The History of the Big East in the NBA Draft

Mike Stobe

The Big East has churned out some of the NBA's top talent over the years. On the eve of the 68th annual NBA Draft, we look back on the conference's legacy on draft night.

The Big East has left an indelible mark on the NBA, and it all begins with the NBA Draft. The annual event has served as a stepping stone for some of the greatest players in Big East history to transition into legendary NBA careers. From Ewing to Iverson to Anthony, few conferences have produced better talent.

But on the eve of arguably the biggest draft night in eleven years, the Big East is lacking much of a presence. Creighton's Doug McDermott is a shoo-in for a first-round selection, but there's a slight possibility he could be the only member of the conference to hear his name called in New York tomorrow.

But no matter what happens tomorrow, nothing can halt the legacy the Big East has made of itself on draft night. So to commemorate  the big day for many future NBA stars, let's take a look at some historic Big East moments in the NBA Draft.

The First Draft Pick

The Big East Conference kicked off play in the 1979-80 season, one year after college basketball earned its biggest boom to date thanks to Magic and Bird. In the 1980 NBA Draft, the Utah Jazz selected - wait for it - Georgetown senior John Duren with its 19th pick in the draft. The three-time All-American and 1980 Big East player of the year spent two seasons in Salt Lake City before spending his final season with the Indiana Pacers in 1983. Duren scored just 712 points in his three-year career, before returning to the District of Columbia, where he resides today. One of the greatest point guards in Georgetown's illustrious history and one of the focal points of the late 1970s "Heart Attack Hoyas", no one will ever take away the dubious distinction of being the Big East's first draft pick from Duren.

What Does It Take to Be #1?

Since its inception, the Big East has produced just three #1 selections in the NBA Draft - Patrick Ewing ('85), Derrick Coleman ('90), and Allen Iverson ('96).

The 1985 Draft became the Patrick Ewing sweepstakes when the NBA introduced a lottery system to determine which of the non-playoff teams would receive the first overall pick. Each team had an equal chance at obtaining the #1 pick, but when the team from the league's biggest market - the New York Knicks - won the right to select the Georgetown center first overall, controversy ensued as to just how random the lottery was. Ewing went on to have a Hall of Fame career with the Knickerbockers, winning the 1986 Rookie of the Year and making the All-Star team 11 times in his career, despite retiring without a championship.

He has this man to blame for that.

1990 saw a change to the lottery format, as a weighted system was put into place. Out of the 11 non-playoff teams that season, the team with the worst record in the NBA would have the best chance (11 out of 66) to receive the first pick. Many projected the top pick was Loyola Marymount's Hank Gathers, but Gathers died of a heart condition during a game the previous March.

This, unfortunately, paved the way for Syracuse big man Derrick Coleman to be selected #1 overall by the New Jersey Nets in the 1990 Draft. Coleman was a double-double threat on a nightly basis in Upstate New York, finishing his career as the NCAA's modern leader in rebounds - since surpassed by Kenneth Faried and Tim Duncan. Coleman had a decent 15-year career in the NBA, but one can only wonder where his career could have gone had he not been hampered by injuries and focused more on his play and less on his paycheck. Coleman declared for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2010.

The Nets missed out of drafting a Hall of Fame guard. The #2 selection in 1990? "The Glove" Gary Payton went to the Seattle Supersonics.

1996 was one of the greatest drafts in NBA history. While its greatest star may go by the name of Kobe Bean Bryant, its #1 pick was just as spectacular of the court as he was brash and boastful off it. Allen Iverson became the second Georgetown Hoya to be taken #1 when the Philadelphia 76ers made him their franchise player. He may not have wanted to talk about practice, but did he really need it?

One of the greatest shooters of all-time, AI won the 1997 Rookie of the Year, as well as the NBA MVP in 2001. Iverson was a four-time scoring champion, and a 3-time steals champ to boot. The Answer averaged nearly 27 points and over 2 steals a game throughout his 17-year career. But like his fellow Big East #1 picks, that elusive championship ring escaped him.

We'll always have Jewelz, right? (Warning: This was 2000. If you know East Coast rap at the turn of the millennium, then you know you might want to consider turning on your parental advisory filter for this one.)

