Lawrence, Kansas has long been home to one of the top college basketball programs in the entire NCAA — the University of Kansas Jayhawks. They sport a third-best all-time winning percentage of 72.5 percent, have played in nine NCAA Division I championship games and won three of them, and made the Final Four 14 times, good for fifth in NCAA history. They’ve also given us some bona fide NBA greats, including Wilt Chamberlain, Paul Pierce, Clyde Lovellette, and Jo Jo White. Andrew Wiggins may be on his way to greatness, and Joel Embiid may follow that path as well, provided he finally gets healthy after years of injury woes. Your mileage may vary when it comes to Danny Manning, and you’ll find out why a little later on — minor spoiler alert!
In the NBA’s entire history, the University of Kansas has produced 82 draft selections, and if you also include undrafted players, 70 ex-Jayhawks have played in at least one NBA or ABA game. And as we mentioned above, some of these players didn’t quite live up to their draft day expectations. So let’s not waste any more of your time, as we count down 15 former Kansas Jayhawks, all former first-round picks, who missed the NBA mark in one way or another.
15. Wayne Simien
It may be a bit of a stretch to call a 29th-overall pick a bust, but Wayne Simien was a first-team All-American as a Kansas Jayhawk who averaged more than 20 points and 10 rebounds as a senior. The Miami Heat picked him late in the first round of the 2005 draft, and while he may have seemed to be a steal for a 29th pick, he was strictly a third-stringer for Pat Riley’s first few Heat teams, playing behind Udonis Haslem and proving unable to score or rebound like he did in college.
Simien won himself a championship ring during his rookie year with the Heat, and had played in Europe once his two-year NBA run ended, but he retired from basketball in 2009 at the age of 26, choosing to work instead as a Christian minister.
14. Danny Manning
In the grand scheme of things, it’s really hard to call Danny Manning a bust. He played 15 years in the NBA, played in the All-Star Game twice, and was Sixth Man of the Year for a pretty good Phoenix Suns team. His career averages include 14.0 ppg and 5.2 rpg, and he did shoot at a stellar 51.1 percent clip from the field. But so many people expected much more than a solid, successful career for someone picked first overall in 1988 and heralded as a future hoops legend in the making.
Injuries played a big part in Manning’s failure to reach true superstardom in the NBA, but even when he was young and healthy, he was a good shooter who could score, pass, and defend, yet still lacked that extra oomph in his game to become a top-tier star. Again, we can’t call him a full-fledged bust, but as a first-overall pick, Danny Manning was disappointing.
13. Nick Collison
It’s amazing if you come to think of it — Nick Collison is still employed by an NBA team, the same one whom he’s played for since his rookie season 13 years ago. And he’s the last remaining link between the old Seattle SuperSonics and the Oklahoma City Thunder. After a stellar four-year career with the Jayhawks that included two Final Four appearances, Collison was picked by the Sonics 12th overall in 2004. Since then, he’s been the epitome of serviceable backup power forward, but has never come close to becoming a star.
Collison was, and is simply one of those college greats whose game and physical tools don’t translate well to NBA stardom, and even if he’s had a very long NBA career thus far, it’s one that can be considered a borderline disappointment. Then again, 13 years for one team is a pretty rare feat, and since he may likely be retiring soon, we’re confident he’ll soon parlay his basketball know-how into a job in the Thunder coaching staff.
12. Norm Cook
Having left Kansas as a junior in 1976 to try his luck in the NBA, Norm Cook is one of the older examples in this list. He is also the most tragic. A star power forward for the Jayhawks, Cook was picked late in the first round of the 1976 NBA draft, and joined a talent-laden Boston Celtics team where he hardly saw the court in 25 games. He played two games for the Denver Nuggets in 1977-78, and that was it for his NBA career.
After leaving the NBA, Cook struggled with a severe case of paranoid schizophrenia, spending the rest of his life in and out of state hospitals. That caused him to miss out on the high school, college, and pro career of his similarly talented son Brian, who had a nine-year NBA career as a backup power forward. By the time Norm Cook died in 2008, many were again left wondering what could have been, had he not been plagued by mental illness for most of his adult life.
11. Drew Gooden
Drew Gooden is another borderline case in this list of Jayhawks busts. He’s played in 15 NBA seasons so far, scored in double digits in each of his first ten seasons, and consistently provided teams (all ten of them) with adequate inside scoring and rebounding as a 6’10” forward/center. Literally speaking, he is the NBA’s consummate journeyman, but his NBA career, while having recently lost a lot of steam due to age and injuries, has been a productive one. Oh, and he’s rocked some of the craziest beards in NBA history.
