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The Knicks-Villanova connection is (nearly) unheard of in basketball

Three Wildcats are starting games in New York with a fourth riding the pine. Let's make it five?

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2023-24 New York Knicks Media Day Photo by Steven Freeman/NBAE via Getty Images

The New York Knicks are unique. No, seriously, they are unique. Or dangerously approaching that qualifier, at the very least.

I might be wrong, but if I’m right then the 2024 New York Knicks featuring four players from the same college, Villanova in this case, in their regular-season roster is doing something that has barely happened in the NBA before, let alone with all (or most) of them contributing to the team while having sharing the floor at both the NCAA and NBA circuits, not at least in the league for the last half-century-plus and as far as my research through went earlier today.

Peter Botte of the New York Post wrote a column on Wednesday talking about the Knicks trio of Villanova players currently getting minutes in the starting lineup—Jalen Brunson, Josh Hart, and Donte DiVincenzo—in the aftermath of OG Anunoby and Julius Randle’s injuries.

As he noted in his piece, there might be more than one case of three teammates appearing in the same starting lineup in the NBA after doing so in college, and in fact the 1997-98 Boston Celtics did so when Rick Pitino put together a unit featuring Ron Mercer, Antoine Walker, and Walter McCarty that season. Reggie Hanson played eight games for those Celtics sharing college with the former three, but he didn’t start one.

The Knicks have only played their own particular Nova trio for a couple of games earlier this week, but that alone seems to be enough to have them in rarefied air.

Even more unique, however, is the fact that New York has a fourth former Villanova Wildcats in their roster in guard Ryan “Bench Whisperer” Arcidiacono.

I have fetched all player seasons from B-Ref, the list of colleges all players in NBA history went to, and there was not a single instance of a franchise boasting at least four former players of the same college between 1966 and 1998 (those aforementioned Celtics), let alone such a large contingent being teammates in the same years at both the NCAA and NBA levels.

Then, such four-man units went extinct for nearly 20 years between 1998 and 2016 when the Phoenix Suns had four Kentucky Wildcats in their roster: Brandon Knight, Archie Goodwin, Devin Booker, and Erick Bledsoe. No need to mention they were not teammates in the collegiate ranks. Goodwin wasn’t around next season, but Phoenix made up for that by drafting fellow Kentucky alumnus Tyler Ulis for that season, keeping the count at four.

After that, four-man groups of players belonging to the same college (again, not necessarily with overlapping stints at both levels) happened once per year between 2018 and 2021 at different places, including New Orleans, Indiana, New Orleans again, and then... New York!

The 2020 Pelicans have the modern-day record with five (!!!) Duke Blue Devils appearing in games for the franchise back in the 2019-20 season: Zion Williamson, J.J. Redick, Jahlil Okafor, Frank Jackson, and Brandon Ingram.

In the 2020-21 campaign, however, New York took the baton as the Knicks featured four Kentucky Wildcats in their roster, including Julius Randle, Immanuel Quickley, Kevin Knox, and Nerlens Noel—and again, they did not play together in both the NCAA and the NBA during their stints at each of those levels.

Now, the Knicks have brought back the Fantastic Four buildup by way of Villanova with Hart, Brunson, Arcidiacono, and DiVincenzo all part of their roster from the start of the season after trading for Hart last year, signing Brunson in July 2022, and acquiring the DiVo-Arci couple in last summer’s free agency.

It’s going to take a lot for Arcidiacono to crack the Knicks starting lineup (and I hope he does never get even remotely close to doing so because that’d mean something very bad has happened), but putting three former college teammates in the same unit at tip-off is quite a feat in the history of the Association—and the best of all is that it’s working wonders.

Too bad for the Knicks, there are no more Villanova Wildcats players currently in the organization as no member of the G League Westchester Knicks played college hoops there.

The “good” news? Former Wildcat Kyle Lowry was traded from Miami to Charlotte a few days ago and he won’t play until he gets bought out in mid-February, potentially paving his way to sign with the Knicks later this month. (Lowry predated the four Nova Knicks by a decade playing two seasons—2005 and 2006—for the Wildcats).

The “great-but-impossible” news? Mikal Bridges attended Villanova, won two chips there, did so playing along with all four current Nova Knickerbockers... and hey, who says he is not going to hit the trade market at some point if the Nets keep dropping games in bunches!?

The “screw-it-lets-make-history” options? Trading for or signing the likes of Cam Whitmore, Collin Gillespie, Jermaine Samuels, Saddiq Bey, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, or even Cole Swider. Never say never!