Winning players from college basketball who kept winning in the NBA

BY MATTY D.

Winning is contagious. And if you watch the NBA, you notice that losing is also contagious. There are many franchises that continue to trust the process about drafting gaudy measurable individual skills and attributes. They lose because they don’t take for account the winning pedigree. The players on this list are the total opposite.

This list is being published at a time when Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts just led his team to the #1 overall seed in the NFC and a first round bye. Sports fans who watch college games weren’t surprised by this. Hursts is a winner. He won at Alabama and at Oklahoma. Yet, he lost his college job to Tua Tagovailoa. Tua is a flashy arm talent but cannot stay on the field. Hurst just continues winning with every opportunity he gets. This is the basketball list filled with those guys.

9 non-lottery picks who won in college, continued winning in the NBA

These are players who proved that they were winners in NCAA basketball, but somehow find themselves again needing to prove their value in the NBA. And they delivered. Here are nine non-lottery picks who carried their winning ways from the NCAA to the NBA.

9.  Javale McGee, Nevada: 18th overall pick in 2008

Save your jokes.  Javale McGee has only one less NBA Championship than Shaquille O’Neal. 

Who’s Shaqtin’ a Fool, now?  

McGee was the butt of many jokes by Shaq and the NBA on TNT team, but the former Nevada Wolfpacks career has seen mostly winning.  

Nevada doesn’t make it to the NCAA Tournament on very often.  Between 1985 and the present, the Wolf Pack have only made it to eight tournaments.  McGee saw himself at the center of one of those appearances in 2007.

Later, he would win two NBA championships with the Golden State Warriors and one with the bubble victor LA Lakers.  

The University of Nevada will also be quick to remind you that he became the first Nevada Wolf Pack alum to ever win an Olympic Gold Medal.

8. Alex Caruso, Texas A&M: Undrafted in 2016

Since reaching the Elite 8 in 1969, Texas A&M basketball has only made it to the Sweet 16 four times. Senior Alex Caruso ran point guard for the Aggies in 2016 during one of those magical seasons. The former homegrown College Station ball boy not only saw success in Aggieville, but would also win a championship with the Lakers in bubbleville (during COVID-19). Caruso was a 1,000 point scorer in college and averaged 5 assists per game. He is a big game performer, scoring 8 points in the opening 7 minutes in his NCAA Tournament debut. He has an all-around game where he also registered 276 steals in his NCAA career.

It’s important to note that Texas A&M team had other NBA talent. Caruso played with Robert Williams and DJ House.

Despite not being drafted, Caruso saw success in the rotation with the Lakers and later bagged a nice free agency deal with the Chicago Bulls.

Alex Caruso bursted on the national scene in the first minutes of his tourney debut.

7. Jose Alvarado, Georgia Tech: undrafted in 2021

Despite his tenacious defensive attitude and winning ways at Georgia Tech, Jose Alvarado slipped off the radar and wasn’t drafted in 2021. However, like his patented defensive move where he pretends he’s not on the court and then steals an inbounds pass, Alvardo snuck back into basketball’s limelight. Now he is a mainstay in a playoff-good New Orleans Pelicans team. When college basketball returned from its COVID-19 year off, Jose Alvarado and his Yellow Jackets stole an ACC Championship and NCAA tournament bid.

Now sporting the nickname Jose “Grand Theft” Alvarado, his NBA highlight reel shines in an unconventional way. His steals epitomize how hustle plays can win basketball games.

6. Grant Williams, Tennessee: 22nd overall pick in 2019

Forward Grant Williams might have slipped out of the NBA lottery because he is a hair shorter than his peers at the position. However, his stock as an NBA contributor has grown ever since. Having starred at Tennessee with back-to-back NCAA Tournament berths, Williams brings a football-like tenacity to the NBA. His nose for the ball and great hands pair perfectly on the court with another NFL safety lookalike, teammate Marcus Smart. The young Boston Celtics made it to the NBA Finals in 2021 thanks in large part to role players who had a large sample size of success on the NCAA stage (see Payton Pritchard, Robert Williams, etc). According to Volswire.com, Grant Williams was the first player to win the SEC Player of the Year award in back-to-back seasons since 1995.

