When it comes to sports, there is this weird phenomenon where some of the greatest high school athletes flop when they get to college, and great college athletes don’t cut it in the professional ranks. We’ve seen it in the NFL with guys like Brian Bosworth and Tim Tebow, and it seems to happen in basketball just as often. Players that don’t have a game that translates to the pros find out quickly how they don’t match-up.
We’ve seen plenty of All-Americans, NCAA Champions and Players of the Year that have not had good pro careers, disappointing fans of both of their college and professional teams. Now it’s time to take a trip down memory lane to remember some of those players that excelled in college, only to flop when they got to the NBA.
Some of these players were devastated by nagging injuries while others just couldn’t make it as they lost their confidence and their abilities to excel. Here are 20 of the greatest college basketball players of all-time that didn’t make their mark in the NBA.
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20 Josh Childress
Normally when you think about Josh Childress, the first couple of things that come to mind were his signature afro and the fact that he was on the cover of ESPN College Hoops 2K5 video game that we miss so much. The Stanford product would end up becoming an All-American and the Pac-10 Player of the Year in 2004, leading him to be drafted sixth overall that year by the Atlanta Hawks.
After starting off decently enough, Childress was never more than just a role player. That’s when he left for Greece after four seasons, then returned for four more seasons in the NBA. After his rookie season, he only started 26 career games in the NBA, finishing with an average of 9.1 points and 4.7 rebounds per game.
19 Scott May
Scott May (#42) was one of the many Bobby Knight-led Indiana Hoosiers that seemed destined to become a star. In the 1975-76 basketball season, May was scoring at will, and won the NCAA Championship to go along with all of his individual awards that included the Naismith College Player of the Year. The two-time All-American was drafted second overall by the Bulls, but never hit his stride in the NBA.
May spent time with the Bulls for five seasons before heading to Milwaukee and Detroit for one year each. It looked like he would be off to a long career after 14.6 points per game in his rookie season, but never got to that point again. May would finish with just 10.4 points and 4.1 rebounds per game, wrapping up his career after the 1982-83 season.
18 Todd Fuller
Starting out the 1990s at North Carolina State, Todd Fuller really emerged as a star in his final two seasons. Fuller played his senior year with a lot of hype, and he wouldn’t disappoint as he scored 20.9 points per game with 9.9 rebounds. Fuller would become an All-Conference player in the ACC and was even offered the Rhodes Scholarship, but decided instead to head to the NBA.
Fuller was drafted 11th overall in 1996 by the Warriors, and quickly realized he should have gone the academic route. Fuller would play for four different teams over just five NBA seasons, scoring an average of 3.7 points with 3.0 rebounds per game. Fuller would then continue to play overseas, but never made it back to the NBA. Now, he’s working in the aviation industry back in North Carolina and teaches math.
17 Dan Dickau
Gonzaga is one of those schools that always seem to exceed expectations despite not carrying any huge high school recruits. Dan Dickau was one of those players that would end up being a pleasant surprise as a transfer from Seattle to Gonzaga. Dickau would break through with two great seasons, including a senior year campaign where he was named the West Coast Conference Player of the Year and an All-American.
The Kings would draft Dickau with the 28th pick in 2002, sending him to Atlanta. The Hawks didn’t get much out of Dickau, who would only end up putting together one decent season. Overall, Dickau played for six NBA teams (and many other non-NBA teams). He would put up 5.8 points, 2.5 assists and 1.4 rebounds per game in his career.
16 Danny Ferry
One of the longest NBA careers on our list, playing for more than a decade in the league still doesn’t necessarily translate to success. Danny Ferry was a Duke standout that won the 1989 Naismith College Player of the Year Award, and he was also named the ACC’s best player twice in his final two seasons. Ferry was drafted second overall in 1989 by the Clippers, and he instead went to Italy for a season as he didn’t want to play for the team.
Eventually, Ferry would be traded to the Cavaliers, who gave him an insane 10-year contract. Ferry started just 11 games in his first five seasons, and he would end his career with three seasons in San Antonio. Ferry finished with an average of 7.0 points per game with 2.8 rebounds and 1.3 assists.
15 Luke Harangody
Like Gonzaga, Notre Dame is seemingly always able to do more with less in terms of high school recruits. Among the best was Luke Harangody, who was not given many scholarship offers by power conference teams. Harangody would emerge as a star for the Irish as he was able to crack the starting lineup in his freshman year. By the time it was all said and done, Harangody became a three-time All-American that scored more than 2,000 points and hauled in more than 1,000 rebounds.
Harangody would drop all the way to the 52nd spot in the 2010 NBA Draft, and he would see time in just 70 games with one start. It was a hard adjustment, as Harangody scored just 3.6 points per game in his career with 2.8 rebounds. Since his last appearance in 2012, Harangody has played overseas, and is currently in the Turkish Basketball League.
