Blog Entry

Here's proof that it takes pros to win it all

Posted on: October 17, 2008 1:55 pm
Edited on: January 12, 2010 12:11 pm



I've forever believed that it takes more than good players, smart coaches and great chemistry to win a national title.

It's takes pros.

At least three of them, in fact.

And though I've said this many times on radio shows and written it in various places, I had never actually researched the theory until I decided last week to look at the likely NBA talent playing on college teams this season. So what I did was examine the rosters of the past 41 national champions and identify players who went on to either A) be selected in the first two rounds of the NBA Draft or B) play in the NBA at some point even though they might've been drafted later or actually gone undrafted. And what I found was that you can count on one hand how many times in the past 41 seasons that a national champion didn't have at least three players who went on to be a first-round pick, second-round pick or an NBA player via the more unconventional route.

Actually, you can count it on one finger.

Because only one national champion fits the description: the 2003 Syracuse Orange featuring Carmelo Anthony, Hakim Warrick and a bunch of non-pros. Beyond that, every single national champion from the past 40 years had at least three players who went on to be a first-round pick, second-round pick or an NBA player in general.

So what does this mean?

Well, for starters it means that -- surprise, surprise --  I was right again, just like always. But what it also means is that a college coach who looks at his roster and doesn't see at least three NBA-caliber prospects has virtually no chance of winning a national championship. Sure, you can still be good, maybe win your league and even go to a Final Four if everything breaks perfectly. But history suggests you're not going to win it all without three NBA-caliber prospects, and this is why coaches spend basically every day of the contact periods on the road killing themselves securing commitments from elite-level prospects.

Without them, there's a ceiling that can't be busted.

With them, anything is possible.

Anyway, below is a list I put together from the past 40 years.

(Note: It appears the most-talented roster was the one Rick Pitino assembled for the 1995-96 season. That Kentucky team had nine players who were subsequent first-round picks, second-picks or NBA players in general.)

2009: North Carolina

Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington, Tyler Hansbrough, Danny Green, Deon Thompson, Ed Davis, Tyler Zeller

2008: Kansas

  • Mario Chalmers, Brandon Rush, Sasha Kaun, Darrell Arthur, Darnell Jackson, Cole Aldrich, Sherron Collins

2007: Florida

  •  Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Corey Brewer, Taurean Green, Chris Richard, Marreese Speights

2006: Florida

  • Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Corey Brewer, Taurean Green, Chris Richard

2005: North Carolina

  • Marvin Williams, Raymond Felton, Rashad McCants, Sean May, David Noel, Reyshawn Terry

2004: Connecticut

  • Ben Gordon, Emeka Okafor, Charlie Villanueva, Josh Boone, Marcus Williams, Denham Brown, Hilton Armstrong

2003: Syracuse

  • Carmelo Anthony, Hakim Warrick

2002: Maryland

  • Juan Dixon, Lonny Baxter, Chris Wilcox, Steve Blake

2001: Duke

  • Jay Williams, Shane Battier, Carlos Boozer, Mike Dunleavy, Chris Duhon

2000: Michigan State

  • Mateen Cleaves, Morris Peterson, Jason Richardson, Charlie Bell

1999: Connecticut

  • Rip Hamilton, Khalid El-Amin, Jake Voskuhl

1998: Kentucky

  • Jamal Magloire, Nazr Mohammed, Scott Padgett, Jeff Sheppard

1997: Arizona

  • Mike Bibby, Miles Simon, Michael Dickerson, Jason Terry, A.J. Bramlett, 

1996: Kentucky

  • Tony Delk, Antoine Walker, Walter McCarty, Derek Anderson, Ron Mercer, Nazr Mohammed, Jeff Sheppard, Mark Pope, Wayne Turner

1995: UCLA

  • Ed O'Bannon, George Zidek, Tyus Edney, Charles O'Bannon, Toby Bailey

1994: Arkansas

  • Corliss Williamson, Darnell Robinson, Corey Beck

1993: North Carolina

  • George Lynch, Eric Montross, Kevin Salvadori

1992: Duke

  • Christian Laettner, Grant Hill, Bobby Hurley, Thomas Hill, Antonio Lang, Cherokee Parks

