In the dark ages of UConn basketball between 2015-2018, perhaps the only solace fans could take was the fact that the NBA was littered with former Huskies. Although the current program is on the rise and there’s light at the end of the conference tunnel, the population of UConn guys playing at the highest level has dwindled.
Before we dive in though, fans should take a quiet moment to realize how the league has evolved. NBA roster spots are harder than ever to hold on to. There are very few college programs in the country that boast such an extensive list of alumni in the NBA. Perhaps we became spoiled in the peak Calhoun years, but there are college programs out there that lose their mind if just one of their own gets drafted, let alone succeeds.
Breathe in that rarefied air as we check in on the Huskies in the NBA this year. This year, there are five: Kemba Walker, Rudy Gay, Andre Drummond, Jeremy Lamb, and Shabazz Napier. A handful were recently cut after going into camp with teams and will likely join the solid group of Huskies competing in the developmental league.
Rudy Gay, San Antonio Spurs
The longest tenured UConn alum has remade his career with the Spurs in Greg Popovich’s system. The San Antonio formula stays relevant by mining diamonds in the rough and — in Rudy’s case — maximizing a player’s talents within a specific role. He’s coming off his best three-point shooting season of his 13-year career, and has embraced his role as a secondary scorer in an efficient system. Gone are his days as a high-flying, inefficient chucker, but he’ll be vital in keeping the Spurs relevant in a loaded Western Conference this year.
Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
It’s amazing to look back on Drummond as a freshman at UConn compared to now. At 18, he was raw, timid, and only showed fleeting glimpses of his potential on a stacked yet troubled 2012 UConn team fresh off a championship. Now at 26, he’s one of the game’s top post players, and forms a solid core with Blake Griffin. Detroit is sort of in NBA purgatory now, but that hasn’t stopped Drummond from putting up consistent double-doubles since he entered the league. And to boot, he’s fresh off shooting 59% from the charity stripe last year, a career best.
Jeremy Lamb, Indiana Pacers
Perhaps plagued by the Rip Hamilton comparisons, Lamb’s career never really took off for being the 12th pick in the 2012 draft, two spots behind Drummond. But he’s carved out a nice role for himself in the league as a solid wing player. Lamb is fresh off a career-high 15.3 points last season, serving as Kemba Walker’s backcourt mate in Charlotte. He took his talents to the Midwest in the offseason, signing with an up-and-coming Pacers squad. With star Victor Oladipo still recovering from a ruptured quad tendon, Lamb should slide in as starter until he returns. Don’t be surprised if Lamb helps the Pacers to a top-3 seed in the East.
Shabazz Napier, Minnestota Timberwolves
Bazz’ had a tough summer. After averaging career-highs in points and assists for a plucky Brooklyn Nets team, he was dished out west to the Golden State Warriors to help make room for Kevin Durant. No sooner than a day later, he was then shipped to Minnesota, where he’ll now compete with Jeff Teague for starters minutes. Minnesota will have to overachieve in order to break into the West’s top eight, but the good news for Shabazz’s career is that steady, consistent backup point guards are always a commodity. And would you ever really want to count Shabazz out?
We’re going to take a moment here to reflect on the absurd talent on that 2012 UConn team. Of those three players just mentioned there’s a 2x All-Star and two solid NBA role players. Sprinkle in good college players like Roscoe Smith and Niels Giffey, plus freshmen Ryan Boatright and Deandre Daniels, and that team should have slept-walked to the Final 4. That whole season should be an episode of a rebooted Unsolved Mysteries.
Kemba Walker, Boston Celtics
[From the perspective of a Celtics and UConn fan]
It felt really, really, really, really good to see Kemba join my favorite NBA team. After a summer spent speaking it into existence, Kemba Walker is a Boston Celtic. Kyrie Irving took his flat-earth theory spewing, team-quitting, pseudo-intellectual nonsense to Brooklyn and in walks Cardiac Kemba to take his place for the Green.
Kemba is finally free from Michael Jordan’s jeans down in Charlotte, and is now surrounded by his most talented supporting cast since ... the 2009 Final Four team? Kemba has three potential All-Stars on the wing to carry the offensive load, and a coach in Brad Stevens that manufactured a MVP-caliber season out of his last undersized guard in 2017.
On the court, there isn’t much of a drop-off between Walker and Irving (and in some circles, he’s a better fit personnel wise), but it’s his leadership and magnetic personality that has Boston fans buzzing. He’s been a breath of fresh air for a Celtics team psychologically worn down by Irving. For UConn fans, it will certainly be a treat to see one of the most beloved Huskies playing in the NBA close to home.
That starting five of Gay, Drummond, Lamb, Napier, and Walker could probably bump the Nets out of a 7th or 8th seed in the East. And among colleges, perhaps only Kentucky, Duke, and UCLA can boast a better unit of alumni in the pros right now.
Camp Cuts & G League
A few other former Huskies didn’t quite make an opening roster, but are likely grinding away in the G-League, waiting for their opportunity.
Adams, who stuck out those dark days mentioned above, went undrafted but was picked up by the Pelicans on an Exhibit 10 deal in late June. After appearing in two preseason games, he was waived last week. He’s expected to play for the Erie Bayhawks, the Pelicans G League affiliate. Adams always had the talent, but the question was whether he had the consistency and drive to become a next-level player.
The talented swingman was released by the Cleveland Cavaliers last week. It’s unsure if he’ll land in the G League or take his talents overseas.
Brimah spent last year averaging just under a double-double for the Austin Spurs, where he earned NBA G League All-Defensive Team honors. He spent the summer with the Pacers on an Exhibit 10, but was waived a week ago. He’ll likely join their G League affiliate, the Fort Wayne Mad Ants. Brimah is another one of those players that you just can’t help but wonder how they would have panned out if the current coaching staff had him for four years.