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Does Your State Produce the Most Elite Athletes?

·14 min read
Aspen Photo / Shutterstock.com
Aspen Photo / Shutterstock.com

Few things drive sports in America quite like regional rivalry. It's one thing to enjoy watching your favorite team win a game, it's another if it includes the guy from your hometown downright embarrassing the competition. As such, there's a different type of pride associated with success for someone who hails from the same place you do. But can you quantify that? Are there certain states that are just better at churning out elite athletes?

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That's why GOBankingRates conducted a study to see which states can lay claim to producing the top athletes. The study took the 90 highest-paid athletes in the four major American sports — a list that no hockey player was able to crack, unsurprisingly — and then found the state where they were born, the state where they attended high school and the state where they went to college. Each instance was counted once and combined for a final tally that should give a better sense of which states have played the largest role in the development of some of the world's most elite athletes.

Last updated: Aug. 25, 2021

Lachlan Cunningham / Getty Images
Lachlan Cunningham / Getty Images

West Virginia

  • Born in state: 0

  • Attended high school in state: 1

  • Attended college in state: 0

Golden State Warriors small forward Andrew Wiggins grew up in Canada and played college basketball for the University of Kansas, but he went to Huntington Prep High School in West Virginia. He won the Naismith Prep Player of the Year and Mr. Basketball USA awards. The Cleveland Cavaliers picked Wiggins with the No. 1 overall pick in 2014.

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Ben Margot/AP/Shutterstock
Ben Margot/AP/Shutterstock

New Mexico

  • Born in state: 0

  • Attended high school in state: 0

  • Attended college in state: 1

Pascal Siakam, the breakout star for the Toronto Raptors during their 2019 NBA title run, played college basketball at New Mexico State from 2014-2016. He averaged 20.2 points per game in his redshirt sophomore year, earning WAC Player of the Year, then jumped to the NBA.

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Larry W Smith/EPA
Larry W Smith/EPA

Maryland

  • Born in state: 0

  • Attended high school in state: 1

  • Attended college in state: 0

Kevin Durant is one of the NBA's most recognized names — winning two titles in three seasons with the Golden State Warriors before signing with the Brooklyn Nets last offseason. He originally hails from Washington, D.C., but played his high school ball in nearby Rockville, Maryland, at Montrose Christian School.

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John Bazemore/AP/REX/
John Bazemore/AP/REX/

Massachusetts

  • Born in state: 0

  • Attended high school in state: 0

  • Attended college in state: 1

Atlanta Falcons superstar quarterback Matt Ryan played his college football at Boston College. He threw for 56 TDs and 37 interceptions, leading the Golden Eagles to three bowl victories and 9- and 10-win seasons. Ryan was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2008 NFL draft.

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Jeff Roberson/AP/Shutterstock
Jeff Roberson/AP/Shutterstock

Delaware

  • Born in state: 1

  • Attended high school in state: 0

  • Attended college in state: 0

Slugging first baseman Paul Goldschmidt was born in Wilmington, Delaware, but grew up in Woodlands, Texas. The six-time All-Star is in the middle of a five-year, $130,000 deal with the St. Louis Cardinals. In 10 seasons with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Cardinals, Goldschmidt has 249 career homers.

Leonard Zhukovsky / Shutterstock.com
Leonard Zhukovsky / Shutterstock.com

District of Columbia

  • Born in state: 1

  • Attended high school in state: 0

  • Attended college in state: 0

Kevin Durant won two titles in three seasons with the Golden State Warriors before signing with the Brooklyn Nets last offseason. He originally hails from Washington, D.C., but played his high school ball in nearby Rockville, Maryland, at Montrose Christian School.

Andy Lyons / Getty Images
Andy Lyons / Getty Images

Connecticut

  • Born in state: 0

  • Attended high school in state: 0

  • Attended college in state: 1

Boston Celtics star Kemba Walker first became a household name at the University of Connecticut. In three seasons, he helped the Huskies reach a Final Four (2009) and then win a national championship (2011). The 2011 title-winning season is also highlighted by UConn's Big East Conference tournament run, when the Huskies became the first team to win five games in five days for the tourney title. Walker led UConn with 130 points in those five games.

Omar Rawlings / Getty Images
Omar Rawlings / Getty Images

Arkansas

  • Born in state: 1

  • Attended high school in state: 0

  • Attended college in state: 1

Utah Jazz point guard Mike Conley is one of the few players on this list who has a different state for his birthplace, high school and college, but it all started in Arkansas where he was born.

