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Joe Boozell | | June 22, 2016

Former NCAA basketball players playing in the NBA

  Russell Westbrook and Darren Collison burst onto the national scene at UCLA.
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The NBA Draft is approaching, and many of the top players in professional basketball became household names at prominent college basketball programs.

2013-14 NBA Most Valuable Player Kevin Durant played for Texas. James Harden broke out as an offensive force at Arizona State. Anthony Davis won a national championship at Kentucky, patrolling the paint on defense and developing a dynamic offensive game right in front of America’s eyes.

Others, however, played at lesser-known programs. Two-time reigning MVP Stephen Curry played at Davidson, while his ‘Splash Brother’ and backcourt mate Klay Thompson played at Washington State.

It’s both fun and nostalgic, in a way, to see which schools and conferences produce the most NBA players. Which college coaches do the most with the least amount of talent? Are some conferences better than we think? Worse than we think? Do some programs underperform based on their pro-level caliber of players?

Here are a few things we can glean from the ‘players by school’ graphic below:

*Note: graphic was created prior to the 2015-16 season


  • The usual suspects have the most NBA players. Kentucky, Kansas, Duke and North Carolina are probably the four programs you’d expect to produce the most NBA talent, and they have.
  • It’s fair to say UCLA hasn’t performed at a top-five level in recent years, but they come in next on this list following the previously mentioned four schools. Just another reminder that the 2007-08 team featuring Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, Darren Collison and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute was one of the most talented teams ever not to win a national title.
  • Washington is a sneaky-good hub for NBA talent. It may not deliver stars – Isaiah Thomas of the Boston Celtics is probably the best Husky that currently plays in the Association – but the program has delivered solid role players over the years. Look for Marquese Chriss and Dejounte Murray to join the club next season.
  • Kentucky is limitless. Not only do 20 former Wildcats play in the pros (most of any college program) but the quality of the names is astounding. Anthony Davis. John Wall. DeMarcus Cousins. Eric Bledsoe. Karl-Anthony Towns. It’s no wonder John Calipari is able to reload with ease every year.

And, the ‘players by conference’ graphic:


  • It’s the ACC’s world and we’re all just living in it. The league features 13 more NBA players than any other conference.
  • The Big 12’s upswing was very recent. The conference did produce Durant and Blake Griffin, but programs such as Baylor and Iowa State have surged in the past few years. Thus, they don’t have as much representation as other conferences.
  • The SEC is more than just a basketball conference. Obviously, Kentucky is a major reason why the league beats out leagues such as the Big Ten, Big 12 and Big East, but even if Kentucky produced an average amount of NBA talent, they’d still rank higher on this list than those conferences.
  • Despite recent NCAA Tournament success, the Big Ten comes in surprisingly low in this chart. It just speaks to how phenomenal guys like Tom Izzo are at producing teams greater than the sum of their parts.

As the draft nears, it’s always fun to monitor which of your favorite college players are thriving at the next level. Look for Kentucky, Washington, Kentucky and Vanderbilt to increase their stature once the 2016 NBA Draft concludes.

A few other notes and tidbits:

  • Washington and Kentucky are the only schools with two players selected to be in the green room in New York City.
  • Coach K’s 31 first-round picks are the most among active coaches
  • Kentucky has had 10 players selected in the top 10, 13 in the top 15 and 19 in the first round of the draft in the last six years.


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