Kentucky and North Carolina appear headed for an NBA-first during Thursday night’s draft.
The two marquee college basketball programs each will likely have four players selected in the first round, starting with UK’s Anthony Davis — the all-but-certain No. 1 overall pick.
If that happens, it would be the first time two schools accounted for eight first-rounders — possibly in the first 20 picks — in the same draft since the NBA went to its current two-round format in 1989. And the number could grow to as high as 10.
Kentucky “brought in a lot of guys, but what was great about the talent was the way they were able to play with each other,” said Ryan Blake, senior director of NBA scouting operations. “I think that’s what’s so valuable — not just the physical skill side, but the ability to play the roles in the team format.
“North Carolina also brought in enormous talent and they were able to work on their games for a number of years. It’s just unusual. I don’t know if it’ll be done again.”
On the Kentucky side, forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist could go right behind Davis at No. 2 and doesn’t seem likely to slip out of the top seven. Blake expects forward Terrence Jones to go anywhere from No. 6 to No. 15, while guard Marquis Teague is likely a mid-to-late first-round pick.
As for North Carolina, Blake expects Harrison Barnes to go somewhere between No. 3 and No. 10, long-armed forward John Henson between No. 5 and No. 15, and 7-footer Tyler Zeller between No. 6 and No. 20. Blake said point Kendall Marshall, regarded as one of the top point guards in the draft, is a likely mid-to-late first-rounder.
Kentucky’s Doron Lamb and Darius Miller also have a chance to be first-round selections.
Since the NBA went to a two-round draft in 1989, only four schools — Duke in 1999, North Carolina in 2005, Connecticut in 2006 and Kentucky in 2010 — have had at least four first-round picks in the same draft, with the Wildcats setting a record with five two years ago, according to STATS LLC.
The closest two schools came to accounting for eight first-round picks was when Florida and Ohio State each had three in 2007. The schools had five of the first nine selections — including top overall pick Greg Oden, Al Horford and Joakim Noah — and the sixth coming in at No. 21.
This year’s haul could even create some lighthearted competition in the green room of players waiting to hear their name called.
“I’m hoping we get four in the lottery before they get four in the lottery,” Barnes said during a recent workout for the Charlotte Bobcats. “It would be great, obviously. I mean, it’s fun to go to the draft, but it’s even more fun when you have your teammates with you. Potentially having four people in the green room from the same team, it would be a lot of fun, that we all reach our goals together.”
Kentucky’s Davis, Kidd-Gilchrist and Teague are one-and-dones, while Jones and Lamb entered the draft as sophomores. Miller was a senior.
Kentucky coach John Calipari wasn’t ruling out the chance that all six could go in the first round.
“My hope is all six, but I don’t know,” Calipari said earlier this month. “I would be surprised if four are not. I would say four are locks and the other two have to go work out.”
North Carolina’s Barnes and Marshall entered the draft as sophomores, Henson as a junior and Zeller a senior.
For Tar Heels coach Roy Williams, it will mark the third time in eight years that his program will produce four picks in the same draft. His 2005 squad had four of the top 14 picks after winning a national championship, while the 2009 squad that won the NCAA title had three first-rounders and one second-rounder.
“I’m loving it for them,” Williams said of this year’s quartet. “I’ll be very excited for all of them. It’s a pretty neat deal to sit there and see four kids that you really think a lot of reach one of their biggest dreams if not their biggest dream. … I’m going to be looking at it like a parent, looking at it like a coach, and even like a fan at the same time. It’ll be exciting for me.”
When the teams met in Rupp Arena in December, the game drew 27 scouts or general managers representing 20 NBA teams. Kentucky won that game 73-72 when Davis blocked Henson’s jumper for the win.
All eight projected first-round picks were on the court for those frantic final seconds. Most of them will reunite again backstage in Newark, N.J., on Thursday.
“It is crazy,” Blake said. “That’s a load of talent.