Keith Allison / Flickr.com
Keith Allison / Flickr.com

Washington

  • Born in state: 1

  • Attended high school in state: 0

  • Attended college in state: 1

NFL quarterback Alex Smith was born in Bremerton, Washington, before moving to La Mesa, California, for high school. Smith starred at the University of Utah and has played for the San Francisco 49ers, Kansas City Chiefs and the Washington Football Team. Golden State Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson was a standout at Washington State University.

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Tony Gutierrez/AP/REX/Shutterstock
Tony Gutierrez/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Utah

  • Born in state: 0

  • Attended high school in state: 0

  • Attended college in state: 2

Alex Smith went 21-1 as the starting quarterback for the University of Utah, while Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard was a third-team All-American at Weber State University.

Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images
Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images

Oregon

  • Born in state: 0

  • Attended high school in state: 1

  • Attended college in state: 1

Cleveland Cavaliers power forward Kevin Love, the son of former NBA player Stan Love, played his high school basketball at Lake Oswego High School in Oregon. Defensive tackle DeForest Buckner of the Indianapolis Colts was the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year during his time with the University of Oregon.

Michael Ainsworth/AP
Michael Ainsworth/AP

North Dakota

  • Born in state: 0

  • Attended high school in state: 1

  • Attended college in state: 1

Although he was born in North Carolina, football player Carson Wentz moved with his family to North Dakota when he was 3 years old, and he played at Century High School in Bismarck, then North Dakota State University. (Wentz fits two categories, thereby giving North Dakota two points in our rankings.)

Jason Miller / Getty Images
Jason Miller / Getty Images

Kansas

  • Born in state: 0

  • Attended high school in state: 0

  • Attended college in state: 2

Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid played together at the University of Kansas in 2014, then went Nos. 1 and 3 in the 2014 NBA draft.

Zach Bolinger/AP/Shutterstock
Zach Bolinger/AP/Shutterstock

Hawaii

  • Born in state: 1

  • Attended high school in state: 1

  • Attended college in state: 0

DeForest Buckner was born in Hawaii and played his high school football at Punahou High School in Honolulu. The defensive tackle went on to star at Oregon, then in the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers and Indianapolis Colts. (Buckner fits two categories, thereby giving Hawaii two points in our rankings.)

Gregory Shamus / Getty Images
Gregory Shamus / Getty Images

Oklahoma

  • Born in state: 1

  • Attended high school in state: 1

  • Attended college in state: 1

Oklahoma lands one player in all three categories: Blake Griffin. Griffin was born in Oklahoma City, won four state titles with Oklahoma Christian School, then attended the University of Oklahoma. He led the Sooners to the NCAA Tournament in both his seasons at the school, reaching the Elite Eight in 2009. (Griffin fits all three categories, thereby giving Oklahoma three points in our rankings.)

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Paul Sancya/AP
Paul Sancya/AP

Nevada

  • Born in state: 1

  • Attended high school in state: 1

  • Attended college in state: 1

Philadelphia Phillies star outfielder Bryce Harper is Nevada through and through. The 28-year-old was born in Las Vegas, played in high school there and left early to attend the College of Southern Nevada.

Richard Rodriguez / Getty Images
Richard Rodriguez / Getty Images

Louisiana

  • Born in state: 1

  • Attended high school in state: 1

  • Attended college in state: 1

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott was born in Sulphur, Louisiana, before attending Haughton High School in Haughton, Louisiana. Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons grew up in Australia before attending Louisiana State University for one season.

Jason Pohuski/CSM/REX/Shutterstock
Jason Pohuski/CSM/REX/Shutterstock

Arizona

  • Born in state: 1

  • Attended high school in state: 1

  • Attended college in state: 1

Tennessee Titans left tackle Taylor Lewan was born in Loomis, Arizona, and played high school football in Cave Creek and Chaparral. He's in the middle of a five-year, $80 million deal. Brooklyn Nets guard James Harden played two stellar seasons at Arizona State.

Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images
Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images

Virginia

  • Born in state: 1

  • Attended high school in state: 2

  • Attended college in state: 1

Longtime baseball ace Justin Verlander was born in Manakin-Sabot, Virginia, and played high school ball there before playing for Old Dominion University for three years. Seattle Seahawks star QB Russell Wilson played his high school football in Richmond, Virginia.

Keith Allison / Flickr.com
Keith Allison / Flickr.com

Kentucky

  • Born in state: 0

  • Attended high school in state: 0

  • Attended college in state: 4

The University of Kentucky dominates this list, and it's no surprise, considering how many NBA stars the program has produced. Four Wildcats make this list: Devin Booker, Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns and John Wall.

