The NCAA tournament begins tonight, and in earnest on Thursday. Most of the 2015 NBA draft prospects have already drawn plenty of attention from scouts and executives, and the impact of college postseason performance is often overrated. Still, there will be plenty of NBA eyes on the NCAA over the next three weeks.
Elite prospects who are playing on NCAA tournament teams have the national championship as a short-term goal, and they surely dream of fat NBA paychecks in the future. Far fewer wind up with high salaries than the number of players who pursue them, and given the existence of the rookie scale for first-round picks, it’s quite a while between the time a college star gets to be paid like an NBA star. Eight-figure salaries are rarely obtainable for NBA players with less than four years of experience.
Plus, still crowding the top of the salary scale is a generation of players who didn’t have to go to college before the NBA implemented its age limit for the 2006 draft. Kobe Bryant, a preps-to-pros star, is still the league’s most highly paid player. There are plenty of international players who go to the NBA without having played in college, too, which further limits the connection between NCAA success and NBA jackpots.
There are only six players who have achieved the pinnacle of college success, winning an NCAA championship, and can boast of an NBA salary of at least $10MM this season. That includes Kemba Walker, who isn’t making that much this year but already signed an extension that will give him $12MM next season. Here’s the short list that underscores the importance of minimizing the connection between bracket-busting heroes and professional financial success on the hardwood:
- Carmelo Anthony, Knicks, $22.458MM — Syracuse, 2003
- *-Carlos Boozer, Lakers, $16.8MM — Duke, 2001
- Joakim Noah, Bulls, $12.7MM — Florida, 2006, 2007
- Al Horford, Hawks, $12MM — Florida, 2006, 2007
- Ty Lawson, Nuggets, $11.596MM — North Carolina, 2009
- Kemba Walker, Hornets ($12MM in 2015/16) — Connecticut, 2011
The Basketball Insiders salary pages were used in the creation of this post.