Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images
We are only getting started on the best run of basketball. The NCAA Tournament has four rounds left, and the NBA Playoffs are close. To wash down the first weekend of March Madness, feel free to drink in some information over the next few days linking the NCAA Tournament and the NBA.
In the spring of 2000, LeBron James and Dwight Howard were underclassmen in high school. Tom Brady was drafted in the 6th round by the Patriots and Albert Pujols was playing Single A baseball. Bill Clinton was nearing the end of his job, and Britney Spears was still a teenager.
The same spring, Jason Richardson and the Michigan State Spartans won the NCAA Tournament. This article will look at players who have appeared in the NCAA National Finals, beginning in 2000, to see if they made the NBA, how they joined teams, and how they performed in the pros.
He’s a winner
It’s hard to know why NBA teams select specific players. Sometimes they draft on need, and sometimes they take the best player available. Occasionally, you’ll hear a player is selected because “he’s a winner.” Let’s take a look at the last eleven drafts to see how often winners were selected:
National Finals is championship game of NCAA Tournament
The path to the NBA for players on NCAA championship teams and NCAA runner-up teams is different. However, correlation does not imply causation.
In total, the champions have produced 44 NBA players, while runner-ups have placed 37 players in the NBA. 41 of the players from first place teams were drafted, and 28 of the players from second place teams were drafted. The title teams claim 31 first round picks since 2000, and the second place teams have had 18. During the same time span, over 20% of NBA lottery picks played in a National Finals game and nearly 2/3 of them were members of championship teams. A large discrepancy exists between the teams regarding their numbers of undrafted free agents. Second place teams have had three times as many players join teams without being drafted.
Both of last year’s finalists still have potential for players to enter the NBA. Also, the second place Spartan squad from 2009 has players remaining in college.
Three lottery picks from the 2007 Florida team (Joakim Noah, Corey Brewer, Al Horford) could play significant roles in the upcoming playoffs. The 2005 North Carolina Tar Heels had four lottery picks drafted the same spring they were victorious. Six players from the 2004 Connecticut Huskies were eventually drafted in the first round, and four were lottery picks. Three notable NBA players from this team are Emeka Okafor, Ben Gordon, and Charlie Villanueva. The 2003 Syracuse squad had only two players move on to the NBA, Carmelo Anthony and Hakim Warrick.
Amongst the runner-ups, the 2007 Ohio State Buckeyes and 2008 Memphis Tigers produced #1 overall picks in the NBA Draft. The 2003 Kansas Jayhawk team produced two lottery picks, Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich. Jared Jeffries, currently in his ninth season, is the only player from Indiana’s 2002 team to play in the NBA.
The numbers indicate players from title teams are selected more often in the first round, and players from second place teams make the league more frequently as free agents. This fits with the belief of players selected because they are winners. However, it also reasonable to conclude the best teams have the best players, which leads to more first round draft picks. Even though the sample size is eleven years and hundreds of players, it is still relatively small and this could all be a fluke.
Part II will discuss the teams who pursued players from championship games, and how these players performed in the NBA. Part III will explore two different one-and-done scenarios, and the NCAA Tournament history of players on top NBA teams. We will also see the “good ol’ days” are aptly named.