Mitchell Layton / Getty Images
Mitchell Layton / Getty Images

Wisconsin

  • Born in state: 1

  • Attended high school in state: 1

  • Attended college in state: 3

Detroit Tigers star Jordan Zimmerman grew up in nearby Auburndale, Wisconsin, before attending University of Wisconsin-Steven's Point. Jimmy Butler, who helped lead the Miami Heat to the NBA Finals, played his college basketball at Marquette.

Mitchell Leff / Getty Images
Mitchell Leff / Getty Images

Mississippi

  • Born in state: 1

  • Attended high school in state: 2

  • Attended college in state: 2

No surprise that Mississippi State University has an NFL star, Fletcher Cox, on this list. He was born in the state and attended Yazoo City High. Don't forget another Bulldog, Dak Prescott. Meanwhile, Phoenix Suns star Devin Booker played high school at Moss Point.

Rob Carr / Getty Images
Rob Carr / Getty Images

Missouri

  • Born in state: 1

  • Attended high school in state: 2

  • Attended college in state: 2

Missouri produced two huge baseball stars. Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer hails from the "Show Me" state, which is ironic since he relies on deception to make his pitches hard for batters to see. Albert Pujols was born in the Dominican Republic before moving to Independence, Missouri. Pujols played at Forst Osage High School and Maple Woods Community College.

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Grant Halverson / Getty Images
Grant Halverson / Getty Images

Alabama

  • Born in state: 2

  • Attended high school in state: 2

  • Attended college in state: 1

Alabama native Julio Jones played his high school and college football in the state, and longtime NFL quarterback Philip Rivers was born in Alabama and played high school football in Athens.

Tim Ireland/AP
Tim Ireland/AP

Tennessee

  • Born in state: 2

  • Attended high school in state: 2

  • Attended college in state: 2

Mookie Betts is most associated with the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers, but he was born in Nashville, Tennessee, and played high school baseball there. His teammate with the Red Sox and Dodgers, David Price, also was born and played high school in Tennessee and attended Vanderbilt. Philadelphia 76ers small forward Tobias Harris played for the University of Tennessee.

Peter Joneleit/CSM
Peter Joneleit/CSM

New Jersey

  • Born in state: 3

  • Attended high school in state: 3

  • Attended college in state: 0

It's no surprise that no college players from New Jersey make the list, because Rutgers and Princeton don't turn out too many superstars. However, the names that do make the list are huge: Mike Trout, Karl-Anthony Towns and Jason Heyward all were born in Jersey, and Kyrie Irving went to high school in the state.

Arturo Holmes / Shutterstock.com
Arturo Holmes / Shutterstock.com

Michigan

  • Born in state: 1

  • Attended high school in state: 1

  • Attended college in state: 4

No surprise that Michigan and Michigan State are well-represented, with Tom Brady, Frank Clark and Taylor Lewan from the Wolverines and Kirk Cousins from the Spartans. NBA star Devin Booker was born in Michigan.

Michael Ainsworth/AP/REX/Shutterstock
Michael Ainsworth/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Indiana

  • Born in state: 2

  • Attended high school in state: 2

  • Attended college in state: 2

Indiana is best known for its basketball, but only Memphis Grizzlies guard Mike Conley (high school) played roundball. The NFL's Chandler Jones (Arizona Cardinals) and Kawann Short (Carolina Panthers) were born in Indiana, with Short attending high school and Purdue University, and Drew Brees (New Orleans Saints) played at Purdue.

John Mersits/CSM/REX/Shutterstock
John Mersits/CSM/REX/Shutterstock

Illinois

  • Born in state: 3

  • Attended high school in state: 2

  • Attended college in state: 1

Two quarterbacks (Jimmy Garoppolo and Kirk Cousins) hail from Illinois -- both were born there, with Garoppolo playing his high school and college football there. Los Angeles Lakers star Anthony Davis also grew up in the state.

Adam Lacy/CSM/REX
Adam Lacy/CSM/REX

South Carolina

  • Born in state: 3

  • Attended high school in state: 3

  • Attended college in state: 1

Two veteran NFL stars (Stephon Gilmore of the Patriots and A.J. Green of the Bengals) were born in and played high school in South Carolina, with Gilmore attending the University of South Carolina, too. Another star from the Palmetto State was Milwaukee Bucks guard Khris Middleton.

Lachlan Cunningham / Getty Images
Lachlan Cunningham / Getty Images

New York

  • Born in state: 2

  • Attended high school in state: 3

  • Attended college in state: 2

The Empire State has produced some great NBA stars, including Kemba Walker and Tobias Harris -- both were born in and played high school basketball there. The NFL's Chandler Jones played high school football and stayed in state for college at Syracuse.

