If you had to guess which school had produced the most draft picks in the past 10 years, how would you guess? North Carolina? Duke? Kentucky? UConn? Texas? Those would probably be my selections, if not necessarily in that order, and I -- as is so often the case when we don't consult the numbers -- would be wrong.
CBS's Matt Norlander wanted to answer this question with data, so he dove into the past decade of NBA drafts and organized the picks based on alma mater. The results are actually somewhat surprising. All the teams above are included: Texas, Duke and Kentucky have each produced 14 picks in the past 10 years; UConn 13 and UNC at 12; Florida has 11; Memphis and Arizona each have 10. But none of the top-tier programs on the list can match Kansas and UCLA, who tied for the lead with 15 draft picks apiece in the past decade.
Of course, this shouldn't be too surprising. Both Kansas and UCLA are among college basketball's elite club of bluebloods, the type of place where future NBA talent is an absolute must. But the tallies do contrast with narratives about each school.
In February, after Bill Self had sealed his eighth straight Big 12 regular-season title (or share thereof), I wrote about the remarkable run of success in a conference that had boasted a score of talented future pros throughout KU's eight-year reign. I saw Kansas as having overcome those players with sheer programmatic force of will. In reality, of course, the Jayhawks were bringing as much talent -- and almost always more depth -- as any of their conference rivals. Why the alternate narrative? The Jayhawks have produced a handful of solid NBA players since 2002, but zero stars; Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison probably remain the gold standard. Thomas Robinson has a very good chance to change that, but you get the point. There is no retroactive "dude, Kevin Durant!" to apply to Self's dominant run. Without obvious anecdotal evidence banging us over the head, the narrative of a great college program takes hold.
As for UCLA, the old outdated trope about Ben Howland -- that his slow-paced, defensive style isn't conducive to recruiting, development or NBA draft lottery riches -- has now long since passed its retirement age. Kansas doesn't count many stars among its 15 draft picks. UCLA does. There is Russell Westbrook, who is currently marauding his way through the NBA Finals; there is Kevin Love, who just posted one of the best power forward seasons we've seen since Tim Duncan's heyday. Jrue Holiday is an exciting young guard prospect, Darren Collison is a proven pro, and Aaron Afflalo is one of the most well-rounded shooting guards in an NBA bereft of the position. There are also the Trevor Arizas and Luc Richard Mbah a Moutes of the world, solid NBA rotation guys already having long, sustained NBA careers.
This wasn't supposed to be UCLA's narrative. For the past few years, as Howland's program flailed and his recruiting prowess stalled, the word in recruiting circles was that Howland was too inflexible, too unwilling to adjust his style to the whims of his NBA-bound talent.
As it turns out, not only has Howland helped produce some of the NBA's most exciting young talent in recent seasons, but over the past 10 years only one school can match the Bruins' sheer breadth of NBA products. Pick for pick, that talent has acquitted itself as well as any. If Howland's NBA-readying reputation hasn't been repaired by now, people just aren't paying attention.