Felipe Lopez is by no means famous for his status as a NBA professional player but he was well known in the college courts. Leading the St. John Red Storm to a NCAA tournament appearance in 1998, Felipe Lopez was highly spoken about by basketball recruiting magazines as well as sports media like ESPN. He was listed on the top five of most of the high school top 100 players’ lists and was on the top five list for most of the top NCAA basketball coaches. He was crowned a 1993-94 McDonald All-American and earned Player of the Year awards from Gatorade and Parade magazine, as well as several other magazines and organizations. He was a big deal back in the early and mid-90s and was expected by many college basketball experts and fans to be the next Michael Jordan. New York scouts were comparing him to Kenny Anderson. Born in Santiago, Dominican Republic on December 19, 1974, Felipe Lopez immigrated to the US along with his family at the age of 14. He played basketball at Rice High School in New York. While displaying his talented skills he was often treated like a celebrity. Basketball scouts and experts expected him to be a sure shot NBA winner.
While playing at St. John little notice was taken that even with future NBA center Zendon Hamiliton as Felipe’s teammate his school still only made it to the NCAA tournament once during both their college careers. All that changes once one enters into the NBA. As he was drafted 24th overall by the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the 1998 NBA Draft, Felipe Lopez’ basketball career that once thundered loudly subsided into a soft hum as he began competing with the pros. He did manage to last four years in the league but those years were split apart between three teams. And during those four years basketball fans hardly even mentioned his name. Even ESPN, leader in media sports, forgot him. His name simply vanished. Felipe’s hype officially ended in 2002 and avid basketball fans still don’t hear about him except when answering trivia questions.
This list will look at 20 foreign NBA players most fans have forgotten about.
20 Michael Olowokandi
Michael Olowokandi is a perfect example of a talented ball player who spent many years playing hoops in the NBA but when his name is mentioned in public the typical person responds “huh?” Who is this guy? Michael Olowokandi was born in Lagos, Nigeria. He represented the country in international play. As a college basketball player he led his school, the University of Pacific, to the 1997 NCAA tournament where they lost to St. Joseph in the first round. The next year he led His Tigers to the NIT where they failed to make it past the first round. In the NBA he was seven feet tall and 270 pounds, big enough to be charged as a defensive enforcer around the rim and a go to guy near the basket for the offense. Unfortunately for him, he was not much of an enforcer and the average NBA fan does not recall him.
19 Yi Jianlian
Yi Jianling had a very promising NBA career. Coming out of China during a time when his fellow countryman and international basketball teammate Yao Ming was well known in the US, Yi Jianling carried great expectations from scouts and media experts. Standing at seven feet tall but still a power forward he was at times compared to Michael Jordan because of his excellent athleticism. He was a solid player on his way to achieving a tremendous career. Unfortunately terrible injuries grabbed hold of him, limiting his athletic abilities and durability. He began missing multiple games and long lengths of seasons due to knee injuries, should injuries, and finger fractures. He then began that hop from team to team as many players do as their playing career begins its process of ending. His career has not finished yet. He currently plays for the LA Lakers but one would hardly know unless the individual is a hardnosed Laker fan. Yes Yi Jianling is a good player but he needs additional time to catchup to his talents and skills after experiencing difficult injuries. He also needs to make some noise as a Laker so that the average basketball fan will take better notice.
18 Didier Mbenga
Didier Mbenga is a Belgian originally from the African country of Congo, formally Zaire. Pure, dedicated NBA fans probably recognize his name but are still unaware of any actual accomplishments. More likely they simply know that he played in the NBA for some time for some team. Didier Mbenga began playing basketball in Belgium after escaping to that country from a very unsettling circumstance occurring in Congo. After being thrown in jail when the new regime took over his country’s government, both he and his father were thrown in jail. Didier Mbenga was able to receive asylum, sadly his father wasn’t. After landing in Belgium He was noticed by a Belgian basketball player to have great basketball skills and began playing for the Belgian Basketball league in 2002, 2003. After playing for the Spirou Charleroiin 2003-04 he headed to the NBA. He joined the Dallas Mavericks Summer league in 2004. Since tearing his ACL in 2007 and later being let go by his Dallas team he transitioned himself from one NBA team to the next until later settling outside America for the Quingdao DoubleStar and Barako Bull Energy in 2012 and 2013 respectively. It looks like injuries have taken a serious toll on this NBA player’s once very promising career.
