LEXINGTON, Ky. – Every year the numbers gets bigger and wilder, but the bottom line remains the same: No school can match the Kentucky men’s basketball team’s ability to develop players and put them in the NBA.
As the 2018-19 NBA season begins Tuesday, Oct. 16, a whopping 31 players on NBA opening-day rosters (including two-way, inactive and suspension lists) 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 31 players are once again the most of any college basketball program, beating the next-closest school (Duke with 25) by six players.
The list was compiled from the NBA’s official opening-day roster list.
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. 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 31 players in the NBA to start the 2018-19 season, 6.3 percent played and finished their college basketball careers at UK. There are actually fewer teams without a Wildcat (11) than there are NBA teams featuring Wildcats (19).
Kentucky’s NBA dominance is best represented in Sacramento, Denver, New Orleans and Oklahoma City, where a combined 13 Wildcats now play at the highest level of the game. Former UK stars Willie Cauley-Stein, De’Aaron Fox, Wenyen Gabriel and Skal Labissiere all call Sacramento their home; Trey Lyles, Jamal Murray and Jarred Vanderbilt play for Denver; Anthony Davis, Darius Miller and Julius Randle are all in New Orleans; and Hamidou Diallo, Nerlens Noel and Patrick Patterson will suit up for OKC.
Three other franchises – the Milwaukee Bucks (Eric Bledsoe, Jodie Meeks) the Charlotte Hornets (Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Malik Monk) and the New York Knicks (Enes Kanter, Kevin Knox) – open the season with at least two Wildcats apiece.
Rajon Rondo, now entering his 13th season in the league, is the most experienced Kentucky player in the league, while Diallo, Gabriel, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Los Angeles Clippers), Knox and Vanderbilt are all in their rookie seasons.
Of the 31 Wildcats on an opening-day NBA roster, head coach John Calipari has coached 29 of them. With Tyreke Evans (Indianapolis Pacers) and Derrick Rose (Minnesota Timberwolves), who played for Calipari at Memphis, Calipari has coached 31 players on 2018-19 opening-day rosters.
Kentucky has experienced unprecedented success at putting players in the NBA under Calipari. In the nine seasons of the Calipari era, 35 players have been selected in the NBA Draft, more than any other school. Included in the recent run are 26 first-round picks, three No. 1 overall selections (Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns and Wall) and 19 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, former Kentucky players were all over the list. Davis was among the leading vote-getters for this year’s MVP, who general managers would start an NBA franchise with, best power forward and best center. Murray is tabbed as the breakout player for the 2018-19 season, Gilgeous-Alexander received the most votes for the biggest steal of the 2018 NBA Draft, and Towns finished third as the best center.
Kentucky players had their hands all over the 2017-18 NBA season. Davis, an All-NBA First Team selection, finished third in the MVP voting. Towns was tabbed to the All-NBA Third Team. Both Davis and Towns made the NBA All-Star Game in addition to DeMarcus Cousins and John Wall.
Bam Adebayo, Fox and Monk all received votes for NBA All-Rookie status while Devin Booker won the NBA All-Star 3-Point Contest.
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 $1.9 billion in career NBA contracts ($1.87 billion). In the nine seasons Calipari has been the head coach at Kentucky, his players have totaled more than $1.5 billion in NBA contracts.
In just the 2018-19 season alone, UK players are slated to make almost $190 million. Calipari-coached players only (which includes Rose and Evans but not Meeks or Rondo) will make nearly $195 million.
Calipari has had at least one player selected in the top 10 of the draft in each of the last 11 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 11 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. The Philadelphia 76ers host the Boston Celtics at 8 p.m. on TNT, followed by a UK-centric matchup at 10:30 p.m. when the two-time defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors host the Oklahoma City Thunder. That matchup will feature Cousins, now with the Warriors, and the Thunder’s Diallo, Noel and Patterson.
