Apr 8, 2024 - Sports

Shockingly few top NBA players were also college champions

Best NCAA tournament performance for top active NBA players
Data: The Ringer, Axios Research; Chart: Axios Visuals

Surprisingly few players have reached the highest levels of both college and professional basketball.

By the numbers: Just two of the top 50 NBA players won a championship in college, and just 6 played in a Final Four.

  • We used The Ringer's player rankings to identify the top 50 players. (There are other lists, but there are not big disagreements among them as to who's in the top 50.)
  • Many of the NBA's best players didn't go to college at all. Even more played a year or two but lost early in the NCAA tournament.

Details: Anthony Davis of the Los Angeles Lakers and Jalen Brunson of the New York Knicks are the only top NBA players who led their schools to an NCAA championship.

  • Davis played college basketball at Kentucky. A disproportionate share of the players who excelled in both college and the NBA played for Kentucky.
  • Four of the six top NBA players who made a college Final Four, for example, went to Kentucky.

What we're watching: UConn's Stephon Castle could be the next player to make it into this rarefied group. He'll be playing in Monday's NCAA title game, and is projected as a top pick in the upcoming NBA draft.

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