In sheer numbers, the collection of players taken in this year's NBA draft from the Big 12 Conference was down from a season ago. But with six of the conference's best selected in the first round on Thursday and a seventh in round two, the Big 12 still ranked among the country's best in developing talent worthy of serious professional interest.
It took only four selections before a Big 12 player's name was announced by NBA commissioner David Stern in the early going of the 2011 NBA draft held at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. Tristan Thompson, a 6-foot-9 power forward who played one season for Texas, was the No. 2 pick of the Cleveland Cavaliers and the fourth selection overall. The Cavaliers also had the top pick in the draft, with which they selected Kyrie Irving, another one-and-done college player, who played only 11 games last season as a point guard for Duke.
Many of the experts had predicted beforehand that if any Big 12 team were to deliver three first-round picks in this year's draft it would be Kansas. The same group of experts forecast that the Big 12 would have six players selected in the opening round. While they were right about the total number of first-rounders and that three of the six would come from a single team, they missed the mark on which team that would be.
In addition to Thompson, Texas players Jordan Hamilton and Corey Joseph, also were first round selections. Both were taken late in the opening round, however, with Hamilton selected 26th overall by the world-champion Dallas Mavericks and Joseph three selections later by the San Antonio Spurs. Both were underclassmen at Texas Hamilton a sophomore and Joseph just a freshman). Unlike their former Longhorn teammate Thompson, Hamilton and Joseph will stay in Texas to begin their professional careers.
The three Big 12 draft selections not from Texas all occurred bang-bang-bang form as the 12th, 13th and 14th picks. Alec Burks from Colorado, who played high school basketball at Grandview in Kansas City, was taken by the Utah Jazz. The next name called was one of the Morris twins from Kansas, but it was not Marcus, who most experts figured would precede his twin brother Markieff in the draft order but still go in the first round.
The Phoenix Suns felt that Markieff had better big-man potential than his brother and tapped the older twin as their top pick. Morris, meanwhile did not have to wait much more than the time it took for him to follow his twin brother into the world to hear his name called, the product of the Houston Rockets with the 14th overall selection.
Kansas coach Bill Self was at the Prudential Center with the Morris twins and their mother, Angel, along with the twins' high school coach, Dan Brinkley, and KU assistant coach Danny Manning. Following their back-to-back first-round selections, both Morris brothers appeared much relieved to have the long wait over, even though it means they will be apart on the basketball floor for the first time since they began playing organized ball.
Marcus was asked by Heather Cox of ESPN, which carried the draft live, his thoughts about being separated from his brother for the first time. "I'll send him some flowers or some fruit," Marcus said with a big smile. "It'll be good."
"I've been with him for 21 years," he added. "We've never played on a different team. He's definitely been my backbone. This is a new chapter in our lives, and we're ready to move on."
Kansas freshman guard Josh Selby, who Self earlier this year referred to as one of the most talented recruits of his coaching career, fell to the second round and all the way to the 49th overall pick before his name was called as the selection of the Memphis Grizzlies. The reaction to Selby's second-round selection was mixed at best. Many felt that Selby disappointed in his first college season and that he was making a big mistake by not electing to stay in school for one more year to further develop his skills (he only played in 26 of Kansas' 38 games this season as a result of having to sit out the first nine games of the season), and there were some college and pro experts who felt Selby was NBA material coming out of high school.
Self's only response after his one-and-done recruit was taken by Memphis in round two: "They got a first-round talent in the second round."
The Southeastern Conference, long recognized for its football talent but lesser so in basketball, has the most players selected in this year's NBA draft with nine, six of which were taken in the second stanza. The Big 12 was tied with the Atlantic Coast Conference with seven, and the Pac-10 had six. The Big 12 was first among the major conferences, however, in first-round selections with six. The ACC was next with five.
A year ago, seven players from the Big 12 were selected in the opening round and ten overall. As this year, three Texas Longhorns were selected overall in last year's NBA draft, but only one in the first round (Avery Bradley to the Boston Celtics). The seven conference players taken in the 60 selections this year were from three schools; the 10 in the 2010 draft represented six different schools (Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Baylor).
Since 2000, Kansas and North Carolina, now coached by former KU head coach Roy Williams, are tied for the most NBA draft selections at 11. As a conference, the Big 12 ranks third over this same time period with 36 draft selections, behind the ACC (46) and Big East (39).
Alec Burke's 12th overall selection in the NBA draft represented something of a sports milestone for the Greater Kansas City area. Kansas City athletes were selected in the first round, among the top 12 overall selections, in each of the three major pro sports drafts this year. Aldon Smith, from Raytown and defensive end at Missouri, was picked seventh overall by the San Francisco 49ers in the NFL draft in April. Bubba Starling of Gardner Edgerton High School was the top selection of the Kansas City Royals, fifth overall, in the MLB draft earlier this month. Starling was has committed to the University of Nebraska to play football.