5 NBA Stars Who Started at Notable NCAA Programs

5 NBA Stars Who Started at Notable NCAA Programs

Last Updated on June 28, 2024

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is a non-profit organization in the United States that holds programs and tournaments for collegiate-level athletes. One of the most popular sports that the NCAA handles is basketball. There are numerous notable NCAA programs, but only a few NBA stars have created an impact on fans and the National Basketball Association (NBA).

Most student-athletes, especially those who stand out in the NCAA, go on to become professionals in leagues all over the world. However, the prime destination for aspiring basketball stars is the NBA. Numerous colleges and universities in the NCAA have produced NBA stars over the years, proving that the NCAA is one of the best proving grounds for scouting talents. As such, here are some of the best players that have come out of those programs.

Stephen Curry

Many people, even those who aren’t big basketball fans, know who Stephen Curry is. Known for his Godly shooting at three-point range, many people credit the “Chef” with changing the game today. As such, he has passed Ray Allen for the most three-point shots made in NBA history, a feat that may never be broken in a long time.

Before changing the game, Stephen Curry chose to run with a small college for his NCAA career. Even though Davidson College was a relative unknown at the time, Stephen Curry dazzled the basketball world by upsetting marquee NCAA teams such as Gonzaga, Georgetown, and Wisconsin.

Although Curry would fall short of winning an NCAA title, he was known as an elite scorer and even led the nation in scoring, only behind Kevin Durant at one point. Curry forfeited his senior year at Davidson and declared for the NBA draft where the Golden State Warriors made one of the biggest picks in all of NBA history.

Four NBA titles, 2 NBA Finals MVP, and 2 NBA season MVP awards later, Stephen Curry is still adding to his already legendary resume in the NBA. Curry even won the NBA Clutch Player of the Year just this 2024, which shows how this “greatest of all time” player has contributed significantly to the NBA and the NCAAB. Players who have the same efficiency and play style of Curry can heavily influence both franchises, affecting the College basketball odds in today’s game.

Michael Jordan

Who doesn’t know who Michael Jordan is? This American basketball player has consecutively led the Chicago Bulls to six NBA championships. He was named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player about five times and was awarded the Defensive Player of the Year in 1988. He has also led Team USA a.k.a the Dream Team to Olympic gold medals on two occasions.

Let’s take a quick look before he came to play as a professional basketball player. He grew up in Wilmington, North Carolina, and thus, he decided to enroll in the University of North Carolina in 1981.

He joined the university’s basketball team in his first year, where he also made the winning basket against Georgetown in the 1982 championship game. Even in college, he has been awarded numerous awards, like the College Player of the Year, which he won twice in his sophomore and junior years.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

When you think of the sky hook, you immediately think of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. It’s his trademark move on the court, and he’s still the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. There hasn’t been any player who scored more points and blocked more shots than Abdul-Jabbar since he left the game back in 1989.

Before being among the best players in the NBA, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was known as Lew Alcindor in his college years and early years in the NBA. Due to his height and athleticism, Alcindor dominated the paint area with unblockable layups and powerful dunks. To level the playing field, the NCAA put up a rule to totally ban dunking in the tournament.

Despite this new rule, he still scored 56 points in his first game as a student-athlete for the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). He has led his team to three NCAA Championships and during his stay with the university, the team only lost two games. After Alcindor graduated, the no-dunking rule was rescinded.

Shaquille O’Neal

Before amassing four NBA titles and several monikers such as Diesel, Superman, The Big Aristotle, and so many more, Shaquille O’Neal was a standout player with the LSU Tigers. During his time with LSU, Shaq won SEC Player of the Year awards twice, was a two-time All-American, and won the NCAA Player of the Year award in 1991. Due to his accomplishments, he was inducted into the LSU Hall of Fame.

Drafted by the Orlando Magic, Shaq immediately made his presence known in the NBA. After being traded to the Los Angeles Lakers, he formed one of the most formidable duos in NBA history with another legend, Kobe Bryant. After winning three titles with the Lakers, Shaq decided to move on and play for the Miami Heat. There, he won another title with another legendary player in Dwyane Wade. 

Larry Bird

Like all the stars mentioned on this list, Larry Bird has led his team to an NBA championship. Although Boston was already a legendary team in the NBA with many stars such as John Havlicek, Bob Cousy, and Bill Russel, Larry Bird would forge his own legacy with the Celtics.

Known for his swag and ability to play with physicality, Larry Bird won three titles with the Boston Celtics. During his time with the Celtics, Bird became known as an elite scorer from the three-point line. He also earned two NBA Finals MVP awards and three NBA season MVP awards. Before the NBA legend of Larry Bird was written, he attended Indiana State University.

Despite not winning a title with Indiana, he led the team to an 81-13 record during his time. His success not only brought pride to the university but also inspired the local community, highlighting the positive impact of NCAA programs on the communities they are a part of.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, a lot of well-known NBA players made their mark in the NCAA. If you’re a big NBA fan, watching the NCAA is an excellent way to predict who’ll become a star in the NBA. Not only does it add a layer of excitement to the game, it also adds a fresh new look at high-level basketball.

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