14 Ed O’Bannon
When younger fans hear the name Ed O’Bannon, they immediately think of the guy that was responsible for the removal of NCAA sports video games. Before that, though, O’Bannon was a star college basketball player at UCLA. O’Bannon was a three-time All-Pac-10 player that was named to all of the top honors during his final season in 1994-95 where he won the Bruins another NCAA title.
O’Bannon was drafted ninth overall that same year by the Nets, but he would last for just two seasons in the NBA. O’Bannon scored 5.0 points per game with 2.5 rebounds, making his last appearance in the 1996-97 season. O’Bannon was not able to adjust to the pro game, losing all of his confidence after dominating in college and ended up playing overseas for several teams.
13 Kent Benson
Another one of the Bobby Knight era Indiana Hoosiers that never really made it in the NBA, Kent Benson (#54) was dominant while in college. The final two seasons of his college career would see Benson be named to the First-Team All-American squad, and he would win an NCAA title in 1976 to go along with this Player of the Year Award. Then, in 1977, Benson would be named the top overall pick by Milwaukee.
Benson would end up spending a decade in the NBA, but didn’t make the impact that a top overall pick does in most cases. Benson finished with 9.1 points and 5.7 rebounds per game, and his most memorable moment came in his rookie season when he was punched by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in his first game, breaking Benson’s jaw.
12 Thomas Robinson
Kansas seems to have a knack for finding big time recruits that don’t pan out in the NBA, and Thomas Robinson is certainly among them. Robinson was a five-star recruit that would end up winning the Big 12 Player of the Year Award in his final season, also making the All-American Team’s first squad. The man that averaged a double-double in 2012 became the fifth overall pick by the Sacramento Kings.
Robinson has played for six teams already in his career since then, though he has started just 12 games. Robinson is currently on the Lakers, and his stats have diminished greatly since college. So far, Robinson is averaging less than five points and rebounds each per game, and it doesn’t look like he’ll make his way to living up to the fifth overall selection.
11 LaRue Martin
Bill Walton is among the best college basketball players of all-time, and NBA teams were looking for someone that could match-up against him. It seemed like LaRue Martin was that guy, as the Loyola (IL) product was able to have a fine game against Walton and UCLA back in the early 1970’s. The Trail Blazers selected Martin with the first overall pick in 1972, where he played for four seasons.
Martin averaged 5.3 points and 4.6 rebounds per game over those years, choosing to retire and go into the business world. Though the 1972 NBA Draft would be a great one, the memorable names don’t include Martin. What made it worse is that as soon as he retired, Portland was able to win a title without him.
10 Jay Williams
After being a heralded high school prospect, Jay Williams certainly did not disappoint after landing at Duke University. Williams would play for three seasons with the Blue Devils, averaging 19.3 points per game with 3.7 rebounds and 6.0 assists. He was also named the NABC Player of the Year on two occasions, and won an NCAA Championships in 2001.
The Bulls would make Williams the second overall draft pick in 2002, but he played for just one season with the team. That’s because Williams would be involved in a motorcycle accident that left him seriously injured, violating his contract with the Bulls in the process. Williams then attempted to come back several times, but was never able to make it back into the league, ending what could have been a potentially good career.
9 Raef LaFrentz
One of the more fun names on our list to say, Raef LaFrentz was a standout at Kansas when he was teamed up with Paul Pierce on the Jayhawks that dominated in the regular season, but couldn’t bring home a title. LaFrentz would be named the Big 12 Player of the Year and an All-American during his final two seasons, averaging nearly a double double during his college career.
LaFrentz was then the third overall pick by the Nuggets in 1998, though he would also spend time with the Celtics, Mavericks and Trail Blazers. Though his career stats weren’t bad, he wasn’t solid for very long and wasn’t quite up to the hype of a third overall pick. Overall, LaFrentz would score 10.1 points with 6.1 rebounds per game, calling it quits after the 2008-09 season. Interestingly enough, he was traded for Dan Dickau in 2006.
8 Robert Traylor
Even though he didn’t have the accolades that some of the players on our list had, Robert Traylor was still one of the most talked about players in college during the 1990s. The Michigan standout was over 300 pounds and could decimate backboards, and he would be named an All-American in 1998 a year after leading the Wolverines to an NIT Championship. Then, the Bucks made him the sixth overall pick in 1998.
Traylor played for a total of 10 professional teams both in the NBA and overseas, but never made a big impact. Traylor scored 4.8 points per game in the NBA with 3.7 rebounds, making his last appearance during the 2004-05 season. Sadly, Traylor passed away in 2011 from a heart attack at just 34 years old.
