Paul Pierce’s college was the University of Kansas where he played three seasons. His Jayhawks teams were dominant during the regular season but were upset all three years in the NCAA tournament. Pierce was a college All American and a statistically strong player for those Kansas teams, which all featured multiple future NBA players on their rosters.
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Where Did Paul Pierce Go To College?
Paul Pierce spent three seasons playing for the University of Kansas.Embed from Getty Images
Kansas has an incredibly strong basketball history – their first coach was none other than the inventor of the game James Naismith. The program has won six national titles in total.
Pierce was a MacDonald’s All-American playing for Inglewood High School in California. He was also California’s Mr. Basketball for 1995, his senior season.
Pierce was highly recruited and decided to take his talents to Lawrence, Kansas. Roy Williams was the head coach who recruited Pierce.
Williams was a long-time assistant at North Carolina who took over the Jayhawks program in 1988. By the time Pierce signed to play, Williams had already led multiple teams to Final Four appearances and coached a team to 30 wins.
So Pierce joined one of the most prestigious programs in college basketball at a time when they were among the strongest programs in the country.
How Good Was Paul Pierce in College?
Paul Pierce was a very good college basketball player who was a consistent statistical leader on a team full of players headed to the NBA.
Pierce came in as a freshman and won a starting position on a very strong team.
The team featured sophomore Raef LaFrentz, who would go on to be the 3rd pick in the 1998 NBA Draft, juniors Jacque Vaughn and Scot Pollard who would both be first round picks and a couple of other players, Ryan Robertson and Billy Thomas, who had brief NBA careers.
Pierce came in and started nearly every game his freshman year. He ended the season as the second leading scorer and third leading rebounder on the team.
His counting stats don’t seem so impressive at 12 points per game, but, again, there were a lot of strong players on that team.
As a sophomore, Pierce started all but one game and increased his scoring and rebounding. He finished the season with averages of 16 points and 7 rebounds per game.
The ‘96-’97 Kansas team was still stacked with all the notable names from Pierce’s freshman year returning. Pierce trailed LaFrentz in scoring and Pollard and LaFrentz in rebounding.
He earned 3rd team All Big 12 honors in his sophomore year and was MVP of the inaugural Big 12 Conference Tournament.
Pierce’s junior season was his best statistically. With Vaughn and Pollard graduating, and no other NBA talent joining the program, Pierce needed to do more for the team – and he did.
The season started strong for the future Celtic, as Pierce was MVP of the preseason NIT tournament.
He also overtook LaFrentz as the leading scorer for the Jayhawks. He scored more than 20 points and grabbed nearly 7 boards per game – trailing only LaFrentz in rebounding on the team.
Pierce again won MVP of the Big 12 tournament that year as well.
The Truth (who did not yet have that nickname) was a consensus All American in his junior season. He was named a finalist for the Wooden and Naismith Awards, which both honor the nation’s best college basketball player.
Did Paul Pierce Win a College National Championship at Kansas?
Paul Pierce’s Kansas teams were outstanding regular season teams but he never made the Final Four in college.Embed from Getty Images
Freshman Year 1995-1996
Paul Pierce’s freshman team at Kansas was stacked with NBA talent. They featured Raef LaFrentz, Jacque Vaughn and Scot Pollard in addition to Pierce.
The team went 29-5 during the regular season 1995-1996. They finished 4th in the final AP poll, which takes place before the NCAA tournament begins.
In the tournament, the Jayhawks were the #2 seed in the West bracket. They lost to Syracuse in the Elite Eight. The Orangemen featured future NBA star John Wallace and the dreaded zone defense.
Sophomore Year 1996-1997
Paul Pierce’s second season in Kansas gave him his best shot at a national championship, but the team was upset by the eventual title winner in the tournament.
The team still featured all the same players, now with one more year’s experience. They went 34-2 in the regular season including 15-1 in Big 12 play.
They won the Big 12 tournament and were ranked #1 nationally in the final AP poll. The team deservedly got a #1 seed in the Southeast bracket.
Kansas got by their first two opponents Jackson State and Purdue before they ran into a buzz saw in the Sweet Sixteen. The University of Arizona upset the higher-seeded Jayhawks on their way to a national title.
That Arizona team was a team of destiny: they defeated three #1 seeds on their way to the title: Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky. The Wildcats featured a trio of future NBA guards: Mike Bibby, Miles Simon and Jason Terry.
The talent they swept past is incredible: Vaughn, Pierce and Lafrentz on Kansas, Austin Croshere (1st round pick and 12-year NBA player) on Providence, Antawn Jamison and Vince Carter on North Carolina and Ron Mercer and five other NBA players on Kentucky.
Arizona was a wagon in ‘96-’97. It did not help Kansas that Pollard and Jerod Haase, senior starting guard and the team’s third leading scorer, were both playing with injuries in the tournament.
Junior Year 1997-1998
Paul Pierce’s last season in college saw his team once again dominate in the regular season but fall short in the NCAA tournament.
The team finished 35-4 in the regular season including a 15-1 record in the Big 12. They once again won the Big 12 tournament and finished with the #2 national ranking in the final AP poll.
The team was the #1 seed in the Midwest bracket but were bounced out of the tournament in the second round. The team who defeated them was the University of Rhode Island.
URI starred future NBA player Cuttino Mobely and were coached by former national title-winner Jim Harrick.
How Many Years Did Paul Pierce Play in College?
Pierce played three seasons for Kansas. After his junior season, Pierce declared for the 1998 NBA Draft.
Pierce was selected by my team, the Boston Celtics, with the 10th overall pick. It’s crazy to look back at that draft.
Michael Olowokandi was the first pick while LaFrentz was third. Size was still valued greatly at that point in league history! Mike Bibby, Pierce’s opponent in his sophomore year upset, went 2nd overall.
Summary: Paul Pierce’s College Years
Paul Pierce was an excellent player for Kansas at a time when they had a roster loaded with NBA talent. Pierce played three seasons in Kansas. His teams were dominant in the regular season but never got beyond the Elite Eight in the NCAA tournament.
I have been a Boston sports fan for more than forty years. I write about games, players and seasons from the past.