The Best Big East Drafts in History

1985 might have been a showcase for Patrick Ewing, but the Big East produced some top talent in that summer's draft. Not one, but two Hall of Famer's came out of the Big East that year, as the Golden State Warriors made St. John's sharpshooter Chris Mullin the 7th overall pick. Mullin made five All-Star teams in his 16 seasons with the Warriors and the Indiana Pacers. Mullin was also a member of two other legendary teams - the 1992 USA Olympic Dream Team, and "Run TMC", the trio of Mullin, Tim Hardaway and Mitch Richmond that led Golden State to five straight playoff appearances.

Other Big East members of the '85 draft class include Villanova's Ed Pickney, drafted 10th overall to the Phoenix Suns, who was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four during the Wildcats' upset of Ewing's Hoyas in the finals. Bill Wennington, a 3-time NBA Champion with the Chicago Bulls, went 16th to the Dallas Mavericks out of St. John's. Boston College point guard Michael Adams, one of the all-time league leaders in three-point field goals made and attempted, fell to the Sacramento Kings in the third round.

The 1996 draft gave way to two future Hall of Famer's as well. In addition to AI, Connecticut guard Ray Allen went 5th overall to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Jesus Shuttlesworth could've been paired with Kevin Garnett to create a stellar duo in the Land of 1000 Lakes, but he was shipped to the Milwaukee Bucks in a draft day deal for the fourth overall pick, Stephon Marbury. While Starbury ended up a hit in Steve and Barry's nationwide, Allen would become the greatest three-point shooter of all-time. After a stint with the Seattle Supersonics, the 10-time All Star was traded to the Boston Celtics, where he finally became teammates with KG and won a title in 2008 alongside Paul Pierce. Allen would become a two-time champ with the Miami Heat in 2013.

Out of the three, it was arguable that the best college player coming out of the Big East that year was Kerry Kittles. Villanova's greatest NBA import went 8th overall to the New Jersey Nets. Kittles spent his entire career with the Nets before bowing out after an injury-riddled season with the LA Clippers. Georgetown forward Othella Harrington went in the second round to the Houston Rockets, and enjoyed a 12-year career with five different teams.

What Big East Program Produced the Best NBA Talent

3. Syracuse

The Orange have been a basketball hotbed for close to 50 years, dating back to Hall-of-Famer Dave Bing, Syracuse's first consensus All-American in 39 years in 1966. The 2nd overall pick in 1996 was a 7-time All Star with the Pistons, Washington Bullets and Celtics, winning the 1967 Rookie of the Year and the 1968 scoring title.

Bing's former roommate, Jim Boeheim, kept the tradition going, rolling out NBA-ready talent year-after-year. Lebanese-born center Rony Seikaly left the Orange among the program's leaders in rebounds, points and blocks before being selected 9th overall by the Miami Heat. "The Spin Doctor" was not only a great player on the court, but he's a beast at the turntables also. He's since become a successful house music DJ.

But no player to ever come out of Syracuse has been as great as Carmelo Anthony. Fresh off of leading the Orange to their only National Championship, Melo was drafted 3rd overall by the Denver Nuggets in the 2003 draft. In 11 seasons with Denver and the Knicks, Melo has made the All-Star team 7 times, won the scoring title in 2013, and has become one of the best pure scorers in NBA history. Once this year's draft is over, the basketball eyes will be on Anthony and his decision on where to play come this fall.

Other Syracuse talent include Coleman, Billy Owens ('91 draft, 3rd overall by Sacramento), and Michael Carter-Williams ('13 draft, 11th overall by Philadelphia).

2. Connecticut

Connecticut won their fourth national championship in March by defeating the Kentucky Wildcats, but their first came courtesy of Richard Hamilton back in 1999. "Rip" led the underdog Huskies past Duke before going to the Washington Wizards 7th overall. Hamilton's biggest impact came with the Detroit Pistons, where he spent nine seasons and won the 2004 NBA Championship. It was as a member of the Pistons where RIp proved his worth as one of the best shooters in the NBA.

