- Jason King
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The Big 12 may have a reputation as a football conference, but the league’s presence in the NBA is glaring. Texas product Kevin Durant is arguably one of the three best players in the game along with LeBron James and Kobe Bryant. Kansas’ Paul Pierce is a future Hall of Famer while Blake Griffin (Oklahoma) and LaMarcus Aldridge (Texas) should be stars for years to come. Mario Chalmers -- the starting point guard for the NBA title-favorite Miami Heat -- played at Kansas.
Here’s a look at the 10 Big 12 products who have enjoyed the most successful pro careers since 1989, the year the NBA draft was whittled down to two rounds. [Editor's note: The Big 12 didn't begin play until 1996, but we are counting the draftees who played from 1989-96 at schools that eventually formed the Big 12 as well as any player who played in the Big 12 but whose school eventually left for another conference.]
1. Kevin Durant, Texas: The three-time NBA scoring champion resides in the highest pantheon of superstars in the league. Durant has been a first-team All-NBA selection each of the past four seasons, averaging 27.7 points a game or better each year. Durant signed a five-year, $86 million contract with Oklahoma City before the 2010-11 season and led the Thunder to the NBA Finals the following year. He recently donated $1 million toward tornado recovery efforts in Moore, Okla.
2. Paul Pierce, Kansas: Nicknamed “The Truth,” Pierce has averaged 21.8 points a game over 14 NBA seasons, all with the Boston Celtics. He led the Celtics to the NBA title in 2008 and was named the Finals MVP. Pierce holds the franchise record for most 3-point field goals made and is one of just three players (Larry Bird and John Havlicek) to score more than 20,000 points with the Celtics alone. Pierce played three seasons at Kansas under Roy Williams and was an All-American as a junior.
3. Chauncey Billups, Colorado: The five-time All-Star has played for seven NBA teams, most notably the Detroit Pistons, whom he led to the NBA title in 2004. Billups earned Finals MVP honors that season after guiding the Pistons past the Los Angeles Lakers. Billups, who was drafted in 1997, is averaging 15.4 points a game in his career and 17.3 points a game in the playoffs. He is one of five Colorado players to have his number retired.
4. LaMarcus Aldridge, Texas: The former Longhorns forward has blossomed into one of the top 15 players in the league. He has made the last two All-Star Games and doesn’t appear to be slowing anytime soon. Aldridge has averaged 18.3 points and 7.8 rebounds a game in six seasons and just over 21 points and eight boards the past two years. Aldridge played two seasons at Texas before entering the draft in 2006.
5. Blake Griffin, Oklahoma: The No. 1 pick in the 2009 NBA draft has certainly lived up to his billing. After missing the 2009-10 campaign with an injury, Griffin bounced back to average 20.4 points and 10.4 rebounds a game the past three years. He was a second-team All-NBA pick in 2012 and 2013. Griffin averaged 22.7 points and 14.4 rebounds a game as a sophomore at Oklahoma before entering the draft.
6. Mookie Blaylock, Oklahoma: Blaylock posted double-digit scoring averages in all but one of his 13 NBA seasons, seven of which were spent with the Atlanta Hawks. Blaylock averaged a career-high 9.7 assists a game in 1993-94 and posted his best scoring average (17.4 PPG) in 1996-97. He averaged 2.3 steals a game in his career and was twice selected to the NBA’s first-team all-defensive squad. He played his final game in 2002.
7. Kirk Hinrich, Kansas: The seventh overall pick in the 2003 draft has played eight of his 10 seasons with the Chicago Bulls. Hinrich has been a major factor for his team each season, never averaging less than 25 minutes per game. Although he has been slowed by injuries at times (particularly during the 2013 playoffs), he boasts career averages of 12.1 points and 5.4 assists a game.
8. David Wesley, Baylor: A 6-foot guard, Wesley went undrafted in 1993 but managed to play 14 years in the NBA. He averaged 12.5 points and 4.4 assists a game in his career. His best season came in 1996-97 with Boston, when he averaged 16.8 points and 7.3 assists while playing 40 minutes per game. His 11,842 career points rank second in NBA history (behind Moses Malone) among undrafted players.
9. Tony Allen, Oklahoma State: The former Cowboy has become one of the NBA’s top defenders in recent years -- and he may be the best. Allen has made the NBA’s first-team all-defensive squad the past two seasons. He averaged a career-high 26.7 minutes per game for Memphis in 2012-13 and set a personal best for rebounds with 4.6 per game.
10. Mario Chalmers, Kansas: The player who made one of the most dramatic shots in NCAA tournament history has developed a nice niche in the NBA, where he’s the point guard for a Heat squad that features LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Chalmers, a second-round pick in 2008, boasts career averages of 8.4 points and 3.6 assists a game. He’s on the cusp of winning a second straight title with the Heat.
Other notables: All of these players have been productive in the NBA, including a few who almost cracked the top 10 (names in alphabetical order).
Michael Beasley, Kansas State
Nick Collison, Kansas
Keyon Dooling, Missouri
T.J. Ford, Texas
Drew Gooden, Kansas
Raef LaFrentz, Kansas
Desmond Mason, Oklahoma State
Anthony Peeler, Missouri
Bryant Reeves, Oklahoma State
Jamaal Tinsley, Iowa State
On the cusp: These guys haven’t been in the league long enough to make the top 10 but appear to have bright futures (names in alphabetical order).
Avery Bradley, Texas
Alec Burks, Colorado
The Morris Twins (Marcus and Markieff), Kansas
Thomas Robinson, Kansas
Tristan Thompson, Texas
* Note: Of the 26 names on these lists, nine are from Kansas, five are from Texas, three are from Oklahoma State, two are from Colorado, two are from Missouri, and two are from Oklahoma. Baylor, Iowa State and Kansas State boast one player each.
The Big 12 may have a reputation as a football conference, but the league’s presence in the NBA is glaring. Texas product Kevin Durant is arguably one of the three best players in the game along with LeBron James and Kobe Bryant.