17 Chris Anstey
Chris Anstey’s name sounds familiar but when pressed one finds it difficult to answer what the dude accomplished as a basketball player. He too was listed as seven feet, and a hulking 253 pounds. Funny how a lot of these seven footers happen to land into the land of the NBA abyss. Coming out of Australia, Antsey also skipped college ball, while heading straight to the NBA. When playing in the US he did not perform well. That is why he is much better remembered as a basketball star in Australia than he is in the United States. Basketball fans in the US don’t spend a lot of time watching professional Australian basketball, especially not back in the '90s. In 1997 he was selected by the Dallas Mavericks and became the first Australian NBL player to be selected in the NBA Draft. He played hot basketball for both the Dallas Mavericks and later the Chicago Bulls, proudly representing Australia while playing in the states. But after three years he took his basketball talents to Russia and later his home country Australia never to come back to the US again.
16 Jamaal Magloire
And there’s Jamaal Magloire! Remember Jamaal Magloire? Probably the first thought that comes to a college basketball fan’s mind, very engaged to the game’s history, is “that tall rebounder who played for the then dominating Kentucky Wildcats back in the nineties.” Yes that is right. As a sophomore he greatly contributed to the team that won the NCAA championship in 1998. Picked 19th in the first round by a respected Charlotte Hornet team the road appeared paved for Jamal to live out an excellent NBA career. And he had a decent career, playing for the Charlotte/New Orleans Hornet from 2000 to 2005, making the Eastern Conference All- Star team in 2003-04. But other than that he just did not stand out to NBA fans or the media.
15 Stojko Vrankovic
Stojko Vrankovic was another Eastern European, him coming of Croatia. Most NBA scouts expected a lot from basketball players from that region of the world but when he was placed on the professional courts against the NBA players he just could not get it going. Strojko was a success coming out of Europe, Panathinaikos to be exact. He played for the club from Athens for four years after making his first stint in the NBA with the Boston Celtics in seasons 1990-92. He later played in the NBA again for the Minnesota Timberwolves in 1996-97 and the Los Angeles Clippers 1997-99. All his NBA attempts were failures as he contributed little to his coach and teammates. He ended up leaving the US after his final NBA attempt in 1999 to Fortitudo Bologna located in Bologna, Italy where he played his last two years of professional ball.
14 Yinka Dare
Yinka Dare was a tall center coming out of Nigeria like his famous countryman Hakeem Olajuwan did ten years earlier. Dare, similar to Olajuwon, was basically unknown in the states until he began playing in college at George Washington University. He played for the Colonials from 1992-1994 bringing the school to prominence while he played for them but not enabling them to reach farther than the Sweet Sixteen in 1992-93. He was still remembered for his high scoring inside the paint and tremendous rebounding. He likely would have had played a long successful career in the NBA if he had not torn his ACL, forcing him to miss a big chunk of his 1994-94 rookie season. He would play in the NBA until 1998 then later played in other leagues. He unfortunately passed away in 2004 as a result of a heart attack stemming from an arrhythmia condition that was previously discovered in him while playing in college.
13 Ben Gordon
Ben Gordon is a perfect example of a decent NBA player who played hard but for many reasons just did not stand out enough to be remembered by even the above average fan. Born in London, England to Jamaican parents, he performed well collegiately, helping lead the popular University of Connecticut Huskies men’s basketball team to a championship in 2004. He is best known for his hard work as a point guard for the Chicago Bulls back in the mid to late nineties. He may have played well but his results were often inconsistent leading him to alternate from starter to backup to at times benchwarmer. He ended up playing for four more teams before being let go by the Golden State Warriors in 2015. Ben Gordon was a decent player, good enough to last 11 years as a professional but beyond having a great rookie season in 2004-05 and winning Rookie of the Year he did not achieve anything remarkable during his entire career.
12 Eduardo Najera
Eduardo Najera is probably the foreign player with the longest NBA playing career whom everybody else has most forgotten. He demonstrated some talent and skill when he played but rarely stuck out. He did not have the highly sought out NBA skills like rebounding, shooting, scoring on the drive, and steals. He was best known for his great contribution as a team player for his college Oklahoma Sooners basketball team that accomplished making it to the NCAA tournament all four years he was there. He is also the first Mexican player to be chosen in the NBA Draft. But this is the NBA and with players contributing in this league from all over the world one needs more than his country origins to stick out. What likely most worked against Najera’s popularity in the NBA is that even though he played in the league for an impressive 12 years, those seasons were split between nine teams.