Weeks after Rip took home the NBA title, two UConn stars heard their name called on draft day. Center Emeka Okafor, the MOP of the 2004 Final Four, became the first-ever draft pick by the expansion Charlotte Bobcats at #2 before his teammate, Ben Gordon, went #3 to the Bulls. Gordon would take home the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year award in 2005, while Okafor won Rookie of the Year. Both have bounced around the NBA since 2009, but have enjoyed long NBA careers.

The last great UConn Huskie to come out of the Big East (we'll spare Shabazz Napier for the American faithful) was Kemba Walker. The 2nd-leading scorer in the nation came through in some clutch situations to bring the Huskies their 3rd national championship in 2011. That same year, he was drafted 9th overall by Charlotte. After taking the Bobcats to the playoffs in 2014, "Cardiac Kemba" now anchors the revived Hornets franchise, and it'll be interesting to see where his career ends up.

Other Connecticut greats in the NBA include Allen, Cliff Robinson ('89 draft, 36th overall by Portland), Donyell Marshall ('94 draft, 4th overall by Minnesota), Rudy Gay ('06 draft, 8th overall by Houston), and Andre Drummond ('12 draft, 9th overall by Detroit).

1. Georgetown

When it comes down to it, the end-all, be-all when it comes to Big East products in the NBA hail from Georgetown. Patrick Ewing wasn't the only great center to come out of Washington D.C. Hall of Fame coach John Thompson recruited a 7-foot-2 aspiring doctor from Congo to play basketball, and Dikembe Mutumbo became one of the greatest shot-blockers in basketball history. With his legendary finger-wag, Mount Mutumbo was selected fourth overall by the Denver Nuggets in 1991, where he led Denver to a stunning first-round upset over top-seeded Seattle in 1994. Mutumbo would win the Defensive Player of the Year award four times in his career, and made the All-Star team eight times with the Nuggets, Atlanta Hawks, and 76ers, among others.

His "Rejection Row" teammate was no slouch either. Alonzo Mourning went second overall to the Charlotte Hornets in 1992, where he twice earned All-Star selections before making the team five times with the Miami Heat . After a short stint with the Nets, the two-time Defensive Player of the Year would return to South Beach to win his only NBA championship in 2006. Zo has since earned two more titles as an executive with the Heat, and will answer his call to the Hall of Fame this August.

Along with Ewing and Iverson, other top talent to come out of Georgetown include Sleepy Floyd ('82 draft, 13th overall by New Jersey), Jeff Green ('07 draft, 5th overall by Boston), Roy Hibbert ('08 draft, 17th overall by Toronto), Greg Monroe ('10 draft, 7th overall by Detroit), and Otto Porter ('13 draft, 3rd overall by Washington).

Biggest Draft Busts in Big East History

For every Patrick Ewing, there's a Dwayne Washington. It's not easy to make that transition from the college ranks to the pros, but some players either just weren't able to follow through on the tons of hype they received, fell victim to injury, or they just weren't that good. Here are the five biggest NBA busts in Big East history.

5. Troy Bell (Boston College)

Bell was a stat stuffer for the Eagles in the early 2000s. The first freshman in Big East history to average 20 PPG, Bell twice won Big East player of the year, famously beating out Carmelo Anthony for the award in 2003. A member of the legendary draft class of 2003, Bell was taken with the 16th overall pick by the Boston Celtics, but was traded on draft night to the Memphis Grizzlies. Bell would score just 11 points in six games in the 2003-04 season. After floundering in the D-League, he has since been relegated to playing overseas in Europe.

Bell was taken ahead of David West (18th overall by New Orleans), Boris Diaw (21st overall by Atlanta), Josh Howard (29th overall by Dallas), Steve Blake (38th overall by Washington) and Mo Williams (47th overall by Utah).

4. Fab Melo (Syracuse)

The Melo from Syracuse that didn't pan out, Brazilian-born Fabricio Melo was the Big East Defensive Player of the Year in 2012 before the Boston Celtics took a chance on the big man at #22. As good as Melo was defensively, he was completely inept on the offensive side of the ball, and his deficiencies came to haunt him. He only played six games and has been in the D-League ever since. He has one thing going for him - he owns the record for the most blocked shots in a NBA Developmental League (14).

