Top NBA draft producers? They’re the schools you’d expect

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Kyrie Irving and Derrick Williams are expected to be the top two picks in Thursday’s NBA draft. Figures. They went to Duke and Arizona.

Since 1990, the Devils and Wildcats have each had 28 players drafted, tops among all D-I schools. Right behind are UCLA (27), North Carolina (26), Kansas (24), Connecticut (23) and Kentucky (21).

But that’s not the whole story when it comes to producing NBA players.

Those are just total players drafted. In the same span, other schools have produced more lottery picks and neither Duke nor Arizona is the leader in active NBA players.

That’s the draft. There are some familiar sights, but nothing’s ever a sure thing.

Getting the call
UCLA tops everyone in players drafted with 106. UNC (101), Kentucky (98), Duke (74) and Kansas (64). But that’s since the draft began in 1948. (Though you’ll find slightly different numbers on NBA reference and StatSheet. Apparently no one can agree on who’s played in the pros.) Those schools should produce the most players drafted this year, too.

Kansas, Duke and Kentucky should combine for at least 11 picks. UCLA will add two more. It all keeps with historical and recent trends.

The Bruins had 15 players drafted since 2000, followed by UNC (14), UConn (14), Duke (13), Kansas (13) and Arizona (13). But only half of those Bruins were first-round picks. Contrast that with Carolina’s 11 first-rounders, most among any school since 2000. (The guys who weren’t first-rounders? David Noel (2006), Reyshawn Terry (2007), Danny Green (2009).

In fact, many draftees from big-time programs usually go in the first round. Since 2000, only Arizona had more second-rounders (8) than first-rounders (5) among schools with at least 10 players drafted.

Maybe scouts simply overlook the West Coast players. Simply being a second-rounder – or undrafted — hasn’t prevented those guys from productive NBA careers.

Boom or bust?
Duke players usually get labeled as NBA busts. Jason Williams. Bobby Hurley. Trajan Langdon.

That’s not an accurate picture. Sure, none of them have won a title, but they’re hardly busts. Considering guys like Shane Battier, Luol Deng and Grant Hill – have been NBA mainstays, there’s a difference between a flat-out bust (Langdon) and a guy who makes a career out of finding a roster spot. (One site even makes the case that Duke produces the most stars.)

As one NBA scout told Dan Wiederer of the Fay Observer: “There’s an overwhelming tendency for people who don’t follow the NBA on an everyday basis to look at any high draft pick, guys taken in the lottery, and to label them as boom or bust. Either a guy turns out to be a superstar or the widespread perception is that he’s useless, he’s a bust. But that label gets thrown around way too often. There are hundreds of guys in the league right now who are making a good living and are neither superstars nor are they busts.”

J.J. Redick fits that bill. Same with Nick Collison. Jeff Green seems to be headed that way.

This year’s draft class seems to be loaded with those types of players. Provided expectations associated with being a lottery pick don’t sink the likes of Jimmer Fredette, Kawhi Leonard or Tristan Thompson, all three have the ability to be solid pros for years. But stars? Maybe not.

Can they play?
North Carolina has long been hailed as the best spot to snag a future pro. The ‘80s gave the league Michael Jordan, James Worthy. The ‘90s had Jerry Stackhouse and Vince Carter. And that’s just for starters.

Seven former Heels have played in the NBA All-Star game in the past 20 years. No other school has had more than four. But the Heels haven’t churned out stars at the same rate as of late. They’re still producing lottery picks and first-rounders, but Carter and Antawn Jamison are the last Heels to make All-Star weekend. None of the 14 guys drafted since ’01 have done it.

Maybe that’s because things have simply balanced out for Carolina.

According to stats run on 82games.com, 22 UNC players taken between 1989 and 2008 performed as expected related to their pick selection. Among schools with double-digit picks in that span, Kentucky, Alabama, Michigan, UConn and Arizona players fared the best in the pros.

The worst? Duke (seems everyone’s Duke data differs), Minnesota, Iowa, Indiana and Louisville. (Cards were last among every school ranked.)

Surprisingly, UCLA isn’t listed among the schools whose players perform above expectations.

The Bruins had more former players in the NBA last season – 14 – than any other school. Kentucky and Duke each had 13. UNC and Kansas had 12. UConn had 11. Texas, Florida and Arizona each had 10. Remember, most of those Bruins weren’t drafted in the first round, meaning their expectations weren’t as high.

Why is this? Scouts and coaches laud what some are calling the “UCLA Factor.” From Bruins Nation:

“And that’s not a knock on Ben Howland. It’s not a criticism that these guys aren’t getting coached well at UCLA. It’s just that the system he runs does not highlight some of the things that NBA teams really value in these guys and when they get in the NBA system they’re well coached, they’ve been well trained, they’ve been patient and suddenly they blossom in the NBA.

“Lest anyone use that as recruiting ammunition against Ben Howland – the important thing is that these guys are fundamentally sound, and that’s what Ben teaches and it allows you to adjust to this type of game (i.e. the NBA game), even though that system (UCLA’s) isn’t the pro style system, because they’re mastering the fundamentals they can make that adjustment and teams find it easy to build upon that and the guys that you mention in the league are prime examples of that.”

Kentucky’s also worth noting because some of the ex-‘Cats like Chuck Hayes and Keelena Azubuike weren’t even drafted. And now that John Calipari’s churning out draftees from Lexington – four last year, possibly three this season – I’d guess Kentucky’s overall numbers are only gonna go up.

So what’s it mean for this draft?

Don’t underestimate Tyler Honeycutt and Malcolm Lee, two UCLA players who’ll either go late first round or in the second, but could end up being solid role players for years. Same goes for Kentucky’s DeAndre Liggins. Those could be the late gems.

It’s trickier for guys such as Wildcats guard Brandon Knight, UConn’s Kemba Walker and Irving, though. Not only are expectations higher, but they’ll probably have to perform well immediately, lest they’re labeled busts. In a draft like this – where there are supposedly few game-changers – that’s not an enviable spot to be in.

The biggest beneficiaries? Their schools. They keep pumping out the draft picks, which lures in more top-flight high school players. That’s the only sure thing in this whole equation.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

Sam Upshaw Jr./Courier Journal/USA TODAY NETWORK
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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky will play its annual Blue-White men’s basketball scrimmage in Eastern Kentucky to benefit victims of the devastating summer floods.

The school announced that the Oct. 22 event at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville will feature a pregame Fan Fest. Ticket proceeds will go through Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief.

Wildcat players will also participate in a community service activity with local organizations in the relief effort.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said the team was excited to play for Eastern Kentucky fans and added, “We hope we can provide a temporary escape with basketball and community engagement.”

The scrimmage traditionally is held at Rupp Arena. It will occur eight days after its Big Blue Madness public workout at Rupp.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times/USA TODAY NETWORK
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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies

Joe Rondone/USA TODAY NETWORK
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SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.

Dream’s McDonald returning to Arizona to coach under Barnes

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TUCSON, Ariz. — Atlanta Dream guard Aari McDonald is returning to Arizona to work under coach Adia Barnes.

The school announced that McDonald will serve as director of recruiting operations while continuing to fulfill her WNBA commitments. She will oversee all recruiting logistics, assist with on-campus visits, manage recruit information and social media content at Arizona.

McDonald was one of the best players in Arizona history after transferring from Washington as a sophomore. She was an All-American and the Pac-12 player of the year in 2020-21, leading the Wildcats to the national championship game, which they lost to Stanford.

McDonald broke Barnes’ single-season scoring record and had the highest career scoring average in school history before being selected by the Dream with the third overall pick of the 2021 WNBA draft.