LEXINGTON, Ky. – John Calipari has made the statement before that he would like to see every NBA team have at least one Wildcat on its roster and half of the NBA’s annual All-Star Game hailing from the University of Kentucky.
It’s an ambitious goal, sure, but with each passing season, as the number of UK players playing in the NBA continues to rise, it doesn’t seem that far-fetched.
The Kentucky men’s basketball team, the nation’s most prolific NBA player-producing program, once again leads the country with 24 players on an opening-day NBA roster. Of the 449 players in the NBA to start the 2016-17 season, approximately 5.35 percent played college basketball at UK.
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, Brandon Knight and Tyler Ulis are all part of the 2016-17 Phoenix Suns roster, while former UK stars Willie Cauley-Stein, DeMarcus Cousins and Skal Labissiere call Sacramento their home.
Two other franchises – the Charlotte Hornets (Aaron Harrison, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) and the New Orleans Pelicans (Anthony Davis and Terrence Jones) – open the season with two Wildcats apiece.
Rajon, now entering his 11th season in the league, is the most experienced Kentucky player in the league, while Jamal Murray (Denver Nuggets), Ulis and Labissiere will all enter their rookie seasons.
Of the 24 Wildcats on an opening-day NBA roster, head coach John Calipari has coached 22 of them. With Tyreke Evans and Derrick Rose, who played for Calipari at Memphis, Calipari has coached 24 players on 2016-17 opening-day rosters.
Kentucky has experienced unprecedented success at putting players in the NBA under Calipari. In the seven seasons of the Calipari era, 28 players have been selected in the NBA Draft, more than double any other school.
Included in the recent run are 21 first-round picks, three No. 1 overall selections (Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns and John Wall), six top-five picks and 14 lottery selections.
Calipari’s players are not only reaching the next level, they are succeeding wildly when they do. In a recent survey of NBA general managers conducted by NBA.com, Towns received the most votes from general managers when asked who they would start an NBA franchise with. Davis won last year’s vote. In that same survey, Booker won the league vote for the breakout player of the 2016-17 season. Towns finished second.
Towns won NBA Rookie of the Year last season. He was the fifth-ever unanimous pick. He joined Booker (first team) and Cauley-Stein (second team) on the NBA All-Rookie Team. In addition, Cousins, Davis and Wall (Washington Wizards) made the NBA All-Star Game in 2016. Cousins was selected to the All-NBA Second Team.
Using figures compiled by spotrac.com, Kentucky players’ current contracts alone are valued at more than $659 million. Calipari-coached players only (which includes Rose and Tyreke Evans but not Jodie Meeks or Rondo) have nearly $751 million in current contracts. In just the 2016-17 season alone, UK players are slated to make more than $172 million. Calipari-coached players only will make more than $183 million.
Over the course of their careers, Calipari players have generated approximately $1.2 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 nine 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 nine 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, Oct. 25 with three games. Rose and the New York Knicks will take on DeAndre Liggins and the defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers at 7:30 p.m. on TNT, followed by Trey Lyles and the Utah Jazz versus the Portland Trail Blazers at 10 p.m. The San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors will cap the night at 10:30 on TNT.
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 Aaron Harrison – Charlotte Hornets Andrew Harrison – Memphis Grizzlies Terrence Jones – New Orleans Pelicans Enes Kanter – Oklahoma City Thunder Brandon Knight – Phoenix Suns Michael Kidd-Gilchrist – Charlotte Hornets Skal Labissiere – Sacramento Kings
DeAndre Liggins – Cleveland Cavaliers
Trey Lyles – Utah Jazz Jodie Meeks – Orlando Magic
Jamal Murray – Denver Nuggets
Nerlens Noel – Philadelphia 76ers Patrick Patterson – Toronto Raptors Julius Randle – Los Angeles Lakers Rajon Rondo – Chicago Bulls Karl-Anthony Towns – Minnesota Timberwolves Tyler Ulis – Phoenix Suns John Wall – Washington Wizards James Young – Boston Celtics