The good news is that we're less than a month away from the NBA's return. The bad news? When the NBA and college basketball are both concurrent, we're going to have to hear about top recruits, the star system, and the same failed routes that have cost organizations and programs alike much success.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: the star system created by outlets such as 247 and Rivals is a fallacy with one good purpose: it makes high school athletes feel good about themselves. If you judge a recruiting class solely off the stars and not the skills the players possess, you are making a mistake.
Today, let's mock those who have made such mistakes - excuse me, look back with hindsight - at five-star recruits who were unproductive in college (and, potentially, the NBA) and "unknown" players who made it to the association and hung around.
Really, our only main basic ground rule for the five-star recruits is that they had to have been busts in college and played less than 41 NBA games as of September 2017. Players like Hasheem Thabeet and Greg Oden, who turned out to be busts after entering the association, are therefore ineligible.
With the 'unknown' players, things are a bit more complicated. First, you have to be a two-star recruit or lower, meaning Stephen Curry and Russell Westbrook are automatically inelgible. Because we're talking about 'unknown' players, however, walk-ons like John Starks and Scottie Pippen are eligible. We have to show the walk-ons some love.
Ready to hate on the star system? Let's do it.
20 Bust: Micah Downs, G/F, Gonzaga
In theory, Downs' per game stats of eight points, 3.8 rebounds, ad 1.2 assists per game don't look awful - they're certainly not what you want from a five-star recruit, especially not at the collegiate level, but at least he saw time on the court - but Downs was plagued by switching schools and personal issues. Most notably, Downs clashed with his father, who switched him from several schools and helped create trust issues.
One high school coach, speaking to the Seattle Times at the end of Downs' collegiate career, mentioned the ex-high school star's father talked of Downs going straight to the NBA. Downs' reaction in hindsight, you ask?
“That was something me and my dad talked about,” Downs said in 2009 about the NBA “He was kind of pushing it.That was a time when I was kind of vulnerable to all kinds of people getting in my ear about things.”
19 Star: George Hill, G, IUPUI (Two Stars)
I don't know what's more surprising: George Hill being a two-star recruit or George Hill already entering his tenth season in the NBA. Anyone else feeling old? Hill's situation of ending up at IUPUI is interesting because while he did receive scholarship offers from Temple and Indiana, the ailing health of his great-grandfather made Hill stay local, even after Gilbert Edison's passing prior to the future first-rounder's freshman season.
But, why was George only a two-star recruit? Get used to me criticizing the star system because a savvy floor general who could also shoot should have been more appealing to colleges in the early 2000s, but apparently him only having two stars turned people off? This is not going to be a fun rest of the list for my sanity and I...
18 Bust: Cliff Alexander, F, Kansas
We were nice about Micah Downs because it's hard to blame him for the issues his father created, but being kind regarding Cliff Alexander will be tougher. With Alexander, many of the issues you'll see with the five-star busts on this list are in full force, including a poor motor, clashes with coaches, injuries, and academic and/or eligibility issues (in Alexander's case, it was eligibility).
However, Alexander is one of the few five-star players on this list to make it to the NBA and, given the G-League truly becoming a minor league, should be able to make it back at some point. Even Stephon Marbury realizes the NBA is willing to give players second chances if they show enough, so maybe Alexander won't make the updated version of this list in two years.
17 Star: Kenneth Faried, F, Morehead State (Two Stars)
At this point, it seems Kenneth Faried is known for two things: going from a two-star recruit from Morehead State to a near-lottery pick in 2011 and all of the trade rumors that have surrounded him for the past four years. We'll do our best to focus moreso on the first part of that, especially after Faried somehow missed out on the 247 Top 1000 when he was a high school prospect.
If you're reading this and you're buying into how good a collegiate prospect will be this season because of their ranking on the top 1000 or a similar list, do better. They're almost like the top 100 NBA Players list ESPN is putting out; we know Carmelo Anthony is better than Lonzo Ball and Harrison Barnes, but these lists are good at generating attention. Even I'm discussing those lists and I'm supposed to be the only sane man.
