I was sitting in the nose-bleeds of the New Orleans SuperDome when I fell in love with SEC men’s basketball.
LSU’s swingman chased down a loose ball to lay in a last-second layup. The 66,000+ crowd went wild. It was January 28, 1989, and LSU had just upset a second-ranked Georgetown squad led by Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo. Four players from that Tigers lineup went on to NBA careers: Ricky Blanton, Stanley Roberts, Chris Jackson (Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf), and a young superstar named Shaquille O’Neal.
It is still remembered as one of the greatest games in SEC Men’s Basketball history.
The Top 10 SEC Men’s Basketball Stars Who Excelled in the NBA
Since its formation in 1933, 10 founding universities have participated in Southeastern Conference athletics: Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt. Arkansas and South Carolina joined in 1991, then Missouri and Texas A&M in 2012. Texas and Oklahoma will become SEC schools in 2024. In men’s basketball, the SEC has won 11 national championships, with eight of the trophies residing in Lexington, KY.
In 2023, the SEC led all conferences on draft night with 10 players selected by NBA teams. Over the last 90 years, there have been many magnificent male athletes who’ve worn SEC basketball uniforms, who then moved on to successful professional careers. But which ones have been the best of the best?
Well, in my opinion, here’s the The Top 10 SEC Men’s Basketball, who went on to stellar NBA careers.
To kick it off, there are some players who didn’t make my top 10, but who are worthy of a mention.
- Dale Ellis | Tennessee
- Alex English | South Carolina
- Julius Randle | Kentucky
- Darius Garland | Vanderbilt
- Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf | LSU
- Sidney Moncrief | Arkansas
- Chuck Person | Auburn
And now, the TOP TEN: Here is The Top 10 SEC Men’s Basketball Stars
# 10 Devin Booker | Kentucky
The Phoenix Suns drafted Devin Booker in 2015. He is one of the premier guards currently playing in the NBA. In the 2022-2023 season, Booker averaged 27.8 points per game (ppg) and 5.5 assists per game (apg). His career ppg is 23.9. It’s too early to tell what his legacy will be, but all eyes are on Booker as one of the League’s brightest stars.
# 9 Robert Horry | Alabama
Any top 10 that highlights SEC players who excelled in the NBA must include Robert Horry. While his career statistics are underwhelming, his NBA championship ring collection is not. Horry was a member and contributor on seven NBA championship teams over 16 seasons of play.
The Houston Rockets drafted Horry in 1992. He played four seasons there and won two championships alongside superstar center Hakeem Olajuwon. After making then-coach Danny Ainge mad, Horry was traded from the Phoenix Suns to the Los Angeles Lakers. There, he played for seven seasons and won three NBA titles, alongside legends Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. He concluded his career over five seasons with the San Antonio Spurs, winning two more titles alongside Hall of Fame center Tim Duncan.
Horry’s legacy is summed up in his nickname: “Big Shot Rob.” Horry sank multiple last-second shots to win significant playoff games, mostly in the NBA Finals. He once made seven out of seven three-point shots in an NBA Finals game, the most ever without a miss. Horry retired in 2008 having made 56 three-pointers in the NBA Finals, a record at that time.
# 8 Anthony Davis | Kentucky
Anthony Davis is an eight-time All Star and was a member of the 2020 Los Angeles Lakers NBA championship team, alongside Lebron James. The New Orleans Hornets drafted Davis in 2012. He played in New Orleans for seven seasons, before joining the Lakers. Over his career so far, Davis has averaged 24.0 ppg, 10.4 rebounds per game (rpg), and 2.3 blocks per game (bpg). His legacy is almost all but established, named already to the NBA 75th Anniversary Team, with high likelihood of becoming an NBA Hall of Famer.
# 7 “Sir Charles” Barkley | Auburn
Charles Barkley, aka the “Round Mound of Rebound,” is known both for his on-court play as well as his off-court antics. His verbosity and personality outshine his rebounding skills, and those were mighty stellar. Barkley was the fifth pick in the 1984 NBA draft, chosen by the Philadelphia 76ers. He went on to play for the Phoenix Suns and Houston Rockets, as well, totaling 16 seasons for his illustrious career. An 11-time All Star, two-time League MVP, and 2006 inductee into the NBA Hall of Fame, Barkley is best remembered for averaging a double-double over his career, with 22.1 ppg and 11.7 rpg.
# 6 Dan Issel | Kentucky
Dan Issel was drafted in 1970 and went on to a 15-year career, including a 1975 ABA Championship with the Kentucky Colonels. Issel made his NBA debut in 1976, as the star center for the Denver Nuggets. A seven-time All Star, Issel averaged 22.6 ppg, 9.1 rpg, and 2.4 apg over the course of his career. Issel is a Hall of Famer most remembered for his scoring prowess and his durability. He is 12th all-time on the NBA-ABA career points list, while only missing 24 games for his entire career.
