Does NCAA Basketball Tournament Success Translate into NBA Greatness?
The NCAA has been crowning a men's basketball champion since 1939. Oregon knocked off the Ohio State Buckeyes in the inaugural men's final. Slim Wintermute and Laddie Gale were the only members of the champion Webfoots to play at a higher level. Each played one season for the Detroit Eagles.
Over the years, talented basketball teams have hoisted the trophy proclaiming their school as the best college basketball team in the nation. Several very talented college players have gone on to have outstanding professional careers.
A number of players from these NCAA men's basketball championship teams have been some of the greatest players in college basketball history. However, does being an NCAA basketball champion directly translate into guaranteed NBA success?
Some of these champions have parlayed exceptional achievements at the college level into a successful professional career. Let's take a look at some players from these NCAA Basketball Champions and how they translated collegiate success into NBA success.
Who Are The Most Successful NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament Teams?
The pinnacle for excellence in the NCAA men's tournament was established during the late 1960s and flowing into the early 1970s. The Wizard of Westwood roamed the sidelines as head coach of the UCLA Bruins.
John Wooden's Bruins won seven national titles in a row beginning in 1967. During a 12-year span, UCLA amassed 10 National Titles. This streak is part of an 11 total titles hoisted by UCLA, three better than runner-up Kentucky with eight NCAA men's crowns.
These dominant UCLA teams produced individual players with multiple titles. Lew Alcindor is the most famous player from this college hoops juggernaut. Henry Bibby, Lynn Shackelford and Curtis Rowe also amassed three titles with the Bruins.
Sidney Wicks won his third national crown during his senior season, paired with Bibby and Rowe. One player, who was instrumental in UCLA's unparalleled run at greatness, never played a professional game.
Larry Farmer was the only player to be part of every game during the Bruins unheard of 89 wins in 90 games. Although he was part of the 1973 NBA Draft, Farmer never played a game for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
He returned to his Alma Mater as an assistant coach for Wooden. After the Kentucky Wildcats eight championships, the North Carolina Tar Heels have won March Madness six times. Duke and Indiana round out the top five with five titles each.
Ten other schools have won the ultimate college hoops tournament multiple times. The Virginia Cavaliers, winners of the most recent tournament, won their only NCAA championship in 2019.
Ironically, since Michigan State upended Billy Donovan's Florida Gators to win in 2000, the last 20 tournaments have five schools who won multiple NCAA basketball titles. Since 2000, North Carolina has added three to their trophy case.
The Duke Blue Devils have matched their ACC Conference rivals with three championships as well. Connecticut, Villanova, and Donovan's Gators have a pair of titles each. Connecticut's 1999 championship was their third in a 20-year span.
That means two-thirds of the NCAA men's basketball tournament titles over the last 20 years have been won by six schools. Throughout NCAA men's basketball tournament history, the top-10 first-round NBA Draft pick producing schools own over half the college titles.
Draft results to the ultimate level clearly have a direct correlation with NCAA men's champions. But, does this college championship success always continue to produce success in the NBA?
Let's take a look at how NCAA tournament success relates to success at the next level for the past 20 years of NCAA men's basketball tournament champions.
MORE FROM A1SQUAD:
Do NCAA Basketball Championships Translate into NBA Success?
Since numbers rarely lie, the teams who succeed in the NCAA men's basketball tournament are manned with players who scouts envision as doing the same at the pro level. Few could argue the most successful combined college and pro basketball career was that of Lew Alcindor.
Alcindor won his three titles with UCLA. The most dominant player of his era at the college level was the first player off the draft board in 1969. Alcindor would become Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
As a pro, he would win his first title in Milwaukee, and then add five more with the Los Angeles Lakers. He is head-and-shoulders above the rest who have won an NCAA title and then translated that into success in the pros.
Michigan and Ohio State, bitter rivals that they are, are the only teams who do not have multiple hoops titles, but still rank in the top-10 in the category of most NBA first-round draft picks.
Furthermore, it's not surprising that the top four schools at producing top draft picks are four of the schools with multiple titles. Kentucky holds a slim one drafted player lead over North Carolina, followed by Duke, UCLA and Kansas.
The top three perennial tournament powers nearly double the 24 first-round picks coming from Louisville and Syracuse. Let's look at individual team rosters of the last 20 NCAA champions and see how much of an impact these players have had on the NBA.
However, despite producing a number of highly drafted players, are the players from these NCAA men's basketball champion teams an instant prescription for NBA success?
NCAA Basketball Champions and Success in the NBA
Let's begin with the 2000 NCAA Basketball Championship and look forward to the present. During the 2000 tournament, Mateen Cleaves earned the Most Outstanding Player award in the final four.
He and teammate Morris Peterson were both taken in the first round in 2000. Cleaves never produced a single NBA accolade. He was out of the league by 2006. Mo Pete played eleven seasons for three teams.