1991: Duke

  • Christian Laettner, Grant Hill, Bobby Hurley, Brian Hill, Antonio Lang

1990: UNLV

  • Larry Johnson, Stacy Augmon, Greg Anthony, George Ackles

1989: Michigan

  • Glen Rice, Rumeal Robinson, Loy Vaught, Terry Mills, Sean Higgins

1988: Kansas

  • Danny Manning, Archie Marshall, Kevin Pritchard

1987: Indiana

  • Steve Alford, Dean Garrett, Keith Smart

1986: Louisville

  • Pervis Ellison, Billy Thompson, Milt Wagner, Kenny Payne

1985: Villanova

  • Ed Pinckney, Harold Pressley, Dwayne McClain

1984: Georgetown

  • Patrick Ewing, Bill Martin, Reggie Williams, David Wingate, Michael Jackson

1983: North Carolina State

  • Lorenzo Charles, Thurl Bailey, Sidney Lowe

1982: North Carolina

  • Michael Jordan, James Worthy, Sam Perkins

1981: Indiana

  • Isiah Thomas, Ray Tolbert, Randy Wittman, Jim Thomas, Ted Kitchel

1980: Louisville

  • Darrell Griffith, Derek Smith, Jerry Eaves, Roger Burkman, Rodney McCray, Scooter McCray

1979: Michigan State

  • Magic Johnson, Greg Kelser, Jay Vincent

1978: Kentucky

  • Kyle Macy, Rick Robey, Jack Givens, James Lee

1977: Marquette

  • Bo Ellis, Bernard Toone, Butch Lee, Jerome Whitehead

1976: Indiana

  • Scott May, Quinn Buckner, Kent Benson, Bobby Wilkerson, Wayne Radford

1975: UCLA

  • Marquis Johnson, Richard Washington, Andre McCarter, Ralph Drollinger, David Meyers

1974: North Carolina State

  • Tom Burleson, David Thompson, Monte Towe

1973: UCLA

  • Bill Walton, David Meyers, Keith Wilkes, Greg Lee, Swen Nater

1972: UCLA

  • Bill Walton, Keith Wilkes, Greg Lee, Henry Bibby

1971: UCLA

  • Sidney Wicks, Henry Bibby, Curtis Rowe, Steve Patterson

1970: UCLA

  • Sidney Wicks, Henry Bibby, John Vallely, Steve Patterson

1969: UCLA

  • Lew Alcindor, Lucius Allen, John Vallely, Steve Patterson
Category: NCAAB
Tags: NBA Draft

Since: Dec 11, 2008
Posted on: March 15, 2010 12:31 am

Here's proof that it takes pros to win it all

Don't you have to play at least one minute of NBA basketball to meet this criteria? Archie Marshall and Darnell Robinson never played a second in the NBA. A few other guys are a bit doubtful too. There is no doubt a correlation exists, but let's be accurate. The biggest problem I have is this; what if the winning team has fewer pros than the losing team? That's happened an awful lot. Does that disprove the theory?

Since: Sep 12, 2006
Posted on: November 1, 2008 5:44 am

Here's proof that it takes pros to win it all

Good article. Dead on. Granted players get noticed the deeper they go in the tournament or for playing at a high caliber school, but in the end you typically either have enough talent to be drafted or you don't. I like the article. Great job. Nice research to back it up. Its really hard to argue the point!!

Since: Oct 19, 2008
Posted on: October 19, 2008 1:17 pm

Here's proof that it takes pros to win it all

2007 Florida had more pros than 2006 Florida - they had Marreese Speights on the 2007 team.

Mike Conley was just plain better than Acie Law, Crittendon, etc. - it's not like he was drafted ahead of them solely because of OSU making it to the national title game.

Since: Mar 21, 2008
Posted on: October 19, 2008 2:36 am

Here's proof that it takes pros to win it all

Hi Gary,

The 85 Nova team was the one that surprised me. When I tried to think of which team didn't have 3 (Before you told us) I immediately thought of this team that played the "perfect" game to beat G-Town.

I guess I'm still surprised they had 3 drafted/go pro! But there you go, intuition just doesn't always pay-off!

Nice info. Thanks for the research!

Since: Nov 27, 2006
Posted on: October 18, 2008 12:48 pm

Here's proof that it takes pros to win it all

 I agree that it takes talent (aka NBA Talent) to win.  However, talent is only one ingrediant, and, IMO, not the most important ingrediant!!

Yes, it takes talent, and more than just one talent.  This is why you never see Western Kentucky, or Central Michigan, or any other non power conference school win it all.

However, almost, every major conference team has talent.  I would contend that winning a championship facilitates at least one draft pick of a player that would not otherwise have been drafted, and gives more than one player an invite (they would not otherwise have gotton) to an NBA camp even though they were not drafted.

Leadership breeds championships, and more than just the coach.  It takes a leader on the floor, a leader in the locker room, and a leader off the court.  On the rare occassions that one or two of these leaders is also your NBA Talent then you have something special!!

Since: Aug 16, 2006
Posted on: October 17, 2008 9:13 pm

Here's proof that it takes pros to win it all

Whatever. I give up. Good article, Gary.

