The 1982-83 University of North Carolina (UNC) Tar Heels won the 1983 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship, and the team featured future NBA stars Sam Perkins, James Worthy and Michael Jordan. Between these three men, their teams have been to 15 NBA Finals, won nine NBA Titles, seven NBA Finals MVP Awards, and two of the three men are in the Basketball Hall of Fame. All of them had stellar NBA careers, but despite the fact that James Worthy was voted the Most Outstanding Player (MOP) in the Final Four, no one would argue that Michael Jordan had the best NBA career.
In the era of “one-and-done” college players, many of the stars of the NCAA Championships of the 2000s have already tested the waters of the National Basketball Association. Some have succeeded while others have failed, and not all teams featured a future Hall of Famer. Trying to decide who the best pro player was from the 1993 UNC team means deciding between the careers of Eric Montrose and George Lynch, which explains the dilemma. Therefore, this list will attempt to determine which player from the NCAA Men’s Basketball Champions of the 2000s has become the best NBA player from their team.
16. 2016 – Villanova – Daniel Ochefu
At the end of the season, after the Villanova Wildcats won the 2016 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship, only five players left the team. Of those five, only one, Daniel Ochefu, has been able to forge an NBA career thus far. Ryan Arcidiacono, the Most Outstanding Player (MOP) of the Final Four, went undrafted and signed with the D-League. Ochefu also went undrafted, but managed to sign with the Washington Wizards. After impressing the Wizards during the Summer League, Ochefu signed a three-year deal with Washington and managed to stay on the roster for the entire season.
Ochefu only appeared in 19 games during the regular season, as he was the fourth center on the team’s depth chart. However, Ochefu was added to the playoff roster due to Ian Mahinmi suffering an injury that ended his season. The Wizards have advanced into the Conference Semi-Finals, so all in all, Ochefu looks to have a good future.
15. 2015 – Duke – Jahlil Okafor
Jahlil Okafor was the third overall selection in the 2015 NBA Draft. Okafor and two of his teammates were selected in the first round of the draft but the choice for this position came down to Okafor and Justise Winslow. Winslow is having a decent start to his career, but Okafor is already becoming one of the pillars around the Philadelphia 76ers are building. Okafor, along with Joel Embiid, Dario Šarić and Ben Simmons are the young core that could lead the 76ers back to the elite in the NBA.
Okafor finished fifth in the Rookie of the Year voting, and during his second season, Okafor truly started to assert himself on the court when he suffered an injury to his right knee that cost him the remainder of his second season. Injuries to Okafor and Embiid are perhaps the only thing that is keeping Philadelphia from truly becoming one of the top teams in the league.
14. 2014 – Connecticut – Shabazz Napier
Shabazz Napier is one of a number of players on this list who were able to capture more than one NCAA Championship. Napier was a member of Connecticut’s 2011 championship team, but from that squad, Kemba Walker was the better pro (more on him later). Napier and two of his teammates are the only Division-I men’s players to win national championships as both freshmen and seniors, and Napier was the MOP of the 2014 Final Four.
Drafted by the Miami Heat, Napier arrived in Miami just as LeBron James left town and returned to Cleveland. Playing behind Mario Chalmers (more on him later as well), Napier became the backup point guard for the new look Miami Heat until an injury ended his season. Following his rookie season, Napier was traded to Orlando, and one season later, he was traded again, this time to Portland. As Napier’s career continues, only time will tell if he is being traded over and over because he is unwanted, or if he is being traded for because he is highly sought after.
13. 2013 – Louisville – Gorgui Dieng
The MOP of the 2013 Final Four was Louisville forward Luke Hancock. However, Hancock went undrafted and played six games in Greece before injuring his leg, retiring from basketball, and becoming a financial manager. The thing that makes Dieng the best pro from the 2013 Louisville team is the fact that he, unlike many of his teammates, is the only player to get to the NBA and not spend any time in the D-League.
Dieng was drafted in the first round by the Utah Jazz, and was traded to the Timberwolves on draft night. It took some time, but Dieng eventually worked his way into a permanent spot in the Wolves starting lineup, starting all 82 games during the Wolves 2016-17 season. Though the team failed to make the playoffs, Dieng finished the season as the team’s fifth-best scorer and the team’s second best rebounder, and he looks to be only getting better.
12. 2012 – Kentucky – Anthony Davis
In the 2012 NBA Draft, six of the 14 players from the Kentucky team that won the 2012 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament were selected, and the first two picks in that draft were both from that Kentucky team. However, of all of the Kentucky players from that team who have entered the NBA, no one would argue that Anthony Davis was the best pro of the bunch. As a freshman in college, Davis was the Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, freshman of the Year and MOP of the Final Four.
