With All-Stars like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard running the league from an attention standpoint, it’s hard to argue that high schoolers can’t make the successful jump to the NBA. Even international players like Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have had Hall of Fame careers after coming to the states.
However, with new rules changes, players must spend more than one year in college which, from a quality standpoint, makes for better basketball in the long run. It’s like a visual sample size: GMs get to see their potential picks in a more competitive setting before throwing millions into their bank accounts.
Not all colleges produce NBA-ready talent. Some players just use school as a swift launching pad for the professional level, like modern day Kentucky, while other colleges like Marquette and Connecticut encourage athletes to stay into their upperclassmen years for further development. It also depends on the hype and if a player is projected to become a lottery pick in the upcoming draft.
With that being said, we’ve compiled the 15 colleges that have produced the best NBA talent ever. This goes back into the ABA days as well, so you might see a few surprises.
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For all of those that grew up with Lil Penny, you’ll appreciate this. Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway, avoiding all the knee injuries, was en route to becoming the next Magic Johnson â€“ just with more athleticism — which is downright scary. He averaged 21 points, seven assists and four rebounds in his first four years in the league as a 6-7 point guard and though he could’ve been a Hall of Famer, his impact on and off the court can’t be understated. Today, kids still stand in line to pay top dollar for his sneaker releases. Then there’s Derrick Rose, the athletic Bulls guard who has seen his career spiral downward, similar to Penny, after an ACL tear, and now a meniscus tear in the other knee â€“ both season-ending injuries. But Rose was still a NBA MVP at age 22, the youngest ever, and he averaged over 20 points and seven assists in his first four seasons, leading to three All-Star appearances. Tyreke Evans came onto the scene ferociously his rookie year but has been quiet since. However, he’s still averaging over 17 points in his five-year career. Other solid pros include the late Lorenzen Wright, who played for 13 seasons, and Shawne Williams. There’s also Dajuan Wagner, who I think would’ve been great if he didn’t have those medical issues.
Dwyane Wade is a perennial All-Star with three NBA titles, and who knows how many he’ll finish with when his career is over. Steve Novak is a three-point machine who made his name in New York, and Wesley Matthews has established himself as a very good shooting guard who competes on both ends of the floor. The most exciting player to look forward to is Jimmy Butler, whose improved shooting is now on par with his defensive prowess. But they also have great former players, such as Maurice Lucas, Jim Chones and George Thompson. Even Doc Rivers went there before doing the dirty work in the NBA for 14 years.
13. GEORGIA TECH
Out of all of these teams, Georgia Tech probably has the least collegiate success but they have a lot of quality pros. Chris Bosh was a perennial All-Star for the Raptors and now as a member of the Heat, he continues to put up great numbers. Stephon Marbury made two All-Star appearances before his career went awry, but he still averaged over 19 points and seven assists per game. Jarrett Jack is a great backup point guard, and Derrick Favors is steadily improving as the center for the Utah Jazz. And I can’t forget about Iman Shumpert, who’s a solid young guard for the Knicks. They’ve also produced former sharpshooters Mark Price and Dennis Scott.
Carmelo Anthony is the best NBA player to ever play at Syracuse, which, for better or worse, means something. Derrick Coleman spent 15 years in the NBA, averaging over 16 ppg. Point guard Sherman “General” Douglas was a solid journeyman who played for every team imaginable (at least it felt like it, anyway), and Rony Seikaly was an underappreciated center in the 1990s. Wesley Johnson is finally making some noise for the Lakers, and Dion Waiters can be an All-Star at the shooting guard spot, even though he’s undersized at 6-4. However, the most exciting player right now might be rookie Michael Carter-Williams, who tallied his first triple-double against Orlando on Tuesday.
