Iowa Men's Basketball

20 years, no NBA draft first-rounders for Iowa basketball

Big Ten has only a small role lately in feeding NBA top players

Ricky Davis dunks the ball in 1998 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena during his lone season as an Iowa player. (The Gazette)
Ricky Davis dunks the ball in 1998 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena during his lone season as an Iowa player. (The Gazette)

The NBA draft is Thursday night.

(I’ll now pause to listen to the crickets after delivering that factoid in Iowa.)

The first round of the NBA draft is to the University of Iowa what the World Cup is to, well, the United States. It’s outsiders watching from afar.

When it comes to the NFL, Iowa’s Robert Gallery was the second player taken in the 2004 draft, and the Hawkeyes’ Brandon Scherff went No. 5 in 2016. In between, Chad Greenway, Bryan Bulaga, Adrian Clayborn and Riley Reiff also were first-rounders.

However, no Hawkeye has ever been picked higher than sixth in an NBA draft, and that was Fred Brown back in 1971 when the hair was big, the shorts were short, and the television audiences were tiny.

By the way, great pick, Seattle SuperSonics. Brown played for 13 seasons with you. He and Iowa teammate John Johnson were integral players in Seattle’s 1979 championship team. Johnson was the No. 7 pick in the 1970 draft, by Cleveland.

‘Twas a different time. It’s been 20 years since the Hawkeyes’ last NBA first-rounder. That was Ricky Davis, who played his freshman season with Iowa before making himself draft-eligible. Some scoffed at him for leaving school so early. He responded by playing in 736 NBA games over 12 seasons.

After Thursday's draft, 592 players will have been first-round picks since 1999. Iowa will have had none. Is that freakishly rare? Not by Big Ten standards. Nebraska, Northwestern, Penn State and Rutgers haven’t had any in that time, either.

But among the other five major conferences (ACC, Big East, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC), only Mississippi, TCU, Texas Tech and Virginia Tech haven’t had a first-rounder in that time.

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Iowa State has had four (Marcus Fizer ’00, Jamaal Tinsley ’01, Craig Brackins ’10, Royce White ’12).

The Big Ten has had 47 since 1999. That’s just 2.5 per year. Michigan State had nine, Indiana and Ohio State eight, Michigan seven, Illinois five, Wisconsin four, Minnesota three, Purdue two, Maryland (which joined the league in basketball for the 2014-15 season) one. Maryland had five overall since 1999.

Since Davis was a first-rounder in 1998, four Hawkeyes were drafted in the second round. They were J.R. Koch in 1999, Adam Haluska in 2007, Devyn Marble in 2014, and Aaron White in 2015. Haluska was taken the earliest of the quartet, at 43rd.

The former Hawkeye who played the most NBA games over the last two decades was undrafted. He was Reggie Evans, who played in 809 NBA games from 2002 to 2015. He was employed by seven different teams. He collected 5,765 rebounds and committed 1,895 fouls. He was hard-nosed, to say the least.

As for more-polished players, it seems the class system in college basketball doesn’t change much other than Villanova’s recent ascension to that high altitude. Kentucky has had 28 first-rounders since 1999, Duke 26. Both will have at least two more Thursday.

Meanwhile, a total of four Big Ten players (Maryland’s Kevin Huerter, Michigan State’s Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr., and Ohio State’s Keita Bates-Diop) are projected as first-rounders.

College freshmen are the heart of the NBA draft. An online sports book has odds on the over/under number for freshmen going in this year’s first round, and that number is 14. The over/under for sophomores and juniors is 5.5. It’s 3 for international players, 1.5 for college seniors.

Ever since Dr. James Naismith invented the air ball, it’s been good for college coaches to sign high school All-Americans. Even if most don’t stay on campus long enough to find the student union.

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