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Valerie Shoaps/CSM
Valerie Shoaps/CSM

Georgia

  • Born in state: 2

  • Attended high school in state: 3

  • Attended college in state: 2

Georgia is known for its college football, but MLB stars Jason Heyward and Buster Posey went to high school in-state. Las Vegas Raiders tackle Trenton Brown also was born in the Peach State and went to high school there, and Matt Stafford and A.J. Green went to the University of Georgia.

Charles Baus/CSM/REX
Charles Baus/CSM/REX

Pennsylvania

  • Born in state: 3

  • Attended high school in state: 3

  • Attended college in state: 3

Known as the cradle of quarterbacks for turning out stars such as Joe Montana and Dan Marino over the years, Pennsylvania has produced Matt Ryan, but also native and University of Pittsburgh star Aaron Donald, the reigning NFL defensive player of the year. Don't forget Villanova alum Kyle Lowry of the Toronto Raptors and Lehigh's C.J. McCollum (with the Portland Trail Blazers).

Ezra Shaw / Getty Images
Ezra Shaw / Getty Images

Ohio

  • Born in state: 5

  • Attended high school in state: 4

  • Attended college in state: 2

Ohio is a hotbed of talent across several sports, with Stephen Curry, LeBron James, C.J. McCollum, Ben Roethlisberger and Russell Wilson all born there. Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Frank Clark also went to high school in the state, and Mike Conley went to Ohio State.

Michael Dwyer/AP/REX/Shutterstock
Michael Dwyer/AP/REX/Shutterstock

North Carolina

  • Born in state: 4

  • Attended high school in state: 4

  • Attended college in state: 4

North Carolina is a basketball powerhouse of a state, with Stephen Curry (Davidson), Chris Paul (Wake Forest) and Kyrie Irving (Duke). The state also produced Philip Rivers (N.C. State). John Wall (Houston Rockets) and Wil Myers (San Diego Padres) were born in and went to high school in the state, too.

Leon Halip / Getty Images
Leon Halip / Getty Images

Texas

  • Born in state: 6

  • Attended high school in state: 9

  • Attended college in state: 6

Everything's bigger in Texas, right? That includes the output of well-paid athletes, from high school teammates Clayton Kershaw and Matthew Stafford to fellow quarterbacks Drew Brees and Ryan Tannehill. When you include the array of strong college programs, you also get Kevin Durant (University of Texas) and Von Miller and Ryan Tannehill (Texas A&M).

Nam Y Huh/AP
Nam Y Huh/AP

Florida

  • Born in state: 8

  • Attended high school in state: 9

  • Attended college in state: 6

The Sunshine State produced an impressive collection of high-earning athletes, with these big names all born in the state: baseball stars Zack Greinke (Astros), Manny Machado (Padres), Chris Sale (Red Sox), Jacob deGrom (Mets), J.D. Martinez (Red Sox); and NFL phenoms Khalil Mack (Bears), Jacoby Brissett (Colts) and Matt Stafford (Lions). Then add in Florida State's Buster Posey (Giants) and the University of Florida's Trenton Brown (Raiders).

Mike Roemer/AP
Mike Roemer/AP

California

  • Born in state: 17

  • Attended high school in state: 16

  • Attended college in state: 9

California is far-and-away the top state when it comes to producing the richest athletes. The state has a built-in advantage of being the most-populous state, plus it has great weather for year-round athletic activities. With high-profile college athletic programs (UCLA, Cal, San Diego State) it's no surprise to see the collection of big names on this list, including Aaron Rodgers and Jared Goff (Cal), Gerrit Cole and Russell Westbrook (UCLA) and Derek Carr and Paul George (Fresno State) among the big names. Other notable names either born in California or attending high school there include James Harden, Klay Thompson, Tom Brady, Kawhi Leonard and Stephen Strasburg.

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Joel Anderson contributed to the reporting for this article.

Methodology: GOBankingRates found the states that produce the richest athletes by sourcing salary data from Spotrac, a site that tracks contracts, salaries, caps, bonuses and other sports transactions. Using this, GOBankingRates found the 30 highest paid athletes in terms of (1) payroll/cap hit salaries for the 2020 or 2020-21 season across Major League Baseball (MLB), the National Basketball League (NBA), and the National Football League (NFL). Once this data was gathered, GOBankingRates used Sports-Reference.com to find in which state each of the 90 highest-paid were (2) born, (3) attended high school and (4) attended college (if applicable). GOBankingRates then tallied up the number of times each state appeared in each of the three categories. All data was collected on and up to date as of Feb. 3, 2021.

This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: Does Your State Produce the Most Elite Athletes?