#NextLevelBU: How are Baylor alumni doing in the NBA?
Statistics show that only about 1% of college basketball players reach the NBA. In many cases, it takes more than just skill — it takes persistence, too. That’s certainly true of the
four five Baylor Bears who are playing in the NBA right now.
Take Ekpe Udoh, BSEd ’11, for example. The former Bear standout became the highest NBA pick in BU history when he went No. 6 overall in 2010. After a solid first five years in the league, he found himself without an NBA home in 2015, eventually finding his way overseas — where, in an interesting twist, he became one of the most popular players in all of Turkey. After two full seasons away from the NBA, Udoh received an opportunity last fall with the Utah Jazz, and he’s made the most of it. Udoh is averaging 16 minutes per game off the bench, providing a spark that even national writers have noticed.
Then, there’s Udoh’s teammate on the Jazz, Royce O’Neale, BSEd ’15. Despite a stellar Baylor career, O’Neale went undrafted after he graduated in 2015, so he headed to Europle for two seasons. Given a shot with the Jazz this summer, O’Neale was the last player to earn a spot on the team. But far from languishing on the bench, he’s averaging 10 minutes per game; last week, he earned his first career double-double.
Quincy Acy, BA ’12, first became known at Baylor for his ferocious rebounds and dunks, but he developed into a strong all-around player and has built a solid NBA career since being selected by the Toronto Raptors in the second round in 2012. Acy bounced around in each of his first four seasons, earning time in Toronto, Sacramento, New York, Sacramento (again) and Dallas before signing with Brooklyn in 2016. Now in his second year with the Nets, Acy is one of his team’s top performers off the bench, averaging nearly 6 points and 4 rebounds in 20 minutes per game.
Baylor’s top NBA performer through the first half of the season has been the Atlanta Hawks’ Taurean Prince, BSEd ’16 (pictured above). A first-round selection in 2016, Prince primarily came off the bench as a rookie but earned a starting spot when the Hawks made the playoffs last spring. This year, Prince has started every game and averaged nearly 13 points and 5.5 rebounds per game.
[1/31/18 update: After spending most of his first professional season with the Texas Legends in the NBA’s developmental league, Johnathan Motley, BSED ’17, was recalled to the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks on Jan. 24. Motley has made the most of his limited time, scoring nine points and pulling down four rebounds in just four minutes across two games.]
Persistence isn’t the only thing the Bears above share; you might also notice that each of them has completed his Baylor degree. That’s a common thread among Scott Drew’s players; since Drew came to Baylor in 2003, 28 of the 30 scholarship players who have played their fourth years for Baylor have graduated. That includes such early Drew-era favorites as Mamadou Diene (BA ’08) and Aaron Bruce (BA ’10), later stars like Cory Jefferson (BSED ’14) and Kenny Chery (BSED ’15), current standouts like Jo Lual-Acuil (BSED ’17), and even a current NFL player in Rico Gathers (BSED ’16).
Sic ’em, NBA Bears!
[In case you’re wondering… You’ll also find Bears in the front office and along the sidelines for NBA teams around the league. Utah Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey, BSED ’92, was a standout player at Baylor (and is the father of current Baylor point guard Jake Lindsey); he’s also the one who brought Udoh and O’Neale to Utah. Melvin Hunt, BBA ’91, MSEd ’95, is in his 15th season as an NBA assistant coach, having been with the Dallas Mavericks for the last three seasons. And there’s more than one Bear in Phoenix, where Patrick Connelly, MA ’06, serves as the Suns’ assistant general manager, and former Baylor advanced stats guru Ryan Resch, BA ’14, MSEd ’17, works as a basketball operations analyst.]