LEXINGTON, Ky. – The Kentucky men’s basketball team, the nation’s most prolific NBA player-producing program, once again leads the country with 21 players on an opening-day NBA roster.
Of the 446 players in the NBA to start the 2015-16 season, approximately 4.7 percent played college basketball at Kentucky. The Wildcats better any other college program by two players as the NBA season opens Tuesday, Oct. 27.
Kentucky’s NBA dominance is best represented in Phoenix and Sacramento, where a combined seven Wildcats now play at the highest level of the game. Eric Bledsoe, Devin Booker, Archie Goodwin and Brandon Knight are all part of the 2015-16 Phoenix Suns roster, while former UK stars Willie Cauley-Stein, DeMarcus Cousins and Rajon Rondo call Sacramento their home.
Two other franchises – the Charlotte Hornets (Aaron Harrison, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) and the Minnesota Timberwolves (Tayshaun Prince, Karl-Anthony Towns) – open the season with two Wildcats apiece.
Prince, now entering his 13th season in the league, is the most experienced Kentucky player in the league, while Booker, Cauley-Stein, Harrison, Trey Lyles and Towns will all enter their rookie seasons. Andrew Harrison and Dakari Johnson, who were a part of Kentucky’s historic six-man draft class, have signed NBA D-League contracts with the Memphis Grizzlies and Oklahoma City Thunder, respectively.
Of the 21 Wildcats on an opening-day NBA roster, head coach John Calipari has coached 18 of them. With Tyreke Evans and Derrick Rose, who played for Calipari at Memphis, Calipari has coached 20 players on the 2015-16 opening-day rosters.
Kentucky has experienced unprecedented success at putting players in the NBA under Calipari. In the six seasons of the Calipari era, 25 players have been selected in the NBA Draft, more than double any other school.
Included in the recent run are 19 first-round picks, three No. 1 overall selections -- Anthony Davis (pictured), Towns and John Wall -- along with 6 top-five picks and 13 lottery selections.
Calipari’s players are not only reaching the next level, they are succeeding wildly when they do. In a recent Sports Illustrated story, six Wildcats were among the top 25 players under the age of 25 in the NBA, including three of the top four in Davis, Cousins and Wall. Towns was the youngest player selected to the list.
Using figures compiled by spotrac.com, Kentucky players’ current contracts alone are valued at nearly $680 million in guaranteed deals. Calipari-coached players only (which includes Rose and Evans but not Jodie Meeks, Prince or Rondo) have nearly $780 million in current guaranteed contracts. Over the course of their careers, Calipari players have generated approximately $1.25 billion in total NBA contracts.
Calipari has had at least one player selected in the top 10 of the draft in each of the last eight seasons, dating back to his time at Memphis. No other school in the country has had a first-round pick in each of the last eight seasons. Calipari is the only coach in the history of the sport to have four players drafted No. 1 overall (Rose – 2008, Wall – 2010, Davis – 2012, Towns – 2015).
The NBA season officially tips off Tuesday with two games at 8 p.m. and another at 10:30 p.m. Meeks and the Detroit Pistons will take on the Atlanta Hawks at 8 p.m., followed by Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans versus the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors at 10:30 p.m.
Wildcats in the NBA Eric Bledsoe – Phoenix Suns Devin Booker – Phoenix Suns Willie Cauley-Stein – Sacramento Kings DeMarcus Cousins – Sacramento Kings Anthony Davis – New Orleans Pelicans Archie Goodwin – Phoenix Suns Aaron Harrison – Charlotte Hornets Terrence Jones – Houston Rockets Enes Kanter – Oklahoma City Thunder Brandon Knight – Phoenix Suns Michael Kidd-Gilchrist – Charlotte Hornets Trey Lyles – Utah Jazz Jodie Meeks – Detroit Pistons Nerlens Noel – Philadelphia 76ers Patrick Patterson – Toronto Raptors Tayshaun Prince – Minnesota Timberwolves Julius Randle – Los Angeles Lakers Rajon Rondo – Sacramento Kings Karl-Anthony Towns – Minnesota Timberwolves John Wall – Washington Wizards James Young – Boston Celtics
Photo by Jamie H. Vaught