NBA draft: First round takes root in Alabama in the 1980s

The NBA will hold its 76th draft on Thursday at 7:00 pm CST at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. NBA teams selected 45 players from Alabama high schools and colleges in the first round, including 11 in the 1980s.

In the first 28 NBA drafts, four players from Alabama high schools and colleges were selected in the first round. In the next 14 drafts, 17 players with basketball roots from Alabama advanced to the first round.

From 1975 to 1988, Alabama high schools and colleges produced at least one first-round player every year, with the exception of 1977, when UAH forward Ricky Love was the first pick from the state with the 38th pick.

The 1980s are built on the traction gained in the 1970s. Every year for the decade there was at least one first-round pick with Alabama roots (and two had two) before the final, when Michael Ainsley of Jackson-Olin High School in Birmingham and Alabama was the state’s first draft pick. No. 37.


First round NBA draft picks with Alabama basketball roots in the 1980s included:

1980: Andrew Toney (Glenn High School in Birmingham), #8 with the Philadelphia 76ers.

After playing for the Louisiana-Lafayette, Tony became known as the “Boston Strangler” due to his performances during the Sixers’ great rivalry with the Boston Celtics in the 1980s. The 6-foot-3 defenseman spent all eight of his NBA seasons in Philadelphia, was an NBA All-Star in 1983 and 1984, and averaged 19.7 points per game for the 76ers NBA championship team in 1982-83. In 468 NBA regular season games, Tony averaged 15.9 points, 2.2 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game. He averaged 17.4 points in 72 playoff games. In the 1982 NBA Finals, Tony averaged 26.0 points as Philadelphia lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in six games. The following year, when the Sixers beat the Lakers, Toney averaged 22.0 points per game in the Finals.

1981: Kevin Loder (b.Alabama), No. 17 by the Kansas City Kings

The 6-foot-6 forward Loder advanced to the first round after averaging 22.2 and 23.3 points per game in Alabama State over the past two seasons. In 148 NBA regular season games, Loder averaged 5.9 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.2 assists. Loder played all but one of his NBA games for Kansas City. In his last game, Loder played four minutes for the San Diego Clippers on February 28, 1984, in a 117–99 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.

1982: Eddie Phillips (Parker High School Birmingham, Alabama), No. 21 in the New Jersey Nets

Averaged 15.9 points and 9.3 rebounds in four seasons in Alabama, the 6-foot-7 forward only played one season in the NBA. In 48 NBA regular season games, Phillips averaged 3.2 points, 1.6 rebounds and 0.6 assists. After Phillips’ rookie season, the Nets traded him to the Philadelphia 76ers prior to the 1983–84 campaign. When the Sixers waived him, Phillips ended his basketball career overseas.

1983: Ennis Whatley (Phillips High School in Birmingham, Alabama) #13 by Kansas City Kings.

In two seasons in Alabama, Watley averaged 13.7 points and 6.3 assists per game, and the 6-foot-3 defenseman began his NBA career averaging 8.3 assists for the Bulls. But his next nine seasons in the NBA were 13 years apart with seven teams. In 385 NBA regular season games, Whatley averaged 5.6 points, 1.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 1.0 steals per game.

1984: Charles Barkley (Leeds High School, Auburn), No. 5 in the Philadelphia 76ers

Sir Charles was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006 after 16 seasons in the NBA. The 6-foot-6 forward played 11 All-Star Games, each from 1987 to 1997. Barkley became the NBA MVP of the 1992–93 season in his first campaign with Phoenix, when he averaged 25.6 points, 12.2 rebounds and a career-high 5.1 assists per game to help the Suns reach the NBA Finals. He also won an Olympic gold medal in 1992 with the Dream Team at the Barcelona Olympics. In 1,073 NBA regular season games, Barkley averaged 22.1 points, 11.7 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.9 steals.

1985: Terry CatledgeSouth Alabama), #21 with the Philadelphia 76ers

The 6-foot-8 power forward averaged 21.7 points and 10.8 rebounds in three seasons in South Alabama and became the Jaguars’ first-round pick. Catledge had the best of his eight NBA seasons in 1989-90, when he averaged 19.4 points and 7.6 rebounds for the Orlando Magic, who selected him in the pre-season expansion draft. In 515 NBA regular season games, Catledge averaged 12.7 points, 6.4 assists and 0.9 assists.

1986: Chuck Person (Brantley High School, Auburn) #4 by Indiana Pacers

Pearson didn’t make a single three-point shot, averaging 18.3 points per game in four seasons at Auburn because it wasn’t in college play during his career. But the Shooter made 1,220 3-pointers in 13 NBA seasons. The 6-foot-8 forward reached a career-high 21.6 points per game for the Pacers in 1988-89. In 943 NBA regular season games, Person averaged 14.7 points, 5.1 rebounds and 2.8 assists.

1986: Buck Johnson (Hayes High School in Birmingham, Alabama) #20 by Houston Rockets.

The 20.7-point-per-game forward with the Alabama senior team, the 6-foot-7 forward averaged 14.8 points for the Rockets in 1989-90, the best of his seven NBA seasons followed by 10 seasons. Abroad. In 505 NBA regular season games, Johnson averaged 9.1 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.7 assists.

1987: Derrick McKee (Alabama) #9 Seattle Supersonics

After averaging 18.7 points per game in his final season in Alabama, McKee began a 15-year NBA career during which his team only missed the playoffs twice. In eight seasons from 1988/89 to 1995/96, McKee averaged 14.0 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.3 steals per game. In 937 NBA regular season games, McKee averaged 11.0 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.1 steals. He also played in 142 postseason games.

1987: Jim Farmer (Houston Academy in Dothan, Alabama), #20 by Dallas Mavericks.

The second first round pick from Alabama in 1987, Farmer was among four Crimson Tide players drafted that year. The 6-foot-4 defenseman played for five teams in his five NBA seasons. In 136 NBA regular season games, Farmer averaged 5.3 points, 1.4 rebounds and 0.8 assists.

1988: Chris Morris (Auburn), #4 with the New Jersey Nets

The 6-foot-8 swingman averaged 20.7 points per game as a senior at Auburn and reached an NBA record of 14.8 points per game in his second season. Morris averaged 12.9 points per game during the first eight of his 11 NBA seasons. He made the NBA Finals twice with the Utah Jazz and averaged 17.5 points in six games in a 1998 loss to the Chicago Bulls. In 747 NBA regular season games, Morris averaged 11.0 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.2 steals.

Mark Inabinette is a sports reporter for the Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter at @AMarkG1.

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