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.
The SEC -- especially in terms of depth -- has lagged significantly behind other power conferences, such as the Big East and the Big Ten, in the past few seasons. The lull has made it easy to forget just how much NBA talent the league has churned out during the past two decades.
Here’s a look at the 10 SEC products who have enjoyed the most successful pro careers since 1989, the year the NBA draft was whittled down to two rounds.
1. Shaquille O’Neal, LSU: This pick was easy, as O’Neal is one of the most dominant centers to ever play the game. The 7-foot-1, 325-pounder won four NBA titles during his 19-year career and was named to the All-Star team 15 times. O’Neal averaged 23.7 points and 10.9 rebounds in the NBA, including a career-high mark of 29.7 points in 1999-2000, when he was named league MVP with the Los Angeles Lakers. O’Neal retired after the 2010-11 season.
2. Rajon Rondo, Kentucky: The point guard never really found his groove at UK, but he’s currently one of the best -- if not the best -- at his position in the NBA. Rondo, a constant triple-double threat, has averaged more than 11 assists in each of the past three seasons and led the league in that category the past two seasons (although it should be noted that he was injured in 2012-13 and played just 38 games). A four-time NBA All-Star and 2008 NBA champion, Rondo’s best days could still be ahead.
3. Latrell Sprewell, Alabama: The volatile guard was suspended 68 games for choking Golden State coach P.J. Carlesimo during practice in December 1997. The incident overshadowed a productive NBA career in which Sprewell averaged 18.3 points and four assists in 12 seasons. Sprewell was named first-team All-NBA in 1994. In 1999, he helped the No. 8 seed New York Knicks reach the NBA Finals. He retired in 2005 after refusing a three-year, $21 million offer from Minnesota.
4. Allan Houston, Tennessee: After leaving UT as the SEC's second all-time leading scorer, Houston averaged 17.3 points during his 11-year NBA career and was one of the top 3-point shooters in the NBA until a knee injury forced him to retire. Along with Sprewell, Houston helped the Knicks reach the 1999 NBA Finals and was a member of the 2000 U.S. Olympic team that won the gold medal in Sydney, Australia. Houston is now the assistant general manager for the Knicks.
5. Joe Johnson, Arkansas: A forward, Johnson has averaged 17.6 points in 11 NBA seasons -- and he’s not finished yet. Johnson averaged 16.3 points in 2012-13 as a member of the Brooklyn Nets. He contributed a career-high 25 points per game for Atlanta in 2006-07. Johnson was a six-time NBA All-Star from 2007 to '12 and was named to the All-NBA third team for the 2009-10 season.
6. Antoine Walker, Kentucky: A three-time All-Star, Walker averaged 12.2 points for a Miami Heat squad that won the NBA title in 2006. He averaged 17.5 points and 7.7 rebounds in 11 NBA seasons, including some monster seasons with the Celtics. Walker played his final season in 2007-08 for Minnesota. Several comeback attempts failed and Walker filed for bankruptcy in 2010, largely because of gambling problems and a series of bad investments.
7. Jamal Mashburn, Kentucky: Mashburn averaged 19.1 points and 5.4 rebounds in 10 NBA seasons. He was an NBA All-Star in 2003, the same season he earned third-team all-league honors. Mashburn averaged 20 or more points in six of his 10 seasons, including a career-high 24.1 points for Dallas in 1994-95. Mashburn retired in 2006 after missing the previous two seasons with knee problems.
8. Antonio McDyess, Alabama: The forward averaged 12 points and 7.5 rebounds in 15 NBA seasons. His best season came in 1998-99, when he averaged career highs in points (21.2), steals (1.5) and blocks (2.3). McDyess was a member of the All-Star team in 2001 and was named third-team All-NBA for the 1998-99 season. He was also part of the 2000 Olympic team that won the gold medal in Sydney, Australia. McDyess' last season was 2010-11.
9. Tayshaun Prince, Kentucky: Prince recently completed his 12th NBA season by helping the Memphis Grizzlies to the Western Conference finals, where they lost to San Antonio. Prince played the previous 11 seasons in Detroit, where his strong defensive play and 3-point shooting helped the Pistons win the 2004 NBA championship. Prince averaged a career-best 14.7 points the following season.
10. Al Horford, Florida: Horford -- who led Florida to back-to-back NCAA titles in 2006 and '07 -- is quickly developing into one of the top power forwards in the NBA. The Atlanta Hawk averaged career highs in points (17.4) and rebounds (10.2) in 2012-13 and should continue to improve (and move up this list) as his career progresses. He was an NBA All-Star in 2010 and 2011.
Other notables: All of these players have excelled in the NBA, including a few who almost cracked the top 10 (names in alphabetical order).
Derek Anderson, Kentucky
Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf (Chris Jackson), LSU
Robert Horry, Alabama
David Lee, Florida
Ron Mercer, Kentucky
Mike Miller, Florida
Joakim Noah, Florida
Gerald Wallace, Alabama
Mo Williams, Alabama
Corliss Williamson, Arkansas
On the cusp: These guys haven’t been in the league long enough to make the top 10, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if any of them were there soon (names in alphabetical order).
Bradley Beal, Florida
DeMarcus Cousins, Kentucky
Anthony Davis, Kentucky
Alonzo Gee, Alabama
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kentucky
Tobias Harris, Tennessee
Brandon Knight, Kentucky
Chandler Parsons, Florida
Marcus Thornton, LSU
John Wall, Kentucky
*Note: Of the 30 total names on these lists, 11 are from Kentucky, six are from Alabama, six are from Florida, three are from LSU, two are from Arkansas and two are from Tennessee.