8 College Stars Who Failed In The NBA And 7 Unknowns Who Became Stars

Basketball scouts scrutinize collegiate prospects and provide extensive reports and evaluations on these players. Despite scouts’ extreme due diligence, executives and knowledgeable fans realize that pinpointing the next superstar is an inexact science. For every Shaquille O'Neal, Tim Duncan and LeBron James, there are busts like Greg Oden, Michael Olowokandi and Kwame Brown. Moreover, sometimes scouts accurately predict the next hardwood great. Sadly, apathy, negativity, injury, fame, substance abuse or some other issue sabotages this player’s potential.

For example, former New York Knicks star Michael Ray Richardson was permanently banned from the association in 1986 for continually violating its drug policy. The 7-foot, 270-pound Olowokandi, who the Los Angeles Clippers selected first overall in 1998, seemed disinterested and unfocused. Lastly, the 7-foot, 275-pound Oden was beset by a series of debilitating ailments.

"I'll be remembered as the biggest bust in NBA history," said Oden, 29, who the Portland Trail Blazers chose first in 2007 out of The Ohio State University.

"Don't get me wrong, if I was healthy, I would love to continue playing, but I'm not healthy. I don't think I was that bad when I was on the court. I felt like it could have just got better if I had more time on there."

In stark contrast to blue-chip prospects like Richardson, Olowokandi and Oden, undrafted players like Ben Wallace, Bruce Bowen and John Starks prospered in the NBA. This list will review eight college standouts who faltered in the association and seven unknown players who blossomed on the hardwood.

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Greg Oden mirrors Sam Bowie. The 7-foot, 275-pound Oden was taken first by the Portland Trail Blazers out of The Ohio State University in 2007. Chosen a pick ahead of future Hall of Famer Kevin Durant, Oden was the most-ballyhooed center to enter the NBA since Shaquille O’Neal surfaced in 1992. Regrettably for Oden and the Trail Blazers, the powerhouse in the paint had rickety legs and feet and couldn’t consistently remain healthy. To exacerbate his problems, Oden battled alcohol abuse and was involved in a domestic violence incident in August 2014. Oden attempted to salvage his career with the Miami Heat and the Jiangsu Dragons of the Chinese Basketball Association. Ultimately, Oden concluded that his fragility was insurmountable and he officially retired in October 2016. Shortly thereafter, he returned to Columbus to start studying again.

"I'm still trying to figure out my life,” said Oden, 29.

“Since I've been in fourth grade, all I've known was basketball. I'm just trying to better myself and work on my degree and set something up for the future of my family."


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Former New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin exploded onto the NBA scene and became a global icon for his exhilarating outings in the winter of 2012. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Lin, who went undrafted in 2010 out of Harvard, led the Knicks to seven consecutive triumphs. Gotham embraced the Asian-American hoopster and a craze known as “Linsanity” erupted.

“I haven’t done anything to be a polarizing figure,” said Lin, 29, who became the first NBA player to record at least 20 points and seven assists in each of his first five starts.

“It is what it is, and I’m thankful for all the experiences because I think through it all, I’ve been able to really just tune everybody out, the good and the bad, and I think the one thing that I can hold onto is I feel like I did things the way God would want me to do things. I try to hold myself and live with high character in a way that God would be proud.”

Lin has averaged 12.0 points, 4.5 assists and 2.9 rebounds in 405 games with the Golden State Warriors, Knicks, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers, Charlotte Hornets and Brooklyn Nets.


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Former University of North Carolina power forward Tyler Hansbrough is arguably the most accomplished player in the annals of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC). The Indiana Pacers selected the 6-foot-9, 250-pound Hansbrough with the 13th pick in 2009. Hansbrough, a three-time consensus first-team All-American and four-time first-team All-ACC selection, played sparingly over four seasons as a Pacer in Indianapolis. The 2008 National Player of the Year signed a two-year contract with the Toronto Raptors as an unrestricted free agent in July 2015.

