Which college basketball programs have produced the most and best Celtic players?
Scrolling through the all-time Boston playing roster, one of the things that strikes me about what makes a Celtic beyond talent and skill is that the franchise has always valued basketball intelligence more than any other team.
No other franchise can boast as many ex-coaches and tremendously smart players as Boston. Hall of Famers and All-Stars like Bob Cousy, Bill Sharman, Tom Heinsohn, Larry Bird, Bill Russell, K.C. Jones, Kevin McHale, Danny Ainge, Frank Ramsey, Joe Mullaney and Dave Cowens were highly successful pro coaches.
Other major contributors as players like Don Nelson, Paul Silas, Don Chaney, Paul Westphal, Chris Ford, Rick Carlisle, Tom Sanders, Dennis Johnson, John Thompson among others became good or even great coaches.
Several also moved into front office and/or general mangership roles and were very successful, most notably Ainge, Bird, Nelson, Jim Paxson, Kevin Pritchard and McHale.
Joe Mullaney, Westphal, Sanders, Cousy and K.C. also coached well at the college level, with Paul winning an NAIA title at Grand Canyon College. Of course, Thompson won the 1984 NCAA crown at Georgetown and finished a close second in 1982 and 1985 while leading the Hoyas.
Mullaney, a college teammate of Cousy on the 1947 Holy Cross NCAA title squad, guided Providence to the NIT title twice, in 1961 and 1963, when the NIT was still a major tournament. His Friars made three NCAA appearances in an era where far fewer teams made the big dance, and it was very tough to make it as an independent.
Moving on to the pro level, Mullaney led the Lakers to the 1970 NBA Finals, where they lost in seven to the Knicks in a tremendous series.
He then coached in the ABA and led the Kentucky Colonels to the 1973 Finals before guiding the Utah Stars to the 1974 Finals. Both times his teams lost, to the Indiana Pacers (4-3) and New York Nets (4-1), respectively.
His assistant and protege, Dave Gavitt, carried on his college foundation and took Providence to the 1973 Final Four behind future Celtics Ernie DiGregorio, Marvin Barnes and Kevin Stacom.
Gavitt later served as head coach of the 1980 U.S. Olympic team that was forced to boycott the Moscow Games. Just before that, he founded the wildly successful Big East and served as its commissioner until he took over operations of the Celtics in the early 1990s.
The 1973-74 NBA champion Celtics produced five future head coaches (Cowens, Nelson, Chaney, Westphal and Silas). The epic 1985-86 champion Boston team had six: Bird, McHale, Ainge, Dennis Johnson, Carlisle and Sam Vincent. Jerry Sichting was also a long-time NBA assistant coach.
Also from that historically great and cerebral team, sharpshooting seventh man Scott Wedman became a head coach in the CBA.
Super intelligent Boston players like John Havlicek, Pete Maravich and Bill Walton never became or wanted to be head coaches (both went into broadcasting, Hondo briefly after retiring for CBS in 1978 and 1979 with Walton still going).
After he conquered a life-long stuttering impediment not long following his retirement as a player, Walton embarked on a highly successful and long career as a top NBA analyst for NBC in the 1990s and for the Clippers.
For the last several years, the Deadhead/ex-redhead has evolved into an entertaining, zany analyst for ESPN on college hoops. His unique breand of analysis sprinkled with wide-ranging observations beyond basketball via an intentionally provocative, over the top schtick has made him a cult favorite.
Early NBA play by play announcer Marty Glickman, a one-time Olympic sprinter, selflessly played a major role in getting Big Bill to overcome his stutter.
Unlike modern coaches like Phil Jackson, who won his 11 titles with a huge cadre of assistant coaches, Red Auerbach won nine banners with nary a single assistant coach. Read that again - not one.
Spread thin with his myriad duties, Auerbach helped invent several coaching tools which became widespread, such as asking his players for input during in-game huddles. Red maintained final veto power, but this practical, egalitarian gesture also made his players feel more invested - and imbued them with an even greater striving to win for their hard-driven coach.
Also, because Auerbach was busy coaching the long NBA season and no games were available to watch on national television, he relied on a cultivated system of utilizing scouting aides. Red would go on speaking tours and coaching clinics in the off-season, where he would befriend coaches from all over the country.