7 Steve Alford
The last of the Bobby Knight Hoosiers on our list, Steve Alford was another in the long list of Indiana Mr. Basketball winners that played in Bloomington. Alford was named the best player in the Big Ten and 1987, getting named to a pair of First-Team All-American squads in addition to winning the 1987 NCAA Championship. Alford was the 26th overall pick that year by the Mavericks, but spent just four seasons in the league.
Alford started only three games during that time, scoring 4.4 career points per game with 1.0 assists. Alford retired so that he could turn his attention to coaching, immediately landing a head coaching job overseas. He has worked his way up the ranks, and is currently the head coach of the UCLA basketball team, so at least his coaching career has been solid.
6 Mateen Cleaves
The Michigan State Spartans were hungry for another national title, but lacked the big time player since Magic Johnson to do so. That was until Mateen Cleaves came along, who would dominate the Big Ten. Cleaves was the two-time Big Ten Player of the Year and a three-time All-American, helping the Spartans win the 2000 NCAA Championship. He would stay in state as the Pistons drafted him 14th overall the same year.
Cleaves bounced in and out of the NBA, never living up to the expectations that Michiganders had for him. In six NBA seasons, Cleaves scored only 3,6 points per game with 1.9 assists and 1.0 rebounds. Cleaves then went into announcing, and has been in some personal trouble as he was arrested in 2016 before having the charges dropped for criminal sexual conduct.
5 Butch Lee
Butch Lee became a sensation as a rare player from Puerto Rico back in the 1970’s. Lee attended Marquette, where he won a bevy of awards. In 1977, Lee helped Marquette win the NCAA Championship, and the next year he became the Naismith College Player of the Year (as well as three other top player titles), and was named to two All-American teams. Lee then was drafted 10th overall by Atlanta in 1978.
Lee played for three different teams in just two NBA seasons, making stops in Atlanta, Cleveland and Los Angeles. Lee played in less than 100 games, scoring 8.1 points per game with 3.2 assists. Though he might have been a star, his career was derailed by an injury that he could never get over and he retired early. He has been getting into coaching since then, heading overseas.
4 Hasheem Thabeet
Standing at 7’3”, Tanzanian center Hasheem Thabeet bullied defenses while he was at UConn. The 2009 Big East Player of the Year and All-American was the two-time Defensive Player of the Year in college. Thabeet also led the Huskies to the Final Four in 2009, and decided not to return for his senior season as the Grizzlies used the second overall selection on Thabeet.
Thabeet had almost no impact in his first season, scoring 3.1 points and 3.6 rebounds per game. It wouldn’t get better for Thabeet as he also played for the Thunder, Trail Blazers and Rockets, averaging just 10.5 minutes per game in his career. Thabeet was good for about one block per game, but wasn’t scoring or rebounding like he did in college, and his career ended after the 2013-14 season.
3 Greg Oden
Perhaps the only player this millennium that has received the same hype while in high school that LeBron James did, Greg Oden was a huge get for Ohio State. The seven footer won just about every high school award possible, and was an All-American in his one season at Ohio State where he was able to help the team get to the Final Four. Oden was the clear number one selection, and Portland made it happen in 2007.
Oden would suffer injury after injury, making it so that he couldn’t get on the court, and wasn’t all that dominant even when he did see playing time. Oden spent just three seasons in the NBA, playing in 105 games. The numbers also didn’t meet expectations as he scored 8.0 points with 6.2 rebounds per game. Oden had attempted several comebacks, but has recently said that his NBA career is over.
2 Jimmer Fredette
One of the best shooters in college basketball history, BYU’s Jimmer Fredette holds just about every scoring record in school history. Fredette would end up scoring nearly 30 points per game in his senior season, and helping BYU make some decent tournament runs. The two-time All-American and 2011 College Player of the Year had a lot of critics that said he wouldn’t pan out in the NBA.
Regardless, Fredette became the 10th overall selection and started his career with the Sacramento Kings. Fredette would also spend time with the Bulls, Pelicans and Knicks, but couldn’t match his scoring from college. Fredette’s NBA career saw him score 6.0 points per game, and he left in 2016 to join the Shanghai Sharks. It was a good decision, as he won the league’s MVP Award in 2017.
1 Adam Morrison
Adam Morrison was a guy that was either loved or hated by fans of college basketball, though you couldn’t argue that he wasn’t great. Morrison was the Co-Player of the Year in 2006 at Gonzaga, where he led the NCAA in scoring. His career came to an end in college in a very emotional tournament game against UCLA where the Zags blew a huge lead late in the game.
Then, Morrison was the third overall selection despite some saying his game didn’t translate to the NBA as he went to Charlotte. Morrison had a decent rookie season, but suffered a knee injury that caused him to miss the next year. After returning, Morrison was never quite the same and he spent some time with the Lakers. Heading overseas and not being able to make it back to the NBA, Morrison ended his career with just 7.5 points per game and 2.1 rebounds.
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