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Successful Coaching: Which College Coaches Have Produced the Best NBA Talent?

Does success in the collegiate ranks translate into successful NBA players?

Edited by Joanna Nesgoda


I always forget that the basketball Hall of Fame is for general basketball accomplishments and not dedicated to just college or professional ranks like in other sports. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of watching college basketball. I’ll tune in if University of Washington is playing, a potential #1 overall is playing or if it is the NCAA tournament and my bracket isn’t in shambles (and based on my lack of college basketball experience, I usually make it to the sweet 16). The 35 second shot clock makes me want to pull my hair out, it seems like most games are blow outs and the players just aren’t as talented as their NBA counterparts. When I want to watch amateur basketball I’ll go watch a Seattle Metro league game because I know the teams are competitive, the rivalries are crazy and I’m still pretty likely to see some NBA talent (especially with Garfield joining Prep, Beach and Franklin next season).

College basketball isn’t for me and that’s fine, but I was surprised last year when I heard that Rick Pitino was going to be elected into the basketball Hall of Fame. Pitino has won 2 NCAA championships and coached some excellent teams during his time at Louisville and Kentucky, consistently reaching the Final Four. His college accolades are impressive but as the Hall of Fame is for all of basketball, I wanted to investigate Pitino’s impact on the NBA. I know that he was a below average coach during his time in the league, leaving the NBA with a 102-146 record. I was curious to see how his time in college has impacted the NBA and to see how it compares to other coaches.

Forget basketball for a second. I know that’s a dangerous request for you fanatics but go with me, I swear I have a point. Imagine that the University of Louisville has a world renowned Structural Engineering department at their school and it is constantly ranked as one of the top Structural Engineering programs in the nation. Their incoming freshmen are always among the most promising future engineers in the country and the whole program is headed by a famous Structural Engineering Dean; let’s call him Pick Ritino. His students constantly win collegiate design competitions, sometimes producing the best designs in the nation and the publicity from these competitions brings a lot of attention to the school. As such Ritino earns just south of $5 million a year and his associate professors earn handsome wages as well. The only problem is very few of his students can find jobs in engineering when they graduate. The big American firms will hire less than 10% of the students who have studied under him and none of them become project managers let alone executives in those firms. Some of his students can find work overseas for significantly less money but most of them either return to academia or have to pursue careers in another field after devoting most of their energy in college to becoming a structural engineer. Would you say Pick Ritino is a good educator? Should he be in the Structural Engineering Hall of Fame?

Rick Pitino may win a lot of amateur basketball games but he does a relatively poor job preparing his players to become professionals in their field. They won the national championship last year and still only had two players that were drafted into the league. I’ve been hearing about Peyton Siva since I was in 4th grade and after seeing him dominate on his way to win a Washington State 3A title in 2009 it was easy to tell that he was good enough to be a professional with his work ethic, quickness and leadership. I’m skeptical that Pitino really helped him that much to develop into a professional player.

Some fall back on the argument that Pitino doesn’t recruit the type of players who are only concerned with the NBA, and that’s valid. He is a proud denouncer of the one and done style of play and seems to only be concerned with winning at Louisville, which is what he is paid to do. But it isn’t like Pitino produced an abundance of NBA talent before the one and done rule took place. Unless you value Francisco Garcia way more than I do, he hasn’t ever really developed an NBA star which, as an NBA fan, makes me skeptical of his contributions to basketball.

It also got me asking, which college coaches do the best job getting their guys to the NBA? I’ve compiled a list of the top 15 active coaches and ranked them by the number of players they have sent to the league, drafted or not, since the one and done rule came into effect for the 2006 draft. I have also included the number of these players that are still on an NBA roster.



If you want to play in the NBA and you can go anywhere you’d like, go play for John Calipari. During his time at Memphis, as well as his time at Kentucky, he has sent a player to the league every single year he has coached since 2003 (and he more often he sends multiple players). It helps that the one and done rules allow for him to have high turnover in colleg,e but looking at his historical numbers the one and done rule didn’t make John Calipari. He was sending Memphis players to the league years before the rule was instituted; Derrick Rose was a big time high school prospect and you don’t get those guys because of two years of sending folks to the league.

Mike Krzyzewski has put 43 players in the league since taking over the Duke head coaching position in 1980. The number of players he has sent to the league has remained consistent even after the adoption of the one and done rule. His 11 active players in the above chart only count those who joined the league since 2006, so Carlos Boozer, Shane Battier and Mike Dunleavy aren’t included in that figure. Coach K players have played a combined 14,627 NBA Games! And this number can grow by as much as 14 games every night! There is a reason the best basketball team in the world hands its head coaching reigns over to Krzyzewski.