In turn, when it came to the NBA draft he would rely on these coaches to help him choose or trade for players he often had never even seen play live, such as all-time greats like Bill Russell and John Havlicek.
When Red spoke to these college coaches, he wanted to know about player intangibles above and beyond their skill set and athleticism. He would ask what the player’s character was like, how he got along with his teammates, how hard they worked, would they play with minor injuries, were they smart, etc.
Certainly Auerbach had his share of draft whiffs (Steve Downing, Norm Cook and Charles Bradley come to mind, among others), although since he was usually picking late in the first round due to the Boston’s regular success, which hampered his ability to always make good picks.
But with unorthodox picks, he also hit several three-run home runs by choosing unheralded or underrated future greats (such as Sam Jones 1957; Dave Cowens 1970; Kevin McHale 1980; Paul Pierce 1998) - as well as one walk-off grand slam when he chose Larry Bird sixth overall as a heretofore unknown junior eligible in 1978, knowing he had to wait a year to get Bird into Celtic green.
Luck also played a part. Indiana was all set to pick home-state hero Bird first overall in the 1978 draft, but when Larry told Pacers boss Slick Leonard he was staying in school for what turned out to be his miraculous senior season, Indiana traded the top pick to Portland, who then chose Mychal Thompson.
Danny Ainge, a sure-fire top 10 pick in the 1981 draft after a consensus All-American career at BYU, told NBA teams not to pick him because he was going to play major league baseball with Toronto.
Boston had three picks that year in the top 31. Needing a big guard to groom as a replacement for aging veterans Chris Ford and M.L. Carr, Red picked Charles Bradley out of Wyoming with his first selection at number 23. Two picks later at the top of round two, he then took Notre Dame shooting guard Tracy Jackson.
Neither panned out - Bradley lacked the skills and Jackson didn’t have the athleticism. Auerbach then chose Ainge at number 31 just in case he changed his focus from the diamond to the hardwood at a future date.
When Danny struggled to hit well (.220) over two seasons as an infielder with the Blue Jays, Red helped convince him to try pro hoops.
After a bitter and protracted court case, Ainge was eventually freed by Toronto to play basketball. Despite a difficult transition after his layoff and adjustment to a loaded roster, the fiery Ainge eventually developed into an All-Star guard and a two-time champion.
Only eight of the 30 players picked before Ainge in the 1981 draft also played in the NBA All-Star Game.
Red got Tom Heinsohn as a territorial selection in the 1956 NBA draft - along with another pretty fair player through a complex series of deft maneuvers.
Ultimately, Auerbach obtained the rights to Bill Russell in the 1956 draft from the St. Louis Hawks, who selected Russ number two overall, in exchange for All-Star Ed Macauley, Cliff Hagan and the Ice Capades.
Hawks owner Ben Kerner, who was also wary of adding Russell to his all-white team in a borderline southern city, agreed to make the trade.
Hagan, a future star swingman, had not played for Boston after being drafted out of Kentucky because he was serving a two-year military hitch.
But another obstacle to obtaining Russell was presented by the Rochester Royals (now the Sacramento Kings francise), who owned the top overall pick.
However, it was known that the Royals were very reluctant to give Russell the $25,000 signing bonus he wanted, making it easier for Boston to swing a major deal that would shape the NBA for years to come.
Legendary Celtics owner Walter Brown promised Lester Harrison and the Royals brass that he would send his popular Ice Capades show to Rochester for regular performances as compensation for them not picking Russell number one overall.
After agreeing to the deal, the Royals then took Duquesne star Sihugo Green instead of Russell. Ironically, Green ended his 10-year NBA career with Boston in 1965 after averaging 9.2 points a game for five NBA teams.
The Hawks took Russell and dealt him to Boston, and the rest is history. St. Louis did win the 1958 NBA title behind Bob Pettit, Macauley, Hagan and Slater Martin. But they would lose three times from 1957-61 in the title round to Boston, which went on to capture 11 crowns from 1957-69, in large part due to Russell.
Also in the 1956 draft, Auerbach selected tenacious defensive guard K.C. Jones, Russell’s San Francisco teammate, even though Jones was also picked by the Los Angeles Rams and had to serve a two-year military hitch before he could join the team.
Thus Auerbach brought three Hall of Famers into the Celtic stable via the bountiful 1956 draft. Each won two titles as head coach of the Celtics, along with 27 more combined rings as players for Boston.
