Bucks hope they’ve struck it big
National Basketball Association teams have been working gold mines in Chapel Hill, N.C., and Lexington, Ky., with rewarding payoffs for more than a half-century.
Only one college basketball program – UCLA – has produced more NBA players than the University of North Carolina and the University of Kentucky.
Together, the Tar Heels and Wildcats have turned out 23 NBA All-Stars.
Eight players from UNC and four from Kentucky have played for the Milwaukee Bucks during the franchise’s 44-year history, but none of them were among those 23 All-Stars.
In fact, only three of those dozen players made more starts than off-the-bench appearances for the Bucks – UNC’s Phil Ford, who started 56 of 70 games for Milwaukee in 1982-83, and Scott Williams, whose 139 appearances spanning 1998-2001 included 77 starts; and Kentucky’s Mark Pope, who started 57 of his 108 contests from 2000-2002.
None of the 12 averaged as many as 10 points per game for the entirety of their Bucks careers. The most prolific number in the group belongs to Tar Heel Jerry Stackhouse, who contributed 8.5 points per outing over 42 games as a valuable reserve on Milwaukee’s playoff team of 2009-2010.
Ford and Williams were next on the list at 6.8 ppg and 6.7 ppg. The only others in the group to break 6 ppg were Kentucky’s Kevin Grevey (6.5 ppg from 1983-1985) and Keith Bogans (6 ppg in 2008-2009).
Maybe, with their two selections in the 2012 NBA Draft, the Bucks’ mining in North Carolina and Kentucky will yield a gold strike … or two.
They used their first pick – the draft’s 14th overall – on UNC forward John Henson, the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2011 and 2012. Henson became the Tar Heels’ all-time leader in blocked shots per game with 2.56 and ranked second in total rejections with 279 despite playing just three seasons in Chapel Hill.
The Bucks’ second selection – the 42nd overall -- was Kentucky guard Doron Lamb, who was named to the Final Four All-Tournament team after scoring a team-high 22 points to lead the Wildcats past Kansas in the NCAA championship game. Lamb left Lexington as the most accurate 3-point marksman in school history after hitting 47.5 percent of his tries from beyond the arc.
Henson made a big impression with his pre-draft workout in Milwaukee and thoroughly enjoyed his visit here. The Bucks were thrilled when Henson, projected by many to be selected earlier in the lottery, fell to 14th, and they wasted little time making him their choice.
One of the first questions thrown at Henson was whether or not he was surprised to be selected by Milwaukee with the 14th pick.
“I wasn’t surprised,” Henson said. “Things got crazy in this draft. They got pretty wild.
“But I’m glad to be with Milwaukee. It’s a great city. I knew they were going to take me at 14 if I dropped that far, so it was a good deal. I know it’s a great city. It’s very relaxed out there and it’s a great town for sports. Hopefully the Bucks can return to glory and have that town rockin’.”
Henson averaged 10.3 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game during his three seasons at UNC including 13.6 ppg, 9.9 rpg and 2.9 bpg in his final campaign. He contemplated turning pro after two years, but believes he made the right choice to stay in college for a third season.
“Staying another year helped me mature a little bit,” Henson said. “I started living off-campus and that helped me out a lot … and playing more basketball under that system. We won more games than we did the year before, but just maturity-wise, I’m glad I stayed another year. If I hadn’t stayed another year, I don’t think I would have been as ready.
“I worked on my jump shot and my overall offensive game, just trying to get better. The pros down there come back every summer. They’re so cool. If you want to get a workout in at 6 a.m., they’ll be there at 5:30 for you. I think that’s a cool thing about North Carolina.”
Henson is grateful for those who helped position him for a pro basketball career.
“You attribute what you’ve learned to your family,” he said. “That’s where you learn your first things. You also have to attribute to going to school at North Carolina and working with Coach (Roy) Williams. They teach you how to become a man, be respectful, be on time and be courteous. Three years of that have kind of molded me into who I am today, so that was a great experience.”
