Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Nothing but The Truth: Paul Pierce exception as superstardom eludes NBA Jayhawks

Boston Celtics' Paul Pierce (34) reacts in the finals seconds of the Celtics 96-92 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks, Nov. 10, 2012, in Milwaukee.

Boston Celtics' Paul Pierce (34) reacts in the finals seconds of the Celtics 96-92 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks, Nov. 10, 2012, in Milwaukee.


Former Kansas players in the NBA since 1999 (Paul Pierce’s rookie season)

KU player | Debut year

Raef LaFrentz | 1999

Paul Pierce | 1999

Ryan Robertson | 2000

Drew Gooden | 2002

Kirk Hinrich | 2003

Nick Collison | 2004

Aaron Miles | 2005

Wayne Simien | 2005

Billy Thomas | 2005

Keith Langford | 2007

Julian Wright | 2007

Darrell Arthur | 2008

Mario Chalmers | 2008

Darnell Jackson | 2008

Brandon Rush | 2008

Cole Aldrich | 2010

Sherron Collins | 2010

Xavier Henry | 2010

Marcus Morris | 2011

Markieff Morris | 2011

Josh Selby | 2011

Thomas Robinson | 2012

Tyshawn Taylor | 2012

Ben McLemore | 2013

Jeff Withey | 2013

Waiting in the wings (2014 draft)

Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid

Ever since his rookie year in 1999, Paul Pierce has firmly held the unofficial title of Most Prominent Kansas University Player in the NBA.

A lottery pick of the Boston Celtics in 1998, Pierce averaged between 16.5 and 26.8 points per game each of his first 15 seasons before scoring 13.5 this past year, for Brooklyn.

KU’s standard-bearer in the league, Pierce is a 10-time All-Star, the 2008 NBA Finals MVP, 2001-02 league leader in total points (2,144), and a four-time All-NBA selection (once on second team, three times on third team).

Now in the closing stage of his career, Pierce just signed a free-agent contract with Washington, a relatively inexperienced team that figures to lean on the former KU All-American for leadership, but turn to its young guns, John Wall and Bradley Beal, for production.

Since Pierce’s NBA debut, 24 other Jayhawks have entered the league. None have been able to match, let alone eclipse, his success. KU coach Bill Self admitted as much in June at the NBA Draft.

“We’ve been really fortunate to put a lot of guys in the league,” Self said. “But we haven’t put NBA All-Stars in the league.”

If searching for a Kansas product capable of one day reaching elite status like “The Truth,” look no further than NBA rookies Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid. But why have so many KU first-round picks from Pierce’s era — Raef LaFrentz, Drew Gooden, Nick Collison, Kirk Hinrich, Wayne Simien, Julian Wright, Brandon Rush, Darrell Arthur, Xavier Henry, Cole Aldrich, Marcus Morris, Markieff Morris, Thomas Robinson and Ben McLemore — fallen short of All-Star status?

According to Simien, picked 29th overall by Miami in 2005, every player’s situation differs.

“Some will peak in college, and I think that was the case for me,” said Simien, an All-America power forward in 2005. “Some guys maybe won’t excel as much in college but still have pro potential, and they continue to get better in the professional ranks. I don’t think it’s anything that’s just associated with KU, because we haven’t had (another) All-Star over the years. I think it’s just the natural ebb and flow of the talent pool in the NBA.”

Off the top of his head, Simien couldn’t come up with one college program that had produced multiple current stars.

“It’s not any different (for KU) than (North) Carolina or UCLA or Kentucky,” he added. “Not every school, just because you’re an All-American that goes there, is afforded the opportunity to be a superstar in the NBA.”

At the 2014 NBA All-Star Game, only two programs could boast multiple participants: Texas (Kevin Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge) and Kentucky (John Wall and Anthony Davis).

Former KU standout Mark Randall played in the NBA from 1991-95. After officially retiring in 1999, he spent two and a half years as a scout for Denver and one season as a Nuggets assistant coach. Randall remains with the organization as a community ambassador, keeps up with all the Jayhawks who join the league’s ranks and said the key to success is finding a role.

“One mistake I made going into the NBA is I went in thinking I had to go to a different level and I had to be more offensive,” Randall admitted. “And, in fact, I didn’t. I just needed to be who I was and play the way I played here (at Kansas).”

Though Randall no longer works on the personnel side with Denver, he has spent enough time around the NBA to know how incoming KU players are perceived.

“Obviously they’ve got the credentials and they’ve got the work ethic, because Bill pushes ‘em,” Randall said. “A lot of those NBA players are coming in with a lack of fundamentals, which is kind of scary at that level. I know that first-hand, just from coaching. But I do know the players that come in from Kansas have a better knowledge of the game, let’s put it that way. So they’re hitting the ground running already.”

Aldrich, the 11th overall pick in the 2010 draft, has spent most of his NBA career in mop-up duty. After signing a new contract with New York, the 25-year-old center figures to be one of at least 16 former Jayhawks playing in the league next season (assuming Embiid’s foot injury doesn’t keep him out).

