NBA Going Back to College


Does College Experience Translate to NBA Success?

For most people, college is a four-year experience – from a freshman to a senior at graduation – but that isn’t always the case for some student-athletes. College basketball players can opt for the “one-and-done” approach, skipping graduation for a chance to be selected in the NBA draft.

While there are some who make a quick break for the professional game, others spend the full four years (or more) balancing sports and school before pursuing a career in the NBA. Are there certain schools that enroll more short-term basketball athletes as students? Do other schools take pride in having a higher athletic graduation rate? Pick up the ball and dribble down to see which schools focus on dunks and which prioritize degrees.

Value in the College Experience?


There’s no doubt about it – the NBA’s “one-and-done” rule has caused a lot of controversy on both sides of the court. On the one hand, proponents of the system argue players should have every opportunity to reap the benefits of their talents while they can. On the other hand, opponents contend letting the NCAA’s best talent play one year and then declare for the NBA draft is crippling college basketball for good. Either way, the average college experience across all 32 NBA teams is just over two years.

Despite the rising trend of athletes leaving college before their traditional four-year term ends, some NBA teams have more college experience on their court than others. Leading the way with 2.65 years of NCAA experience are the Brooklyn Nets. The added dose of NCAA experience may not be helping the team much lately (they haven’t been to the playoffs since 2015), but it has worked out for DeMarre Carroll. Having spent four years in college between his time at Missouri State and Vanderbilt, Carroll’s teammate, Allen Crabbe spent three years at the University of California.

Other teams with an above-average level of NCAA experience this season include the Portland Trail Blazers, Miami Heat, New York Knicks, and Milwaukee Bucks. Center Kelly Olynyk, who was selected in the first round of the 2013 draft, spent three years playing at Gonzaga.

Make It Big


Across the NCAA, no school has more current NBA players than the University of Kentucky. Including players like John Wall and Anthony Davis, the Wildcats have contributed their share of talent to the NBA courts.

Other schools that ranked among the highest number of current NBA players included the University of North Carolina, Duke University, and the University of Kansas. Love them or hate them, Duke University has a reputation for talent. With Mike Krzyzewski as their head coach since the early ’80s, Duke’s basketball program has ascended to world-renowned heights. Five National Championship titles and multiple trips to the Final Four and ACC Tournaments have made Duke an icon for new talent who continue to flock to the school – and the NBA afterward.

Translatable Skills


Criticism of the “one-and-done” method isn’t just about how much NBA players need a college education (indeed, some argue the opposite is more likely true) – it’s also about the quality of NCAA competition. Major upsets can be thrilling in any sport, but the inconsistency in players from year to year has made establishing truly dominate teams nearly impossible.

While the average NBA player today spends just over two years in college, some schools have a reputation for keeping players over longer periods. At the University of Virginia, the average player accrues 3.8 years of NCAA experience before moving on to the next level. Other schools averaging three years or more of college experience include Stanford (3.4 years), Villanova (3.2 years), and Baylor (three years).

In contrast, other schools are far more likely to reinforce a higher turnover rate of NCAA players as they move into the NBA draft following their freshman year. The University of Texas (1.5 years), University of Kentucky (1.6 years), and Syracuse University (nearly 1.7 years) had the lowest average time spent in college before heading to the pros.

Movin’ On Up


So which teams have the most one-and-done players on their rosters?

With seven players drafted into the NBA after a single year in their respective NCAA programs, the Memphis Grizzlies have more one-and-done players than any team in the league – including Mike Conley Jr., Kobi Simmons, and Brandan Wright.

The Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers, Minnesota Timberwolves, and Phoenix Suns all tied for second place with six one-and-done players. Including superstars like Avery Bradley, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Andrew Wiggins, many of these players have gone on to outperform their collegiate personas.

Stay In School


While some teams featured a less formally educated group of players, others had more players with four or five years in an NCAA basketball program. Eight of 18 players on the Brooklyn Nets roster played either four or five years in college. Two players played for the University of Michigan: Canadian shooting guard Nik Stauskas and American small forward Caris LeVert. They also have players who went to Duke (Jahlil Okafor), Harvard (Jeremy Lin), and Ohio State (D’Angelo Russell).

The Portland Trail Blazers had a two-way tie with the New Orleans Pelicans for second place.  Point guards Damian Lillard and Shabazz Napier are just two well-educated Blazers. Just one team member on their roster had zero experience playing NCAA basketball: “The Bosnian Bear” Jusuf Nurkić.

Ballin’ Over Books


Just because a roster is filled with players without NCAA experience doesn’t mean it’s a squad assembled of matriculated high schoolers who never went to college. In fact, it’s often foreign-born players who skew the percentage of players on each team without NCAA minutes. The Utah Jazz are a prime example, with seven players on their roster who are foreign-born and didn’t register a single minute of March Madness before playing in the NBA. From Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio to Swiss small forward Thabo Sefolosha, these players didn’t have a common route or path to the NBA that most American student-athletes have.

Tied for second place, the Cleveland Cavaliers feature five players without NCAA experience, mixed between foreign-born players and those who transitioned from high school to the pros. LeBron James and J.R. Smith are those American-born Cavs who made the jump from playing varsity to posting up in the NBA. They take the court with their foreign-born comrades who never rushed for a fraternity or experienced the joys of college algebra: Ante Žižić, José Calderón, and Cedi Osman.

Passing Class and Balls

Whether they are one-and-done or spent four years dunking for their degree, college and professional basketball players are both exciting to watch. You may prefer March Madness to the All-Star Game, or the NBA Finals to the NIT Tournament, but however you enjoy your basketball, you can pick up the best officially licensed NCAA and NBA merchandise and apparel at Fanatics.


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