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LeBron James (left) and Kobe Bryant never played college hoops, yet both have won the NBA MVP.
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School is often out when it comes to picking an MVP

By Steve Aschburner,
Posted Mar 25 2011 11:29AM

In the spirit of March Madness -- otherwise known as that basketball tournament in which all those future lawyers and insurance agents compete mostly below the rim for their school's pride and athletic department coffers -- The Race decided to examine the alma maters of NBA Most Valuable Players.

So we're starting things off with a simple quiz.


Q: Which collegiate program produced the most NBA MVPs?

A) Duke.
B) Kentucky.
D) North Carolina.
E) None of the above.

The answer, perhaps surprisingly, is E. But that's not to suggest that some other school -- Michigan, Kansas State, Santa Clara or Slippery Rock -- actually ranks No. 1. The leading producer of NBA MVPs is, quite literally, None Of The Above.

As in, the award has been won eight times by players who never even redshirted through a college season.

The past four MVPs and five of the last seven went to players who entered the NBA directly from high school: LeBron James (2009, 2010), Kobe Bryant (2008), Dirk Nowitzki (2007) and Kevin Garnett (2004).

Steve Nash, the pride of Santa Clara U., was named MVP in 2005 and 2006, immediately boosting his school into a three-way tie for ninth place. Wake Forest (Tim Duncan in 2002 and '03) and Lousiana Tech (Karl Malone in 1997 and '99) also can claim two MVP awards courtesy of distinguished alumni.

But the preps-to-pros guys are the ones who rank No. 1 as a group. Besides the five cited above, there was Moses Malone, the burly center who was named MVP three times (1979, 1982, 1983).

Which school ranks highest among those that actually did produce MVPs? Not so surprisingly, it's UCLA. To go with the Bruins' 11 NCAA championships, they also can boast seven MVP winners -- six of them named Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The seventh belonged to Bill Walton, Kareem's successor under coach John Wooden, who won the NBA honor in 1978.

North Carolina ranks next with six in a similar pattern -- five won by Michael Jordan and one by Bob McAdoo. After that, the University of San Francisco got five NBA MVPs from Bill Russell and Kansas can take some credit for Wilt Chamberlain's four.

In a nice bit of symmetry for the great rivals who defined the NBA in the 1980s, Larry Bird of Indiana State and Magic Johnson of Michigan State each won three MVPs. Then there is Louisiana State, which started strong -- Bob Pettit won two of the first four MVPs ever awarded in 1956 and 1959 -- and then had to wait until Shaquille O'Neal picked up a third for the SEC school in 2000.

After that, the MVPs and their schools are spread around -- 16 different players with 16 different alma maters, from Bob Cousy's Holy Cross and Wes Unseld's Louisville to Charles Barkley's Auburn and Allen Iverson's Georgetown.

But again, some of college basketball's most prominent and successful programs never have produced an NBA MVP, including Duke, Kentucky, Indiana, UNLV, Michigan and Florida. The coach-heavy systems at some of those schools might actually discourage the enrollment or development of players so supremely gifted as to be, eventually, the NBA's very best.

BYU isn't likely to produce one, either, anytime soon.

And before anyone asks, here's another NBA/NCAA/MVP tidbit: Only five former NBA MVPs were members of the NCAA champions. The short list: Jordan, Johnson, Walton, Abdul-Jabbar and Russell. Bob Cousy just missed -- he was an ineligible freshman in 1947 when the Holy Cross Crusaders beat CCNY and Oklahoma in the Final Four.

There were a couple other topics that grabbed The Race committee's attention this week:

• Dave Cowens, mentiond just last week in this space, made news by putting his 1973 MVP trophy up for auction, along with a cache of All-Star jerseys and other memorabilia. The items will be available in August through Grey Flannel Auctions' annual NBA Hall of Fame event.

Cowens, a Hall of Famer with the Celtics who also logged six seasons as a head coach, apparently felt the time was right to clean out some closets. "He told me, 'I'm getting older, what am I gonna do with all this stuff?' Phil Castinetti of Sportsworld in Saugus, Mass., told the Boston Herald. "If he could sell it and get good money for it, why not? It's time to make some collectors happy."

Castinetti said it was hard to estimate the value of Cowens' trophy. "It could be $10,000, it could be $100,000 -- but I think it will draw great interest."

• Orlando's Dwight Howard won't ever have to worry about auctioning off a 2011 MVP trophy, if his coach proves to be correct. Stan Van Gundy has been on the MVP trail telling reporters -- many of whom will cast ballots that haven't been distributed yet and won't be due untl April 14 -- that the voters already have made up their minds.

"I think it's over. Derrick Rose has it," Van Gundy said of the Chicago Bulls' guard who again tops this week's Race -- and has gathered supported from expert insiders such as Jordan, Boston coach Doc Rivers, Miami's Chris Bosh and LeBron James and various yakkers at TNT and ESPN.