Equipped with Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Corey Brewer, the Florida Gators team that won back-to-back championships and 2005 and 2006 were one of my favorite collegiate teams ever. And the players have gone on to have continuous success in the league. Brewer is an underrated swingman who’s lethal in transition and Noah is the heart and soul of that Bulls team, bringing constant energy on the boards and leadership. Horford is a two-time All-Star who averages close to a double-double for his career. But there’s also Udonis Haslem, a three-time NBA champion power forward who has a penchant for hitting a timely midrange jumper. Mike Miller would have greater statistics if injuries didn’t plague the last five years of his career but he’s still shown flashes of brilliance, including 23 points in the game-clinching NBA Finals Game 5 in 2012 where he hit seven three-pointers, just one shy of the NBA Finals record. Then there’s Chandler Parsons, a jack of all trades small forward who has earned himself a hefty contract extension this upcoming season. However, the most underappreciated player might be Jason Williams, the flashy point guard (and my favorite player during the Kings days) who made basketball fun to watch and had kids everywhere trying the elbow pass. These are a scary list of players who have all made an impact in the league in some way.
I originally had to think beyond the Fab Five to remember NBA products of the Wolverines because those guys are typically all people ever talk about regarding Michigan basketball â€“ and for good reason. Chris Webber went on to a great NBA career with the Kings, Jalen Rose was a near 20-point scorer for a Pacers team that went to the NBA Finals and Juwan Howard had a lengthy career that ended with multiple NBA championships. But there are other important athletes that should be named. Rudy Tomjanovich was a 17-point scorer for the Houston Rockets in the ’70s, and Glen Rice had a borderline Hall of Fame career, averaging over 18 ppg and shooting 40 percent from three. Maurice Taylor and Roy Tarpley had formidable tenures in the league as well. As of right now, Jamal Crawford is the most notable Michigan player, followed by rookies Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr.
Do we really have to even speak on Kevin Durant? He’s the league’s scariest offensive player and will be for the next 7-8 years. Despite making the last two All-Star Games, LaMarcus Aldridge is finally getting his respect as a legitimate power forward with a buttery midrange stroke as his Portland Trail Blazers sit atop the Western Conference. Tristan Thompson is an evolving forward for a young Cleveland Cavaliers team and Avery Bradley is a stingy on-ball defender â€“ perhaps the league’s best. Others like D.J. Augustin, Daniel Gibson (Boobie!) and P.J. Tucker are decent players but have had moderate success in the league. However, seeing how Texas has a possible Hall of Famer in their alumni with Durant as well as a perennial All-Pro with Aldridge, who could end up in Springfield himself, Texas deserves this slot.
The Wildcats are a sleeper team that would beat a few squads on this list, especially if they were all in their prime. Gilbert “Agent Zero” Arenas was one of the most prolific and entertaining players in the NBA until knee injuries and off-court issues derailed his career. Andre Iguodala is an All-Star and arguably the best wing defender in the league right now. Mike Bibby had a successful career as a point guard for Vancouver and Sacramento while Channing Frye, Jordan Hill and Jason Terry are still having moderate success in the NBA right now. But who can forget Sean Elliott â€“ who helped lead the San Antonio Spurs to a title in 1999, even while dealing with kidney disease.
UConn is a factory for NBA talent, both past and present. The program didn’t elevate itself to elite status until coach Jim Calhoun took over at the helm in the early 1990s. For over two decades now, the university has produced Ray Allen, Richard Hamilton and Donyell Marshall. Cliff Robinson had a successful career for both Portland and Phoenix, Rudy Gay is making max money in Toronto and Caron Butler is still providing quality minutes. However, it’s their young stars like Kemba Walker, Jeremy Lamb and Andre Drummond that should make the people in Storrs happy for years to come.
Another powerhouse program that has produced numerous NBA Draft picks but they also have the most “what if” players who failed to live up to expectations, whether due to injury or lack of talent. What would Grant Hill‘s career been like if he didn’t have chronic ankle injuries? If Jay Williams didn’t own a motorcycle, would he have been a perennial All-Star? If Bobby Hurley doesn’t suffer life-threatening injuries from a car crash in a rookie season, how successful does he become? It’s a disheartening thought. Players like Carlos Boozer, Elton Brand, Luol Deng and Shane Battier continue to have formidable NBA careers. And Kyrie Irving is one of the brightest young stars in the league. But some of the most famous Dukies of all-time, like Christian Laettner, haven’t had the same success on the professional level. They’re like Memphis, just with less elite success and more “what ifs.”
