The Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) is arguably the best basketball conference in the NCAA. With its impressive amount of championships, All-Americans, and legendary coaches, it’s hard to say the ACC isn’t the most successful conference ever to exist! But, what about success stories after college? Has the ACC produced what are possibly the best NBA players overall?
Keep in mind; the NBA is as much about business as it is about basketball, and success stories should reflect that. Athletes are worth more than what they are paid to do on the court. Most of them later become coaches, philanthropists, business owners, and social justice advocates, all of which are worth noting when it comes to their success. Now, let’s look at who makes up the top 6-10 spots in the ACC – the Honorable Mentions.
#10: Zion Williamson (Duke)
Although Williamson hasn’t been in the league for a full season yet, his ability to silence doubters in less than 20 games has already proven that he will become a legend.
Before entering the league, some factors gave the basketball community doubts about whether or not Zion would be successful. For example, the blowout injury he suffered while playing at Duke followed him to the NBA, taking away half of his rookie season.
There were also countless naysayers convinced that Williamson couldn’t contend with other dominant athletes in the league. On an episode of “Undisputed,” Shannon Sharpe had this to say about Williamson entering the league.
“What is Zion Williamson? Like KD, like AD, like LeBron, you knew what they were going to be. … Zion had an unbelievable college season, but to say he’s going to be a superstar, based on just dunks and putbacks, it’s hard for me to believe. I need to see more.”
And Zion did exactly that. He put himself in the Pelican’s record books after he put up 22 points in his debut game. His performance marked the most points by a rookie in Pelican’s franchise history, as well as the most points scored in under 20 minutes in a debut game. If that wasn’t enough, Zion continued on a streak that saw him become the first teenager to put up 13 consecutive 20-point games.
Despite the abundant doubt he received from the basketball world, one entity wanted Zion at the forefront of their next shoe campaign. So much so, that they offered him the largest shoe contract ever given to a rookie in the NBA. Williamson signed a seven-year, $75 million contract with the Jordan brand during the summer of 2019. Later, Jordan explained why they were so determined to have him on their team.
“Zion’s incredible determination, character, and play are inspiring. He’s an essential part of the new talent that will help lead the brand into the future. He told us he would ‘shock the world,’ and asked us to believe him. We do.”
#9: Donovan Mitchell (Louisville)
Donovan Mitchell played two years in the ACC. He began his NBA career in 2017 when the Denver Nuggets drafted him in the first round. Since? He has put himself on the board as one of the most dangerous shooting guards in the NBA.
Mitchell first put his name on the map during his freshman season, when he scored a career-high 41 points. This would set a new rookie scoring record for the Jazz, as well as the NBA as a whole since Blake Griffin in 2011.
His shooting percentages and PPG have since increased consecutively over the past three years, and he is now putting up 24.2 ppg in his third year. Additionally, in 2019, Mitchell appeared in his first-ever all-star game after LeBron James chose him to help represent the West.
During his rookie season, he was also able to sign a multi-year contract with Adidas, enabling him to design and create signature shoes. His second signature shoe was previewed on NBA2K 2021 and is scheduled to release at some time this August.
Outside the NBA, Mitchell is contributing to the community with his foundation, “SpidaCares,” that launched in March of 2019. Mitchell explains that his foundation was “created to support and empower women from all walks of life.”
Mitchell was inspired to launch his foundation by his mother and sister. Growing up, they did nothing but support his dreams, showing up to every game no matter how far it was from home.
“When women are given a fair shot, they’re absolute game-changers,” said Mitchell. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without my mother and sister, and with the help of Doterra, I am excited to help empower the next generation of women.”
#8: Jayson Tatum (Duke)
From the moment Jayson Tatum stepped on an NBA court as a rookie in 2017, he has yet to disappoint. At 19 years-old, Tatum entered the league after just one year in college. His versatility and ability to keep up with experienced players on the floor immediately made him a fan favorite in Boston. This versatility was something that always intrigued scouts during his playing days in the ACC.
As the third pick in the first round, he averaged a satisfying 13.9 ppg in roughly 30 minutes on the floor. His trajectory has only improved since, as the recent all-star has become more efficient with his minutes, currently averaging 23.6 PPG in 34.6 minutes on the floor.
