- Myron Medcalf, ESPN Staff Writer
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In the weeks leading up to the June 27 NBA draft, we’ll be taking a look at the 20 schools that have produced the best pros in the modern draft era (since 1989, when the draft went from seven to two rounds). Click here to read Eamonn Brennan’s explanation of the series, which will be featured in the Nation blog each morning as we count down the programs from 20 to 1.
Top Five NBA Draftees Since 1989
Sixth man: Andre Iguodala (2004)
The rest: Hassan Adams, Jerryd Bayless, A.J. Bramlett, Chase Budinger, Jud Buechler, Jordan Hill, Marcus Williams, Mustafa Shakur, Channing Frye, Salim Stoudamire, Luke Walton, Loren Woods, Michael Dickerson, Miles Simon, Ben Davis, Reggie Geary, Damon Stoudamire, Ray Owes, Khalid Reeves, Chris Mills, Ed Stokes, Sean Rooks, Matt Othick, Bison Dele, Anthony Cook, Derrick Williams
Why they’re ranked where they are: In 1997, 4-seed Arizona upset Kentucky in the national championship game. America fell in love with those Wildcats.
That team was stacked. Proof? Jason Terry came off the bench.
Mike Bibby, the star of that team, had a productive NBA career. Terry has had an impressive tenure, too. Injuries interrupted Michael Dickerson’s progress, but he could have been an elite NBA wing. A.J. Bramlett and Miles Simon were both drafted.
That’s just a slice of the Arizona collective that warranted the No. 6 slot in our “Path to the Draft” rankings. Since the 1989 draft -- our cutoff for the rankings -- Sean Elliott, Damon Stoudamire, Andre Iguodala, Gilbert Arenas and other standouts who weren’t members of Arizona's national championship team have excelled in the NBA as well.
Arizona is in this position based on its overall depth and quality. The Wildcats have produced an assortment of impactful players, past and present.
Elliott (14.2 PPG and 38 percent from the 3-point line in 12 seasons) helped the San Antonio Spurs secure a title in 1999 (11.9 PPG and 40 percent from the 3-point line in the playoffs that year). He was also a two-time All-Star even though he endured kidney disease.
Chris Mills (11.2 PPG in 11 seasons) had solid years in Cleveland and Golden State. Stoudamire, the 1996 NBA Rookie of the Year, never matched those early years in Toronto, but 13.4 points and 6.1 assists per game over 13 seasons is certainly a solid stint in the league. Bison Dele had some good years with the Los Angeles Clippers and the Detroit Pistons.
Dickerson was hindered by injuries. But he averaged 10.9, 18.2, 16.2 and 10.8 PPG in his first four years in the league. He certainly had a promising future.
Bibby never cracked an All-Star roster. And he faded in his final seasons in the league. But he was one of the NBA’s most dependable point guards throughout his 14-year career. The latter included averages of 14.7 PPG, 5.5 APG and a 38 percent clip from the 3-point line. He also controlled the floor for a bunch of Sacramento Kings teams that were only outplayed in the postseason by the Shaq-Kobe Los Angeles Lakers and Tony Parker-Manu Ginobili-Tim Duncan Spurs. But those were good Kings teams. And Bibby was vital for the franchise.
Somehow, Terry is still playing. The 2009 sixth man of the year has played forever. Well, not forever. Just feels that way. The 14-year veteran (15.8 PPG career average) won a championship with the Dallas Mavericks in 2011. He’s also reliable in clutch situations (38 percent from the 3-point line).
You could stop right there and make a case for Arizona’s inclusion in our Top 20. But it gets better. The Wildcats are responsible for multiple players who’ve made more recent contributions in the NBA.
Knee injuries and bizarre off-court events derailed Arenas’ career. So he’s playing in China right now. But few players personified the phrase “chip on his shoulder” the way Arenas did. He promised to make the league’s execs pay for picking him in the second round. And that’s what he did.
He averaged 20.7 PPG during his 11-year career. He also made three All-Star appearances. Again, he was often criticized for his off-court antics, but he put together a run that few second-round picks have ever matched.
Iguodala, a former All-Star, will be one of the most coveted free agents on the market this summer. He has hit 46 percent of his field goals, collected 1.7 steals per game and averaged 15.1 PPG since he arrived in 2004. Richard Jefferson has struggled in recent years but he had a stretch in the 2000s with the New Jersey Nets as one of the elite wings in the NBA.
Jerryd Bayless, Chase Budinger, Channing Frye and Derrick Williams are solid young players, too. Frye’s future, however, is uncertain following surgery to correct a heart disorder.
But Arizona clearly has an abundance of talent. That’s undeniable. And that’s why the Wildcats deserve the No. 6 slot in our rankings.
Why they could be ranked higher: This Wildcats have produced 32 pros since 1989. That’s an impressive number on its own. But that assembly includes a multitude of athletes who were high-level players at the next level.
That’s the start of Arizona’s argument for elevation. But the Wildcats have been consistent in their production of NBA talent. It started with Elliott -- for the purposes of these rankings -- in 1989. And you won’t find any gaps or droughts in the timeline. Over a period of 20-plus seasons, Arizona has been a reliable source of talent for NBA franchises.
And the school has historically sent players to the league who’ve earned meaningful roles in the rotations of their respective teams. That’s not common.
Why they could be ranked lower: Few reasons to justify a lower ranking, in my opinion. But the one thing that this list is missing is a superstar. Even a borderline superstar would suffice.
Arizona has certainly produced some players who’ve flirted with that status since 1989 -- see Arenas, Bibby and Jefferson. But there aren't any Hall of Famers within this group.
That’s obviously not the only factor in our rankings. But the lack of a perennial All-Star might justify a slight demotion.
What’s ahead? In the right situation, Iguodala could be that guy. He’s a talented player who has time to enhance his personal NBA legacy.
Budinger, Frye, Williams and Bayless are good players now. And one or two of them could blossom in the coming years.
And the Arizona pipeline is fertile. Grant Jerrett is a 6-foot-10 big man with range. He’ll be drafted this summer because there’s never a shortage of NBA teams that desire a tall sharpshooter. Kaleb Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley and Aaron Gordon should all turn pro in the next one or two years.
So Arizona’s NBA legacy will remain strong.
Final thoughts: It’s not easy to separate the top five or six teams here. They all have strong cases.
But Arizona embodies everything we established at the outset of this series. We were searching for teams that produced quality players in the modern draft era -- and the Wildcats have done that for decades. It just never stops.
There’s always NBA talent in Tucson, it seems. So much depth and character. So much player development. And more prospects are on the current roster.
We’ve found multiple teams that possess rich college basketball traditions but lukewarm reputations for producing NBA talent. Arizona is not among them.
The Cats are a powerhouse in the college game and have a powerhouse presence in the pro game.