Melo was taken just picks ahead of Duke forward Miles Plumlee (26th overall by Indiana).

3. Joe Alexander (West Virginia)

Joe Alexander was the best athlete on paper at the 2008 Draft Combine, with his great leaping ability, speed and jump shot. Alexander was drafted 8th overall by the Milwaukee Bucks. Alexander would score a grand total of 282 points in his NBA career. After a stint in the D-League, he was traded to the Chicago Bulls in 2010, where he only saw action in eight games. Alexander has gone through some injury problems, but is now back in the D-League with the Santa Cruz Warriors.

Alexander was apart of a loaded draft class, including Brook Lopez (10th overall by New Jersey), Roy Hibbert, Serge Ibaka (24th overall by Oklahoma City) and Nicholas Batum (25th overall by Houston).

2. Jonny Flynn (Syracuse)

At least Joe Alexander is in the D-League. Jonny Flynn was one of the top scorers in his two seasons at Syracuse, and went 6th overall to the Minnesota Timberwolves. He was expected to be apart of a stellar backcourt with Ricky Rubio once he made the move from Spain. After a good rookie season in which he was named to the All-Rookie Second Team, Flynn's numbers took a tremendous dip after he had offseason hip surgery. He was traded after two seasons, and now finds himself playing overseas. He joined the Sichuan Blue Whales of the Chinese Basketball Association in September, but left a month later due to injury.

Flynn was selected in front of Stephen Curry (7th overall by Golden State), DeMar Derozan (9th overall by Toronto),  Brandon Jennings (10th overall by Milwaukee), Jrue Holliday (17th overall by Philadephia) and Ty Lawson (18th overall by Minnesota).

1. Hasheem Thabeet (Connecticut)

The Tanzanian was one of the best centers in college basketball when the Memphis Grizzlies made him the second overall pick in 2009, right after the LA Clippers selected Blake Griffin #1. Many people saw the 7-foot-3 behemoth as the next Dikembe Mutumbo, but it never materialized. Thabeet fractured his jaw early in his rookie season, and became the highest-drafted player ever to be sent to the NBA Developmental League. With another center in Marc Gasol in tow, Memphis shipped off Thabeet after a season-and-a-half. He now sits on the bench in Oklahoma City.

Thabeet was taken before several All-Stars in James Harden (3rd overall by OKC), Stephen Curry, DeMar Derozan and Jrue Holliday, as well as other solid players such as Tyreke Evans (4th overall by Sacaramento), Ricky Rubio (5th overall by Minnesota), Brandon Jennings and Ty Lawson.

All-Time Big East Starting Five

*Consideration will be made by their Big East AND NBA careers

PG: Allen Iverson

AI played shooting guard for the majority of his career, but he'll settle for running the point on this star team. Iverson can break a scoring funk at any given moment, and his defense will come up huge in crucial moments.

Bench: Kemba Walker, Mark Jackson (St. John's)

SG: Ray Allen

Iverson to Allen in the corner? It's a no-brainer. A prolific shooter like Allen is exactly what this team needs to kick start a comeback or pull away late.

Bench: Rip Hamilton, Kerry Kittles

SF:Chris Mullin

With all due respect to Melo, Chris Mullin in his prime was a once-in-a-lifetime shooter. An outside threat who could facilitate the ball as well. I'm sure Anthony would have no problem playing the sixth-man role. He performed it so well in the London 2012 games

Sixth Man: Carmelo Anthony

PF: Alonzo Mourning

Zo's used to playing the 4, having done so with Mutumbo in college. A devastating defender, Mourning and Ewing would create a new Twin Towers.

Bench: Derrick Coleman

Center: Patrick Ewing

Who else? One of the greatest big men of the 80's and 90's, it would be tough to stop a healthy Ewing inside the paint.

Bench: Dikembe Mutumbo

Head Coach: Jim Calhoun

There's a who's who of candidates that can lead this group, but Calhoun will get the tab for this team. A three-time NCAA champion, Calhoun won the Big East regular season title 10 times throughout his 26-year tenure with UConn, winning the Big East tournament a record seven times.

Assistant Coaches: Jim Boeheim, John Thompson Jr., Rick Pitino

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