“I think we have a lot of good names,” Aldrich said. “A lot of big names that have come out and have played.”

The Knicks big man said each KU product is capable of making an impact.

“It doesn’t matter when you got drafted. You could be a lottery pick like me, or you could be a guy like, I think Manu (Ginobili, of San Antonio) was picked (57th). It’s just a number,” he said. “It doesn’t matter after game one. It’s just about going out and carrying our tradition that we have (at KU).”

Forecasting the fortunes of lottery picks Wiggins and Embiid, Simien said, is difficult. But he thinks they could take over for Pierce as KU’s marquee names.

“We’ve had guys in the past that had that expectation going out, and now they’ve just settled in to being great role players, which is completely fine,” Simien said. “We’ve had guys that have had long careers, like Kirk Hinrich or Drew Gooden. They haven’t been an All-Star, but they’ve still had incredible careers, so it’s not a knock on them. But hopefully we’ll see those guys (KU’s newest batch of rookies) be able to excel in that.”

Adidas signing

Like Andrew Wiggins, former KU center Joel Embiid has signed a shoe contract with adidas, SLAM Magazine reports. No terms have been disclosed.

Summer league update

Former KU forward Thomas Robinson had eight points, seven rebounds, five assists and five steals in 25 minutes for the Portland Trail Blazers in a 91-76 victory against the Atlanta Hawks, Tuesday in summer-league action in Las Vegas.

Former KU center Tarik Black scored two points and grabbed one rebound while playing 14 minutes in the Houston Rockets’ 83-60 win over the Los Angeles Clippers.

Former KU guard Elijah Johnson did not play (coach’s decision) yet again for the Philadelphia 76ers.


Tracey Graham 8 years, 2 months ago

Paul Pierce is a lock to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame a few years after he retires, so it's a little silly to expect other KU products to be able to match his accomplishments.

As for why there haven't been any other ex-Jayhawks making the All-Star team? Well, for a lot of reasons. Injuries have derailed some careers. Hinrich, in his prime, could have been a candidate to make an All-Star Game, but he played a position that had (and still has) a lot of All-Star level players. Not all of them can make the team (that's why we always hear about All-Star "snubs"). But the biggest reason is that most of the Jayhawks in the NBA are role players -- just because someone is drafted in the first round does not mean they are going to go on to be a great player, or even someone who might make one All-Star team. The majority of players in the NBA never make All-Star teams. That isn't a knock on their talent, it is just a fact.

Walter Bridges 8 years, 2 months ago

A lock? I think he will also but he is not a lock. Jo Jo White isn't in the HOF and most people would have said he was a lock to be inducted also.

Jay Beakum 8 years, 2 months ago

It’s true. There aren’t many schools boasting Finals MVP and 10 time All Stars. Since 1999 the Finals MVP's have gone to Shaq (3, LSU) Duncan (3, Wake Forest) Kobe (2, high school), Lebron (2, high school). Then you have one-timers Wade (Marquette), Billups (Colorado) and of course Pierce (Kansas) along with a couple of international players Parker and Nowitzki.

So in the last 15 years you have a total of 5 schools represented for Finals MVP and Kansas is the only blue blood among them.

Then look at the list of players who’ve played in All Star games. When you get into the 8-time All Star territory it is made up almost entirely of Hall of Famers, or future Hall of Famers. 9-time All Stars and up, are all Hall of Famers, or Hall of Fame locks.

A list of players who’ve achieved what Paul Pierce has, is very short, and every school in the country except LSU, Wake Forest and Marquette are still waiting for a comparable, contemporary star.

Jonathan Allison 8 years, 2 months ago

add Kawhi Leonard (San Diego State) to the list of one-time Finals MVPs

Joe Joseph 8 years, 2 months ago

I'm a little bothered by Simien's "some will peak in college" comment. Some might say Darell Arthur, Brandon Rush, or Cole Aldrich "peaked" in college, but that would imply that they were better players in college. I doubt that is the truth.

I don't think it's about peaking in college. I think it has more to do with the fact that you're playing against the best of the best in the NBA, and that offensive systems are built around existing star players. Simien was a great college player because he was usually being guarded by someone who was either slower, smaller, or less athletic than himself (or a combination of the three). If you're going to be a 6'9 PF in the NBA, you better be a "stretch" PF, who can shoot from deep and beat people off the dribble. That just wasn't Simien's game.

Gregor Southard 8 years, 2 months ago

The article can seem like a knock on the program. However, the number of former KU players in the league increases every year. Its to a point where I can typically find a team to root for most games even though I don't have a "home team." But back to the article, for a second, the reason there aren't more KU players excelling is that most of the ones (look at the current list, for example) left a year before they were ready. Some like Selby, for instance, left two years too early. Yes, Pierce left a year early, but he was ready. And I understand that he tNBA "forces" some to go early because it drafts on potential. Still, the reality of it is, a lot of players have left for the NBA before they were ready. This is not a knock on the players, its just the reality.

Walter Bridges 8 years, 2 months ago

If the truth is a knock then so be it. I never thought Cole, among others, would live up to their lottery selection. If anything, it shows just how well Self can get the most out of his players.

