Kentucky Wildcats Lead Nation with 27 Players on NBA Opening-Day Rosters

When it comes to preparing players for the NBA, there is Kentucky and then there is everyone else.

The tipoff to the 2021-22 NBA season on Tuesday marks the annual reminder that men’s basketball develops and produces NBA-ready players better than any other school.

A total of 27 players on NBA opening-day rosters (including two-way and inactive players) played and finished their college basketball careers at Kentucky, more than any other college program in the country. Duke, with 21, is the only other school with more than 20 players in the NBA.

The list was compiled from the NBA’s official opening-day roster list.

Of the 30 NBA franchises featuring a Wildcat, 17 have multiple players.

Arguably the two most visible and storied NBA franchises, the and the Los Angeles Lakers, have the most Wildcats.

The Knicks – nicknamed the Kentucky Knicks by much of Big Blue Nation for ’s significant roster presence – remain the leader in NBA Wildcats with four. Former Kentucky stars Kevin Knox II (2018), Nerlens Noel (2013), Immanuel Quickley (2019-20) and Julius Randle (2014) call New York their professional home. A fifth player, Derrick Rose, also played for John Calipari but at Memphis (2008), and assistant coach Kenny Payne was a longtime UK assistant. All played prominent roles in the Knicks’ run to the NBA Playoffs last season.

The Lakers are just behind the Knicks with three former Kentucky players in Anthony Davis (2012), Malik Monk (2017) and Rajon Rondo (2005-06). Davis and Rondo won NBA titles with the Lakers in 2020. Adding to the UK ties, is head coach Frank Vogel who is a Kentucky graduate and former Wildcat student manager and video coordinator.

Five other franchises – the Charlotte Hornets (Nick Richards [2018-20], PJ Washington [2018-19]), the Detroit Pistons (Hamidou Diallo [2017-18], Trey Lyles [2015]), the Los Angeles Clippers (Eric Bledsoe [2010], Brandon Boston Jr. [2021], the Miami Heat (Bam Adebayo [2017], Tyler Herro [2019]) and the Minnesota Timberwolves (Karl-Anthony Towns [2015], Jarred Vanderbilt [2018]) – open the season with at least two Wildcats apiece.

Rondo, now entering his 16th season, remains the most experienced Kentucky player in the league. He returned to the Lakers in the offseason for a second stint after playing with the Hawks and Clippers last season. Boston Jr. and Isaiah Jackson (2021) will be the youngest-tenured NBA Wildcats as rookies.

Of the 27 Wildcats on an opening-day NBA roster, John Calipari has coached 26 of them. With Rose, a former Calipari player at Memphis, Calipari has also coached 27 players on 2021-22 opening-day rosters.

More than 20 other Wildcats are slated to play in the NBA G League or play professionally overseas. Other notable alumni include, 1978 national champion Dwane Casey, who returns as head coach of the Detroit Pistons, and Pat Riley continues to serve as president of the Heat.

The season tips off Tuesday with a doubleheader on TNT. The Brooklyn Nets play the 2021 NBA champions, the Milwaukee Bucks, at 7:30 p.m. Then a host of NBA Wildcats will be in the 10 p.m. game as the Golden State Warriors tip off their season against Davis, Monk, Rondo and the Lakers.

Kentucky has enjoyed unprecedented success at putting players in the NBA under Calipari. In the 12 previous seasons of the Calipari era, 43 players have been selected in the NBA Draft, more than any other school. Included in the recent run are 32 first-round picks, three No. 1 overall selections (Davis, Towns and John Wall [2010]) and 21 lottery selections.

Calipari’s players have entered the league NBA-ready. His players have garnered 26 All-Star selections – all since 2010 – with Davis winning the game’s MVP honor in 2017. Rose was named NBA MVP in 2011. Six of his players have been tabbed All-NBA (Rose, Wall, Davis, Towns, Randle and DeMarcus Cousins), three have been named NBA Rookie of the Year (Rose, Towns and Tyreke Evans), and 15 players from Calipari’s first 11 teams at Kentucky have made the NBA All-Rookie teams. UK has produced more All-NBA players, more NBA All-Rookie and more NBA All-Defensive players than any other school in the Calipari era.

The 2020-21 season was another successful one for the former Kentucky stars. Randle was named the 2021 NBA Most Improved Player while Devin Booker (2015) achieved superstar status with a sensational run to the NBA Finals. Following the season, Adebayo, Booker and Keldon Johnson (2019) won gold medals with the U.S. Olympic Team at the Summer Games.

Using figures compiled by basketball-reference.com and spotrac.com, Calipari-coached players only (which includes Rose but not Rondo) have amassed nearly $3.4 billion in career NBA contracts. In the 12 seasons Calipari has been the head coach at Kentucky, his players have totaled nearly $3 billion in NBA contracts.

In just the 2021-22 season alone, former UK players are slated to make nearly $340 million. Calipari-coached players only (which includes Rose but not Rondo) will make just about the same thing.

Calipari produced a top-10 pick in 11 straight drafts prior to 2020, a feat no other coach has ever accomplished. He has a streak of 14 consecutive drafts with a first-round pick. Calipari is the only coach in the history of the sport to have four players drafted No. 1 overall (Rose – 2008, Wall – 2010, Davis – 2012, Towns – 2015). 

For the latest on the Kentucky men’s basketball team, follow @KentuckyMBB on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok, and on the web at UKathletics.com.

Wildcats in the NBA

Bam Adebayo – Miami Heat
Eric Bledsoe – Los Angeles Clippers
Devin Booker –
Brandon Boston Jr. – Los Angeles Clippers
Willie Cauley-Stein – Dallas Mavericks
Anthony Davis – Los Angeles Lakers
Hamidou Diallo – Detroit Pistons
De’Aaron Fox – Sacramento Kings
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – Oklahoma City Thunder
Tyler Herro – Miami Heat
Isaiah Jackson – Indiana Pacers
Keldon Johnson – San Antonio Spurs
Enes Kanter –
Kevin Knox II –
Trey Lyles – Detroit Pistons
Tyrese Maxey – Philadelphia 76ers
Malik Monk – Los Angeles Lakers
Jamal Murray – Denver Nuggets
Nerlens Noel –
Immanuel Quickley –
Julius Randle –
Nick Richards – Charlotte Hornets
Rajon Rondo – Los Angeles Lakers
Karl-Anthony Towns – Minnesota Timberwolves
Jarred Vanderbilt – Minnesota Timberwolves
John Wall – Houston Rockets
PJ Washington – Charlotte Hornets