Henson, who impressed scouts with his ambidextrous play around the basket, was asked if that prowess was necessitated by an injury at some point in his career.
“People have asked me if I broke my right hand when I was younger,” Henson said. “No, to be honest it’s just one of those things that kind of came naturally It was just something that happened.
“I think it’s a great advantage for me. It’s been instinctive and it has really helped me out. I block shots with my left hand on right-handed shooters. I do have to work on going right, though.”
Henson, who stands 6 feet, 11 inches and weighs 220 pounds, knows he needs to muscle up to withstand the punishment that comes with NBA post play. And he has heard the skepticism about his offensive game. He believes that with hard work, he will erase those question marks.
“I think I’m better offensively than most people think,” he said. “I can show them that. But defense is my calling card. With those two great scorers we have up top (Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis), I’m just going to try to fit in the best I can and help the team win.
“I think I’m going to put on a little weight and strength. That’ll come. I’ve got to start working from day one. That’s the plan. I’m glad they were comfortable enough with the weight I’m at right now to draft me to go to battle.”
Henson held up extremely well and began to dispel his doubters during the Bucks’ stint in the Las Vegas Summer League. He averaged 18.2 points and 6.7 rebounds and blocked six shots through four games and had outings of 22 points against Boston and 20 against Washington.
Henson will enter his first pro camp with a firm foundation.
“It’s put God first and do whatever you can to prove everybody right,” he said. “I’m going to go out there and work hard, stay hungry and be ready to go.”
Lamb plans on providing Henson with some rookie company in his on-the-job training. He, too, wants to reward the Bucks for showing the confidence in him to draft him.
“I’m glad they picked me,” Lamb said. “I’m going to come in and work hard and earn my minutes. I’m going to come off screens and make shots and make plays for my teammates. I’ve been creating open shots for my teammates since I was in high school and Kentucky, so I think I can do it now.
“I want to work on my all-around game, get my shooting a little better, and work on my body strength. That’s what I’ll be focusing on.”
Lamb, like his new teammate, Jennings, received invaluable grounding for his pro career during two seasons at Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Va. He led the Warriors to a 69-5 record in those two years, averaged 23 ppg, 6 rpg and 4 apg in his senior season and received McDonald's All-American and Jordan Brand Classic All-American honors.
Lamb scored 12 points in McDonald's game in helping lead the West to a 107-104 win, then tallied 11 points in helping lead the West to a 129-125 win at the 2010 Jordan Brand Classic .
In Lamb’s freshman season at Kentucky, he scored 20 points in his collegiate debut and went on to play in all 38 games, starting 14, and averaged 12.3 ppg.
As a sophomore, the 6-4, 210 Lamb started 35 of UK's 40 games and led the Wildcats with an .826 free-throw percentage and 76 made 3-pointers and ranked second on the team in scoring at 13.7 ppg to earn second-team all-Southeastern Conference honors.
Lamb was one of six members of Kentucky’s 2012 NCAA title team taken in the draft, joining Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who were chosen Nos. 1 and 2; Terrance Jones, chosen 18th; Marquis Teague, selected 29th; and Darius Miller, picked 46th.
“After the championship game, we all made the decision at the same time, as a team, that we wanted to leave to enter the NBA Draft,” Lamb said. “We had a great decision. I think we were all ready. We’d reached a level in our games that we were ready to leave.”
Lamb did not visit Milwaukee for a pre-draft workout, so he wasn’t expecting the Bucks to draft him.
“I was surprised, but things happen for a reason,” Lamb said. “I worked out for Boston, Atlanta, Indiana, Miami, Chicago and the Lakers. I’m glad I’m here. I like the program here. I’ve got a great coach, a great GM and great players. I can’t wait to get out there on the court and work hard with them so I get better.”
Lamb, like Henson, turned in a promising performance during the summer league, ranking third on the team in scoring at 14 ppg. He had a 20-point outing in the Bucks’ 76-68 victory over New Orleans.