Auerbach also got the third booby prize in the 1950 dispersal draft of players from defunct teams. The New York Knicks chose the first name out of a hat and plucked what was considered the top prize, All-Star shooting guard Max Zaslofsky.
The Warriors picked next and pulled out Andy Phillip, a fine guard out of Illinois. The Celtics were left with the booby prize, a flashy and popular local star Red had passed over in the draft with this infamous explanatory comment: “Am I supposed to win or worry about the local yokels?”
The third-place prize that fell into his lap ended up being a perennial All-Star and a future league MVP, as well as an eight-time assist leader, six-time NBA champion and Hall of Famer - a guy by the name of Bob Cousy.
By and large though, Auerbach built three different Celtic dynasties spanning from the mid-1950s through the 1980s with shrewd draft picks and trades. Had Len Bias and Reggie Lewis not died, a fourth edition dynasty may well have extended through the 1990s.
In the 21st century, especially recently, GM “Trader Danny” Ainge has rebuilt the Celtics into what should be a long-term contender via many clever trades, acquisitions, head coaching choices and the stockpiling of numerous high draft picks.
On these all-time Boston college teams, players were chosen as closely as possible by position, based on what they did as Boston players and for their college teams.
If I had to pick a Final Four of the teams listed below, I think the Celtic units from perennial powers Kansas, UCLA, Kentucky and North Carolina would comprise the quartet of semifinalists.
Ohio State, Southern California, Holy Cross and Providence would probably be the regional finalist runners-up (fifth through eight), although the Indiana State team holds a special place for me.
In the Final Four, I would pick Kansas over North Carolina and Kentucky in overtime over UCLA in the semifinals. The Tar Heels get the nailbiter nod over the Bruins in the now-defunct third-place consolation game.
As for the finals, I think Kansas would edge out Kentucky. Jayhawk greats Paul Pierce and JoJo White are top 10 all-time Boston great Hall of Famers. Even though Kentucky has a very solid starting five and the deepest roster of ex-Boston players, they have no one to rival that Kansas duo in terms of what they did as Celtics.
The Kentucky team also suffers from a big drop-off in talent/Boston production after their first team unit.
For schools that did not have enough players to field an entire five, I combined them with closely neighboring programs such as Cincinnati/Xavier, or the Philadelphia Big Five schools.
6th-G Lucian Whitaker
7th-G Ken Rollins
6th man-Bob McAdoo
7th man-Tyler Zeller
6th man-F Mike O’Koren (played all 8 games of 1987-88 pre-season for Bos before trade to NJ)
7th man-C Matt Wenstrom
6th man-F/G Evan Turner
7th man-G Mark Minor
6th man-G Dermott O’Connell
7th man-Joe Mullaney
6th man-G/F Jim Seminoff
6th man-G Von Wafer
C-Jim Ard (Cincy)
F-Danny Fortson (Cincy)
F-Derek Strong (X)
G-Ron Bonham (Cincy)
G-Tom Thacker (Cincy)
G-Michael Hawkins (X)
6th man-G-James Posey (X)
7th-G Jordan Crawford (Xavier, transferred from Indiana)
8th-F Larry Sykes (X)
6th man-G Marlon Garnett
6th man-F/G Greg Minor
C/F-Al Horford (Fla)
F/C-Andrew DeClercq (Fla)
F-David Lee (Fla)
G-Rex Morgan (Jax)
G-Dee Brown (Jax)
6th man-C Artis Gilmore (Jax)
7th man-F Erik Murphy (Fla)
F-Larry Bird (transfer to Indiana St.)
