When Kobe Bryant was selected with the 13th overall pick of the 1996 NBA Draft, the game changed forever. Even the team who originally selected Kobe, the Charlotte Hornets, was impacted in unimaginable ways as they went two decades without one of the greatest players in the history of the game. Straight from high school to the pros, the Black Mamba proved that young talent could still be plenty deadly, earning his first of 18 All-Star selections his sophomore year at just 19. Then he proved that even the oldest veterans can still out hustle the young ones, dropping 60 points – the season high across the league – to lead his team to a storybook win to end his career.
The 5x NBA Champion’s laundry list of awards and achievements are so long that it’s impossible to keep in mind that there were 12 other players drafted before. Somehow, there were 12 other careers that were more highly regarded than Kobe. Flash back to ‘96 when arguably one of the best draft classes in history consisted of nothing more than potential. Then, flash forward to see what players went off the board before not only Kobe, but greats like Peja Stojakovic, Steve Nash, and Derek Fisher.
Vitaly “The Ukraine Train” Potapenko was the real deal in college. Potapenko already had professional experience under his belt before going to college, playing in his home country of Ukraine. The 6-10 center went on to play two years in Dayton, Ohio for Wright State. Though it was a small school, Potapenko made a huge impression on NBA scouts with his unstoppable dominance. No one could stop Potapenko from scoring, averaging 19.2 points as freshman and 21.4 as a sophomore. The big man was lauded for his ability to find the basket and having an especially nice touch with the ball in his hand. With such proven offensive abilities in just two years of college, the Cavaliers selected Potapenko who looked to a long and promising career ahead of him.
In his third year in Cleveland the Cavs traded their prized big man to the Celtics. From Boston, Potapenko later went on to play in Seattle then Sacramento. The Ukrainian center did manage a long career, lasting 11 seasons in the NBA. The promise Potapenko showed in college never really panned out. For the vast majority of his career, Potapenko served as bench player and put up forgettable numbers all around.
Even though Potapenko never found his place on the court he absolutely found his niche on the bench. Potapenko has served as an assistant coach for a number of NBA and D-League teams. Finally, he found a home back where it all began in Cleveland. Potapenko joined the Cavaliers as an assistant in 2013, and it looks like the second time around is the charm. As assistant director of player development, The Ukraine Train has helped coach his team to back-to-back NBA Finals and helped earn the team first championship ever.
Standing at 6-11, Todd Fuller was a center that showed continual growth through his four years in college at NC State. Essentially all of his major statistics continually rose with each year of play. By senior year, Fuller was averaging 20.9 points, 9.9 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks while going just shy of 34 minutes a game. This display of stamina on the court and constant improvement made Fuller stand out as one of the top prospects in the draft.
Fuller looked like the perfect fit for a woeful Warriors team that went 36-46 and were destitute at the center position. The NC State center, who turned down a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford in order to play professionally, was exactly the type of big man they hoped to build the team around for years to come.
No secrets here, Fuller was as big of a bust as NBA Draft busts come. Fuller only lasted five years in the league, putting up abysmal stats in every category, which isn’t too surprising considering he could barely get any court time. Fuller’s next move was overseas where he went on to play in Spain, Poland, Greece, and Australia before finally retiring in 2006.
Since his retirement, Fuller has dipped back into the academic field, teaching high school math for five years before returning to NC State. Fuller went back to NC State for a ten-month intensive MS program and graduated in early 2016 with a Master’s of Analytics. From his 3.97 GPA as an undergraduate to an advanced analytics graduate program, Fuller has had plenty of success in academics off the court.
Erick Dampier’s NCAA career at Mississippi State was simply dominant. The Mississippi-born big man was the type of center that college coaches dream of having on their team. Dampier was an SEC nightmare and a force of nature in the NCAA Tournament. The Bulldogs made two postseason appearances in Dampier’s three years as a student, reaching the Sweet Sixteen as a sophomore and the school’s only Final Four appearance in his junior year.
Dampier’s numbers rose each year, but it was his shot block ability that reigned supreme, topping out at 3.1 blocks per game his junior year. His ability to lead his team past future NBA opponents like the top-seeded UConn Huskies with the likes of Ray Allen and Travis Knight in the ’96 Sweet Sixteen made Dampier a must-have. The Pacers traded their No. 23 pick, Mark Price, and Ricky Pierce for Jalen Rose, Reggie Williams, and the No. 10 pick that would be Dampier.
