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John Calipari and Kentucky are biggest contributors to NBA talent

Center Karl-Anthony Towns (12), the No. 1 pick in last spring's NBA draft, gets a big hug from Kentucky Coach John Calipari during a timeout in an SEC win over Georgia.

Center Karl-Anthony Towns (12), the No. 1 pick in last spring’s NBA draft, gets a big hug from Kentucky Coach John Calipari during a timeout in an SEC win over Georgia.

(Mark Cornelison / Lexington Herald-Leader)

In May, a month and a half after his Kentucky team’s undefeated season was destroyed by Wisconsin in the NCAA semifinals, Coach John Calipari made an unusual claim.

“Last year we started the season with a goal. You may think it was to win a national title or win all the games,” Calipari, speaking in Rupp Arena, said. “It was to get eight players drafted.”

At Kentucky, Calipari has built an empire partly on his ability to prepare young players for a career in the NBA. Because of his eye for talent, he has been one of the most successful coaches in what has become popularly known as the NBA’s one-and-done era.

As the one-and-done rule enters its 10th season, the Times examined which colleges have produced the most NBA players and, of those, which have had the most success.

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For each of the 650 players to enter the NBA and log at least one minute in the league since the 2006 draft and through the 2014-15 season, the Times recorded the most-recent college attended and tallied the number of All-Star appearances. There were some overachievers. There were schools, and entire conferences, whose college success far outpaced their NBA output.

Duke starters (from left) Quinn Cook (2), Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow watch the final seconds of the Blue Devils' 81-61 victory over Michigan State behind Coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Duke starters (from left) Quinn Cook (2), Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow watch the final seconds of the Blue Devils’ 81-61 victory over Michigan State behind Coach Mike Krzyzewski.

(Joe Robbins / Getty Images)

And, of course, there was the dominance of Kentucky.

Throw an elbow in the NBA, and you’re most likely to hit a Wildcat. Kentucky sent 23 players to the NBA, five more than the closest team. The top teams were all traditional basketball powers. UCLA and Kansas, producing 18 NBA players each, tied for second, followed by Duke (17), North Carolina (15) and Syracuse (14).

A few underdogs cracked the top 25 too. Washington tied for seventh, with 12 players logging NBA minutes. Marquette tied for 13th with nine players.

Despite its recent misery, USC tied for 16th, with eight (and one All-Star, DeMar DeRozan). Mid-majors Nevada and New Mexico ranked 24th, with six.

The biggest surprise of the list would be Memphis, with 12 NBA players — that is, until you remember their former coach: Calipari sent eight of those players to the league in a span of four years.

With Kentucky, Calipari has coached 18 of the 23 future NBA players, making him the most prodigious molder of recent NBA talent in the nation.

In that span, Calipari has reached five Final Fours (including one that was vacated) and won one NCAA title. Given his team’s overwhelming talent, does that make him an overachiever, or underachiever?

And what of the powerhouses that haven’t produced many professionals? Are they overachieving with average talent, or are they failing to develop professional-level skills?

Michigan State, for example, has reached three Final Fours in the one-and-done era, but ranks 21st in NBA players produced, with seven. Indiana, one of the nation’s most storied schools, is No. 31, with five players.

In fact, the Big Ten in general struggles to send players to the next level. Its most productive school, Michigan (nine), would rank third or lower in any other Power Five conference. The conference has produced 50 NBA players combined. That’s less than half that of the Atlantic Coast Conference, which has sent 103 players to the NBA.

And the Big Ten is the only conference that has failed to produce a single All-Star in this era.

In total, 20 schools have produced an All-Star in the last nine NBA seasons, and four have produced multiple All-Star players. Kentucky (four) again leads the pack, followed by UCLA with three (Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love and Jrue Holiday), Florida (two) and Texas (two).

Texas has had the most total All-Star game appearances, with 10, thanks to Kevin Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge.

And Fresno State can claim two All-Star game appearances because of Pacers forward Paul George.

Since that 2006 NBA draft, 90 players who didn’t go to college have entered the league. In that time only one, Marc Gasol, has been an All-Star.

Because this season hasn’t begun, the statistics do not include the latest class of incoming NBA players. For now, Kentucky’s eminence is safe. Calipari ultimately had six players drafted in 2015.

It’s not quite eight, but it’ll have to do.

zach.helfand@latimes.com

Twitter: @zhelfand


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