Unsung heroes, underdogs, Rudy’s, and Cinderella stories move our hearts more than stories that are predictable and expectant. The powerful, strong, and mighty are supposed to win and have an advantage over everyone else. So, whenever something out of nowhere, something weak, something unassuming, breaks out on the scene, it shocks us.
Number one draft picks are number one draft picks for a reason. We expect them to do well, we expect them to be franchise players, we expect them to be All-Stars. If anything, they can only disappoint because the expectations placed upon their shoulders are so high.
However, every now and then, players that were never drafted, never caught the eye of scouts, and never were expected to make the NBA, force themselves into the conversation. Why aren’t these types of players drafted? Sometimes it is because of the school they attended, sometimes it is because of their size, and at other times, it is because they simply were not good enough. But these players never naval gazed or threw themselves a pity-party. These players girded up their loins and went right back to work. There is one common characteristic that these forgotten players all share in common: determination. Hard work pays off and the following players are in the upper echelon of this category.
Jeremy Lin is one such example. The Harvard graduate won the State Championship with his high school in Palo Alto, but neither Stanford or Berkley even paid attention to him, even though Lin grew up right in their backyard. After Lin graduated from Harvard, no one thought he was NBA material. However, Lin had the opportunity to play for the Dallas Mavericks during summer league and was eventually picked up by the Golden State Warriors and the New York Knicks. And after a slew of injuries in New York, Lin had the opportunity to prove that he belonged, and Linsanity was born. Today, Lin is just one of the many, many players that were never drafted out of college, but scored huge contracts in the NBA as solid NBA role players and even superstars.
10 Darrell Armstrong
Like many basketball players, Darrell Armstrong’s first love was football. Armstrong did not even start playing basketball until he was a senior in high school. So, it was no surprise that Armstrong did not get any big time recruiting from any major schools, so he walked on the football team of Division II Fayetteville State as a kicker.
However, the story goes that it was at Fayetteville that the basketball coach Jeff Capel took notice of him. Soon enough, Armstrong took off his pads and put on a pair of sneakers. And after a long and arduous path from Europe to America, he finally scored a ten-day contract with the Orlando Magic. Before you know it, Armstrong won 6th Man of the Year, the Most Improved Player of the Year, and was the starting point guard for the Orlando Magic.
9 Udonis Haslem
Udonis Haslem and Steve Blake won back-to-back state championships at Miami High School in 1997-1998. After graduating from high school, Haslem and Mike Miller helped lead the Florida Gators to their first NCAA Championship game in 2000. After losing in the Championship game, Haslem opted to stay in school. In fact, Haslem ended up staying all four years in college to his own detriment. By the time he graduated in 2002, he weighed over 300 pounds and as a result, went undrafted.
So, Haslem went overseas to France and rededicated his body and his game to a professional level. After losing 70 pounds, Haslem earned a spot with his hometown team the Miami Heat in 2003. Since then, Haslem has won 3 championships and continues to prove doubters wrong. He has been a winner at almost every league that he has played in.
8 Raja Bell
Boston University and Florida International University are not exactly two schools known for basketball, so it was no coincidence that Raja Bell went unnoticed in the draft. Bell helped lead Florida International to its first ever NCAA appearance, but they were no match for the big time schools in the country. After bouncing around in the US Basketball League (USBL), the Continental Basketball Association (CBA), and the International Basketball League (IBL), Bell finally landed a job with the Philadelphia Sixers in 2001. That same year, Bell was guarding Kobe Bryant in the NBA Finals.
Bell has always been an adequate offensive player. His 3-point shot was reliable if he did not have to create off the dribble. But really, it was his defensive work that earned him a long career in the NBA. Bell made the All Defensive Team twice in his career, and the reason for that was because he was not intimidated by anyone that he was guarding.
7 Jose Calderon
It is hard to believe that Jose Calderon was not drafted into the NBA, considering how dominant he was in Europe. Calderon spent six seasons playing for TAU Ceramica and the Spanish National Team before he was finally noticed by former Toronto general manager Rob Babcock.