After going to the Pacers with the 10th overall pick, Erick Dampier went on to have an impressive 16-year NBA career. After a forgettable rookie season, the Golden State Warriors made a surprisingly traded their long-time star, Chris Mullin, to the Pacers for Dampier and Duane Ferrell. The Warriors didn’t get much on their return. It wasn’t until his seventh, and final, season with the Warriors that Dampier put up his best career numbers of 12.3 points and 12.0 rebounds. That impressive year earned Dampier another a big paycheck and long time stay with the Dallas Mavericks, where he played (okay) for six seasons. Though his career lasted until 2012, it was a highlight reel mostly filled with disappointment: getting overpaid by Mavs, losing the ’06 finals to the Heat, then joining the Heat for one season only to lose to his former Mavs team in the ’11 finals.
Samaki Walker spent two years at Louisville before declaring for the NBA Draft. The 6-9 power forward didn’t record the most spectacular numbers, but impressed scouts with his physical abilities. Walker helped lead an average 20-11 Cardinals team to the Sweet Sixteen before losing by one to a Wake Forest team led by future legend Tim Duncan.
Stellar postseason performances like Walker had make for enticing options and can sky rocket a player’s value, which is just was exactly the case for the Lousiville PF. Walker put some serious effort, got in excellent shape, and looked really impressive in workouts leading up to the ’96 draft. His work ethic and improved strength was enough to overshadow some shaky fundamentals. The Dallas Mavericks saw a potential star and took him with the ninth overall pick.
The most memorable part of Samaki Walker’s NBA career was probably his ridiculous all-white suit and matching white fedora on draft night… not exactly the best way to be remembered, but very telling for how disappointing Walker’s career turned out. After being selected ninth overall by the Mavericks, Walker became a journeyman, traveling to play for six teams in ten years. The highlight of Walker’s career came in the 2001-02 season with the Lakers, when the PF had what was arguably his best year performance-wise and also ended in a championship with a 4-0 sweep over the Nets.
After his last NBA season (2005-06) with the Pacers, Walker went on to play for seven teams overseas before calling it a career in 2011. His playing days are over, but Walker remains heavily involved with basketball, working as a player development trainer and an analyst for NBC Sports Radio.
For the past couple decades, Villanova has been one of the premier universities to consistently churn NBA-caliber talent, especially guards. Shooting guard Kerry Kittles is one of the players that helped pave that path in a major way. Kittles played all four years in college, and left his alma mater with school records in points scored (2,243) and steals (277). The ’95 Big East Player of the Year – an especially remarkable achievement in the former Big East – helped lead the Wildcats to an NIT championship in ’94 followed by two straight NCAA Tournament appearances.
Kittles was a proven leader that was an asset in every facet of the game. His defensive contributions weren’t limited to steals, as he managed 7.1 rebounds per game his senior year. As a shooter, Kittles was second to none. The Nets had every reason in the world to be excited when Kittles was still available as the eighth overall pick.
It’s hard to say Kerry Kittles had a disappointing career with all he accomplished in his eight NBA seasons, but he could have done so much more. Highlights of Kittles’ career included back-to-back NBA Finals appearances with the Nets in ’02 and ’03. The year before his first finals appearance highlighted the many lows he had to deal with, missing the entire 2000-01 season rehabbing from knee surgery. Injuries haunted Kittles’ entire NBA career and eventually forced him to retire in 2005 after he was only able to play 11 games at age 30.
Fortunately, Kittles was always a man with a plan (as evidenced by going the distance and staying all four years in college). The Nova shooting guard returned to his old stomping ground to earn an MBA in 2009. Now he’s bringing his brain to Princeton where he’s been hired as the assistant coach of the men’s basketball team.
Lorenzen Wright was a local legend in Memphis, Tennessee. The Memphis-born center spent most of his life in the city, playing ball at the local Booker T. Washington High School before attending the University of Memphis where he was a beast on the boards for two years. Wright quickly staked his claim as one of the best centers in the nation with his physical low post game. In each of his two seasons, Wright was automatic, averaging a double-double to go with two blocks a game. The Clippers, who were just awful the past few years, saw a perfect opportunity to bring in a player like the 6-11 Wright with a defensive mindset and a knack for stuffing the ball. This was a big move for Los Angeles at the time.
The Clippers did make it to the playoffs with the help of their seventh overall draft pick, but it wasn’t nearly as glorious as it sounds. Lorenzen Wright’s rookie year with the Clips ended with a 36-46 record that somehow still got them the eighth seed in the playoffs. After three years in Los Angeles, Wright went on to play for another five teams, spending a majority of his career with Memphis and Atlanta.