Regrettably for the beloved Tar Heel, Hansbrough’s fortunes didn’t change north of the border and he wasn’t re-signed following the 2015-16 campaign. Hansbrough averaged 6.7 points and 4.2 rebounds in 428 games as a Pacer, Raptor and Charlotte Hornet. Although demoted, Hansbrough has performed admirably since getting acquired by the Fort Wayne Mad Ants in March.

“I didn’t want to sit out a whole year,” said Hansbrough, 31, who averaged 17.6 points and 12.2 rebounds in 13 contests as a Mad Ant.

“There’s a limit to the amount of time that you can play so it kind of weighed on me. I was eager to get back on the court. I still approach it like any other game. I still want to go out there and play well. My goal is to win.”


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Shooting guard David Wesley was named the SWC Co-Player of the Year as a Baylor Bear in 1992. Accolades notwithstanding, the 6-foot-1, 230-pound Wesley was deemed too diminutive to play in the NBA and he went undrafted in 1992. Following an impressive stint with the Wichita Falls Texans of the CBA, Wesley signed with the New Jersey Nets in 1993. Wesley was with the Nets for only one uninspiring season before he created his own luck as a Boston Celtic. A tenacious defender and solid scorer, Wesley emerged with the Celtics during the 1996-1997 campaign when he averaged 16.8 points, 7.3 assists and 3.6 rebounds over 74 games. After establishing himself in Beantown, Wesley traveled south and enjoyed seven productive campaigns as a Hornet.

"I played hard and I did my best to never take a play off,’’ said Wesley, 46, who also competed for the Houston Rockets and Cleveland Cavaliers before retiring in Jul7 2007.

"I played with fear because I didn’t want anybody taking my job. But I knew after 14 years, I was done.’’

Wesley has worked as the Hornets’ television color analyst since August 2012.

"(Wesley’s) an original Hornet from Charlotte and played with the team in New Orleans,’’ said Hornets Senior Vice President Greg Bensel. "He knows this community. He has an affinity with the fans here and has a great personality.’’


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The Charlotte Bobcats took Gonzaga University small forward Adam Morrison third overall in 2006. The 6-foot-8, 205-pound Morrison was a 2006 consensus first-team All-American who won that year’s Oscar Robertson Trophy as a junior Bulldog in Spokane. Morrison encouraged Bobcats supporters in his inaugural season as a pro and secured a place on the 2007 NBA All-Rookie Second Team. Frustratingly, a severe knee injury and anemic defensive skills ruined Morrison’s stay in The Hornets Nest.

(My dad gave me a shirt that) said, ‘IF IT WASN'T FOR OFFENSE, I'D PLAY DEFENSE,’” said Morrison.

Michael Jordan sent Morrison and Shannon Brown to the Los Angeles Lakers for Vladimir Radmanović in February 2009.

A dim presence in Tinseltown, Morrison was cut by the Lakers following the 2009–10 season. Morrison averaged 7.5 points, 2.1 rebounds and 1.4 assists in 161 games as a member of the Bobcats and Lakers. Morrison, and his vintage porn moustache, was out of the sport altogether by April 2012.


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San Antonio Spurs legend Bruce Bowen is one of the premier lockdown defenders in NBA history. However, undrafted out of Cal State Fullerton in 1993, the 6-foot-7, 200-pound Bowen worked tirelessly to make his mark.

“I wasn’t drafted, and that didn’t bother me, because that was the reality,” said Bowen, 46.

“I think sometimes today’s kids are not dealing with reality enough. People tell them how great they are and when they have a setback, they don’t look at it as an opportunity to grow. I utilized France as an opportunity to grow as a basketball player.”

After stints with franchises across the globe and four NBA organizations, Bowen finally became a mainstay on the hardwood as a Spur. Bowen was a five-time member of the NBA All-Defensive first team and he helped the Spurs capture three crowns.


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Shooting guard Jimmer Fredette was a massive newsmaker throughout his senior season for the BYU Cougars. Following a slew of moves on draft night, the 6-foot-2, 195-pound Fredette eventually became a Sacramento King with the 10th choice in 2011. Fredette rarely resembled a King and he was axed by the organization less than three years later in February 2014. A gifted scorer, Fredette also floundered as a Chicago Bull, New Orleans Pelican and New York Knick.