G-Jordan Crawford (transfer to Xavier)
6th man-F DJ White
F Shavlik Randolph
C-Joe Kleine (later transferred to Arkansas)
6th-C Chris Johnson
7th-F Jordan Mickey
Philadelphia Big 5: Villanova/Temple/Penn/St Joe/LaSalle
C-Meyer “Mike” Bloom (Temple)
F-Ed Pinckney (Nova)
F-Bob Bigelow (Penn)
G-Chris Ford (Nova)
G-Delonte West (StJ)
6th man-C/F Ramon Rivas (Temple)
F/C-Jack Hewson (Temple)
F-Phil Hankinson (Penn)
F-Dwayne Jones (StJ)
G-Doug Overton (LaS)
G-Jameer Nelson (StJ)
6th man-Allan Ray (Nova)
F/G-Len Bias (Md)
North Carolina State/Wake Forest
F-Rodney Rogers (WF)
6th man-F Dickie Hemric (WF)
7th man-F Ron Watts (WF)
C-Greg Stiemsma (Wis)
F-Gene Englund (Wis)
F-Michael Finley (Wis)
F-Jae Crowder (Marq)
G-Earl Tatum (Marq)
6th man-Vander Blue (Marq)
Dayton/Miami of Ohio
C-Hank Finkel (Day)
F/C-Wayne Embry (Mia)
F-Chris Johnson (Day)
F/G-Wally Sczerbiak (Mia)
G-Jim Paxson (Day)
C-Alton Lister (AzSt)
G-Kadeem Allen (Az)
G-Jason Terry (Az)
G-Jerryd Bayless (Az)
G-Eddie House (AzSt)
C-Toby Kimball (Conn)
F-Earl Shannon (RI)
F-Sly Williams (RI)
G/F-John Ezersky (RI)
G-Ray Allen (Conn)
F-Junior Burrough (UVa)
G-Bryant Stith (UVa)
G-Rick Carlisle (UVa)
G-Gerald Henderson (VCU)
G-Bimbo Coles (VaT)
C-Sean Williams (BC)
F/G-Reggie Lewis (NE)
G-Gerry Ward (BC)
G-Dana Barros (BC)
G-John Bagley (BC)
6th man-G Chris Herren (BC, transferred later to Fresno St.)
C-Stacey King (Okla)
F-Bob Harris (OkSt)
G-Tony Allen (OkSt)
G-Marcus Smart (OkSt)
G-Cecil Hankins (OkSt)
G-Milt Palacio (Col State)
C-Mel Counts (Oreg St.)
F-Jim Loscutoff (Oreg)
F-Chet Noe (1953 Celtic draft pick)
G-Jim Barnett (Oreg)
G-Gary Payton (Oreg St.)
C-Aron Baynes (WSt)
F-Bob Houbregs (WSt)
F-Jack Nichols (Wash)
G-Nate Robinson (Wash)
G-Isaiah Thomas (Wash)
6th man-F/C-Gene Conley (WSt)
7th man-G Dan Dickau (Wash/Gonzaga)
C-Patrick O’Bryant (Bradley)
F/C-Ed Mikan (DeP)
F-Steve Kuberski (Bradley)
F-David Thirdkill (Bradley)
G-Emmette Bryant (DeP)
6th man-G/F Gene Stump (DeP)
C-Leon Powe (Cal)
F-Dwight Powell (Stan)
G/F-Jaylen Brown (Cal)
G-Todd Lichti (Stan)
G-Brian Shaw (UCSB)
6th man-G Conner Henry (UCSB)
7th man-F/G Bruce Bowen (Cal-Fullerton)
8th man-C Michael Stewart (Cal)
C-Chris Mihm (Tex)
G-Don Chaney (Hou)
G-Avery Bradley (Tex)
G-Otis Birdsong (Hou)
G-Gary Phillips (Hou)
6th man-G-Oliver Lafayette (Hou)
F/C-Tom Sanders (NYU)
F-Phil Farbman (CCNY)
G-Tom Kelly (NYU)
G-Mal Graham (NYU)
G-John Simmons (NYU)
F/G-Nick Werkman (1964 Celtic draft pick, 43rd overall)
C-Mark Blount (Pitt)
F/G-Billy Knight (Pitt)
G-Stan Noszka (Duq)
G-Brad Wanamaker (Pitt)
G-Mike James (Duq)
6th man-C Thomas Hamilton (Pitt)
6th man-F/G John Hazen
F-Rip Gish (1951 Celtic 5th round draft pick)
G-Jim Rose (1971 Celtic 2nd round pick, 28th overall)
C-Stojko Vrankovic (Croatia)
F/C-Nenad Krstic (Serbia)
F-Dino Radja (Croatia)
G/F-Sasha Pavlovic (Montenegro)
6th man-Darko Milicic (Serbia)
7th-C Bruno Sundov (Croatia)
8th-C Zan Tabak (Croatia)
6th man-F Ed Stanczak
7th man-C/F Connie Simmons
8th man-G Tony Kappen
To contact the author directly, email Cort Reynolds at firstname.lastname@example.org.