Armen Kurdian 8 years, 2 months ago

You see a lot of KU players who come off the bench like Hinrich & Ostertag. Not superstars, but guys who could come up and play quality minutes while the starters take a break. I still think T-Rob is going to be an all-NBA player. I don't think Wiggins will, much like McLemore. Both of those guys needed another year to really develop. Pierce stayed two years, and look at him. That's why I'm no longer a fan of getting OADs to come play for us. I'd rather get a top 100 recruit that's going to stay for four years vice the number one recruit that's going to bail after one.

Tracey Graham 8 years, 2 months ago

Well, Hinrich has been a starter for most of his NBA career. He also ranks in the Top 10 in numerous career stats for the Bulls. Ostertag was also a starter for a lot of his career. Mario Chalmers, for all the grief he gets, has been the Heat's starting PG for most of his career. Every year someone is supposed to beat him out, and no one ever has. Collison was a starter for several years before moving into a 6th (and now more like a 7th or 8th) man role. LaFrentz was a starter before blowing out his knee. So it's not like there haven't been other ex-Jayhawks who haven't been NBA starters and/or played significant minutes for their club(s).

The Morris twins look like they are going to have nice long NBA careers. Of the group of younger Jayhawks in the NBA (who have actually already played some in the league) they look like they may be the ones with the most potential. Xavier Henry improved quite a bit last year, as well. He was one of the best players on the Lakers before he got hurt. I'm interested to see what he does in 2014-15. Jeff Withey could get more playing time for New Orleans, although the acquisition of Asik means he won't have a chance to be the starting C. You have to figure McLemore will get better after his shaky rookie season. T-Rob started to come on a bit with Portland last season. So we'll see -- there could be some younger ex-KU players who take a jump forward this coming season. Let's hope so, because besides Pierce, Hinrich and Collison are probably coming to the end of their careers in the next 2-3 seasons.

Jay Beakum 8 years, 2 months ago

Pierce actually stayed three years. He was on the fence after his sophomore season but stayed, along with Raef.

I still have the newspaper stored away. Front page, sports section KC Star.


Joe Joseph 8 years, 2 months ago

Staying an extra year (or two) in college does not guarantee anything in terms of NBA longevity or stardom. Would some of the players on the list have benefited from another year in college? Probably. But it's silly to think that's all it would have taken to turn Xavier Henry into Kobe Bryant.

Walter Bridges 8 years, 2 months ago

I'm with you...and Kobe is an excellent example. As long as the NBA potential remains, they will get the time needed to develop.

Joe Joseph 8 years, 2 months ago

For everyone who thinks the difference between NBA stardom and mediocrity is a matter of "staying in college for another year or two," here are some sobering stats...

Of the 24 players on the 2014 NBA All-Star roster:

  • 14 played one year in college or NO college

  • Only 5 stayed in college for 3 or more years

  • Only 2 stayed all 4 (Hibbert, Lillard)

  • the average amount of time spent in college was 1.54 years

It's not about staying in college. It's about being really, really talented.

John Pritchett 8 years, 2 months ago

Another way to look at this is that 14 (those who were one-and-done or went straight to the NBA) were destined for this level of play, but 7 managed to develop into such players during their time in college. How many of those 7 would have been as good as they are today had they not taken the time to develop in college?

A guy like Lebron doesn't necessarily need college, but a guy like Jeff Withey would never have made it to the NBA without his college experience. Some players are just naturals, but for the rest, college gives guys an opportunity to become a great player.

John Pritchett 8 years, 2 months ago

I'm curious which schools have several players as good or better than Pierce in the NBA in the time since Pierce started his career.

The number of all-star caliber players from a college could be a reflection of how that school recruits, or it may be a reflection on how it develops talent. A better thing to consider is how many expected all-stars or super-stars from KU failed to catch on in the NBA. What we have is a program that does a great job of developing NBA-level talent. But only in recent years have we recruited all-star or super-star level talent into the program. And those players never really have a chance to develop within our program. They're gone too soon. So what does it really mean? Nothing. Bragging rights.

Brian Mellor 8 years, 2 months ago

ESPN did a 20 day feature on that last year, ranking the top 20 schools by the number sent to the draft and how well the best did. They started with 1989 (thus missing Manning), the year it went to two rounds, so you can't really get a feel for how the OAD impacts it in recent years, but KU was number 14. A lot of the schools above us (Wake Forest, Texas, Georgetown) have very little to show for their NBA talent.

Here's the list. Fun food for thought. Particularly if you try to do the same thing with High School as its own institution, and then you blow away the whole list with Kobe and LeBron alone.

Edwin Hailey 8 years, 2 months ago

I have never understood this view about schools producing NBA stars. Yes, schools contribute to the development of these players, the bottom line is that the players themselves as far as their god-given natural talent and the work that they put in is what will determine if they are NBA stars. Also the fact that such a small number of players make it in to the NBA as is, the number becomes even smaller when you look at the players that reach the caliber of those like Lebron James, Paul Pierce, Michael Jordan, etc. At the end of the day.

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