After an experimental period of allowing high school stars to jump directly to the NBA, the league has returned to the tried-and-true method of watching players develop at the NCAA level before making a big offer.
This is more important than ever in order to produce players capable of executing classic basketball roles. Top high-school talent often gets by through sheer physicality and will. Meanwhile, the NBA is in an era positionless play. Most teams emphasize devastating perimeter shooters and musclebound ball-handlers over traditional position-driven strategies.
Point guards, in particular, need to develop talent via playing time before transitioning into the NBA. The following schools understand this; they’ve produced the most talented point guards and will continue to do so.
University of North Carolina
Historically, the Tar Heels field consistently great squads. Best known for producing Michael Jordan, the University of North Carolina has churned out dominant college ballers at every position, including point guard.
Ultimately, UNC’s Ed Cota (1996-2000) went undrafted by the NBA due to his size. Yet, under the Tar Heels’ keen player development, he emerged as one of the best true point guards of his era of NCAA basketball. With three Final Four appearances and a standing UNC record of 1,030 assists, Cota is proof enough that the Tar Heels know how to develop point guards.
Phil Ford (1974-78) demonstrates how far back UNC’s history of great point guards goes. He averaged 20.8 points per game by his senior year, a huge feat in an era before the three-point field-goal line. With 753 total assists, Ford wasn’t selfish either. He became the NBA Rookie of the Year after the Sacramento Kings chose him in the first round of the 1979 draft.
University of Memphis
Elliot Perry (1987-91) scored a whopping 2,209 career points, becoming one of only two Memphis Tigers to surpass 2,000. His aggressive take on point guard play earned him 304 total steals before the Los Angeles Clippers took him as a second-round draft pick. He played for several NBA teams throughout his long career.
Like fellow Memphis alum Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway, Derrick Rose (2007-08) seemed to be a defining player of his generation. And, just like Hardaway, knee injuries stole that potential away from him. The one-time NBA MVP averaged 20 points and seven assists per game in his first four years. Then, circumstances beyond his control led to his decline. Rose still grinds hard with what he’s got today.
Michigan State University
One of the greatest point guards of all time honed his craft at Michigan State (1977-79) before tearing through the NBA to the tune of five championships. Earvin “Magic” Johnson’s legendary rivalry with Larry Bird burst onto national television in 1979, when Magic’s undefeated team clashed with Indiana State’s perfect record in the highest-rated college basketball game of all time.
Magic continues to boost his alma mater today, appearing on the sidelines to cheer on current point guard Cassius Winston. A regular fixture on top NCAA prospect lists, Winston is one of the best young PGs. No surprise he’s been recognized as the best overall college player by sportswriter Andy Katz.
On Winston’s potential for the upcoming season, Katz said, “In a program that’s had exceptional point guards for decades, he could be one of the best college basketball point guards.” No small praise when one of those point guards is a name that will be forever remembered as one of the best ever.