UK's Success Rate as Strong as Ever After 2015 Graduation
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- John Calipari has said before that if a student-athlete plays basketball at Kentucky, he is heading to the pros, getting his diploma or doing both. He calls it the success rate, and it's as strong as ever with four more men's basketball players having earned their degree this past weekend and a fifth on schedule to officially graduate in August.
Current Wildcats Alex Poythress, Tod Lanter, Brian Long and Sam Malone all received their undergraduate degrees during the university's May 2015 commencement ceremonies on Saturday at the Lexington Center. Former Kentucky star Kelenna Azubuike (2003-05) also walked at this weekend's graduation and is on schedule to graduate in August after returning to school in the spring with a 19-hour course load.
After this weekend, all 14 players who have been eligible to graduate by the end of their senior years in the Calipari era have received their degrees, including three players (Poythress, Patrick Patterson and Jarrod Polson) who completed their undergraduate degrees in three years.
Also, Azubuike is on track to become the fifth former Kentucky men's basketball player in the Calipari era to return to school and finish his degree, joining former Wildcats Wayne Turner (1996-96), Steve Masiello (1997-2000), Marquis Estill (2001-03) and Jodie Meeks (2007-09).
"Nothing makes me prouder than to watch our guys complete their degrees," said Michael Stone, UK's longtime academic counselor for men's basketball. "Education is a journey. For some the journey takes longer, but the goal is still the same: finish your degree. When I first meet with a recruit, I tell them that I don't have a crystal ball and I do not know how long they will be here. I do promise them that it doesn't matter how long they are here for, whether it's one year, two years, three years, etc., we are going to work hard in the classroom. If they do this, they will graduate.
"Our players have a lot to balance during the academic year. Even when we are on the road and traveling for games, they must stay on top of their coursework. I'm proud that our guys have made the commitment to finish their schoolwork and that so many of them have completed a degree that will take them far in life."
Poythress earned a bachelor of arts in business marketing and will return for his senior season to pursue a master's degree in sports leadership. A three-time member of the Southeastern Academic Honor Roll, Poythress just completed his third season on the court for the Wildcats where he helped the team to a historic 38-1 record.
The sophomore from Clarksville, Tenn., averaged 5.5 points and 3.8 rebounds in eight games in 2014-15 before suffering a season-ending knee injury in December. Poythress will return in the fall with more experience than any other player on the roster, having appeared in 81 games with 39 three starts in three seasons.
"It's a great accomplishment, but I'm still working on another goal," Poythress said. "I'm looking forward to starting my master's degree in sports leadership this summer and rejoining my teammates on the court as soon as possible."
Lanter transferred to UK in 2012 after a season at Gulf Coast State Community College. The son of former Wildcat Bo Lanter, he appeared on the SEC Academic Honor Roll three times in his three seasons at Kentucky. Lanter played in 13 games in his career and recorded his first points -- a 3-pointer during the Auburn game on Feb. 21 -- during the 2014-15 season. He graduated Saturday with a degree in business marketing.
"Having been raised in the Bluegrass State, returning to Kentucky to be a part of this team and this university has been my biggest dream come true," Lanter said. "I would like to thank Coach Cal and the entire staff for giving me such an unbelievable opportunity; the Big Blue Nation for welcoming me with open arms; my teammates for their guidance, brotherhood and determination; and our managers for their dedication."
"I would also especially like to thank my family for their love and support, my friends for their encouragement, the university and my professors for my top-tier education, and my classmates for their motivation. I thank God every day for the blessings bestowed upon me. My three years as a Wildcat have been nothing short of amazing, and I take great pride in calling myself an alumnus from the University of Kentucky."
Long just finished his UK career with a remarkable 126-26 record, a national championship in 2012 and three Final Four appearances. A four-time SEC Academic Honor Roll member, Long appeared in 26 career games and made his first career start during Senior Day on March 7. He earned a degree in communications.
"I can't believe four years has gone by so fast," Long said. "It's been an amazing experience -- beyond anything I could have ever imagined. I've really enjoyed being part of the community of Lexington and I'm very proud to officially be a graduate of UK.
"I feel blessed that I had the opportunity to receive a great education and also be a part of the greatest tradition in college basketball. I want to thank Coach Cal and the coaching staff, the entire university support staff and my professors, all my teammates, and of course the Big Blue Nation for making this experience so special."
Malone received his degree over the weekend in business marketing. Like Long, he posted a 126-26 record while at Kentucky, including a national championship and three Final Fours. A four-time SEC Academic Honor Roll selection, Malone won the 2014 Final Four Elite 89 Academic Award, given annually to the student-athlete with the top GPA at the Final Four. The Scituate, Mass., native played in 18 career games and scored seven points, including six in the 2012 championship season.
"Graduating from the University of Kentucky fills me with pride, gratitude and joy," Malone said. "I thank The Lord for blessing me with a great family, teachers, coaches and new friends in Kentucky. I look forward to returning to Lexington often. Go Big Blue!"
Azubuike played three seasons at Kentucky before turning pro in 2005. A two-time All-SEC Tournament Team member and an All-SEC Second Team selection in 2005, Azubuike scored 970 career points to go along with 363 rebounds before landing in the NBA for five seasons. He graduated Saturday with a bachelor's of business administration in marketing.
Kentucky's penchant for graduating its student-athletes is reflected in the NCAA's Academic Progress Rate, which measures academic eligibility and retention of student-athletes. In the latest APR report, released in May 2014, UK posted a four-year composite score of 989, well above the 930 four-year average needed to compete in the postseason.
The four-year composite score released last May covered the 2009-10, 2010-11, 2011-12 and 2012-13 academic years, Calipari's first four teams at Kentucky. The 2013-13 team will be included in the upcoming May report, and the 2014-15 team will be included in next season's report.
UK has posted a 3.0 grade-point average or better in seven of the last eight semesters
For the latest on the Kentucky men's basketball team, follow @KentuckyMBBon Twitter and on the web at UKathletics.com.
Calipari Era GraduatesTwany Beckham