Since: Aug 16, 2006
Posted on: October 17, 2008 9:13 pm

Here's proof that it takes pros to win it all

I guess that link didn't work out. it is again in case you care to look at some numbers.

Since: Aug 16, 2006
Posted on: October 17, 2008 8:20 pm

Here's proof that it takes pros to win it all

I'm glad that you point this phenomena out. I briefly touched on it in a blog entry last April, but not to the extent that you do here. I was interested in non-conference scheduling and the correlation to tournament success, but also found the NBA talent link hard to ignore. You can see what I found , but I think it would be worth looking into further. I only went ten years back with my research, and I'd be interested to see if it's relevant further into the past. I'd also be interested in establishing real, noticeable trends in other areas that coincide with tournament success. You've gotta figure coaches are looking at this stuff, right?

Since: Mar 12, 2007
Posted on: October 17, 2008 7:24 pm

Here's proof that it takes pros to win it all


Thanks for the prompt response.  I'm with you on this one, and that's why I wanted to stress that this isn't disproving your theory.  Even if we could definitively say that the NCAA title is what propelled certain players into the draft, that would place an asterisk next to, at most, maybe six of those teams -- still showing an overwhelming majority of championship teams having true NBA talent.

For the record, I'm looking at the 2002 Terps (Steve Blake?  Wilcox might have made it regardless), 1993 Tar Hells (Salvadori??), 1988 Jayhawks (Manning's in either way, but that's it), 1985 Wildcats (I don't even want to talk about this team), 1983 Wolfpack (there's a reason Jimmy V's squad was a Cinderella), and I'd venture to guess that Magic's run helped his fellow Spartans back in 1979.  I'll admit that my basketball memory only goes back to about 1990, so, like you, I can't pick apart those older rosters.

So again, I'll acknowledge some cause and effect.

I suppose that's all I could ask for -- I was just thinking out loud up there.  A notable title run can probably bump a player up a few spots, like you said.  I would still be willing to guess that a few of the names on your list, at least those picked late in the second round, may have been bumped into the draft thanks to the title run.  Just because Lee Humphrey didn't fit that case doesn't mean that other players on that list weren't helped.

Ultimately, since I have absolutely no access to the minds of NBA scouts, I can never say whether they considered these players early in the season, prior to their title run.  I'd assume that any scout worth his salt would have had players like Jeff Green and Stephen Curry on their radars prior to the Tournament, even if the general public didn't even acknowledge their existence until at least Round 2.


P.S.  Officially Closed:  Manley Field House.  (Just getting myself warmed up for the season.)

Since: Feb 8, 2007
Posted on: October 17, 2008 5:45 pm

Here's proof that it takes pros to win it all

There is clearly some cause and effect.

For instance, does Chris Richard get drafted out of Florida because scouts saw him so often while watching the Gators on a national stage and/or spending a lot of time looking at Al Horford and Joakim Noah? Perhaps. But there is no way cause and effect can explain this happening 39 out of 40 times because that's just an overwhelming number.

Honestly, I can't pick apart rosters from 20 years ago because I don't remember them.

But in recent years I don't think cause and effect had much to do with anything.

One guy emailed about the Florida teams, said the "only reason" those guys got drafted was because they won a national title. The reality is that Al Horford and Corey Brewer were always NBA prospects and Joakim Noah was looking like the possible No. 1 pick in the draft by the middle of his sophomore year, well before he won a national title. Plus, they were all lottery picks, and I don't care how much you win there's no way a scout is taking a winner with marginal NBA skills (like Lee Humphrey) over a loser with great NBA skills (like Rodney Stuckey).

So that's what I think, that winning the national title helps. Hell, just getting to the game (and dominating on the way) pushed Derrick Rose above Michael Beasley last season and Mike Conley ahead of a bunch of people the year before, and I bet you can find some examples along the way (you noted a few) that suggest a guy might've been drafted 51st instead of 60th or undrafted because he ended up having great team success and some scout decided to take a shot on him after seeing him so often. No doubt, that has happened somwhere. But I would just say that even in those cases those guys had to be NBA-caliber prospects regardless because, like I said, nobody is drafting anybody with a clearly inferior skill set based on nothing more than that he happens to have a national title ring.

If that's the case, somebody should've taken Lee Humphrey 57th.

Or Russell Robinson 54th.

So again, I'll acknowledge some cause and effect. But I believe that in most cases the guys who are drafted are drafted because they are honest-to-god NBA prospects in some shape or form and would've been drafted with or without the national title. Put another way, I think national titles can help push somebody from late in the first round into the lottery way more than they can help push somebody who would go undrafted into the second round.


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