Scott Padgett is a Kentucky hero after helping lead the Comeback Cats to an NCAA championship in head coach Tubby Smith’s first year in 2018, but all that Big Blue magic never translated to the NBA.
Padgett might have been better two decades later as a stretch four, but he never justified his first round price tag for the Utah Jazz and never averaged more than 6.7 points per game in any season of his career.
You’ll forgive Nazr Mohammed for not exactly feeling like a bust. It’s hard to be a bust when you’re a two time NCAA champion, with titles in 1996 and 1998, as well as an NBA champion for the 2005 San Antonio Spurs. Mohammed was the penultimate pick of the 1998 draft and played almost two seasons in the NBA, finally retiring in 2016.
He never averaged double digit points or rebounds for a whole season but did start 354 games and appear in over 1000 games, and he started every playoff game of that Spurs championship run en route to 88 playoff appearances. Mohammed played for eight NBA teams in all, but for such a career journeyman, he sure had a lot of team success.
Ron Mercer made the All Rookie team as the sixth pick of the 1997 draft for the Boston Celtics, scoring 15 points a game in his first season as things got off to a good start. He matched or beat that total each of the next three seasons but still bounced from Boston to Denver to Orlando to Chicago, failing to carve out a role or find a home in the NBA despite his scoring ability.
Perhaps it was the career 47% true shooting hidden behind all those inefficient points for a wing player that never learned to shoot a three and never had an offensive rating of 100 after his rookie season. But Mercer wasn’t the only Kentucky Wildcat bust drafted by the Celtics.
Antoine Walker, a bust? Employee number eight, the guy with all the commercials? Yes and yes. Walker was the sixth pick of the 1996 draft, and that year is key. Walker did go on to put up five seasons with 20 points a game or better and made three All Star teams in Boston, but he shot under 33% on threes and a brutal 41% field goal percentage for his career, the king of inefficient volume with a career 48% true shooting.
Even with all those points, it’s the player Antoine Walker wasn’t that Boston fans always remember. He never lived up to Allen Iverson or Ray Allen, chosen right before him, and he sure didn’t live up to Kobe Bryant or Steve Nash, both chosen in the ten picks after Walker.
Tony Delk had the best pedigree of all the Wildcats drafted in the late 90s. He was named the Most Outstanding Player after leading Kentucky to the championship in 1996, and he still ranks second all time in Wildcat steals and fifth all time in scoring. Delk was a gunner who never found his shooting stroke in the NBA, scoring just nine points a game over a decade in the league.
He played for eight teams in ten seasons, never sticking at any team more than two years and never finding a starting role outside of one decent playoff season with the Boston Celtics. But he’ll always have a place in his Old Kentucky Home.
Walter McCarty is the final member of the Untouchables, the 1996 Kentucky squad that was the first SEC team in 40 years to finish conference play undefeated before going on to win the first Wildcats national championship in 18 seasons.
You probably remember McCarty as yet another Wildcat on the Boston Celtics, but he was actually the 19th pick of the 1996 draft to the New York Knicks before being traded to Boston one year later. He lasted only one season as the starter there and never averaged double digit points over a full season.
Kenny “Sky” Walker is one of the all time Big Blue legends. He was a two time SEC player of the year and still ranks second all time among Kentucky scoring leaders, and he’s still a radio host today in Lexington, Kentucky. But he never quite lived up to the hype as the fifth pick of the 1986 draft for the New York Knicks.
If you aren’t a Kentucky fan and know Walker’s name, it’s probably because he won the 1989 NBA Slam Dunk Contest, but it’s never a good thing if that’s in the first sentence of your NBA bio. Walker averaged 7.7 points a game in five seasons with the Knicks before playing a couple seasons in Spain and then returning to join the Washington Bullets. He never really found his way in the NBA.