11 Stuart Gray
Stuart Gray played nine years in the NBA from 1984-1993 and nobody knows about him. One looks at his record and wonders how did he last this long? Must be because he was a seven footer and everyone knows that the NBA as well as its fans loves seven footers. It also has been shown many times that being seven foot tall does not guarantee one a fabulous NBA career (Jason and Jarron Collins). But as Stuart Gray has proven, being seven foot tall does help. He played for four different teams while in the NBA, remaining with the Indiana Pacers the longest. Maybe the then Indiana Pacers needed an imposing seven footer to stand in front of the rim and hopefully scare offensive players from wanting to score. And maybe the plan worked. He did remain a Pacer for five years. It sure did not help encourage his stats or enable him to stand out in front of NBA fans.
10 Andray Blatche
Andray Blatche is another example of a recent NBA player whose current absence from the league may be to his benefit. He was a seven year member of the Washington Wizards where he was known to be a very skilled, highly aggressive player. He proved to be a good backup for players like Etan Thomas and Michael Ruffin who had issues with various injuries. But controversy played a big role in his career when he was unable to get along with his coach and teammates. Being shown the door Andray Blatche showed his anger in public by accusing his then coach Randy Wittman of trying to ruin his NBA career. He then played two years for the Brooklyn Nets where he played phenomenal. Refusing an opportunity by his new team to continue his success with them he instead opted to play overseas with the Xinjiang Flying Tigers where he is currently playing basketball.
9 Aleksandar Pavlovic
Aleksandar Pavlovic is another example of a foreign NBA player who played a long NBA career but whose name remains silent amongst fans memories. Born in Montenegro, Yugoslavia, his greatest NBA accomplishments was his outstanding performance with his then teammates the Cleveland Cavaliers during their successful 2007 playoff run where they beat Detroit four games to two in the Eastern Conference Finals but later lost the championship to the San Antonio Spurs. Unfortunately, he soon became a part of a three man deal for Shaquille O'Neal and his career pretty much crashed after that. Hopping from 10 day contract to 10 day contract Aleksander Pavlovic quickly disappeared from NBA fans’ memory. He later tried out his luck professionally, winning a European Championship with Partizan Belgrade, but other than that and his international play during the Olympics and FIBA Europe Under 20, his basketball career quickly faded away.
8 Gordan Giricek
Gordan Giricek, a small forward from Croatia represents a long list of NBA players from that country who came to America to play basketball during the '90s. He was a small forward also at times shooting guard who was doing fabulously in the Euro League until representing the Memphis Grizzlies in 2002. He averaged 11.2 points per game for the Grizzlies but ended up being traded anyways. Except for a decent three year stint with the Utah Jazz, Giricek’s NBA career became a yearly tour from one team to the next. He played very well with the Utah Jazz but his success with the team ended after an intense argument with then Jazz coach, Jerry Sloan after throwing a bad pass during the game. Gordan is sure to regret making that poor decision when he was later booted off a decent team and was not able to obtain a long successful career with any NBA team afterwards.
7 Jerome Moiso
Jerome Moiso instantly became a journey man the year after he was drafted by the Boston Celtics. Picked 11th in the first round of the 2000 NBA Draft, Jerome Moiso carried huge expectations from his new team and the entire NBA. He was supposed to be the real deal, the big man in front of the basket, expected to dominate the boards and make easy baskets near the net. The front office chose him to be a smaller version of Shaquille O'Neal who would make life easier for then current All-Stars Antoine Walker and Paul Pierce. Unfortunately for the Celtics such lofty predictions never happened. Jerome Moiso ended up that season playing only 24 games for the Celtics, starting in zero for them. He scored 1.5 points per game. His team did not even give him time to improve working on making his shots or holding his presence on the court. They immediately sent him packing after that year and that began a trend where he moved from one team to the next throughout his five year NBA career.
6 Hasheem Thabeet
Hasheem Thabeet is another example of a foreign NBA player who when coming to the NBA was expected by the experts to become a talented force in the league. From Tanzania, Hasheem Thabeet, when drafted in 2009, was a whopping seven foot three. He was also the second pick in the first round of the NBA Draft, selected by the Memphis Grizzlies. So one better believe that there was huge expectations on this physically imposing center by the league and its fans. But unfortunately, not much would come as his NBA career was a total bust. He was sent to the NBA Developmental League beginning a trend where he was sent packing by teams almost every year ,sometimes twice a year. Hasheem Thabeet’s most recent professional basketball appearance was playing in 2014 with the Grand Rapids Drive of the NBA Development League. He later participated in the 2015 NBA Summer League. One wonders whether time has finally run out for this one time Tanzanian wonder.