After crunching the numbers it seems as though my criticisms of Pitino could have been directed towards Tom Izzo. He is a similarly successfully college coach with similar results when it comes to the players he sends to the league. Additionally you have to consider that Zach Randolph was an Izzo player and looking back on the early days of his career it is questionable as to how prepared he was to play pro ball. For some reason I like Izzo though, so I didn’t revise that long engineering tirade to be about Iom Tzzo.

It is one thing to just look at the number of players drafted- let’s also consider how good those drafted players are. I figure an easy way to asses value to an NBA player is to look at minutes played. If a coach produces more useful players, then those players are going to be given more of the finite number of minutes that an NBA coach has to give out. The following is a list of the average minutes per game for players for the same 15 coaches we looked at above.


Thad Matta is at the top of this list because, among the coaches investigated, he has no rookies and only one player, Jared Sullinger, who has been in the league for less than 4 seasons. While he hasn’t had as much recent success at developing NBA players, the players that he has sent to the league have lasted past their rookie contracts and are significant contributors to their teams. This number could be higher as the Heat have been very cautious with Greg Oden’s minutes (as they should be).

Similar to minutes played we can also investigate per game production of these players. Here are the averages for the coaches former players in points, rebounds and assists per game.



Here we see that Calipari and Krzyzewski now have some competition as to who is the best at developing players for the NBA. Rick Barnes has two all stars coming from his program including the best player any of these coaches have ever sent to the league: Kevin Durant. Yes KD only played one year under Barnes, but with Lamarcus Aldridge, Avery Bradley and DJ Augustin all proving to be more than capable NBA players it is hard to argue that Barnes is a fluke. A line up of Bradley, Augustin, KD, Tristan Thompson and Aldridge would be the favorites to win a 5 on 5 alumni tournament. It helps that LeBron didn’t go to college though.

I can’t believe I’ve been able to get this far without raving about my favorite coach on the list, UW’s own Lorenzo Romar! Anyone who has watched one of Romar’s UW teams knows that he is all about one thing: Guards, Guards, Guards. Romar has only sent two big men to the league since taking over the head coaching position at UW in 2002, Jon Brockman and Spencer Hawes, but has he sent a ton of perimeter players. His players averaged the highest number of assists per game which isn’t surprising considering Lorenzo averaged 3.5 per game himself during his 5 year NBA career. His former players average better scoring numbers by almost 1.5 points a game, but Romar’s 17.8 minutes, 5.9 points, 3.5 assists and 1.3 rebounds per game over 5 seasons made him a better NBA player than the average Bill Self product.

The only other Coach on this list to play in the NBA is Billy Donovan, Florida’s coach, who played a season with the Knicks. Donovan’s players are not just guards like he was but low post scorers and wing players as well. Donovan’s former players have the second highest field goal percentage when compared to this group of coaches and Paul Hewitt, the highest ranked coach, has a low sample size of players and Derrick Favors heavily skews his results.

Here are the shooting percentages for the former players of the discussed coaches. These numbers are not player averages but calculated similar to team field goal percentage where the total number of makes are divided by attempts. Needless to say Kevin Durant makes Rick Barnes look good.


I was surprised to see Mark Few included with this list of coaches when I first started researching this piece. Gonzaga having the same number of former players as Georgetown and more than Michigan State caught me off guard. Thankfully the Gonzaga players didn’t do well enough in the NBA for me to have to start to care about Gonzaga basketball. But there are intangible contributions to the NBA that I didn’t measure like Robert Sacre’s candidacy for Most Valuable Bench Celebrator. Also, would Kobe have won those two rings if he wasn’t facing Adam Morrison every day in practice? We’ll never find out.

I know that Gonzaga fans are going to rub it in my face when the Huskies miss out on this year’s NCAA tournament. A run in the Pac-12 tournament isn’t unheard of but it is unlikely, seeing as the Dawgs are once again all guards. I’ll be disappointed as the NCAA tournament is fun enough and having vested interest really improves it. That disappointment will be brief though, because while I likely won’t be able to watch the Husky team play in March I get to watch Huskies almost every night of the week into April and May. When you’re a nomadic NBA fan, loving the league but not really having a team, you need things to follow and whenever I watch a Philadelphia, Toronto, Cleveland or Sacramento game I have someone to root for. Even though Memphis got swept in the Western Conference Finals last year it was fun watching Quincy Pondexter step up and become their leading scorer in that series. Whether they are picked in the top ten or last in the draft, Romar’s players are professionals and they represent my alma mater well in the league. Also, any teams who are looking for a wing scorer-check out CJ Wilcox; there is some precedent for his success.

Which of these successful coaches is your favorite? Tell us in the comments!