Kentucky Basketball: The Biggest NBA Success Stories in Wildcats History

Bobby ReaganFeatured ColumnistJune 18, 2014

Kentucky Basketball: The Biggest NBA Success Stories in Wildcats History

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    Kentucky basketball has turned into a powerhouse for great NBA talent. With 22 players (and counting) currently in the NBA, the Wildcats have the most former players in the big leagues. It shouldn't come as a surprise as Kentucky's rich history has led to many excellent NBA players.

    In total there have been 82 players from Kentucky who have played at the NBA level. Whether it was a Hall of Fame career like that of Frank Ramsey or an up-and-down rookie campaign like Archie Goodwin recently, the bar has been set by Kentucky players. 

    This list will take a look at the five best NBA success stories. As a reminder, a success story doesn't necessarily mean what happened just on the court as a player in the NBA. Also, this is purely NBA, so while someone was great at Kentucky, it doesn't mean they have a great success story. 

    As always feel free to leave your comments here or to communicate with me on twitter @uklefty22

Honorable Mentions

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    CHUCK BURTON/Associated Press

    These five players were close to making the list, but they ultimately just didn't have the same success as the next five. Here are your honorable mentions, in no particular order.

    • Jamal Mashburn
    • Antoine Walker
    • Tayshaun Prince
    • Cliff Hagan
    • John Wall

5. Frank Ramsey

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    Associated Press

    Frank Ramsey was only in the NBA for nine seasons. However, that didn't stop him from winning seven championships during that stretch. 

    Playing for the Boston Celtics from 1955-1964, Ramsey became a great sixth man, averaging over 13 points for his career while grabbing 5.5 rebounds per game. He played along side some of the greats during the Green Dynasty of the Celtics, with his best year coming in 1961-62 when he averaged over 15 points per game. 

    Winning championships was nothing new for Ramsey, because he was also part of the 1952 national title team at Kentucky with Cliff Hagan. 

4. Anthony Davis

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    Jonathan Bachman/Associated Press

    It took just one year at Kentucky for Anthony Davis to cement his legacy in Lexington. It hasn't changed for Davis at the NBA level.

    After winning a gold medal at the 2012 Olympics before even setting foot on the court as an NBA player, Davis has transformed into one of the elite players in the league. He has a career average of over 17 points and nine rebounds per game so far. All indications are those numbers will rise as the years go on.

    He appeared in his first All-Star game this previous season and also led the league in blocks, averaging 2.8 blocks per game. 

    In terms of Kentucky players, in just two seasons he is top 10 in averages of points per game and rebounds per game. 

3. Rajon Rondo

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    Michael Perez/Associated Press

    Rajon Rondo is one of those players who had an average career at Kentucky by Big Blue Nation standards, but he blossomed into a star at the NBA level. 

    In only his second season as a pro, Rondo helped lead the Boston Celtics to the 2007-2008 NBA Championship. He helped lead the Celtics back to the championship series the year after, only to lose to the rival Los Angeles Lakers.

    Despite being known for slashing through the lane and dishing out assists (which he has led the league in twice), Rondo's best attribute may be his ability to completely shut opponents down on defense. He led the NBA in steals in 2013 and has twice been named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team.

    On top of that, he was named to four All-Star games before being injured and not being named in 2014. 

2. Dan Issel

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    As a player, there hasn't been one from Kentucky like Dan Issel, at least not yet. Issel left Kentucky as the school's leading scorer and rebounder, titles he still holds to this day. 

    That translated to the professional level as well. When he graduated in 1970, Issel decided to play for the Kentucky Colonels of the ABA rather than the Pistons of the NBA. He was a six-time All-Star in the league, and he continued his dominant play for the Denver Nuggets when the NBA and ABA merged in 1976.

    Issel spent nine years in the NBA, making one all-star team. He had only three seasons where he didn't average at least 20 points per game, with the lowest being his last year when he averaged just 12 points per game. For his NBA career he averaged 20.4 points per game and 7.9 rebounds per game.

    Issel got into coaching after his playing career having two stints as the head coach for the Nuggets. He compiled a 180-208 record and made the playoffs just once. However, he was still inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1993. 

     

1. Pat Riley

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    Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

    Remember, you can have success at the NBA level in other ways than just being a player. No one exemplifies that more than Pat Riley.

    Riley averaged just over seven points per game during his nine year career, which saw him win a championship with the Lakers in 1972. He was never anything more than a perennial bench player, who would play his role to help his teams win. However, following his retirement in 1976, Riley's success took off.

    He became a five-time NBA champion as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers and the Miami Heat. He also won two more titles as team president of the Heat. Riley is a three-time NBA coach of the year and won executive of the year in 2011. 

    On top of all that he took the New York Knicks back to the NBA Finals in 1994 and helped make them one of the marquee franchises during the 1990s. 

    Riley has a 1210-694 coaching record, with nine trips to the NBA Finals. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2008 and remains one of the biggest success stories in NBA history.