Wright was a fan-favorite in Memphis, having the opportunity to once again play for his hometown. Though they weren’t spectacular, Wright had some of his best years in the NBA with the Grizzlies, helping them reach the playoffs three straight years from 2004-06. Wright called it a career in 2009 after 13 seasons in the NBA. Shortly after his retirement, Memphis was stunned by the devastating news that their hometown hero was shot and killed in the nearby suburb of Germantown, Tennessee. Wright’s case remains unsolved to date.
Antoine Walker was by far one of the most coveted players in college basketball. Walker was on an insanely talented Kentucky Wildcats team that overflowed with just as much talent as Calipari’s best teams today. As a sophomore, the 6-8 forward boasted the most impressive all-around numbers, which says a lot since his Wildcats won the 1996 NCAA National Championship. It says even more that Walker stood out amongst teammates that included the likes of fellow first-rounders Tony Delk (16th pick), Walter McCarty (19th pick), and second-rounder Mark Pope (52nd pick). Walker headed into the draft as versatile player that could run an offense like a point forward or use his athleticism as a power forward, which was enticing enough to make him the sixth overall pick by the Celtics.
The Celtics found exactly what they’d hope for drafting Antoine Walker. Despite being an undersized power forward by NBA standards, Walker became a 3x All-Star during his seven years in Boston. Along with Paul Pierce, they became one of the most dynamic duos in the league, though they could never find the help an NBA team requires to make it past the Conference Championships to play in the Finals. Walker went on to play another six years with various teams and got his NBA Championship as a key starter for the Heat in 2006.
After 13 seasons, Walker spent his last NBA season inactive with the Grizzlies in 2008 before he was waived. Two years later, after earning well over $100 million throughout his career, Walker filed for bankruptcy. Walker tried (unsuccessfully) to make an NBA return, but settled for a pro team in Puerto Rico before playing two years with Idaho Stampede of the D-League. Since his official retirement from basketball in 2012, Walker has worked as an analyst for 120 Sports.
Ray Allen was by far one of the most stunning players to watch in college basketball in his three years with the UConn Huskies. By junior year, Allen gave everyone a glimpse of what’s become one of the most perfect looking three-point shots ever, as he fired up over seven a game. Allen led his Huskies to made it to at least the Sweet Sixteen in each postseason, moving on to the Elite Eight his sophomore year.
There was nothing to dislike about Allen’s game. A shooter with flawless technique that could drive to the hole and throw down as vicious of a dunk as anyone – the Husky shooting guard was an NBA coach’s dream. The Timberwolves took Allen with the fifth pick, but trade their fourth pick in Marbury to acquire Ray Allen and a future first-rounder.
Ray Allen was on a warpath during his NBA career. Allen left made his mark on each team he joined, earning ten All-Star appearances with the Bucks, Supersonics, and Celtics. He also won two NBA Championships with the Celtics in ’08 and Heat in ’13. Allen crushed from behind the arc, leaving behind numerous three-point records with his former teams and a league record for threes taken and made.
Allen played his last game in the NBA as a member of the Miami Heat in 2014, though he never officially retired. The greatest three-point shooter in the game still has his name brought up as a possible late addition to a championship contending team, and he may be the only 41-year-old that keeps in such ridiculous shape that it doesn’t even sound far fetched. In June 2016, Allen opened a healthy fast food joint, Grown, that offers nutritious options for – an idea inspired by his son who has type 1 diabetes. We’re still waiting for Allen to make his comeback to blow our minds.
Stephon Marbury has been an icon since his youth. The New York point guard earned his famous “Starbury” nickname, because a star is exactly what he’s been all his life. Marbury attended the legendary Lincoln High – which is like a laboratory that creates celebrities – where he was name New York State Mr. Basketball.
In college, Marbury had all eyes on him during his lone year at Georgia Tech. True to form, Marbury was more than comfortable in the spotlight and excelled in every statistical category. NBA scouts had kept their eyes on Starbury for as long as he’d had the nickname he continued to exhibit a level of skill that was far beyond the competition he faced. On draft night, the Bucks’ fourth overall pick already made a splash in the NBA when the Timberwolves traded for him.
Stephon Marbury had an NBA run that was stunning, tumultuous, and always entertaining. In 13 years, Starbury played for five teams, earning only two All-Star appearances in that time despite putting up eye-popping for most of his career. For better or worse, Marbury left a memorable impression on the NBA for as the Knicks’ point guard with a bombastic attitude, gigantic contract, and villain demeanor. He also dropped his Starbury shoe line in his time with the Knicks only furthering his legend status by selling the affordable kicks for a dirt cheap $15.