So, in 2005, Calderon joined the Raptors where he would eventually help lead them to the playoffs in 2008. Today, Calderon is one of the best passers in the league. He continually ranks in the top 5 for assist to turnover ratio, which is the most important stat for any point guard.
Calderon recently got traded from the Dallas Mavericks to the New York Knicks, where he will have to learn the Triangle offense on a team that has been struggling on offense for the past few years.
6 Avery Johnson
One of the most likeable players in NBA history, Avery Johnson cannot help but put a smile on your face. Maybe it is the way he talks, maybe its his general-like coaching, or maybe it is the fact that he has an underdog narrative, but Avery Johnson has been an inspiration for everyone that has ever crossed paths with him.
Johnson rode the bench virtually his entire high school career, until the starting point guard got injured and Johnson took over the reigns. With Johnson at the helm, he led his high school to a championship in 1983, which helped earn him a scholarship with New Mexico Junior College. Johnson then switched schools to Cameron University and then to Southern University, where he led the country in assists per game his senior year with an average of 13.3 assists per game.
Johnson was not drafted, so he spent a season with the US Basketball League, until he was finally signed by the Seattle Supersonics in 1998. After bouncing around the league, he finally landed with the San Antonio Spurs where he won a championship with them in 1999.
5 Brad Miller
The jump shooting big man was a star at Purdue, but Brad Miller still did not do enough to get drafted into the NBA. So, he took his services to Europe before being signed by the Charlotte Hornets in 1998. Miller did not do much for the Hornets, but when he landed with the Chicago Bulls and the Sacramento Kings, his skills started to blossom.
Miller’s jumper extended to the three-point line and his passing was very, very underrated. It is what made him a two-time All-Star in 2003-2004 and gave him a long 14-year career.
4 David Wesley
Like many shooting guards that are undersized, they often get overlooked because of their inability to play the point guard position. Yet at 6’1”, Wesley averaged 20.9 points per game during his senior year at Baylor University, however, it was still not enough to get scouts to bite on him.
So, Wesley spent a year in the CBA before joining the New Jersey Nets. After bouncing around a couple of teams, Wesley finally found a home with the Charlotte Hornets, where he became the starting shooting guard It was in Charlotte in 2000-2001, Wesley averaged 17.2 points per game.
3 John Starks
Like many journeymen in the NBA, John Starks bounced around everywhere from college to the pros. Starks played for four different schools in college before he finally finished at Oklahoma State University, however, the school’s name was still not enough to get him drafted in 1988.
So, Starks spent some time in the CBA before he tried out for the New York Knicks in 1990. The Knicks were just the type of personality that suited Starks. He was tough, gritty, and would not back down to anyone. His streakiness from the 3-point line and his lack of fear earned him a roster spot for good with the Knicks.
2 Bruce Bowen
Bruce Bowen spent all four-years and graduated from Cal State Fullerton, however, he was largely unnoticed because he was overshadowed by his teammate Cedric Ceballos. So, it was not shocking for Bowen not to be drafted in 1993. Instead, he spent four years in France and the CBA, before finally landing a gig with Pat Riley and the Miami Heat.
After a few years of defensive seasoning under Pat Riley, Bowen joined the San Antonio Spurs in 2001, where he eventually turned into a three-time champion and made eight consecutive All Defensive Teams.
1 Ben Wallace
After attending a community college for two seasons, Ben Wallace transferred to Virginia Union University for his last two years. At 6’9”, Wallace has always been an undersized center, but that never bothered him. Wallace knew that he could make a name for himself with his defense. After playing for a very short time in Italy, Wallace finally signed with the Washington Bullets.
Wallace did not do much with the Bullets, but when he was traded to the Detroit Pistons for Grant Hill, he finally found a home. Wallace won the NBA Defensive Player of the Year four times. The only other player to do that has been Dikembe Mutombo. Last but not least, Wallace also helped the Pistons win a NBA title in 2004 as the defensive anchor of the team.