Then again, he’s never averaged more than 15 ppg in a single season, and as far as NBA power forwards go, he’s only been in the upper-middle tier at best. Memphis could have had Amar’e Stoudemire, or even picked Caron Butler and converted him to a big two-guard, and done better than having selected Gooden fourth-overall in the 2002 draft. In short, Gooden has been good, but his draft position suggests he could’ve been better.
10. Brandon Rush
Just think of what kind of epic failure Brandon Rush would have been, had he entered the NBA draft in 2005, straight out of high school as he originally planned. Instead, he played three solid years for Bill Self at Kansas, and was made the 13th selection in the 2008 NBA draft. He then got his career off to a decent start, coming close to averaging double figures in his first four seasons, including three with the Indiana Pacers and one with the struggling, yet nonetheless rising Golden State Warriors. Then he tore his ACL early in the 2012-13 season, and his NBA career hasn’t been the same since.
Had he not gotten injured, there’s a chance Rush would have had a more prominent role with the Warriors during their 2014-15 championship run. Instead, he’s bounced from one team to the next, a quintessential “3D” role player who doesn’t contribute much outside of those two things — three-pointers and defense.
9. Bud Stallworth
Wide receivers John and Donte Stallworth were two unrelated men with the same surname who played well in the NFL. Small forwards Dave and Bud Stallworth, on the other hand, were two unrelated men with the same surname who had disappointing NBA careers. But since Dave played for the Wichita State Shockers in the ’60s, we’re going to focus on the younger Bud Stallworth, who averaged over 25 ppg for the Jayhawks in the 1971-72 NCAA season, and was picked seventh overall in the 1972 NBA draft.
Granted, the 1972 draft had busts aplenty, from the very first pick in the first round (the immortal LaRue Martin) to the very last pick in the first (Division II scoring machine Travis Grant). But instead of drafting Stallworth, who averaged just 7.7 points over five NBA seasons, the Seattle SuperSonics could have taken a stab at Julius Erving, even if he still would have likely remained with the ABA. Instead, Bud was a dud who couldn’t score big like he did in the collegiate ranks.
8. Scot Pollard
Although no one expected him to be a star in the NBA, Scot Pollard probably could have been at a higher level of journeyman than he was in an NBA career that lasted 11 years, mostly as a backup center. Instead, he became far better-known for his ever-changing hairdos and facial hair, as well as his oddball personality that drove him to drop the line “hey, kids, do drugs!” while riding the bench in a March 2007 game.
The 19th pick in the 1997 NBA draft, Pollard’s NBA career was arguably a mild disappointment considering the above circumstances. Yet that wacky personality of his has served him well, as he’s occasionally ventured out into acting, playing a serial killer in 2013 slasher B-movie Axeman at Cutter’s Creek, and KU great B.H. Born in the 2014 film Jayhawkers, despite being all of 39 years old at the time. He also finished eighth place last year in Survivor: Kaon Rong, the popular reality show’s 32nd season.
7. Raef LaFrentz
Instead of going down in history as one of the greatest big men ever to wear a Kansas uniform and play in the NBA, Raef LaFrentz is known mainly for three things — his funky name, his soft game, and his being grossly overpaid at multiple points in his NBA career. Although he did end his ten-year NBA career with averages of 10.1 ppg and 6.1 rpg, suggesting a more successful career than most, you have to remember that the Denver Nuggets made him the third overall pick in the 1998 draft, selecting him ahead of Antawn Jamison, Vince Carter, Dirk Nowitzki, and Paul Pierce. It’s not as bad as the Clippers picking Michael Olowokandi first-overall, but that’s still got to hurt.
While LaFrentz had a great career at KU, including a senior season where he averaged 19.8 ppg and 11.4 rpg, his general unwillingness to mix it up inside (shot-blocking skills notwithstanding) kept him from being more than a slightly-above-average center/forward. That’s not what you’d expect from someone picked before the aforementioned future Hall of Famers, or someone who was paid undeserved millions in free agent money like he was. Twice.
6. Walt Wesley
The oldest example in this list, Walt Wesley was only 21 years old when he was drafted fifth overall in 1966. He was also well on the skinny side, carrying no more than 220 pounds on his gangling 6’11” frame. As such, he got pushed around in the paint quite a bit, as he jumped from team to team in a nine-year journeyman career.