16 Bust: Stanley Robinson, F, Connecticut
When playing for at least three years under a legendary college coach like Rick Pitino, John Calipari, Coach K, or even Jim Calhoun, development has to be expected, right? How is it, then, that Robinson spent five seasons with the Huskies and, by 2009, this was what Draft Express thought of him?
"His ball-handling skills have not improved at all, nor has his midrange game. It’s kind of tough to play the small forward position when struggling to have one single offensive skill that distinguishes you as a wing. Robinson’s offensive output this season has basically solely been buckets that were scored off of his athleticism."
I don't get it, especially not when Robinson was playing behind two elite collegiate big men in Hasheem Thabeet and Jeff Adrien. Isn't part of development learning from those ahead of you? What a disaster this turned out to be...
15 Star: Tyrus Thomas, F, LSU (Walk-On...somewhat)
Tyrus Thomas has a unique situation that I'll do my best to explain, although I will note he was a three-star recruit coming out of high school. However, LSU came calling and...well, we'll let Thomas take it from here in this must-read Chicago Tribune piece.
"I was on an (LSU) team that initially asked me to walk on. I redshirted, didn't start at the beginning of the year and by January I was considered a top draft pick. I banked on my natural abilities and banked on being young and being a freakish athlete. And I didn't have anybody in my corner that knew the business of basketball or how to prepare me for basketball at that level. So I didn't know how to handle all that was thrown my way."
Not only is Thomas eligible for this list, but he's now doing photography. That's a better post-NBA career than most players have...
14 Bust: Dante Taylor, F, Pittsburgh
There's busts on this list I can go on for pages about, but Dante Taylor isn't one of them despite being known for, well, being a bust. When you're at a school for four years after being a five-star recruit and do some things but nothing close to what was expected, that's certainly one thing, but Dante Taylor was at Pittsburgh and I don't think anyone noticed.
Did you notice him somehow sitting behind Talib Zanna (???), Khem Birch (are these fake names?), and Steven Adams or averaging six points per game despite immense talent? I certainly didn't, which begs the question of do we consider Taylor a bust because he never broke through despite opportunities or because he played behind, in comparison to him, lesser talent? Weigh in below for what you think...
13 Star: Jeff Hornacek, G, Iowa State (Walk-On)
Working around youth and collegiate sports for a time, I often heard fans and parents voice a desire for teams to hire coaches that have experienced tribulation that isn't losing; they want a guy that's worked his way from the bottom up, kicked ass, took names, and will help their kids and favorite players to do the same. You may be laughing because Jeff Hornacek hasn't quite done that with the New York Knicks, but he definitely did when walking onto Iowa State's basketball team in the 1980s and parlaying that into an
"It's a cliche to talk about the unheralded, unathletic, undersized (6'3", 190 lbs) underdog who enjoys success due to smarts, toughness and a fundamentally airtight game, but that's exactly what Hornacek was," Ray Horvat of SB Nation wrote in 2015. "In hindsight, his game always had the look of a future coach: In the right spot, making the right decision, outplaying more "talented" players by outwitting them.
12 Bust: J'Mison Morgan, C, UCLA/Baylor
I'm going to give J'Mison Morgan a pass here not only because he was expected to replace the production of Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, and Darren Collison when he arrived at UCLA in 2008, but because he actually did have a productive season at Baylor following a transfer. However, given Morgan's prowess and talent as a true center in a time when that archetype still meant something, not even three points and 2.4 rebounds off the bench for the Bears could save him from being forgettable and a bust - and that's despite him playing five years in college!
At least with some of the other busts on this list, you're able to ask what went wrong and get some type of answer. Here? Maybe it's good this part of Baylor gets forgotten...
11 Star: John Starks, F, Rogers State (Walk-On)
John Starks' college experience is pretty well-known at this point, so we'll try to keep things brief:
- Starks began college basketball as a member of the Rogers State College “taxi squad", also known as the players that would replace injured or suspended starters. But, the theft of another student's stereo (how many of you even know what that is?) led to Starks being expelled.
- Starks then joined North Oklahoma College, but was arrested for robbery, spent five days in jail, and was dismissed after being caught smoking pot.
