Kentucky has had some of the legends of college basketball run through Lexington, including 47 All-Americans and 15 Consensus 1st team All-Americans, the most in college basketball history. A total of 92 UK players have been selected in the NBA draft, and 65 former UK players have actually made an NBA roster. But, out of those 65 players that have played in the NBA, only:
-2 players have made the Hall of Fame:Dan Issel and Cliff Hagan
-7 have become All-Stars:Hagan, Issel, Antoine Walker, Ralph Beard, Jamaal Magloire, Jamal Mashburn, Rajon Rondo (a total of 13 all-star games)
–26 players have played 5 or more seasons in the NBA
Note: Rajon Rondo, Kelenna Azubuike, and Randolph Morris are not included in the 26 because they have not reached that 5 -year plateau yet.
Look, I will be honest, maybe these numbers are average for an elite college basketball program like Kentucky. But, without studying very hard, it seems to me North Carolina players have had alot more success in the NBA than have UK’s. What about UCONN? Their players are scattered throughout the league as stars.
More than the shear numbers, I am amazed at the number of elite college players at UK that have not translated their games very well to the NBA. For instance, here are the 15 first team All-Americans and their pro careers (Wall and Cousins make 17 Consensus 1st team All-Americans):
Forest Sale (1932, 1933): NBA NOT CREATED
LeRoy Edwards (1935): NBA NOT CREATED
Bob Brannum (1944):5 seasons, 7.3 ppg career average
Ralph Beard (1947, 1948, 1949):2 seasons, 15.9 ppg career average (Point shaving scandal)
Alex Groza (1947, 1949):2 seasons, 22.5 ppg career average (Point shaving scandal)
Bill Spivey (1951): NEVER PLAYED IN NBA (Point shaving scandal)
Cliff Hagan (1952, 1954): 13 seasons, 17.9 career average (HALL OF FAME)
Johnny Cox (1959):1 season, 7.8 ppg career average
Cotton Nash (1964):1 season, 3.0 ppg career average
Dan Issel (1970):9 seasons, 20.4 ppg career average (HALL OF FAME)
Note: Issel also played 6 seasons in ABA, averaging 25.6 ppg
Kyle Macy (1980):7 seasons, 9.5 ppg career average
Kenny Walker (1986):7 seasons, 7.0 ppg career average
Jamal Mashburn (1993):11 seasons, 19.1 ppg career average
Tony Delk (1996):11 seasons, 9.1 ppg career average
Ron Mercer (1997):8 seasons, 13.6 ppg career average
Note: No, Tashuan Prince was not a Consensus 1st Team All-American
Now, we will never know just how great of a career Beard, Groza, and Spivey would have had if they had not been thrown out of the league. Beard and Groza had terrific starts to their careers, so they may have become Hall of Famers, we’ll never know. But, only 6 of the 15 players above averaged more than 10 ppg for their careers, and of those guys, only Hagan, Issel, and Mashburn made an all-star game. Only 4 of these guys played 10 years or more in the league. This was surprising to me that UK’s elite players, on average, just haven’t become elite in the pros.
Now, I understand that the NBA game and the college game are completely different animals. Guys like Kyle Macy don’t really translate very well in the NBA. But, Tony Delk should have had a better career on paper, as should have Ron Mercer. To me , Mercer is the biggest pro disappointment in my lifetime. Kenny Walker dealt with injuries, but his career in the NBA still has to go down as a disappointment. Walter McCarty had the length and athleticism to succeed in the NBA, but just floated around the league as a bench player. Other names to consider with less than stellar NBA careers, with career scoring average in parentheses:
Pat Riley (7.4 ppg)
Rick Robey (7.6 ppg)
Jack Givens (6.7 ppg)
Melvin Turpin (8.5 ppg)
Walter McCarty (5.2 ppg)
Scott Padgett (4.2 ppg)
All of those guys were 1st round NBA Draft picks.
So my question is this: Are you satisfied with UK’s history in the NBA? And if not, what do you think has been the reason that UK has not had lots of success in the league?
On the positive side, Kentucky may quickly be adding to their list of top professionals in the very near future. When you consider that Rajon Rondo and Tayshuan Prince are leaders of their teams, Nazr Mohammed, Kelenna Azubuike, and Chuck Hayes are regular starters, and Wall and Cousins are surely going to be stars in the league, that is 4 top level guys and several regulars in the NBA. Patterson could make it 5 top level guys. And the recruits coming in this year and in the years following will certainly add to that list.
I look for the next 8-10 years (assuming Calipari stays) to be UK’s best in the NBA they have ever had. Keep this thought in mind: Prince, Rondo, Wall, and Cousins all making the 2012 and/or 2016 Olympic team.