"Jimmer thinks everybody is stupid," said an NBA assistant who worked with Fredette. "He thinks everybody needs to come and just turn over their offense and let him shoot it anytime he wants. That's not how the league works."

Despite some negative feedback, the 2011 National Player of the Year found his niche in China and has become an absolute star for the Shanghai Sharks.

“Obviously, I’m from the USA and the NBA is the greatest league in the world, and if I have the opportunity to play in the NBA that’s where I would love to play,” said Fredette, 28. “But China is a great opportunity. The fans have been great to me, more than I can imagine.”


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Power forward Brad Miller was a solid ballplayer for the Purdue University Boilermakers. Yet, NBA executives weren’t sold on the 7-foot, 260-pound Miller and he failed to get drafted in 1998. After a stint overseas, Miller gained employment with the Charlotte Hornets, Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers. However, Miller matured into a force with the Sacramento Kings. Miller made a couple of All-Star teams over his six seasons as a King.

“This was the place where I got to play the longest,” said Miller, 41.

“I mean, I was here for five and a half years - longer than my time at college - and I haven’t been anywhere that long since I was a junior in high school. It really felt like a home to me and I was able to understand the people of Sacramento a lot more.”

Miller averaged 11.2 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.6 assists over 868 games with the Hornets, Bulls, Pacers, Kings, Rockets and Timberwolves.


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Mateen Cleaves was a phenomenal point guard for the Michigan State University Spartans. After leaving East Lansing, the 6-foot-2, 205-pound Cleaves was taken by the nearby Detroit Pistons 14th overall in 2000. It quickly became evident that Cleaves’ skills didn’t translate to the association and he struggled to land steady work. Cleaves averaged a meager 3.6 points, 1.9 assists and 1.0 rebound over 167 listless games with the Pistons, Sacramento Kings, Cleveland Cavaliers and Seattle SuperSonics.

Removed fro the hardwood, Cleaves was charged with a host of sex crimes in March 2016. Due to a lack of prosecutable evidence, all charges against Cleaves were dismissed roughly nine months later in December.

"I am just thankful for my wife standing by my side through this whole thing," said Cleaves. "I am thankful for my family and close friends are still by my side and I am thankful and very grateful my lawyer fought for my life as if I was his own son."

Cleaves was altogether out of the association by the age of 29.


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John Starks is a New York Knicks icon. An unrepentant troublemaker throughout college, the 6-foot-5, 180-pound Starks went undrafted in 1988. Following brief stops with the Cedar Rapids Silver Bullets and Memphis Rockers, Starks signed with the Knicks in September 1990. Starks made the 1994 All-Star team and earned the 1997 NBA Sixth Man of the Year award as a Knick. More important than individual achievements, Starks was a critical piece of the Knicks’ perennial playoff squads throughout the 1990s. Still, Starks will be forever revered for his electric dunk against the Chicago Bulls in Game 2 of the 1993 Eastern Conference Finals.

“It was incredible because we were fighting to get past Chicago finally,” said Starks, 52, who also made the NBA All-Defensive Second Team in 1993.

“The game was still hanging in the balance when that play happened and when it happened the Garden erupted. It was a great feeling and being the one to do it, you know, was an incredible feeling for me.”


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Harold Miner never wanted to be like Mike. Regardless, nicknamed “Baby Jordan,” the 6-foot-5, 210-pound Miner was always going to be compared to Mike.

“I look at (the nickname) as something that gave me exposure and recognition that I might not otherwise have had, but it did come with some extra burden and set the bar very high,” said Miner, 46, who was the 1992 Pac-10 Player of the Year as a USC Trojan.

“The way I figure it, you dare to be great. You might not get there, but why not try your best? They started calling me that in high school, even younger, because of my style of play, and there really wasn’t anything I could do about it. I didn’t put it on myself.”

Following three years in Tinseltown, Miner declared for the 1992 draft and was taken by the Miami Heat with the 12th choice. A two-time NBA Slam Dunk Contest champion, Miner was constantly plagued by knee ailments. Unable to overcome his crippling injuries, Miner permanently shelved his hightop sneakers after the 1995-96 season.