Marbury played his final season with the Celtics in ’09, but his basketball career didn’t end there. The veteran point guard shipped out to China where he’s been dominating the CBA and being treated like more of a star than ever. In all six years playing in China, Marbury has been named an All-Star and won a championship in three of those years. To get an idea of how much of a star Starbury really is over in China, in 2014 he starred in a musical based on his life, in 2015 he was the fifth American ever to receive a green card from China, and is set to star in an autobiographical movie. Legend.
Shareef “Reef” Abdur-Rahim played high school basketball at Joseph Wheeler High of Marietta, Georgia. Even amongst the many great athletes that have played sports professionally, Abdur-Rahim stood out as one of the best. Reef played was a versatile forward capable of playing big and small ball. He won a state title in ’94 followed by being named Mr. Georgia Basketball in ’95 and ’96.
Abdur-Rahim went to play at University of California, but only stayed for a year. As a freshman, he lit up his conference and was awarded Pac-12 Player of the Year. Reef was more than a scoring machine – he was the total package. Abdur-Rahim’s 6-9 frame could size up at the NBA level and showed he was entirely capable of running the back court. Abdur-Rahim was the well-rounded talent that could be the star of the Grizzlies in their second year of their franchise in Vancouver.
It was a tough, hard fought, kind of sad yet inspiring run for Shareef Abdur-Rahim. Reef was the star of the brand new expansion team and carried the weight of the Vancouver Grizzlies on his back. For five brutal seasons, Reef hovered at about 20 points per game and despite moving from power forward to small forward, it was nearly a double-double with rebounds. Reef played a thankless five years in Vancouver for a terrible Grizzlies team and never even saw an All-Star game until his first year with the Hawks. Still, it wasn’t until his first year with the Kings that he reached the playoffs in ’06, Reef’s tenth season. Abdur-Rahim’s career ended after continued knee troubles in the 2007-08 season forced him to retire. The former All-Star that helped pave the way for the Grizzlies now serves as Associate Vice President of Basketball for the NBA.
Marcus Camby tore through his high school career, putting others to shame. In Camby’s senior year in Hartford, CT he nearly averaged a quadruple-double to lead his team to a 27-0 record and a state title while earning the Gatorade’s Connecticut Player of the Year. All of the big name colleges fought to win over Camby, but it was UMass he ending up going with. In Camby’s junior year with the Minutemen, he averaged some unbelievable numbers and led his team to the NCAA Final Four. Camby’s averaged 20.5 points per game, 8.2 rebounds per game, and a staggering 3.9 blocks through his third and final year in college and earned the prestigious Naismith College Player of the Year. He was the perfect fit for the recent expansion Toronto Raptor with the second overall pick.
After being drafted by the Raptors, the 6-11 center went on to have a great NBA career. Camby lasted 15 years in the league, playing for six teams. In 1999 Camby was a staple of the Knicks’ starting five to help get his team to the NBA Finals. Over the years Camby racked up a number of achievements including being a 4x NBA blocks leader and the NBA Defensive Player of the Year in 2007. After 15 years that included a whole number of ailments and injuries, Camby finally retired after playing his final season with the Knicks. Since his retirement, Camby has done nothing but enjoy his time off. He has recently become more involved with his alma mater since Derek Kellogg, whom Camby is close with took over as the Minutemen head coach, took over coaching and said he may be interested in coaching himself.
Allen Iverson almost had his NBA dreams squashed before even graduating high school when he was arrested at a bowling alley in Virginia for his alleged role in a brawl. After spending four months in jail, Iverson returned to a high school for at-risk youth and soon found himself with a full scholarship to Georgetown.
AI only spent two years at Georgetown, but did nothing but Iverson things in that span. Iverson was one of the most notorious players in the Big East, making for an instant classic rivalry against Ray Allen and his Huskies. Iverson got himself nonstop cookies, racking up over three steals per game and dropping buckets from everywhere to get over 20 points per game. Iverson led the Hoyas to a Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight, and Big East Championship in his two years that were all too short for Georgetown before his unmatched talents earned him the first overall selection in the ’96 draft by the 76ers.
Iverson spent 14 years in the NBA and was the bad boy of the league from start to finish. Off the bat, AI proved just how filthy his handles were and earned the Rookie of the Year. NBA The 11x NBA All-Star single-handedly led the 76ers to the NBA Finals in the 2000-01 season. Though his 76ers were no match for the Lakers, Iverson was awarded NBA Most Valuable Player in 2001. The 3x NBA scoring leader and 4x NBA scoring champion was honored for his contributions, getting his No. 3 retired in Philadelphia. The undersized point guard that was widely considered one the all-time villains in the NBA finally earned a well-deserved induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on April 4, 2016.