So far as a pro, Davis has been an All-Star four times, has won the All-Star MVP Award, and has been named All-NBA. Davis is clearly the best player on the New Orleans Pelicans, and is easily the best Wildcat pro from that 2012 team. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is also having a good NBA career, but he is significantly outdistanced by Davis. Davis is the cornerstone of his Pelicans team and will be for years to come.
11. 2011 – Connecticut – Kemba Walker
A list like this one can create many conundrums. Some will look at this list and feel that if Shabazz Napier was the best pro from the 2014 Connecticut team, and he was also on the 2011 team, then he should be the best pro here as well. However, from the 2014 Connecticut team, Napier is the only player from the team who has left the school and played in the NBA. All of the others either played overseas or not at all.
Selecting the best from the 2011 team comes down to a choice between Napier, Jeremy Lamb and Kemba Walker; and of those, Walker is having the best NBA career. Walker has spent his entire career with a single team and has been an All-Star while Napier and Lamb have bounced around the league and spent time in the D-League. That plus the fact that Walker has started nearly every game in which he has appeared makes Walker the easy selection over the other two.
10. 2010 – Duke – Mason Plumlee
If this list were to be compiled five years from now, it might be difficult not to select Seth Curry or Mason’s brother Miles as the best pro from the 2010 Duke National Championship team. A couple of seasons ago, Plumlee might have been pushed by Ryan Kelly, who was with the Lakers. However, at this point in time, Mason Plumlee is having the best NBA career from among his Duke teammates.
Plumlee was a freshman on the Duke team, and he stayed in college for four years before entering the NBA Draft. Plumlee worked his way into the starting lineup, first in Brooklyn and then in Portland, to the point where he started all 82 games with Portland in 2016. Mason Plumlee has become a serviceable center in the NBA, and the more that he plays, the better he is likely to become over the next few years in the league.
9. 2009 – North Carolina – Ty Lawson
This selection was perhaps the most difficult, and will probably be the most hotly debated as there were a number of NBA players on this team. Ed Davis, Wayne Ellington, Danny Green, Tyler Hansbrough and Tyler Zeller were all members of the 2009 Tar Heels National Championship team, and all of them are showing themselves to be serviceable NBA players. Ellington was the MOP of the tournament, and Danny Green has already won an NBA Championship with the Spurs, and is a key contributor to the team’s success. However, the nod goes to Ty Lawson.
Lawson established himself in the NBA shortly after entering the league. By his third season, Lawson was in the Nuggets starting lineup, and finished the season in the Top-10 in assists, where he would find himself numerous times during his career. After six seasons in Denver, Lawson has moved around a little, but because he has been able to stay in the league while the others have spent time in the D-League, seemingly, by default, he is having a better career than his Carolina teammates.
8. 2008 – Kansas – Mario Chalmers
Choosing Mario Chalmers over Darrell Arthur, Brandon Rush and Cole Aldrich comes down to a single factor: Chalmers was a key contributor to the Miami Heat’s run of four-straight trips to the NBA Finals that brought two NBA titles to the Heat. Chalmers was selected by Minnesota and traded to the Heat, and he was immediately placed into the starting lineup at guard playing beside Dwyane Wade in the Miami backcourt.
When Lebron James, Chris Bosh and the others joined the Heat before the 2010-2011 season, Chalmers was moved to the bench, but regained his starting role on the two championship teams. Chalmers was traded to the Grizzlies, and once again became a key contributor to a playoff team before being waived. If Chalmers’ career is truly over, he leaves the game with two NBA Titles, and as the answer to the trivia question of who the point guard was on the Lebron/Bosh/Wade championship teams in Miami.
7. 2006/2007 – Florida – Al Horford
Al Horford is unique because he is another of the individuals on this list who was part of more than one NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship. What makes Horford unique is the fact that his two titles came in consecutive years, and with as much turnover as there is in college basketball, Horford is the best pro from both of Florida’s championship teams in which he appeared. Other players have NBA titles, and Joakim Noah is a two-time All-Star, but Horford has accomplished more than them all.
Horford was selected third in the 2007 draft, behind Greg Oden and Kevin Durant, and was the first of five Florida Gators selected in this draft. Only four players from this draft have appeared in the NBA All-Star game, but two of the four were Noah and Horford. However, Horford is a four-time All-Star, and his teams have made the playoffs every season in which he has been on the team. Horford has several years ahead of him, and he should be able to capture an NBA Title before his career is done.
6. 2005 – North Carolina – Raymond Felton
Choosing the best player from the 2005 North Carolina team comes down to determining the player who actually spent time in the NBA spent the least amount of time playing in the D-League or overseas. Sean May, the MOP of the tournament, spent five seasons in the league before heading to Europe to finish his career. Rashad McCants spent four seasons in the league before heading to Europe, which leaves Raymond Felton as the best NBA player from the team, as Felton is the only other player from the team to spend time in the NBA.