5 Sun Yue
Not sure if anybody remembers Sun Yue. One hears his name and cannot be sure whether this person ever played in the NBA. This is because he lasted in the NBA for only two years, one and a half to be more exact. He began his professional basketball playing career with the Beijing Olympians. He was later selected as the 40th overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft by the LA Lakers. His stay in the NBA would not last long. He spent his next season in China before beginning playing for the Lakers and only averaged 0.6 points per game while only physically participating in ten games. He later played for the Laker’s D team where his season concluded with an ankle injury before returning to Beijing where he is playing now. Beijing must be going well for him. He lasted from 2009-2013 with the Beijing Olympians and 2013 – current with the Beijing Ducks. In the NBA hardly anybody remembers him. Good luck with the remainder of your basketball career Sun Yue.
4 Maciej Lampe
Maciej Lampe is an NBA player that played in the league so briefly and with such little fan fare that unless one is a member of the top management from the teams he represented it is very unlikely one ever heard his name. Lampe, born in Poland, raised in Sweden, was picked in the second round (30th overall) by the New York Knicks then traded to the Phoenix Suns. Being so large and just at the age of 18 he appeared to be a lock to only grow bigger and be able to use his size to his and his new team’s advantage on court. He represented another one of those huge guys that were supposed to dominate the paint and defend the rim against big time NBA players like Tim Duncan and Shaquille O'Neal. Unfortunately for the teams that believed in him his potential remained what it was in the beginning, potential. His reality was that he traveled the wide NBA Circuit consisting of six different teams.
3 Alaa Abdelnaby
When one hears the name Alaa Abdelnaby one more likely is reminded of the Duke Blue Devils just before the years they began winning all those championships. He appeared to be an OK player probably more popular with the media sports analysts than he was with the fans watching the games. His lack of eye catching talent is one of the major reasons why most NBA fans never even knew he played in the professional league. While playing for Duke is an accomplishment, Blue Devils players such as Christian Laettner would later find out that playing in the NBA is a completely different level. Games get much more physical in the pros and your team is less likely to make more free throws then the opposing team even attempts (a la Dick Vitale). Alaa Abdelnaby was just not physical enough and lacked the motivation and discipline to withstand the intense competition as he played for five different teams during his five years in the league.
2 Daniel Gadzuric
Daniel Gadzuric is another non-American NBA player whom when one mentions his name an individual will respond with a puzzling look on his face. His name was mentioned more often than not when he played. He played eight solid years, from 2002-2010, with the Milwaukee Bucks, an OK team. During his entire eleven year NBA career he averaged playing more than ten minutes per game during every season except for two. His game just was not phenomenal. His NBA teams were not exceptionally hot. His Bucks organization were mostly just above or below 500 and his New Jersey Nets and New York Knicks teams were awful. Dan Gadzuric’s earned his highest points per game average (7.3) during his 2004-05 NBA season with the Bucks. Sounds like an OK guy but average players, even the ones who managed to remain in the professional league for many years, often end up being the first ones deleted from our memories.
1 Patrick Ewing Jr.
Many NBA fans have no idea that retired Hall of Fame NBA basketball player Patrick Ewing has a son who also played in the NBA. He is Patrick Ewing Jr. of course. He was born in the United States to a Jamaican father. What is remarkable about this and why Patrick Ewing Jr. is included on this list is that though he played college ball at Georgetown like his dad, as a NBA player he was nowhere near the talent and nowhere close to his father’s notoriety and fame. His NBA career was close to one and done. He was chosen 43rd overall in the second of the 2008 NBA Draft by the Sacramento Kings. He later in 2009 ended up playing a couple of preseason games for his dad’s old team the New York Knicks. The games promoted a lot of fanfare and crazy ovations but they were soon forgotten as the Knicks cut him that year. He then packed his bags to the D-League until he got his second NBA chance with the New Orleans Hornets which was also short lived. Patrick Ewing Jr was a decent ball player but unlike his dad his one year NBA career very forgettable.