Lobbying for his guy is nothing new for Van Gundy. It would be prudent even if Howard weren't in the top two or three among candidates deserving serious consideration, since the big fellow is Orlando's franchise player and therefore Van Gundy's meal ticket. The Magic coach has pounded the same drum in previous seasons, when Howard came away only with the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year awards.

That might be his lone hardware haul again this spring, though Van Gundy feels that only measures half of Howard's impact. "To me with his rebounding, his scoring and his defense, I just don't think there's anybody that impacts as many possessions in a game as Dwight does," the coach said.

It's possible, too, that Van Gundy might be going for the ol' reverse-psychology ploy, counting on some headstrong voters, maybe, to want to prove him wrong when he contends their minds already are made up. It's some nifty verbal play -- and challenging the media's fairness and open-mindedness can't get him into more trouble with a certain NBA commissioner.

Here are this week's ranking, still mere pixels on a screen rather than etched in stone the way Van Gundy alleges:

1. Derrick Rose, Bulls (51-19)
Last Week's Rank - 1
The Race seems to be on Stan Van's mind more than it is on the guy he's obsessed with. "That award is so far away from my mind," Rose told reporters after Bulls practice Thursday. "What I'm thinking about is the way we're playing." An overtime loss in which Rose scored 42 points was followed by blowout victories by a combined 73 points.

2. Dwight Howard, Magic (46-26)
Last Week's Rank - 2
No less an expert than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was singing Howard's praises -- and wishing he had done some tutoring -- the other day. "Such an incredible athlete," the game's all-time leading scorer told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "There are a few blind spots in his game just because he didn't [play college ball]." Nothing blind about three more double-doubles, 12 blocks and a 3-0 mark this week.

3. Kobe Bryant, Lakers (51-20)
Last Week's Rank - 4
Not a great week personally, given the sore ankle on which Bryant's playing (and shooting 30-of-68) and the news that a UNC kid got scolded by Michael Jordan for wearing Nike Zoom Kobe V sneakers. But 27.3 ppg and three more victories soothed the hurts.

4. Dirk Nowitzki, Mavs (50-21)
Last Week's Rank - 3
The sharpshooting 7-footer had 30 points and 11 boards Thursday to help Dallas reach 50 victories for the 11th consecutive season. "It is nice, but I'd rather trade them in for a championship," Nowitzki said. "Fifty-win seasons don't mean nothing." Hey, they might to MVP voters.

5. LeBron James, Heat (49-22)
Last Week's Rank - 5
James might or might not make it an MVP three-peat this season, but when he scored 43 points against Atlanta last Friday, he became the youngest player in league history to surpass 17,000 points.

6. Kevin Durant, Thunder (46-24)
Last Week's Rank - 6
The Thunder have won 10 of their last 12, with the victories coming by an average of 13.7 points, and are 19-5 in their next games after losses. Durant helped nail down a victory over the Jazz with 29 points on efficient 7-of-12 shooting.

7. Dwyane Wade, Heat (49-22)
Last Week's Rank - 7
Safely tucked over in the Western Conference now with the Thunder, former Celtics center Kendrick Perkins volunteered some criticism of Wade relative to his old team: "Dwyane falls asleep a lot [on defense]. He doesn't like to guard screen-and-rolls, and that's what Ray [Allen] specializes in." Allen's probably thinking, Thanks a lot, Perk.

8. LaMarcus Aldridge, Blazers (41-30)
Last Week's Rank - 8
Presumably, the Spurs won't be swayed Friday night by the good cause aligned with each of the points Aldridge scores on them Friday in Portland (he is one of several players pledging $1,000 per point as a donation to relief efforts in Japan). San Antonio might want to counter by ponying up two grand for every point under his average it holds Aldridge.

9. Russell Westbrook, Thunder (46-24)
Last Week's Rank - 10
The committee somehow missed it earlier this month when Westbrook joined four other precocious NBA stars -- Oscar Robertson, LeBron James, Chris Paul and Anfernee Hardaway -- as the only players to reach 4,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 1,500 assists in their first three seasons. Consider it unmissed.

10. Manu Ginobili, Spurs (57-14)
Last Week's Rank - NR
Scoring 20 or more in three of his last four, and picking up slack for the injured Tim Duncan, Ginobili found himself drawing the Nuggets' top defender (Kenyon Martin) on the Spurs' two final chances in the loss in Denver Wednesday.

Dropping out: Chris Paul, New Orleans (No. 9 last week).

Honorable mention: Paul; Pau Gasol, L.A. Lakers; Paul Pierce, Boston; Zach Randolph, Memphis, and David West, New Orleans.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA for 25 years. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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