- Following two years at Tulsa Junior College, Starks played at Oklahoma State and went undrafted in 1988.
But, because Starks began his collegiate career as a walk-on, he is technically eligible for this list. It's just too bad he wound up having to deal with James Dolan later in life...
10 Bust: Dominic Cheek, G, Villanova
If you search for Dominic Cheek in Google, Bing, or whatever you use, you're likely to come across David Jones' draft evaluation of the former Villanova recruit for PennLive in 2012. If you thought Walter Football was rough, take a look at this.
"A classic AAU case, a McD A-A who never learned how to play the game but was nonetheless overhyped from the time he was 15. ... Unfortunately, Cheek's low hoop-IQ and inability to shoot was an impediment to Nova's progress the last couple of years. He has zero chance of making an NBA roster but I think he knows that. He's from a poor family and just needs to make some coin and he'll be able to send something significant back from wherever he lands in Europe."
Woof. Who's next?
9 Star: Jeremy Lin, G, Harvard (Two Stars)
Like another ex-New York Knicks in John Starks, Jeremy Lin's story of going from little-known prospect that ended up at Harvard to an NBA icon comes with his territory. In fact, of all the players on this list that turned out to be stars, Lin is probably the biggest 'superstar' only because of what he's done for the league's brand worldwide since Linsanity's reign five years ago - wait, that's not a typo, it really was five years ago.
In addition, Lin's success as a D-League product helped more people realize that it could be a legitimate developmental league (hence the name...) and something that could breed the next star. If you were looking for any further reasoning as to why Lin is on this list, I don't have an answer for you.
8 Bust: Renardo Sidney, C, Mississippi State
I'm the first to admit there are some forgettable names on this list, but Renardo Sidney should be far from one if only because of the comparisons he earned. As NBC Sports' Rob Dauster wrote in 2015, "Sidney's unique skill set made him impossible to ignore. He could handle the ball, he could shoot, he could lead the break, he could throw no-look passes, he could back you down and dunk on you. He was a right-handed Lamar Odom, another Chris Webber. Some thought him the second-coming of Magic Johnson."
So, what happened? Try a season-plus long suspension for impermissible benefits coupled with a later suspension for a fight with a teammate in the stands. Woof.
“You’ve got to stay humble and stay hungry,” Sidney said in 2015. “I wish I could have told myself or someone would have told me that coming up.”
7 Star: Jimmy Butler, G, Marquette (Two Stars)
It's easy to forget Jimmy Butler only being a two-star recruit because of him playing at Marquette, right? You'll most likely forget, then, that Butler went to a JUCO school - Tyler Junior College - before getting his chance in Division I.
"He was ranked 73rd in the state of Texas coming out of high school. Not in the country, in the state. No. 72 went to the Citadel. No. 74 went to a Division II school. He was an afterthought in every possible way," Buzz Williams, Butler's high school coach, told Bleacher Report's Ric Bucher. "He didn't go to play at a junior college because a Division I program sent him there to prepare him. He went because he didn't have any other options."
If that's not harsh in hindsight for the schools that passed on Butler, I'm not sure what's going to fill the bill.
6 Bust: Ater Majok, F/C, Connecticut
Ready to hear about another fun, forgettable journey involving a former five-star recruit? Let's do it. Majok was declared ineligible for his freshman season in 2008-09 and decided to declare for the draft, but didn't hire an agent and chose to return to UConn, where he remained ineligible until the fall semester of his sophomore season. Unimpressive on the court, Majok vanished before his junior season and made it sound like Jim Calhoun had forced him out, but the legendary coach replied the big man had spoken to him about potentially transferring.
Here's where things get interesting, though. Majok signed with Turkey in October 2010 and played well enough there and in Australia to where the Los Angeles Lakers drafted him with the 58th overall pick in 2011. Most recently, Majok represented Lebanon in the 2017 West Asian Championship and is still only 30 years old, so maybe he'll return stateside soon.
