Former Arizona players impacting NBA
Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr calls out a play during the Warriors' 114-107 win over the Washington Wizards, Feb. 24, 2015. Kerr played basketball at the University of Arizona from 1983-1988.
This past NBA season serves to remind us just how much of an impact former Arizona basketball players are having on the NBA.
If you happened to have been paying attention to any of the five NBA Finals games over the last few weeks, then you probably noticed some familiar names and faces come across your television screen — Steve Kerr, Andre Iguodala, Richard Jefferson — just to name a few. At one time or another, all three of them once donned the navy and cardinal jerseys that read “ARIZONA” on the front.
In total, six former Arizona Wildcats - three for the Golden State Warriors and three for the Cleveland Cavaliers - had a hand in this year’s NBA Finals that culminated in a 4-1 series victory for Golden State. Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, forward Andre Iguodala, and assistant coach for player development Bruce Fraser earned the 21st, 22nd, and 23rd NBA rings in Arizona basketball history.
The championship puts both Kerr and Iguodala in elite company as Kerr is now just the 4th head coach in NBA history to win multiple titles within first 3 seasons of coaching, while Iguodala had the best plus-minus stat (+60) of any Warriors member during the finals.
This is also the third year in a row that multiple former Wildcat players have earned championship rings in the NBA. In a rising era of super teams, Arizona is well represented on some of the league’s most dominant squads.
But the impact of former UA alumni was not limited to just the NBA Finals; the fact of the matter is that several Arizona basketball players left their paw prints all over the NBA this past season.
Former UA point guard T.J. McConnell went from undrafted in 2015 to signing with the Philadelphia 76ers and hitting not one, but two game-winning shots during the 2016-17 season.
Aaron Gordon, the 4th overall pick in the 2014 draft, is a dunk highlight reel waiting to happen. His performance in the 2016 All-Star Dunk Contest left so many spectators in awe, that even drone footage couldn’t do him justice.
And let’s not forget Luke Walton. The former UA forward and two-time NBA Champion is the head coach of one of the league’s most storied franchises, the Los Angeles Lakers.
But the biggest stage of them all this year was during the NBA Finals, where Steve Kerr and Andre Iguodala each had signature moments of their own that will surely be remembered.
After being absent for six weeks during the playoffs and for the first game of the finals due to serious back pain, Kerr returned to coach Golden State in Game 2 of the NBA Finals, and helped guide the Warriors to their second title in three years.
Iguodala then sealed a victory in Game 3 when he stripped LeBron James of the ball as James went up to attempt a game-tying three-pointer during the final seconds.
All in all, this past NBA season is a reminder that even though Arizona has not produced a superstar caliber player in quite some time, the program still breeds players who have the ability to stick and make an impact at the professional level, both in playing and coaching.
And with the NBA Draft quickly approaching, it is also a reminder that Arizona is a still premier stepping stone for athletes who want to make their childhood dreams come true.
Arizona is, after all, “A Player’s Program.”
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