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A New Era of Homegrown Talent Playing for Kentucky

What Travis Perry’s Commitment Means For The Kentucky Wildcats

Rupp Arena was built on the backs of hard-nosed homegrown players. From Ralph Beard in Louisville to Wah Wah Jones in Harlan, the Kentucky basketball program owes its early success to talented instate players who reached their potential under Adolph Rupp.

That success created whimsical imagery of the Bluegrass version of The American Dream. Kids across the Commonwealth grow up dreaming of leading the Wildcats to glory.

That dream turned into more of a fantasy under John Calipari. The Kentucky head coach had unprecedented recruiting success across the country. Not every player from within the borders was overlooked and thanks to a revitalization of high school basketball across the state, the Kentucky Dream appears to be alive and well as Mark Pope takes over the program.

Shortly after Reed Sheppard was named National Freshman of the Year in college basketball, Trent Noah and Travis Perry played for a State Title at Rupp Arena. It was a battle of Eastern vs Western Kentucky featuring two of the top five scorers in KHSAA history. Noah had 17 points but was out-dueled by Perry, who scored 27 points to lead Lyon County to its first-ever state championship.

Mark Pope will have both elite scorers on his first Kentucky basketball roster. The two are bringing much more than shooting to the program.

“(Noah) is a tough, hard-nosed player with a special physicality,” Pope said Wednesday. “As an eastern Kentucky native, Trent will bring a grit, toughness and determination to the program that is representative of this state.”

One cannot win on instate talent alone. However, there’s something special about players from Kentucky who know exactly what it means to put on that blue and white uniform.

“These young men that grow up in Kentucky, they bring a spirit to the team that cannot be fabricated or replaced,” Pope said in his introductory press conference.

The new Kentucky head coach has assembled a roster of veteran players from the transfer portal who will carry a heavy load in year one. At the core of this program’s transformation, two kids from the state will set the tone for what’s to come in the future.

Players from Kentucky in the John Calipari Era

The Bluegrass Dream did not completely die during John Calipari’s time at Kentucky, but their contributions were typically in tertiary roles until Reed Sheppard redefined expectations for players from the Commonwealth. Only eight scholarship players from Kentucky played for Coach Cal.

Darius Miller was one of the few holdovers of the Billy Gillispie era. The Mr. Basketball from Mason County initially struggled to get over the hump, until he became the reliable Sixth Man for the 2012 National Champs. He’s the only Mr. Basketball from the state with a Sweet 16 and a National Championship (but I may be wrong, don’t fact-check me Corey Price).

Jon Hood was a big recruiting win for Billy Gillispie when he picked the Cats over Duke. The Madisonville-North Hopkins product lit it up in high school, but never consistently entered the rotation for John Calipari.

Twany Beckham was one of the first instate players recruited to join Cal’s program. The Ballard product transferred from Mississippi State and saw his first action during Kentucky’s 2012 title campaign. The reserve guard appeared in 16 games but did not score a point. The following season he was limited to only five games thanks to injuries.

Jarrod Polson arrived from West Jessamine around the same time as Twany. By his third year, he played a significant role off the bench, scoring 10 points to help Kentucky take down Maryland in the Barclays Center. The point guard appeared in all 33 games over his final two seasons in Lexington.

Derek Willis was considered Top 60 player by 247 Sports in the 2013 recruiting class, but the Bullitt East native was somewhat of an afterthought compared to his counterparts that drew 40-0 preseason hype. His potential was not unlocked until he served as a stretch-four for the 2017 Elite Eight team, knocking down over 37% of his threes as a regular piece of the rotation.

Another person in that rotation was Dominique Hawkins, who lived the true Kentucky dream. Overlooked by most major programs, he caught John Calipari’s eye by guiding Madison Central to a Sweet 16 title at Rupp Arena. The pesky defender drove Louisville guards mad in the 2014 Sweet 16, an achievement only usurped by his All-SEC Tournament performance in 2017.

Things began to unravel when one former Mr. Basketball stayed on the bench while Cal’s Cats had their worst season in decades. Fans are curious to see Dontaie Allen in action, something that didn’t happen until Calipari was ejected at Mississippi State. Allen knocked down seven threes in the surprising win. He nearly replicated that performance against the Bulldogs in the SEC Tournament, netting six from long range, but the Cats were eliminated by Mississippi State.