During a solid first season, Peterson made the 2001 All-NBA rookie first-team. He never played in an All Star Game, or made an All-NBA team after his initial season. Spartans shooting guard Jason Richardson did have more success than his two teammates.
Richardson went fifth overall in the next draft. He had a respectable career with five NBA teams. Richardson made the All-Rookie NBA first team his inaugural season, plus won a pair of NBA Slam Dunk Contests. However, he never played in the All Star game or made an All-NBA team.
Duke won the NCAA Championship the next season. Jay Williams was a member of the All-NBA Rookie second team, but he played only one year with the Chicago Bulls. Defensive specialist Shane Battier was drafted sixth and had a far more productive pro career.
Battier won two NBA crowns in Miami. He also made the 2002 All-Rookie first team. Battier was twice recognized for his defensive excellence making the All-NBA Defensive Team. However, he never was an all star or All-NBA selection.
Mike Dunleavy Jr was taken right after Williams. Dunleavy had an excellent NBA career as a role player. However, the third pick overall in the draft never earned a single NBA honor. Carlos Boozer would stay and in school and enter the 2002 draft.
Boozer had the best career of all his Blue Devil champion teammates. However, Boozer didn't come off the draft board until the second-round. While he never won a pro title, Boozer was second-team as a rookie, plus earned two All Star Game appearances and third-team All-NBA in 2008.
Four players from the 2002 Maryland Terrapins championship team were drafted into the NBA. Juan Dixon, Steve Blake, Chris Wilcox and Lonny Baxter all made it to the pro level.
However, collectively between these four NCAA champions, there was not a single NBA accolade. Each of these Terrapins' professional basketball careers was mediocre at best.
A pair of forwards helped to lead the Syracuse Orangemen to the 2003 National Title. Both Carmelo Anthony and Hakim Warrick would eventually become first-round draft selections.
Anthony was taken third overall immediately following his college championship season. Like many members from NCAA Tournament Championship teams, he was a member of the All-NBA Rookie team.
He is one player who translated his college championship into more than just all-rookie honors. Anthony was selected to 10 NBA All Star Games, seven total All-NBA teams, plus won an NBA scoring title.
Warrick would be drafted in the first-round two years after Anthony. However, this NCAA champion would continue a perplexing trend of moderate to minimal success at the professional level.
Two players from the 2004 NCAA Champions were taken second and third in the draft. Neither Emeka Okafor nor Ben Gordon made a huge splash at the pro level. High school players dominated the tail end of the first-round in the 2004 draft.
Many of the players in this class have continued with outstanding pro careers. However, Okafor, as the second pick overall, started his career with a bang. He made the All-NBA Rookie first team, plus won the honor as Rookie of the Year in 2005. He never earned another NBA award.
Gordon's name was called right after his Huskies teammate. The pair of college stars did achieve one noteworthy achievement. They were both members of the All-NBA Rookie team in 2005. Gordon also won NBA's Sixth Man Award as a rookie. He never made an All Star Game, or an All-NBA team.
North Carolina junior Ray Felton helped lead the Tar Heels to the 2005 NCAA crown and then landed the fifth spot in the subsequent draft. Teammate Marvin Williams actually supplanted Felton, going second off the board as a freshman.
Rashad McCants was the third Tar Heel selected in the first-round in 2005. A trend continued. Both Williams and Felton were members of the All-NBA Rookie team their first season.
However, neither of these two, nor McCants, ever earned another professional honor. This draft class also included a third champion Tar Heel, Sean May, but May had a very pedestrian pro career.
The Florida Gators would win back-to-back NCAA titles in 2006 and 2007. Three members of the Gators' title teams would be drafted within the first 10 picks in 2007. Al Horford and Joakim Noah would have the most productive pro careers.
However, only Corey Brewer would win an NBA championship in 2011 with Dallas. Noah and Horford would break an auspicious trend for success, or lack thereof, after winning an NCAA basketball championship.
Horford has made five NBA All Star Game appearances, Noah has made two. Both have been named to at least one All-NBA team, Noah earning first-team honors in 2014. Both have received accolades for the defensive excellence at the pro level.
Marreese Speights was a freshman on the second of the Gators' back-to-back titles. Speights would, like Brewer, win an NBA title. However, he didn't earn a single NBA individual player award in his 10-year pro career.
Kansas would defeat Memphis in the title game in 2008. Kansas had a deep team with tremendous balance, exemplified by their best pro career coming from Mario Chalmers.
Chalmers was a two-time NBA champion, plus a member of the 2009 All-NBA Rookie second team. However, the three other members of the Jayhawks' championship roster that were first-round NBA picks, never earned recognition for NBA basketball success.
Cole Aldrich Brandon Rush and Darrell Arthur were all draft prospects after winning an NCAA Title. None have produced anything except Rush being a member of the 2015 Golden State Warriors NBA Championship.