Wildcats in the NBA
Bam Adebayo – Miami Heat Eric Bledsoe – Milwaukee Bucks Devin Booker – Phoenix Suns
Isaiah Briscoe – Orlando Magic Willie Cauley-Stein – Sacramento Kings DeMarcus Cousins – Golden State Warriors Anthony Davis – New Orleans Pelicans
Hamidou Diallo – Oklahoma City Thunder
De’Aaron Fox – Sacramento Kings
Wenyen Gabriel- Sacramento Kings
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – Los Angeles Clippers Andrew Harrison – Memphis Grizzlies Enes Kanter – New York Knicks Michael Kidd-Gilchrist – Charlotte Hornets Brandon Knight – Houston Rockets
Kevin Knox – New York Knicks Skal Labissiere – Sacramento Kings
Trey Lyles – Denver Nuggets Jodie Meeks – Milwaukee Bucks Darius Miller – New Orleans Pelicans Malik Monk – Charlotte Hornets
Jamal Murray – Denver Nuggets
Nerlens Noel – Oklahoma City Thunder Patrick Patterson – Oklahoma City Thunder
Alex Poythress – Atlanta Hawks Julius Randle – New Orleans Pelicans Rajon Rondo – Los Angeles Lakers Karl-Anthony Towns – Minnesota Timberwolves
Tyler Ulis – Chicago Bulls
Jarred Vanderbilt – Denver Nuggets John Wall – Washington Wizards
HERRO TABBED TO 2019 JERRY WEST AWARD PRESEASON WATCH LIST
Kentucky men’s basketball freshman guard Tyler Herro (pictured) is among 20 players on the preseason watch list for the 2019 Jerry West Award, presented annually by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Herro is one of five freshman on the preseason list, and he is the only first-year player among Southeastern Conference nominations. The league is represented with four candidates among the preseason list of 20 players. Also included were Auburn’s Bryce Brown, Florida’s KeVaughn Allen and Mississippi State’s Quinndary Weatherspoon.
Named after Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer Jerry West, this year’s award will be presented at the ESPN College Basketball Awards Show in April. The Wildcats’ Malik Monk won the award in 2017 after averaging 19.8 points per game during his freshman campaign. He is the only Wildcat to win the award.
A 6-foot-5 guard, Herro was a five-star recruit and a Jordan Brand Classic All-American. He was ranked as high as No. 30 overall by ESPN and was the best prospect from the state of Wisconsin.
A versatile scorer, Herro led the Wildcats in scoring with 17.3 points per game during their summer exhibition tour to the Bahamas. He also added 2.3 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game as UK won all four games in a week’s span. He had 15 or more points in all four victories, including a game-high 22 against San Lorenzo. He shot 57.5 percent from the floor and 44.4 percent from long range, while also connecting on all 15 attempts from the free throw line.
During his final high school season, Herro enjoyed one of the most prolific seasons of any player in the country. He averaged 32.9 points, 7.4 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 3.3 steals per game as a First Team All-State selection out of Whitnall. The Milwaukee native, shot better than 50 percent from the floor and 43.5 percent from behind the arc. He eclipsed more than 100 makes from 3-point range. Herro scored 40 or more eight times as a senior and finished his illustrious career as a 2,000-point scorer.
By mid-February, the watch list will be trimmed to just 10 players. Five finalists will be revealed in March with the winner being announced during the annual ESPN College Basketball Awards show on April 12, 2019.
Kentucky is slated to begin exhibition play beginning with its annual Blue-White scrimmage on Sunday. That game will air live on the SEC Network at 7 p.m. ET. UK will follow that with two tune-ups against Transylvania on Oct. 26 and Indiana University of Pennsylvania on Nov. 2. Both of those games will also air live on the SEC Network with 7 p.m. tip times. The Wildcats open the regular season in Indianapolis for the Champions Classic. They will face Duke at 9:30 p.m. ET on ESPN.
Photo of Herro by Jamie H. Vaught