LEXINGTON, Ky. – Kentucky’s unprecedented success with helping players reach the NBA has surpassed a new level of extreme.
As the 2017-18 NBA season begins Tuesday, Oct. 17, a whopping 27 players on NBA opening-day rosters played and finished their college basketball careers at the University of Kentucky, the nation’s most prolific NBA player-producing program in the country. UK’s 27 players are once again far and away the most of any college basketball program.
Duke is second with 20 former players, and North Carolina and Kansas each have 16 on opening-day rosters.
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 UK. The Wildcats aren’t quite there yet, 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. And the sheer volume of Wildcats in the NBA makes it seem plausible.
As a matter of fact, of the 489 players in the NBA to start the 2017-18 season, more than 5.5 percent played and finished their college basketball careers at UK. Seven NBA teams feature multiple Wildcats.
Kentucky’s NBA dominance is best represented in New Orleans, Phoenix and Sacramento, where a combined 11 Wildcats now play at the highest level of the game. DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, Darius Miller and Rajon Rondo are all part of the 2017-18 New Orleans Pelicans roster; Eric Bledsoe, Devin Booker, Brandon Knight and Tyler Ulis are all on the 2017-18 Phoenix Suns roster; and former UK stars Willie Cauley-Stein, De’Aaron Fox and Skal Labissiere call Sacramento their home.
Four other franchises – the Charlotte Hornets (Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Malik Monk), the Denver Nuggets (Trey Lyles, Jamal Murray), the Oklahoma City Thunder (Dakari Johnson, Patrick Patterson) and the Washington Wizards (Jodie Meeks, John Wall) – open the season with at least two Wildcats apiece.
All told, UK’s 27 players are represented on 15 of the league’s 30 teams.
Rondo, now entering his 12th season in the league, is the most experienced Kentucky player in the league, while Bam Adebayo (Miami Heat), Fox and Monk are in their rookie seasons.
Of the 27 Wildcats on an opening-day NBA roster, head coach John Calipari has coached 25 of them. With Tyreke Evans (Memphis Grizzlies) and Derrick Rose (Cleveland Cavaliers), who played for Calipari at Memphis, Calipari has coached 27 players on 2017-18 opening-day rosters.
Kentucky has experienced unprecedented success at putting players in the NBA under Calipari. In the eight seasons of the Calipari era, 31 players have been selected in the NBA Draft, more than any other school.
Included in the recent run are 24 first-round picks, three No. 1 overall selections (Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns and Wall), seven top-five picks and 17 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. It’s the third straight year a Wildcat has been the top choice. Towns was the top vote-getter last year as well and Davis was prior to the 2015-16 season. In that same survey, Towns won the league vote for the breakout player of the 2017-18 season with Davis and Murray also receiving votes.
Davis was named the most valuable player of the NBA All-Star Game a season ago with a record 52 points. Cousins and Wall both also made the game. Davis was also tabbed to the All-NBA First Team while Wall made the All-NBA Third Team for the first time in his career. Murray made the NBA’s All-Rookie Second Team and was the MVP of the Rising Stars Game.
Using figures compiled by basketball-reference.com and spotrac.com, Calipari-coached players only (which includes Rose and Evans but not Meeks or Rondo) have amassed nearly $1.5 billion in career NBA contracts ($1.455 billion). In the eight seasons Calipari has been the head coach at Kentucky, his players have totaled more than $1.09 billion in NBA contracts.
In just the 2017-18 season alone, UK players are slated to make more than $178 million. Calipari-coached players only (which includes Rose and Evans but not Meeks or Rondo) will make more than $177 million.
Calipari has had at least one player selected in the top 10 of the draft in each of the last 10 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 10 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. Rose and the Cavaliers will host the Boston Celtics at 8 p.m. on TNT, followed by the Houston Rockets and defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors at 10:30 p.m. on TNT.
Wildcats in the NBA
Bam Adebayo – Miami Heat Eric Bledsoe – Phoenix Suns Devin Booker – Phoenix Suns Willie Cauley-Stein – Sacramento Kings DeMarcus Cousins – New Orleans Pelicans Anthony Davis – New Orleans Pelicans
De’Aaron Fox – Sacramento Kings Andrew Harrison – Memphis Grizzlies Dakari Johnson – Oklahoma City Thunder Enes Kanter – New York Knicks Michael Kidd-Gilchrist – Charlotte Hornets Brandon Knight – Phoenix Suns Skal Labissiere – Sacramento Kings
DeAndre Liggins – Milwaukee Bucks
Trey Lyles – Denver Nuggets Jodie Meeks – Washington Wizards Darius Miller – New Orleans Pelicans Malik Monk – Charlotte Hornets
Jamal Murray – Denver Nuggets
Nerlens Noel – Dallas Mavericks Patrick Patterson – Oklahoma City Thunder
Alex Poythress – Indiana Pacers Julius Randle – Los Angeles Lakers Rajon Rondo – New Orleans Pelicans Karl-Anthony Towns – Minnesota Timberwolves Tyler Ulis – Phoenix Suns John Wall – Washington Wizards