The Tar Heels would win their second NCAA title in five years in 2009. Seven members of that North Carolina team would play in the NBA. Tyler Zeller is the only Tar Heel to gain recognition for his rookie season performance.
Danny Green did make the 2017 All-NBA Defensive Team second unit, plus has a pair of NBA Title rings. However, for all their success at the college level, this ultra-talented North Carolina bunch produced only a modest level success as professional basketball players.
Duke won the 2010 title, but the most noteworthy pro careers have come from the Plumlee brothers, Miles and Mason. The only NBA honor between the two Plumlee brothers is a single All-NBA Rookie first-team by Mason.
Kyle Singler spent a couple of seasons playing abroad before coming home to play for the Pistons team who drafted him in the 2011 second round. In his first official and rookie season in the NBA, Singler made the all-rookie team. His career has since fizzled.
A few more prevalent NBA names would begin to surface with the 2012 Kentucky Wildcats NCAA men's basketball championship team. Anthony Davis would leave Kentucky early to become the first overall pick.
Davis has seven all star appearances, plus has been named to the All-NBA first team three times. He is easily the most NBA award decorated former NCAA Champion. Not to be outdone, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist would follow immediately after Davis on draft day.
Kidd-Gilchrist would earn honors on the second All-NBA Rookie team his first year as a pro. However, this same trend of starting off successfully in a professional basketball career, many NCAA winners make All-NBA rookie teams, but fade gradually.
Terrence Jones, Marquis Teague and Darius Miller would all be taken in the draft. These three stars from the Wildcats title team would produce very sparse results as professional basketball players.
Louisville and Michigan would battle for the 2013 NCAA title. Gorgui Dieng and Montrezl Harrell would both be drafted off the Cardinals NCAA Championship team. Dieng would play his way onto the 2014 All-NBA Rookie second unit. Harrell has been a steady second-team player as a pro, but currently owns zero individual accolades. But we have a strong feeling that this may soon change.
Connecticut would beat Kentucky in a battle of NCAA giants to win the 2014 crown. However, it was the Wildcats who had the NBA-caliber talent. Only Shabazz Napier would be deemed a highly prized NBA prospect. Napier went 24th overall in 2014, but has yet to win a single individual player award.
Duke would win another title in 2015. The Blue Devils would use three eventual NBA first-round picks to defeat the Wisconsin Badgers. Jahlil Okafor would be the third overall pick in 2015 and earn All-NBA Rookie first team honors.
Justise Winslow would be the tenth player taken that same year, and he would earn a spot on the rookie second unit. A total of six players from this NCAA Basketball Championship team would make it to the NBA. Other than Okafor's spot on the all-rookie squad, none would earn individual pro honors.
The trend towards prominence in the draft faded in the 2016 NCAA title game. The champion Villanova Wildcats produced two first-round draft picks, one each in 2017 and 2018. Neither Josh Hart nor Donte DiVincenzo earned All-NBA Rookie honors.
Another member of the Wildcats title team, Jalen Brunson, was drafted in the second round, but hasn't produced any outlandishly noteworthy performances as a member of the Dallas Mavericks. But his future does look very bright.
Justin Jackson was the top NBA prospect from this title game, going 15th overall in 2017 to the Portland Trail Blazers. Jackson would win the NCAA Title the following season with the Tar Heels, before being picked in the draft. He has earned zero professional awards.
Villanova won their second college title in three seasons, beating Michigan in 2018. Two opponents from that team are now teammates on the Golden State Warriors. Jordan Poole was taken 28th overall, and Eric Paschall was picked with the Warriors' second-round selection.
Both are hopeful key pieces to helping Golden State rebuild. Omari Spellman and Mikal Bridges were also first round picks in the 2018 NBA Draft. Neither player made the All-NBA rookie team. Both are still awaiting their first NBA individual accolade as well.
Virginia won the last NCAA title game on record, before COVID-19 put a damper on all-things sports. The Lakers took Cavaliers guard De'Andre Hunter 4th overall, but traded his rights to the Atlanta Hawks.
Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome were both drafted into the NBA following their NCAA Championship. Jerome went 24th overall to Philadelphia, but his rights were shuffled around three times until he landed with his current team, the Phoenix Suns. None of these players played their way onto the NBA All-Rookie unit.
Our Conclusions on NCAA Basketball Champions Translating into NBA Success
When we look at the rosters for the NCAA men's basketball champions since 2000, we can draw one definitive conclusion. A number of players who cut down the nets in their final collegiate game have produced very successful first seasons at the pro level.
However, there is an equally prevalent trend among these players. Very few make the list in their pro careers of players who continue to produce with consistency after being named to an All-NBA Rookie team. There are only a handful of NCAA Basketball Champions from the last 20 years who have been NBA All Star performers.
Even shorter is the list, who have earned honors on All-NBA teams. There are those who have been role players on NBA Title teams, earning them the privilege of being basketball stars who won both college and professional championships.