LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky basketball’s steady takeover of the NBA was on full display Sunday night. Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins combined for 56 points and 29 rebounds in New Orleans, Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker combined for 61 points, 18 assists and 14 rebounds in Phoenix and Alex Poythress made his big-league debut for Philadelphia.
A dozen former Wildcats combined to average 16.8 points, 6.7 rebounds and 3.8 assists in Sunday night’s games, and that doesn’t begin to tell the story.
When the Sixers plucked Poythress, who went undrafted last summer, from the D-League, it brought the ridiculous list of Kentucky alumni on NBA rosters to 25 players on 20 teams. Put another way, there are only 10 NBA teams without a former Wildcats player.
The number would be 26 guys on 21 teams had the Milwaukee Bucks not cut Terrence Jones over the weekend, but it seems likely another team will scoop up the 25-year-old forward who has averaged 10.5 points and 5.7 rebounds in his NBA career.
Now, about the Cats who are in the league: Poythress made quite a debut with 11 points, 3 rebounds, a block and assist in 24 minutes off the bench for Philly. That was just five days removed from his last game with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants in the NBA Development League.
Poythress, a 6-foot-7, 235-pound former McDonald’s All-American, had to fight for his shot at the highest level. He averaged 18.5 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.4 blocks in 46 games on the junior circuit, earning a spot in the D-League All-Star Game and ultimately onto an NBA roster.
— Glenn Marini (@GlennMarini) February 6, 2017
Poythress produced 966 points and 597 rebounds and played on two Final Four teams at Kentucky, but it’s been a long road back from tearing an ACL just 10 games into the Cats’ 38-1 season in 2015. He finally appears to have back all of his explosiveness and, maybe most notably, he hit 31 of 77 3-pointers (40 percent) in the NBDL. He made just 29 of 96 (30.2 percent) at UK.
All of that said, Poythress is not done scrapping for a spot in the NBA. He’ll have to keep impressing to stick around long in that league.
POY, HE BOUT TO DO IT. pic.twitter.com/X3huODnKnr
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) April 2, 2017
Meanwhile, two young Cats in Phoenix have made it clear they aren’t going anywhere.
Booker, in his second season with the Suns, was already considered a budding star before he dropped 70 points on March 25 — joining Wilt Chamberlain, David Robinson, David Thompson, Elgin Baylor and Kobe Bryant as the only players in NBA history to score at least that many in a game. But now his best friend and former UK teammate, Ulis, is opening eyes, too.
Ulis, a 5-foot-10 (officially, but probably not) point guard, was picked in the second round of last summer’s draft. He is once again proving his size does not matter, even in the NBA. Phoenix turned over the offense to him in the past 11 games, and Ulis delivered: 40.1 minutes, 14.8 points, 9.1 assists, 3.9 rebounds and 2.5 turnovers per game in that span.
He’s been terrific throughout that stretch, but Sunday night brought a stunning high-water mark: 34 points, 9 rebounds and 9 assists. Look out, Isaiah Thomas. The Boston Celtics’ 5-9 guard (averaging 29.1 points per game) is best little man in the NBA, but Ulis could challenge him for that distinction someday.
— Barstool UK (@BarstoolUK) April 3, 2017
So the question for Kentucky fans is: Who’s next? De’Aaron Fox declared for the draft on Monday and although fellow freshmen Malik Monk and Bam Adebayo have yet to announce their intentions, they’re also projected first-round picks. Sophomore guard Isaiah Briscoe, while not a certain draft pick, could also take his shot at the pros.
And 7-footer Dakari Johnson, who has put together consecutive strong seasons in the D-League, has the best chance to move up like Poythress. He’s averaging 18.5 points, 7.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.3 blocks this year and would seemingly be a valuable piece for any NBA team searching for a backup big man.
How long, then, until there’s a former Kentucky player on every team in the league? Maybe not long at all.
NBA teams with UK players
Boston Celtics: James Young
Brooklyn Nets: Archie Goodwin
Charlotte Hornets: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
Chicago Bulls: Rajon Rondo
Cleveland Cavaliers: DeAndre Liggins
Dallas Mavericks: Nerlens Noel
Denver Nuggets: Jamal Murray
Houston Rockets: Kyle Wiltjer
Los Angeles Lakers: Julius Randle
Memphis Grizzlies: Andrew Harrison
Minnesota Timberwolves: Karl-Anthony Towns
New Orleans Pelicans: Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins
Oklahoma City Thunder: Enes Kanter
Orlando Magic: Jodie Meeks
Philadelphia 76ers: Alex Poythress
Phoenix Suns: Tyler Ulis, Devin Booker, Brandon Knight, Eric Bledsoe
Sacramento Kings: Willie Cauley-Stein, Skal Labissiere
Toronto Raptors: Patrick Patterson
Utah Jazz: Trey Lyles
Washington Wizards: John Wall
NBA teams without a Wildcat
Golden State Warriors
Los Angeles Clippers
New York Knicks
Portland Trail Blazers
San Antonio Spurs