March 25, 2022
It was the dream season and they were set for a historic finish. The 2015 Kentucky Wildcats were 38-0 headed into the Final Four. John Calipari's team was one of three one-seeds to make it to Indianapolis for the Final Four along with Wisconsin and Duke. Michigan State was a seven-seed and the fourth team to get there.
But Kentucky was playing within a short drive from their campus and this was to be a celebration of excellence. That team features Karl-AnthonyTowns, who was projected to be the number one pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. The Harrison twins- Aaron and Andrew, were on that team along with Willie-Cauley Stein, Dakari Johnson, Trey Lyles and Devin Booker. All seven would enter the draft. That's right, all seven.
But the dream of a perfect season ended in the national semifinal with a 71-64 loss to Wisconsin. Duke blew out Michigan State and Coach K's squad would cut the nets down in the title game with a 68-63 win over the Badgers.
When the NBA Draft came around, six of the seven Wildcats were selected. Four of the first 13 picks in the first round were from Kentucky. Karl-Anthony Towns was the first overall selection by the Minnesota Timberwolves. Sacramento selected Willie Cauley-Stein sixth. Trey Lyles went to Utah at 12 and Devin Booker went 13th to Phoenix. Dakari Johnson and Andrew Harrison went in the second round.
Booker played one season at Kentucky and averaged 10 points and 2 rebounds while averaging 21.5 minutes per game. He didn't start that season but earned the SEC's Sixth Man of the Year award. Booker was a five-star scoring machine coming out of high school in Moss Point, Mississippi. He was projected to be picked in the top 15 picks and most mock drafts had Booker in the 8-15 range.
Booker's father, Melvin, played in the NBA and knew of the challenges for a young player and had wanted his son to play three years of college ball to develop his game. But Calipari told Melvin NBA teams felt Booker was ready and there was no way he could tell Devin to stay if he would be drafted that high. Booker worked out for the Suns and apparently blew them away with his ability to shoot and handle the ball. But Phoenix didn't think Booker would be there at 13 when they picked. Booker didn't workout for a few teams in front of Phoenix because he hoped they wouldn't draft him.
He did get picked by the Suns and today Devin Booker is one of the best scorers in the game. He is on pace for a 5th straight season averaging 25 or more. He averaged over 27 a game during the Suns run in the NBA Playoffs last year.
In the 2015 NBA Draft, the Orlando Magic selected Mario Hezonja with a fifth overall pick. Hezonja played for Barcelona in the 2014-15 season where he averaged about 15 minutes a game, not points- minutes. He was said to be a skilled shooter that fit the NBA's desire to rely more on the three-point shot. Hezonja had moments in his rookie season but never did develop into the shooting assassin some labeled him to be.
It's easy to now look back and wonder what would have been if the Magic had selected Booker knowing what we know now. Few had Booker going that high before the draft and the Magic likely would have selected Kristaps Porzingis if they could have that year if they were at four.
If we assume Booker's development would have been the same the Magic's current state might be much different. But Booker had not played a playoff game until last season and the Suns have added pieces around him, including Chris Paul and a top overall pick in Deandre Ayton. Booker does what Orlando needs. He can score and shoot and he's exciting and someone fans want to see.
The Suns won 23 games in Booker's rookie season and then 24, 21 and 19 games in the next three seasons. Things got better the following year when Monty Williams became coach and they won 34 games and 51 last season advancing to the NBA Finals.
This year the Suns are 60-14 and own the best record in the NBA and are among the favorites to win the title and Booker is averaging more than 26 a game. Mario Hezonja is no longer in the NBA and last played in Portland in 2020. He never averaged more than 9.6 a game and never became the shooting assassin some predicted. Booker has more than lived up to his hype and might win his first NBA title...
Kelvin Sampson has taken Houston to three straight Sweet 16s and now a second straight appearance in the Elite Eight. Houston has gone 116-21 the last four seasons. As someone that has seen Houston up close because of playing UCF every year. Houston just wears you down with their relentless defense and energy. Here's one example of that: Josh Carlton transferred to Houston from UCONN, where many believe he underachieved. Carlton was brought in to be a force with Fabian White up front. But Carlton was told by Kelvin Sampson he needed him to be a offensive rebounding machine and worked and worked and worked Carlton during the off-season. How did it work out? Carlton enters Saturday's regional final with 107 defensive rebounds and 118 offensive rebounds. That's one of many reasons why Houston is still playing...
Tyreek Hill says he is a cheetah and can't wait to play with Miami's Jaylen Waddle, who waddles like a penguin. Now if we can just get the team to put the live dolphin back in the end zone for post touchdown celebrations like in the Orange Bowl days the team will be rocking. But Hill has added a buzz to the team and town and Orlando is part of Hill's highlights on the track. Ten years ago Hill competed in the 2012 Golden South Classic at Showalter Field. He ran a 10.19 in the 100 meter classic preliminary and finished second in the finals, where he ran a 10.41. He finished second to Lavonte Whitfield- who played Jones High School, Florida State and in the NFL with the Bengals. Hill won the 200 meter race that meet running a 20.14 in the finals. The cheetah is fast and the Dolphins got faster...
Final note: Where did the term Final Four come from? In 1975, Cleveland Plain Dealer writer Ed Chay wrote that Marquette "was one of the final four teams" in the previous year's tournament. And so it stuck and was later adopted by the NCAA.