“Blue Bloods.” It’s a term we’re all too familiar with as college basketball fans. Every spring, as we inch closer and closer to Selection Sunday, we turn on our television to see the likes of Digger Phelps and Doug Gottlieb wearing offensively bright ties and singing the praises of the teams most likely to cut down the nets in early April, based largely upon how the strength of their conference schedules have prepared them for postseason success.
We hear about the historically great ACC, home to the greatest rivalry in all of college sports between Duke and the University of North Carolina. We hear about the top-heavy Big 12, characterized primarily by Bill Self’s recent streak of conference championships and literally nothing else of value (the Ducks smacked Kansas by 14 in the 2017 Elite Eight, by the way). And we hear about the SEC who, if it weren’t for John Calipari pumping out 3+ first round draft picks per year, would be completely and utterly irrelevant as a basketball conference due to the vastly superior brand of collegiate football found in that region of the country.
This is all good and well. These storylines make for great entertainment…until they don’t. Once the tournament is over, we forget about the Louisvilles of the world. The Floridas. The UConns. Wake Forests, Indianas, and hell, sometimes even the North Carolinas and the players on those teams fade from our short memories. You know why? It’s because most student-athletes in these traditionally successful basketball programs eventually play in their last game and slowly fade into irrelevance, whether it be the G-League, hooping overseas, or hanging it up altogether. It may sound harsh, but it’s true.
Now with all that being said, what if I told you there was a collegiate conference consistently churning out elite NBA talent and getting little credit for doing so? I’m obviously talking about the Pac-12, or as Bill Walton would have you know it, the “Conference of Champions.” Not only did the top two picks in this year’s draft come from the conference formerly known as the Pac-10 before the commissioner got a little stoned and allowed Colorado and Utah to grace us with their presence, but the Pac-12 as a whole has been consistently producing A1 talent over the last 15 years, and we’ve all been too busy paying attention to the inevitable busts of Duke one-and-done players to take notice. So now, allow me to introduce the ten best current NBA players from the best conference in college basketball. You’ll see that it is impossible to construct a better current team from any other single NCAA conference.
10. Jason Terry – Arizona
This may seem like a careless “throw-in” pick, but don’t sleep on The Jet. The guy consistently averaged 16 points and four assists per game from 2004 to 2012, winning Sixth Man of the Year in 2009. From a longevity standpoint, his 18 years mark one of the most impressive tenures we’ve seen in the modern era (Terry missed only 25 games total over his first ten years in the league). And let us not forget his greatest feat to date: Terry got the Larry O’Brien trophy tatted on his right bicep before the 2010-11 season began, and then proceeded to bring the 2011 title to Dallas.
We could have thrown Ryan Anderson (Cal), Trevor Ariza (UCLA), or Taj Gibson (USC) in the 10 slot, but this was a pretty easy choice. Jason Terry has been a bona fide ballplayer and overall joy to watch since his amateur days back in Tucson.
9. Nikola Vučević – USC
Yes, he plays on one of the most irrelevant teams in the NBA and no, we don’t expect most of you to even realize that Vučević attended college on American soil. But the fact remains that he’s a product of Southern California, and he can flat out ball. The former Trojan is a true seven footer averaging a double-double for his entire six-year career, which is not something that can be said by several of the NBA’s most talented young bigs. Here’s to hoping he breaks free from the shackles holding him down in Orlando so we can actually see him play on TV once in a blue moon.
8. Andre Iguodala – Arizona
Andre Iguodala is a team player in the truest sense of the term, averaging 13 points, five boards, and five dimes per game for his entire 13-year career. If that stat line isn’t enough to validate how valuable his skill set is, the former Wildcat also has two championship rings and a Finals MVP to show for a truly admirable career. After re-signing with the Champs for $48 million over the next three years, we have an inkling that Iggy just might continue to add to that trophy case.
7. Brook Lopez – Stanford
We could have thrown Robin in as a bonus pick in this slot alongside his twin, but in all honesty, that would have just been a big ol’ slap in the face to our boy Brook, who is a far superior player in every way. During his nine years with the Nets he averaged 19 and 7, proving time and time again to be one of the most offensively skilled big men in the NBA. Standing at seven feet tall, he’s a force in the paint, so here’s to him for being shipped out to L.A. where we can actually watch him play without needing an NBA League Pass subscription.
6. DeMar DeRozan – USC
We’ll be real with you – DeRozan hasn’t done anything drastically impressive over the course of his eight-year career, but he’s skilled and entertaining enough as an individual player to have earned three All-Star nods by the age of 27. He was fifth in the NBA in points per game this past season (27.3) and did more than his fair share to help the Raptors earn the third seed in the east (before getting swept off the face of the earth by LeBron). And even though it does not appear DeRozan is headed for a permanent place in the Hall of Fame, he is an elite scorer who could step his game up another notch if he ever finds a way to be a legitimate threat from the three point line.
5. Kevin Love – UCLA
Not going to pretend like anyone at TheLead is a huge K-Love fan, but his numbers speak for themselves. Everyone knows that Love is an extraordinary rebounder and outlet passer, but what goes somewhat unnoticed is how he’s been able to adapt to his situation in Cleveland (however long it might last now) and develop his offensive game as an outside threat. Love averaged 19 and 11 this past season en route to a Finals runner-up finish, and we have a feeling he will continue to put up similar numbers for years to come, especially if he soon finds himself in a situation in which he’s not splitting time or sharing the court with Tristan Thompson.
4. Isaiah Thomas – Washington
Thomas (similar to DeRozan in this sense) showed us that sometimes, even if you average almost 30 points per game and lead your team to a first place finish in your conference, none of it really matters if you play in the same conference as LeBron James. Seeing as LeBron is possibly the best ever to play the game, however, we’ll let it slide. I.T. took the NBA by storm in 2017 and made up for his complete lack of defense by averaging 28.9 points per game on 46% shooting. That is otherworldly production by a guy listed at 5’9″ but widely believed to be 5’7″. And while he never really had a chance at winning the MVP, it was fun to watch him make his case. I.T. might not be the first point guard you think of when it comes to Pac-12 alumni, but there’s an argument to be made that he should be. We’ll see if Boston elects to give him the SuperMax next season, but even if they don’t, we know there are plenty of NBA teams that would gladly employ his offensive services.
3. Klay Thompson – Washington State
If there was any doubt going into the 2017 Finals that Thompson was the best shooting guard in the league, his two-way play in the Finals against LeBron and Kyrie silenced it. Klay just might be the best shooter in the NBA, and we wouldn’t even know it, since he’s surrounded by Steph and KD. The special thing about Klay, though, is that he really doesn’t seem to give a damn about all that. He knows who he is as a player — constantly competing either to drop 30 points in a game when needed, or simply deciding to play lockdown D on the other team’s backcourt. You’d be a fool to argue that there’s a better or more valuable shooting guard in the NBA today.
2. James Harden – Arizona State
Harden just signed a 4 year/$228 Million contract extension, the richest contract in the history of the sport. If this is for some reason the first you’re hearing about this, then you need to sign up for TheQuickie here to get daily sports news and content sent directly to your inbox every damn morning. James Harden is really good at the sport of basketball and is getting compensated more money to play it than anyone else ever has. And he didn’t come from Kansas or Duke or Kentucky or Indiana. He came from Arizona State.
1. Russell Westbrook – UCLA
We could take this time to tell you about how Russell just won the 2017 League MVP award by becoming the first player since Oscar Robertson to average a triple-double for the entire 82-game season, but you’ve probably heard all that before. So we won’t. I guess we’re done here.