# 5 Bernard King | Tennessee
In 1977, the New Jersey Nets drafted 2013 Hall of Fame inductee Bernard King seventh overall. The four-time All Star was the NBA’s scoring champ in 1984-85, when he averaged 32.9 ppg playing for the New York Knicks. His chronological, career journey included two seasons with the Nets, a short season with the Utah Jazz, two with the Golden State Warriors, four with the Knicks, a season off due to injury, then four with the Washington Bullets. Finally, after another season’s absence due to an injury, King returned home to the New Jersey Nets to conclude his NBA career in 1993. Best remembered as a slasher and scorer, he put up 60 points as a Knick against the Nets. King scored 44 or more in 20 games over his career.
# 4 Bob Pettit | LSU
Bob Pettit is a Baton Rouge, LA legend. The Milwaukee Hawks, where Pettit played his entire career, drafted him second overall in 1954. Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1971, Pettit was a two-time MVP, two-time scoring champ, 11-time All Star, and the 1954-55 Rookie of the Year. He won an NBA championship with the Hawks in 1958. Regarding his legacy, Pettit’s incredible career stat line stands out most. He averaged 26.4 points per game and snatched 16.2 rebounds per game over 11 seasons.
# 3 Dominique Wilkins | Georgia
Dominique Wilkins is from Paris, France but found a home with the Atlanta Hawks, who drafted him third overall in 1982. He played from 1982 to 1994 with the Hawks, earning the 1985-85 scoring champ trophy with 30.3 ppg that season. Dominique closed out his career with one-season stints for the Los Angeles Clippers, the Boston Celtics, the San Antonio Spurs, and the Orlando Magic, respectively. His career stats were 24.8 ppg, 6.7 rpg, and 2.5 apg. Inducted with the 2006 Hall of Fame class, “Nique” is most remembered for his NBA Slam Dunk competitions versus Michael Jordan. Wilkins was a unique player who always lived up to his nickname, “The Human Highlight Film.”
# 2 Shaquille O’Neal | LSU
“Shaq” truly is larger than life, both figuratively and literally. The athletic phenom changed the League from day one, after the Orlando Magic selected him first overall in 1992. The “Diesel” played 19 seasons, averaging 23.7 ppg, 10.9 rpg, 2.5 apg, and 2.3 bpg.
O’Neal was a 15-time All Star, a two-time scoring champ, a three-time NBA Finals MVP, and the 1999-2000 NBA MVP. Shaq played four seasons for the Magic, eight for the Los Angeles Lakers, nearly four for the Miami Heat, one for the Phoenix Suns, one for the Cleveland Cavaliers, then one for the Boston Celtics. Additionally, he won three NBA championships with the Lakers and one with the Heat. In 1994-95, he won his first scoring title averaging 29.3 ppg with the Magic. Then, in 1999-2000, he won his second averaging 29.7 ppg with the Lakers. Now a brand on his own, Shaq was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2016. He is most remembered for his dominance near the rim as possibly the most athletic big man to ever play in the League.
# 1 “Pistol” Pete Maravich | LSU
Pete Maravich transformed the game of basketball more than any other player.
Mind you, Michael Jordan, in my opinion, is the greatest player to ever play the game. His impact transcended basketball to change the way all athletes are perceived and paid. But “Pistol Pete” wore the # 23 first. As Jordan’s predecessor, he paved the way for the arrival of his Airness.
Pete’s style of play was ahead of its time. More than that, his courage to play with players who had different colored skin exposed the broader fan base to a style AND level of play they didn’t even know existed.
On top of that, most of Maravich’s college and pro career was without a three-point shooting line. With a range akin to Steph Curry, it’s hard to fathom what he might have averaged if there had been a three-point stripe. Yet, still to this day, the “Pistol” holds the NCAA D1 record for the most career points and highest career scoring average with 44.2 ppg.
His NBA Career
Following an unparalleled college career, Maravich was selected third overall in the 1970 NBA draft by the Atlanta Hawks, where he played for four seasons. The New Orleans Jazz welcomed Pete in 1974. He played for six seasons with the Jazz of NOLA, then the Jazz of Utah. He concluded his career with a season in Boston. While Maravich never won a championship, he was a five-time All Star and the 1976-77 scoring champ, averaging 41.7 minutes played per game and 31.1 ppg. Over the course of his ten-season career, Maravich averaged 24.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg, and 5.4 apg.
Pistol Pete was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1987. He is most remembered for his passing and scoring, his floppy socks and shaggy hair, and his personal story about overcoming depression and pressure-filled stigmas to usher in the era of NBA superstardom.
So, what do you think?
How would you rearrange it? Who would you add or take away? Anyone that was glaringly missed? Interact with me about the article at Southern HOOPSitality.
Until next time…