5. Georges Niang, Iowa State: 50th overall pick in 2016

Georges Niang has made the playoffs all six of his NBA seasons. This year his Philadelphia 76ers will ultimately make it for his seventh consecutive year. Niang also led his Iowa State Cyclones to four consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances.

Photo Courtesy: Cyclones.com

The stocky small forward might have one of the shortest vertical leaps in the Easter Conference. However, his body positioning, court-awareness, and ability to knock down an open shot has remained consistent since college. At Iowa State he become on of the Cyclone’s first-ever players to receive votes for individual player of the year honors, such as being a Karl Malone nominee. Like Malone, he can slowly and methodically power defenders down low with post moves that can embarrass an undisciplined defender. Unlike Malone, he can knock down the three pointer more consistently with a 40.7% career 3 point percentage. His Iowa State Cyclones lost in the elite 8 in 2016 to #1 seed Virginia. We saw a coming attraction in that game and throughout his collegiate career to what he’d bring to NBA clubs for years to come.

4. Jalen Brunson, Villlanova: 33rd overall pick in 2018

It’s no coincidence that the New York Knicks would return to the NBA playoffs if the NBA season ended today. Jalen Brunson is a winner. He won two national titles at Villanova, was the starting point guard as the Dallas Mavericks made a surprise “Final 4” run, and is now leading a resurgent Knicks team. Brunson is leading with his offensive efficiency and his vocal approach. Teammates like Julius Randle and RJ Barrett are clearly better with a proven point guard at the helm. The Knicks might have the best starting point guard since another veteran departed Dallas for MSG. Can you name him?

It’s hard to believe that Brunson wasn’t even a first round pick in the NBA draft. He was the NCAA Player of the Year in 2018 before leaving college after his junior year. However, he went 33 overall in the NBA draft. Bruson is the best example on this list that winning isn’t valued enough by NBA executives.

Jalen Brunson won two national titles and earned player of the year, but was picked 33 overall.

Jalen Bruson also joins a long line of players to follow in their NBA dad’s footsteps.

Click here for our updated list of sons of NBA players currently playing NCAA hoops.

3.  Fred VanVleet, Wichita State: Undrafted in 2016

Fred Van Fleet came out of high school barely ranked in the top 100 as number 87 on ESPN’s list, finished his college career in the final four, and has one NBA Championship ring (2019 Toronto Raptors).

How is that for a career trajectory?

Fred VanVleet helped lead the Shockers to three MVC titles, three Missouri Valley Conference regular season titles, and nine NCAA Tournament wins in four trips.

When the Wichita State Shockers made a shocking run to the Final Four in 2014, you probably couldn’t guess who from that roster would excel in the NBA. They had three players from that team play some time in the league. However, Fred VanVleet is far-and-away the best current player in the NBA from Wichita State. In fact, he might even be a player sought after during this season’s trade deadline.

2. Draymond Green, Michigan State: 35th overall pick in 2012

Draymond Green epitomizes the Tom Izzo era in East Lansing. To call Green the “ultimate glue guy” probably undervalues his skill. Green was a Final 4 player with the 2010 Michigan State Spartans.

He is now a four time NBA Champion. Green was appropriately inducted into the MSU Hall of Fame in 2022. He is probably just 5 short years after his NBA career away from a Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Before his fourth NBA Finals tipped off, Michigan’s “The State News” took a look back at his Michigan State career.

If you want to check out another great related article, click here to see the Sporting News top 10 2nd round picks in the NBA.

1.  Kawhi Leonard, San Diego State: 15th overall pick in 2011.

Just on the outside cusp of being considered a lottery pick, needless to say NBA GM’s weren’t watching enough San Diego State basketball in 2011. Kawhi Leonard left the Aztecs after his sophomore season.

San Diego State was disrespected as an 11 seed in 2010 during Leonard’s freshman year.
In 2011, San Diego State was more appropriately ranked as a 2 seed.
Later that year, Leonard dropped to the 15th overall pick.
In 2014, Leonard became the NBA Finals MVP defeating LeBron James and the Heat.
In 2019, Leonard won another NBA Finals in a surprising single year with the Toronto Raptors.

Today, the NBA has finally got the memo that Kawhi Leonard is great. He continues to be one of the NBA’s most sought after free agents after reaching a max deal with the LA Clippers.

Did we miss anyone? Tweet us at CBBEyeTest and join the debate!


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