The college John Thompson built doesn’t have the overwhelming number of NBA players but they certainly have the tall proven ones. From Patrick Ewing to Alonzo Mourning to Dikembe Mutombo, Georgetown is the perfect place for centers who want to develop into quality NBA-ready players when it’s time for their name to be called on draft day. And it’s continuing now: Greg Monroe is one of the most underrated centers in the league right now, and Roy Hibbert is the backbone to the Indiana Pacers, poised for a title run. Not to mention, Jeff Green finally gets a chance to be the star in Boston with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett gone. However, the most notable Georgetown album is Allen Iverson, arguably the greatest pound-for-pound basketball player who ever lived.
Wilt Chamberlain, one of the most dominant players to ever play college and professional basketball, spearheads the list of NBA talent. Even though I argue that he was playing against guys who seemed like off-duty firefighters during his NBA career, a 30-ppg and 20-rpg career average will never happen again. Then there’s Bill Bridges, a perennial double-double machine in the 1960s and 1970s, and Hall of Fame center Clyde Lovellette, who averaged over 17 points during his 11-year career. Danny Manning and Jo Jo White also had solid careers in the ’80s and ’90s. Now, add Paul Pierce, who will undoubtedly be heading to Springfield when his career ends. Mario Chalmers is a quality young point guard for the Miami Heat and has won two consecutive NBA titles.
If we’re just going by present day — at this moment — UK could be No. 1. If I were to start a franchise with only Kentucky players, I seriously believe that they’d be a 55-plus win team in either conference. From looming All-Stars DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis and John Wall to rising talent Eric Bledsoe and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to proven [injured] commodity Rajon Rondo, the Wildcats have the most talent in the NBA and it’s not even close. But Kentucky has consistently pumped out prospects for years now, with former All-Pros Jamal Mashburn, Antoine Walker and Jamaal Magloire flourishing in the 1990s and early 2000s. Even Miami Heat President Pat Riley attended Kentucky, and Dan Issel had himself a Hall of Fame career for the ABA Kentucky Colonels and Denver Nuggets. But they’re also known for Alex Gorza, who was implicated in a point shaving scandal during his final year at Kentucky that got him banned from the NBA for life.
UCLA not only has youth in the NBA, but proven All-Star caliber youth. Russell Westbrook (25), Kevin Love (25) and Jrue Holiday (23) have a combined six All-Star selections, and that number is guaranteed to grow after this season. However, they’ve also produced some of the greatest players in NBA history. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Lew Alcindor at the time) is the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, and Reggie Miller is one of the greatest three-point shooters the NBA has ever seen. Gail Goodrich was a Hall of Fame shooting guard for the Los Angeles Lakers and Bill Walton was an incredible talent for the Portland Trail Blazers in the 1970s. For all the acclaim other colleges receive about their prospects, UCLA is quietly flying under the radar as a viable producer of NBA-ready talent.
1. NORTH CAROLINA
Home to the greatest NBA player of all-time, Michael Jordan, UNC has been pumping out All-Stars for over 40 years now. Before MJ, there was Hall of Famer Billy Cunningham, who had dominant 20-10 years for Philadelphia and St Louis in 1960s and 1970s. Brad Daugherty was a 5-time All-Star before his career was cut short at age 28 due to back trouble. Walter Davis averaged over 18 points per game as a shooting guard for Phoenix, Denver and Portland. Bob McAdoo scored over 22 points per game in his NBA career, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2000. James Worthy was a monster. Any of these names ring a bell? If not, that shows you how deep UNC’s talent goes back. The list of names that you might know includes Vince Carter, Rasheed Wallace, Kenny Smith, Harrison Barnes, Antawn Jamison and Jerry Stackhouse. And that’s not even close to all of the players.
In the end, UCLA (produced 80 NBA players) and UNC (81) are basically neck and neck. But one school has the greatest of all time on their roster. That’s gotta be the tiebreak.
What do you think?
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