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"It takes a special type of guy to stay at something long enough to make it to this level," said badass Detroit Piston Ben Wallace. "A lot of times you're being told that you're too this, you're too that, you can't do this, you can't do that."

Undrafted out of Virginia Union and overlooked while with the Washington Bullets and Orlando Magic, the 6-foot-9, 240-pound Wallace finally found his groove in Motown with the Pistons. Wallace, a four-time All-Star and four-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year award winner, was an invaluable part of the Pistons’ 2004 championship team.

"You look at his story. That's a great story," said Lawrence Frank, who coached Detroit from 2011 through 2013.

"Not only undrafted, but the guy came into NBA training camp with Boston and they were playing him at 2-guard -- seriously. The guy was a bedrock. When you think about the Pistons, he's a guy that immediately you identify those teams in 2000 on -- as kind of the heart and soul of that group."


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Power forward Danny Ferry is perhaps the Duke Blue Devils’ biggest disappointment. The 6-foot-10, 230-pound Ferry was a two-time ACC Athlete of the Year and the 1989 Naismith College Player of the Year as a Blue Devil in Durham. The Los Angeles Clippers sensed greatness and took Ferry with the second pick in 1989. Ferry refused to become a Clipper and he ventured overseas to compete for the Italian league’s Il Messaggero.

Los Angeles’ decision makers finally buckled and traded Ferry’s rights to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Ron Harper in November 1989. Ferry was a middling Cavalier who played 10 seasons in Cleveland. The unthreatening Blue Devil averaged 7.0 points, 2.8 boards and 1.3 dishes in 917 contests as a Cavalier and San Antonio Spur.

"I'd watched professional basketball growing up," said Ferry, 50, who serves as a special advisor for the New Orleans Pelicans. "I didn't know what to fully expect, but I didn't think the adjustment would be as hard as I made it."


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Dennis Rodman was a middling player for Southeastern Oklahoma State University. Consequently, the 6-foot-7, 220-pound Rodman was still available when the Detroit Pistons took him in the second round of the 1986 draft.

“I could have been anywhere in the world,” said Rodman, 46, who averaged 13.1 boards over 911 games.

“I could have been dead. I could have been a drug dealer. I could have been homeless; I was homeless. It took a lot of hard work and bumps along the road.”

Rodman’s diligence and grittiness were immediately recognized and he became a mainstay in the Pistons’ rotation. Five years after helping Detroit win consecutive titles, Rodman joined Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen on the Chicago Bulls to form one of the association’s preeminent trio’s. Rodman won a total of five crowns with the Pistons and Bulls and he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in September 2011.

"I didn't play the game for the money," Rodman said.

"I didn't play to be famous. What you see here is just an illusion; I just love to be an individual that's very colorful."


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The Cleveland Cavaliers drafted power forward Anthony Bennett out of the University of Las Vegas, Nevada (UNLV), first overall in 2013. The 24-year-old Bennett, a Toronto native who became the first Canadian to be taken with the top pick, was an unmitigated disaster in Cleveland.

“I had Bennett ninth on my board (before the 2013 NBA Draft),” one NBA executive said.

“I was shocked the Cavs took him at one. But having said that, I’m even more shocked he’s out of the league. I didn’t think that would ever happen. I said to myself at the time, ‘that’s a bad pick, but he’ll probably be a solid sixth man or fifth starter.’ Not, ‘that’s a bad pick, this dude will be out of the league.’”

Cavaliers’ general manager David Griffin quickly acknowledged the organization’s blunder and shipped the 6-foot-8, 235-pound Bennett to the Minnesota Timberwolves in a three-team trade in August 2014. The weak Rebel sunk in the City of Lakes and was released by the Timberwolves in September 2015. Bennett somehow gained employment with the Toronto Raptors in September 2015 and then with the Brooklyn Nets in July 2016. He's since also tried and failed in the Turkish pro league, getting released by Fenerbahçe. He's now back in the NBA, trying to stick with the Phoenix Suns.

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