5 Star: Scottie Pippen, F, Central Arkansas (Walk-On)
At some point, there's going to be a book written about NBA stars that walked-on at college and Scottie Pippen is probably going to be the face of said book. Considering Pippen walked onto Central Arkansas not only as a player, but to serve as the team manager with an opportunity to earn playing time and perhaps a scholarship, that's a fantastic start to the book.
Then, Pippen grew roughly six inches over the summer between his freshman and sophomore year (some outlets have said six while others have said up to eight), building enough stock to eventually wind up with the Chicago Bulls. From there, the rest is history as Pippen went on to star at ESPN, making his own case to host a basketball show. Oh, and he made it to the Hall of Fame, but the ESPN part is more important.
4 Bust: Chris Walker, F, Florida
I have nothing to say about Chris Walker that's already been said and I don't mean that as a copout. Genuinely, why talk about Chris Walker when his situation is similar to so many of the other players on this list? Eligibility issues? Yes. High expectations beyond the norm for a five-star recruit? Given that Sports Illustrated put him as No. 1 on their preseason list of breakout players, you have that. Playing time struggles? In Walker's second season, he played fewer minutes than Jacob Kurtz, who once was the team's manager.
But, with Walker playing in the G-League and not turning 23 until December 24, there's a realistic chance we could still see him make the NBA even after all of that. Right there, the struggling with expectations in college and still achieving your goals, that's the American Dream.
3 Star: Damian Lillard, G, Weber State (No Stars)
Again, this is another story that's been beat into the ground more than Glenn and Abraham on The Walking Dead (I need to find a new beat into the ground joke), but let's marvel at what Damian Lillard has done over the past five years. Not only did Lillard show enough at Weber State to become a top-ten pick in a stacked-on-paper 2012 NBA Draft, but he's blossomed into a perennial All-Star and arguably a top-five point guard...
...interlude: my list entering the 2017-18 season is Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving, and either Lillard or John Wall. It's a coin toss.
At this point, I genuinely think Lillard - with health and success factored in - has been the best player from that draft, even above Anthony Davis. Lillard trails Davis by three win shares entering this season, for what its worth, so it's been closer than most people seem to think.
2 Bust: Keith Brumbaugh, F, Oklahoma State
Was anyone else going to make the top slot? Let's quickly go through the life and times of Keith Brumbaugh, who has more arrests than he does Division I or NBA games. Committing to Oklahoma State in 2005, Brumbaugh was dismissed for academic reasons, namely the validity of his ACT score. Chris Harry of the Orlando Sentinel would later report Brumbaugh was arrested six times over 26 months by the time he was 22, something that likely contributed to his dismissal from Chipola College (Marianna, FL.).
Brumbaugh then landed with Hillsborough Community College (Plant City, FL.) and averaged 36.5 points, ten rebounds, 6.1 assists, and 4.8 steals per game at the JJUCO level, generating enough NBA stock to play in the D-League. Alas, Brumbaugh was arrested in 2010 for discharging a firearm in a vehicle and was arrested in August 2014 for throwing a piece of broken cinder block and attacking a 67-year-old man during a road rage incident.
Again, was anyone else going to make the top slot?
1 Star: Ben Wallace, C, Cuyahoga Community College/Virginia Union (Walk-On)
So if Keith Brumbaugh was the obvious choice for the top bust slot, Ben Wallace had to have been the top choice for the unknown group, right? When you go from a walk-on at a Division II school to one of the greatest modern NBA defenders and a likely Hall of Famer (I'd have to think 2018 will be hard with Jason Kidd, Rasheed Wallace, and Grant Hill each hitting the ballot along with the usual holdovers - Buck Williams, Horace Grant, Bill Laimbeer, etc), you've more or less earned this title.
And yes, even if he only averaged 5.7 points per game on 47 percent shooting, Wallace is a Hall of Famer to me. I can live with not cracking 100 Win Shares (For comparison's sake, he's right around Chris Mullin, higher than Dennis Rodman and Alonzo Mourning, and four short of the recently-inducted Tracy McGrady) only because Wallace's defense STILL screams "unrealistically insane" to me.
It's the eye test, folks, the same one that failed these busts and successes alike.