Pipeline to the Pros: How D3, Small-College Nobodies Rose to Rule the NBA

A book about Duncan Robinson ’17, Will Hardy ’10 and Rafael Stone ’94.

From the publisher:

Jeff Van Gundy. Brad Stevens. Frank Vogel. Mike Budenholzer. Tom Thibodeau. Sam Presti. Leon Rose. Before you knew his name, before he drafted your favorite player, before he guided your team to a championship, he had a playing career of his own at an NCAA Division III college. He didn’t play for fortune—the NBA was out of reach, and his school didn’t even give athletic scholarships. He didn’t play for fame—his games weren’t televised, and the stands were rarely full. Whatever the motivation, he simply couldn’t give up the game of basketball. And that didn’t change after graduation, when it was time to pick a career path.

For the first time in league history, NBA coaches and general managers are just as likely to have played Division III basketball as they are to have played in the NBA. While the number of former D3 players working in the NBA is higher than ever, small college alums have served in leadership positions since the league’s founding. They shaped the NBA into what it is today, playing integral roles in the Lakers’ initial success in Los Angeles, the inception of several expansion franchises, the creation of the popular All-Star Weekend dunk contest, the globalization of the league and more.

Their improbable and inspiring journeys tell a bigger story—the history of small college athletics, the evolution of coaching and management in the NBA and the hiring practices in the most competitive fields. Their alma maters were small, but their impact on the game—and the implications of their success—loom large.