Irving Thomas has the distinction of being the final player former Kentucky coach Joe B. Hall recruited for the Wildcats before retiring. He went to Florida to persuade Thomas, a 6-8 forward and McDonald's All-American, to sign with the Cats.
Thomas eventually transferred to Florida State after Eddie Sutton became UK's coach and went on to have a brief professional career with the Los Angeles Lakers and then overseas.
Thomas, 43, has been working for the Lakers since 2001 as a scout and recently returned to Rupp Arena to watch the Wildcats play.
"I think the team has improved its talent level," said Thomas, who is not allowed by the Lakers to comment on specific players. "I think they selected a great coach. It is nice to see the enthusiasm back in the program and optimism back. I am looking forward to great things this season from Kentucky."
Like many former players — and NBA scouts — Thomas was surprised with the way the talent level had dropped in recent years at Kentucky.
"It did surprise me. I can't deny that. For a program with such great tradition for whatever reason to not be able to secure the top talent in the nation was just something unheard of. I can remember my time here and we had so many high school All-Americans and McDonald's guys that it was just common place. They have had difficult times here recently, but the future looks bright now," Thomas said.
He figured that would be the case as soon as the Cats hired John Calipari.
"It didn't surprise me at all and I thought it was a great move. He has proven he can get it done. I think he is somebody kids like to play for," Thomas said. "I think it was a great move on the school's part. He has a proven track record and can recruit and get the top players here, which hasn't been done in the last few years. I think good times are coming back to Kentucky."
Thomas likes what he sees of UK's talent
AllWildcats Top Stories
Howland: Briscoe 'The Heart and Soul' of UKKentucky may have a better scorer. (Malik Monk)
RECAP: No. 6 KENTUCKY 92, AUBURN 72LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Bruce Pearl got a phone call from Auburn basketball legend Charles Barkley prior to the Tigers' matchup on Saturday against No. 6 Kentucky.
AllWildcatsSaturday at 3:58 PM
Breakdown: Kentucky Commit Lynn BowdenThe commitment of Lynn Bowden is a big addition to Kentucky's 2017 recruiting class. What are the Wildcats getting with Bowden?
Scout FootballSaturday at 5:51 AM
Seven Players Join UK Football at MidtermSeven new players, including Lexington (Ky.) Lafayette quarterback Walker Wood (pictured above), have joined the Kentucky football program at midterm.
AllWildcatsFriday at 12:02 PM
You Can Still Enter Maui MadnessPick a winning playoff Fantasy team for just $25 and win a trip for four to Hawaii!