most in school history. He was an NCAA Consensus First Team All-American, the recipient of the Adolph Rupp Trophy (national player of the year) and SEC Player of the Year.
After winning the All-Star game’s most valuable player award a season ago, Davis returns to the starting lineup for the third consecutive season. Davis is among the league leaders in a number of the major statistical categories. The 6-foot-11 forward ranks fourth in scoring (26.7 points per game), eighth in rebounding (10.5 rpg), third in blocks (2.05 bpg) and eighth in double-doubles (24). His player efficiency rating is at 28.65, the fourth-best mark in the league.
Davis has had a number of jaw-dropping performances this year, including making NBA history by posting 95-plus points and 50-plus rebounds over the first three games of a single season. On Nov. 21, he recorded his 16th 35-point, 15-rebound game. According to BasketballReference.com, the only other player since 1983 who record more than 10 before turning 25 was Shaquille O’Neal, who had 27. Just recently, Davis recorded a 48-point, 17-rebound game and followed it with a 45-point, 16-rebound effort. He’s just the third player in NBA history with back-to-back games of at least 45 points and 15 rebounds. He’s now achieved the feat twice in his career, also turning the trick last season as well.
Davis was also voted in as a starter for the 2015 and 2017 games. In his MVP performance, Davis scored an All-Star Game record 52 points in addition to contributing 10 rebounds. He broke Wilt Chamberlain’s previous scoring record of 42 points set in 1962.
Named the 2012 NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player after leading Kentucky to the 2012 national championship, Davis has already put together a long list of accolades in the NBA during his short career. Among his most noteworthy achievements, he was named to the All-NBA First Team in 2015 and 2017 and the NBA All-Rookie Team in 2013. He was considered the consensus national player of the year – Kentucky’s first – in 2012.
Cousins is in his eighth season in the NBA and is having a magnificent start to an MVP-caliber season. He, along with Davis, are among the league leaders in a number of the major statistical categories.
Cousins ranks sixth in scoring (25.6 points per game), third in rebounding (12.9 rpg), 14th in steals (1.63 spg) 21st in assists (5.2 apg), ninth in blocks (1.54 bpg) and second in double-doubles (36). His player efficiency rating is at 23.29, which ranks as the 19th-best mark in the league. He’s the only player in the NBA averaging 25 or more points, 10 or more rebounds and five or more assists.
His latest highlight in his best season to of his career so far included a monster 44-points, 24-rebound, 10-assist game on Monday night in a win over Chicago. Cousins became the first NBA player since Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1972 to have as many as 40 points, 20 rebounds and 10 assists in a game, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. He was the fastest player during the 2017-18 season to record 500 points and 250 rebounds. He recorded 40 points and 22 rebounds on Dec. 6 vs. Denver. According to NBA.com/stats, he’s the first player with multiple 40-point, 20-rebound games in a season since Patrick Ewing had two such games in 1989-90.
One of Calipari’s first-ever signees at Kentucky, Cousins went on to average 15.1 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game in an All-America (NCAA consensus second team) season. He helped lead the Cats to an Elite Eight appearance after capturing the SEC regular-season and tournament crowns.
But NBA All-Star weekend won’t just be relegated to just these Wildcats as several others anticipate joining them as a part of the weekend’s festivities.
Recent NBA All-Star weekends have featured former UK players in the Rising Stars Challenge Game, the Skills Challenge, the Slam Dunk Contest and the Three-Point Challenge. Those announcements are expected to be made soon.