After a year under contract with parent company Nike, Tatum decided to take his business elsewhere and signed a multi-year contract with Jordan. Michael Jordan himself announced the signing of Tatum in Paris last year. On an episode of “The Encore,” Tatum explained to Sage Steele exactly why signing to the Jordan brand was such a dream come true.
“The cool part I tell a lot of people about coming to the Jordan brand family is nobody comes over without, you know, Michael Jordan has the last say. So for him to give you the last stamp and to say that he wants you to be part of the family is the ultimate sort of acceptance,” said Tatum.
Tatum decided to use his success on the floor to help those in need within his community after just one year in the NBA. In 2018, Tatum started the Jayson Tatum Foundation to “positively impact and inspire children, teens, and their families through education, athletics, and other individual & family building initiatives, and to encourage them to strive to fulfill their dreams and aspirations,” per his foundation’s website.
Each year, Tatum’s foundation hosts events such as all-expenses-paid one-day basketball camps, leadership programs for children, and food/toy drives for children in the greater St.Louis area who don’t have access to basic needs.
In the age of COVID-19, Tatum’s most recent effort was partnering with fellow NBA star Bradley Beal, Feeding America, and Lineage Logistics to match up to $250,000 in both St. Louis and Boston during the outbreak.
“Just as professional athletes, using our platform, using our voice to speak out, we can reach so many people around the world through social media and things like that,” said Tatum to the Celtics. “And just sending out a positive message and encouraging everybody to do their part and being able to get through this together is, I think, the role that we have.”
#7: JJ Reddick (Duke)
This 13-year veteran has been a silent killer in the league and is one of the most underrated athletes to hit an NBA floor. It could have to do with the fact that Reddick played all four years in the ACC at Duke — either way, he has etched his name in the NBA.
Reddick has played for five different franchises and, until the bubble, has never missed a playoff appearance. Most of his success has to do with his outstandingly consistent three-point-percentage.
Over the length of his career, Reddick has averaged 41.6 percent from three-point range. His success behind the arc ranks fourteenth for most threes made all-time, which puts him in the company of legendary players like Lebron James and Kobe Bryant. Currently, at 36-years old, he is knocking down 45 percent of his three-pointers, giving him the fourth-highest percentage of the 2019-2020 season.
With the decade of experience he has in the league, Reddick decided he wanted to share his knowledge with the world through a self-titled podcast.
Reddick created his podcast, “The JJ Reddick Podcast with Tommy Alter,” in 2017, where he discusses basketball and life alongside some of the biggest names in the business. In the three years of its existence, the podcast has maintained a five-star rating on the Apple Podcasts app, as well as built credibility thanks to compliments from big names all over the industry.
#6: Kyrie Irving (Duke)
Irving has become, without a doubt, one of the most popular athletes in the NBA after going first pick of the draft in 2011. Some were shocked that Irving was the first pick, considering he only gave the ACC 11 games at Duke due to injury. This didn’t seem to matter since following an outstanding freshman season, Irving earned Rookie of the Year honors. He would later become a six-time all-star, one-time all-star MVP, and an NBA champion with the Cavs. His game-winning shot in Game Seven of the 2016 NBA Finals sealed Cleveland’s victory over the Warriors, making Kyrie part of the best come-back in NBA history after being down 3-1.
As Irving began to build his success as a player, he signed a shoe deal with Nike worth 11 million dollars. Since launching his shoe brand, it has become one of the most popular shoes to wear amongst the entire basketball community, be that recreationally or at the collegiate and professional levels.
Along with his success on the court, Irving has made many efforts to help those without the platform he has. Throughout his career, he has voiced his opinions as well as made donations to charities like UNICEF and Young Athletes, Inc. His main focus is shedding light on human rights issues like human trafficking, health care, and poverty among women and children.
His support for women has carried into his most recent efforts regarding the WNBA. As many women in the WNBA have children and families, some have opted out of participating in the restart. Irving graciously contributed 1.5 million dollars to help support the income of WNBA players who chose to opt-out to protect their loved ones.
These athletes have all created and earned their own success in different ways. As they are still so young and full of unshed potential, they will surely make the legends of the NBA proud, as well as inspire future athletes down the road.
If you enjoyed this, please follow Unfinished Business! Also, come back next week to read my piece on the top-five ACC success stories of all-time. Each member has left their mark on millions of lives… Can you guess who they are?