Path to the Draft: No. 17 Alabama

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

  1. Latrell Sprewell (1992)

  2. Antonio McDyess (1995)

  3. Gerald Wallace (2001)

  4. Robert Horry (1992)

  5. Mo Williams (2003)

Sixth man: Jason Caffey (1995)

The rest: Richard Hendrix, Jermareo Davidson, Alonzo Gee, Rod Grizzard, Eric Washington, Roy Rogers, James Robinson, Michael Ansley.

Why they're ranked where they are: Calling all fans of counterintuition: Do we have a No. 17-ranked entry for you! Yes, despite its status as a longtime football power whose basketball fans waver from casually amused to nonexistent depending on whether spring football practice deserves more attention, since 1989 the Alabama Crimson Tide have produced a surprising plethora of very good, if not great, NBA players.

That consistency is what earned the ranking. Unlike prior entries No. 20 Syracuse and No. 18 LSU, which boast one monolithic star (Carmelo Anthony and Shaquille O'Neal, respectively) alongside an otherwise forgettable group, Alabama's NBA products form a deeper, more impressive overall group. Antonio McDyess is second on the list, and he's a perfect example: McDyess played 15 seasons in the league, and the first six or so were at an All-Star level, or just below. (McDyess went to one All-Star game, in 2001, when he averaged 20.8 points and 12.1 rebounds per game for the Denver Nuggets.) The rest of his career was spent as a solid backup.

Latrell Sprewell will probably always be best remembered for that time he choked P.J. Carlesimo, which is probably fair, because when you drag your coach by his neck on a gym floor for 10 seconds during a practice, that should be one of the first things people remember about you. But Sprewell moved on from his dark days in Golden State to put together a really productive NBA life, including All-Star appearances in 1994, 1995, 1997 and 2001, one appearance on the All-NBA team (1993-94) and career averages of 18.3 points, 4.1 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game.

As for the most recent entrants: During his Bobcats heyday, Gerald Wallace was not only one of the most entertaining players in the game, he also was one of their most amorphously productive; the classic Wallace line read like something out of a fantasy basketball owner's fever dream. In 2009-10, Wallace averaged 18.2 points, 10.0 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.5 steals per game; he was an All-Defensive team inclusion and an All-Star that season. He is still productive, albeit in a diminished form, for the Brooklyn Nets. Meanwhile, Mo Williams is … well, Mo Williams. He achieved his highest heights playing in the same backcourt as LeBron James in Cleveland, and while I remain convinced Williams owes James more than he would ever admit for Williams' All-Star nod in 2008-09, then again Williams did hit 91.2 percent from the free throw line, so James couldn't have done everything.

And Robert Horry is one of my favorite players in this entire drill, though not because I actually love Horry. (I remember being devastated by several plays in his Lakers and Spurs career, when I was rooting for more aesthetically attractive upstarts like the C-Webb-era Sacramento Kings and the vintage uptempo Phoenix Suns.) Horry is one of the trickiest players in this entire exercise. On one hand, he was a thoroughly mediocre, if long-lived, pro; he never averaged more than 12.0 points per game, and finished with 7.0 per game, with just under five rebounds, for his career. On the other hand, Big Shot Bob was a key player on seven NBA title teams, an absolutely ruthless veteran who took his chances when they came and has the hardware to show for it. Fourth feels right, but we'll get to that in a second.

Jason Caffey was an OK pro. The rest of the list is the definition of blah. But those top players? That's an awfully good, awfully well-rounded, awfully veteran group. Heck, it's a great starting five.

Why they could be ranked higher: It really depends on what you prefer. If you prefer elite star power, this group, with the possible exception of Sprewell, doesn't have that. If you would prefer that to the overall well-rounded offerings here, I can't do much to change your mind. But if you recognize the value of a long NBA career — not just financially but in the way having decades-plus NBA veterans can impact the impression of a college basketball program — you could argue this group should go higher.

Why they could be ranked lower: The Tide could be ranked lower for a variety of reasons, I suppose. They could be ranked lower if you believe the inverse of the above -- that elite stars are better than hardscrabble fringe one-time-All-Star-level veterans. Because, again, that's not who these guys are.

But you could also rank the Crimson Tide lower if you simply don't give Horry as much credit as many are willing to give. Perhaps you think Horry was a one-trick pony who was a mediocre NBA player that happened to be in the right place at the right time on a handful of good teams. Perhaps you think the "Big Shot Bob" thing is overblown, that any other player could have made those shots in a similar position. Maybe you don't believe there's any such thing as clutch. I don't know that I'd agree, but I'd be willing to listen to that argument.

What’s ahead? Since Williams in 2003, the Crimson Tide have had three recent NBA products: Davidson in 2007, Hendrix in 2008, and Gee in 2009. Only Gee appears likely to pan out. After going undrafted, Gee bounced around on contracts with the Timberwolves, Wizards and Spurs. His 2010 included one brief stop in the D-League, as well as a couple of month-long contracts. But since 2010, Gee has begun to establish himself as a quality NBA contributor, averaging 30 minutes and over 10 points per game in two seasons for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

As for the future, though current coach Anthony Grant has experienced success without much in the way of obvious NBA prospects, he does have the No. 9-ranked center in the class of 2013, Jimmie Taylor, coming through this fall.

Final thoughts: I'll admit it. When we set out to build these rankings, I didn't expect many surprises. I expected the teams one would expect — the traditional basketball bluebloods, the recent powers, the obvious choices. Alabama was not a member of any of those groups. But there's no escaping the fact that the Crimson Tide have put forward a really quality group of pros in the modern draft era. Sprewell is the most individually distinguished, but McDyess had a good extended career, Gerald Wallace is right there, Mo Williams has been above average, and Robert Horry won, count 'em, seven titles. This may not be the most exciting group of top players in our top 20, but it is one of the deepest, populated as it is by solid veteran NBA guys. We might all prefer a 10-time All-Star in the mix, but for a school in a part of the country that only occasionally recognizes basketball as a legitimate athletic endeavor, the final accounting isn't too shabby.