The highlight of his career was scoring 50 points, including 34 in the second half, for the expansion Cleveland Cavaliers in the 1970-71 season. Both were records that stood for over three decades, until LeBron James broke them in 2005 and 2010 respectively. After his time with the Cavs ended in 1972, Wesley was little more than a third-string center, proving that his big scoring feats in 1970-71 were all a result of his playing for a weak expansion team.
5. Xavier Henry
The thing these days for top high school prospects wanting to join the NBA is going one-and-done, but just like we’ve had many cases of preps-to-pros players being better off in college than in the NBA, there have also been several one-and-done college players who should have spent an extra year or two in the NCAA ranks. Former McDonald’s All-American wingman Xavier Henry was one of those players.
After a strong freshman campaign for the Jayhawks, Henry declared for the 2010 NBA draft and was picked 12th overall by the Memphis Grizzlies. He was a disappointment in each of his years in the NBA, save for a solid 2013-14 where he averaged in double figures for a bad Lakers team. Injuries ended his run with the Lakers early in 2014-15, and while he’s currently plying his trade in the D-League, he’s still young enough (26) to turn things around as a late-bloomer. For the meantime, though, he’s a complete and utter bust as a onetime Jayhawk-turned-lottery-pick.
4. Cole Aldrich
The New Orleans Hornets (and the Oklahoma City Thunder, who would acquire him via draft-day trade) should have given NBADraft.net a glimpse before they selected Cole Aldrich with the 11th pick of the 2011 draft — his closest NBA comparisons were Eric Montross and Joel Przybilla. While he showed some potential on defense and on the boards, he was slow and unathletic compared to the average NBA center. Perhaps not surprisingly, he picked up his fair share of D-League assignments as a rookie.
Although Aldrich has shown at times that he could be a competent backup center, it’s obvious his career hasn’t been what you would expect from a lottery pick, even one selected outside of the top ten. Further underscoring this is the fact that he can’t even get 10 minutes a game this season for his hometown Minnesota Timberwolves.
3. Ben McLemore
Before you bring up the fact that he’s been putting up some nice numbers in the homestretch of the 2016-17 NBA season, take note that the Sacramento Kings are out of the playoff race (as usual), and that Ben McLemore has had four seasons to come remotely close to living up to his college hype. Next Ray Allen? Looking at his game and his numbers, he’s closer to being the next Allan Ray than anything else.
Okay, maybe that was a bit of a stretch. But after raising so many scouts’ eyebrows as a Jayhawk, McLemore has been mediocre in most of his four years in the NBA, and with Buddy Hield having arrived in Sacramento via the DeMarcus Cousins trade, it looks safe enough to write him off as one of the bigger shooting guard draft busts in recent history.
2. Julian Wright
As a high school prospect out of the Chicago area, Julian Wright could play multiple positions with equal ease. As a Kansas Jayhawk who played two years at Lawrence, he could play both forward positions, also with equal ease. But as the 13th pick of the 2007 NBA draft, he struggled to play any position, even his most size-appropriate small forward position, as he washed out of both the New Orleans Hornets and Toronto Raptors.
While he was a decent defender as a pro, Wright’s main problem was just that — he was a tweener, lacking a good enough shot and shooting range to play the three, and severely lacking in size (at 6’8″-225) to be a four. After a brief spell in the D-League, Wright headed overseas like so many failed NBA players do, and was most recently playing for Trabzonspor in the Turkish leagues.
1. Thomas Robinson
And here’s to you, Mr. Robinson, jumped from team to team but hardly played, hey hey hey. Even on a decrepit Lakers team that may arguably be tanking in hopes of picking Lonzo Ball in the 2017 NBA draft, Thomas Robinson has struggled to get minutes. Part of it is because Julius Randle has mostly been playing well, but if he even lived up to half of his potential, he would have been better than Timofey Mozgov as an undersized center. Heck, even his fellow KU alum Tarik Black is outplaying him, and he wasn’t even a starter at Kansas!
When Robinson was picked fifth overall in the 2012 draft, he was supposed to be the most polished big man available, even more so than first-overall pick and future superstar Anthony Davis. Instead, he’s been an underachieving waste of physical tools, and the Lakers are his sixth — count that, sixth — team in only five NBA seasons.
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