Kansas Basketball: Ranking the Jayhawks' All-Time Best NBA Players
With 58 First Team All-Americans and 82 former Kansas basketball players having played in the NBA, the Jayhawks are certainly flush with alumni talent.
The Allen Fieldhouse rafters are beautifully adorned with five national championship banners, fourteen Final Four banners, and a billion conference title banners but the most awe-inspiring items respectfully hang at the south end of the fieldhouse.
Twenty-seven jersey numbers hang from that south end, with the numbers 10 (Kirk Hinrich), 13 (Wilt Chamberlain), 16 (Clyde Lovellette), and 25 (Danny Manning) getting most of the attention.
These four, along with dozens of others, have crafted successful NBA careers following historically epic ones in Lawrence and help comprise this list of the Jayhawks all-time best NBA players.
10. Darnell Valentine
Darnell Valentine, a Wichita Heights graduate, became one of the best point guards in Kansas history from 1977-81 before becoming the Portland Trail Blazers' First Round pick in the 1981 NBA Draft.
The swift moving guard played for the Clippers and Cavaliers over his nine year career, averaging 8.7 PPG and 5.0 APG but made his mark with timely shooting and disciplined defense. He was at his best during three playoff appearances in Portland when he averaged nearly 15 PPG and 8 APG.
9. Drew Gooden
Drew Gooden led the nation in rebounding during Kansas' Final Four season of 2001-02 before being a top five selection in that summer's NBA Draft, following a decision to forgo his senior season.
Despite becoming an NBA journeyman, having played with nine teams, Gooden has managed to produce consistently for over a decade with 12.0 PPG and 7.7 RPG while shooting nearly 47% from the field.
8. Raef LaFrentz
Raef LaFrentz became just the sixth Kansas hoops player ever to be selected to two consensus All-American First Teams, as he did so in 1997 and 1998, joining the likes of Paul Endacott, Wilt Chamberlain, and Danny Manning amongst other legends.
After he was taken 3rd overall by the Denver Nuggets in 1999, LaFrentz became a reliable force inside with at-time dominant rebounding and shot-blocking abilities. The center led the Western Conference in blocks during the 2001-02 season and averaged 1.6 for his career, to go along with 10.1 PPG and 6.1 RPG.
He earned fame at KU, becoming a member of college basketball's prestigious 2,000 point/1,000 rebound club but also went on to become an excellent post player in the NBA.
7. Kirk Hinrich
Kirk Hinrich arrived in Lawrence from Sioux City, Iowa and soon brought the Kansas program back to the Final Four, twice.
Despite being considered undersized for an NBA shooting guard at 6'4" 190 lb, the Chicago Bulls selected him with the 7th overall pick in the 2003 draft and he has since averaged nearly 33 MPG along with 12.4 PPG, 5.4 APG, and 1.2 SPG.
He can certainly weave between opposing defenders in the lane but has become one of the most consistent shooting guards on the defensive end, even gaining All-NBA Defensive Second Team honors in 2007.
6. Bill Bridges
Bill Bridges may have stood only 6'6" but he established himself as one of the the most physical rebounders of the 1960s, following a successful career as a power forward at Kansas.
He was not a highly coveted NBA prospect, falling to the Chicago Packers with their 3rd round selection in 1961 (32nd overall) but Bridges did not join the league until 1962 with the St. Louis Hawks.
Over 13 seasons, his 230 pound rock-solid frame helped him average a double double with 11.9 PPG and 11.9 RPG. He was selected to three All-Star teams, including his best statistical season in 1966-67 when he posted numbers of 17 PPG and 15.1 RPG.
Bridges would add the 1975 NBA title to his resume and became know as one of the best under-the-radar professional players ever.
5. Danny Manning
Young Jayhawk fans know Danny Manning primarily for his tremendous coaching of Kansas big men over the last seven years, but before joining Bill Self's staff he had an illustrious career on the hardwood as a dominating power forward.
Manning became the No. 1 overall pick of the 1988 draft, fresh off leading the 1987-88 'Danny and the Miracles' team to a National Championship under Larry Brown, and quickly translated his floor presence to the NBA.
He averaged over 18 PPG and 6 RPG during his first five seasons with the Los Angeles Clippers (1988-1993) and Atlanta Hawks (1993) before seeing his production dip prior to a 2003 retirement. The two-time All-Star (1993, 1994) played in 883 total games with seven different teams over 15 NBA seasons.
4. Clyde Lovellette
At 6'10" and 240 pounds, Clyde Lovellette was a bruising center who helped Kansas win the 1952 National Championship under Phog Allen. The season also brought a second consensus All-American First Team selection for Lovellette before he became the 9th overall pick of the Minneapolis Lakers in 1952.
He averaged 17.0 PPG and 9.5 RPG in over 700 games played between 1953 and 1964, grabbing three NBA titles (1954, 1963, 1944) and four All-Star selections along the way (1955, 1956, 1959 and 1960).
During his career, he became a revolutionary versatile big man and arguably the most all-around offensive player of his era, as he routinely hit outside shots away from double-teams.
3. Jo Jo White
Jo Jo White left Mount Oread as arguably the greatest point guard to ever play at Kansas and became the 9th overall pick in the 1969 NBA Draft to the Boston Celtics.
NBA legend Bill Russell announced his retirement just weeks before White reported to his rookie season training camp, leaving the Celtics' immediate future in flux, but the St. Louis native White quickly renewed the stability of the franchise.
Seven straight All-Star appearances combined with an NBA Finals MVP award in 1976, his second NBA title (1974), and iron-like ability to play in all 82 games for five straight seasons in the 1970s, made White one of the league's all-time great point guards.
2. Paul Pierce
Following a consensus All-American First Team selection under Roy Williams in 1998, Paul Pierce was the 10th overall pick of the Boston Celtics in that year's NBA Draft.
In 14 seasons, the 6'7" small forward has 10 All-Star selections and the 2008 NBA Finals MVP award on his resume, one that also includes nine playoff appearances.
He has been the model of consistency (1025 games played) for the Celtics organization, averaging 22.0 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 3.8 APG, and 1.2 APG while setting numerous franchise records, most notably most three-point field goals made and most free throws made.
Pierce remains one of the most popular Jayhawks of all-time and will surely add a Hall of Fame induction to his historic legacy.
1. Wilt Chamberlain
Wilt Chamberlain cemented himself as one of the game's most dominating players during his 14-year career, towering over defenders with his 7'1" 275 lb frame.
His two greatest statistical seasons came in 1961-62 and 1962-63, during which he averaged 50.4 PPG/25.7 RPG and 44.8 PPG/24.3 RPG, respectively. Chamberlain's famed 100-point outburst came during that incredible 1961-62 season, one that included his second of seven scoring titles and also his second of 13 All-Star selections.
The Philadelphia native also garnered seven All-NBA First team selections, 11 rebounding champion titles, and never fouled out of 1,205 regular season and playoff games.
Perhaps the biggest note on his legacy? He was nearly solely responsible for the NBA's decision to widen the lane from 12 to 16 feet.
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