Felton was drafted by the Charlotte Bobcats, which made him a four season teammate with Sean May. Felton was then moved six times to five different teams, including two stints with the Knicks. Fortunately for Felton, he is nowhere near the record for having played for the most different teams in the league, and he seems to have found a home with the Clippers, but he probably felt that way with the other teams for which he played.
5. 2004 – Connecticut – Emeka Okafor
Emeka Okafor, a distant cousin of Jahlil Okafor, was the MOP of the 2004 Final Four, has arguably had the best pro career from the 2004 Connecticut team, though some might argue for Ben Gordon or Charlie Villanueva. Okafor was the 2005 NBA Rookie of the Year and averaged double figures in points and rebounds as a key member of the Bobcats before signing with the New Orleans Pelicans.
Okafor played five seasons in Charlotte, three seasons in New Orleans, and a season in Washington before suffering a herniated disc in his neck. The injury forced Okafor to miss three full seasons, but he plans to make his return at the start of the 2018 season. The injury might lead some select Gordon over Okafor as the best player from their college team, but just as Gale Sayers was a great player with a short career, Okafor accomplished more in his few years than the other two have thus far.
4. 2003 – Syracuse – Carmelo Anthony
The choice of Carmelo Anthony as the best NBA player from his college championship team is perhaps the most no-brainer pick on the list. On one hand, the only other choice was Hakim Warrick, and aside from that, Anthony has done everything that can be done in the NBA except win a championship. Anthony is also the poster boy for one-and-done players in college as Anthony played a single season at Syracuse. However, during that single season, Anthony won the NCAA Championship, and was the MOP of the tournament.
Anthony is a 10-time All Star, and he won the scoring title in 2013. Anthony currently sits in the Top-10 in a number of career stats for both the Nuggets, for whom he played almost eight seasons, and the Knicks, with whom he has spent 6½ seasons. Anthony has also won four Olympic medals in basketball, including three gold medals. The only thing missing from Anthony’s career is an NBA Championship, but it doesn’t look like he will achieve that in his current situation.
3. 2002 – Maryland – Steve Blake
In terms of longevity, Steve Blake is the selection from the 2002 Maryland team over Chris Wilcox. Wilcox was a good NBA player, but he left the game after ten seasons due to an irregular heartbeat. On the other hand, Blake has played 13 years in the league, and was a member of some of the best teams in basketball, but he arrived there either a year too soon or a year too late.
Blake started his career in Washington, and has played for 8 NBA franchises, including three separate stints with the Portland Trail Blazers. Unfortunately for Blake, he arrived in Los Angeles the year after the Lakers won the championship, and was a member of the doomed 2013 team that featured Dwight Howard and Steve Nash. Blake was also a member of the Warriors the season before they won the title. Someday, Blake might find himself in the right situation where he will win a championship.
2. 2001 – Duke – Shane Battier
Choosing Shane Battier over Carlos Boozer from the 2001 Duke team comes down to accolades. The careers of these two outdistance Mike Dunleavy, Jr. and Chris Duhon, but Battier and Boozer have both had great careers, so choosing between them is difficult. Boozer was a two-time All-Star, and has a single All-NBA selection to his resume. He was also a double figure scorer in every season in which he played with career averages of 16 points and 9½ rebounds. However, Battier’s accolades were just a bit better than Boozer’s.
Battier’s personal stats pale in comparison to Boozer’s, but the results is what set Battier apart from his former teammate. Battier is a 2-time All-Defensive selection, and won two NBA championships with the Miami Heat, defeating Boozer’s Bulls teams on the way. In 2014, Battier was also voted Teammate of the Year, an award given to the player who displays “selfless play and commitment and dedication to his team.” This means that not only has Battier been successful, but his peers see him as something special.
1. 2000 – Michigan State – Jason Richardson
Mateen Cleaves was the MOP of the 2000 NCAA Final Four, and Morris Peterson was the top scorer. Both players were members of the championship Michigan State team, but Jason Richardson was the best NBA player of the group. Jason Richardson entered the league and became the fourth player in the league to win the Slam Dunk Contest twice, and the second only to Michael Jordan to win two in a row. During the All-Star weekend, Richardson became the first player to win the Dunk contest and be name MVP of the Rookie Game in the same season.
As Richardson’s career evolved, he became known as a dunker and as a three-point shooter. Richardson was constantly among the leaders in three-point shots made, leading the league in 2008. Richardson retired with three of the best three-point seasons in history. He was forced to retire due to chronic knee pain, but his ability to shoot would have made him an asset to a playoff team.
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