Syracuse University has one of the most storied sports programs in the NCAA and has won a combined 15 national championships. Outside of its lacrosse program, the men’s basketball team is the crown jewel of SU. It ranks sixth in victories among NCAA schools and currently holds a record of 46 consecutive winning seasons.
With all due respect to St. John’s, Fordham, and every other college in the NYC area; Syracuse is considered “the” college basketball team of New York. Some would even say it’s the best basketball team in New York as it is certainly run better than the pro team that shall not be named. The then-Orangemen of Syracuse Basketball began play in 1900 and the past 116 seasons (play was suspended in 1943-44 due to World War II) have brought joy and excitement to the state of New York.
However, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Syracuse’s players once they left the friendly confines of Jim Boeheim’s nest. For every Carmelo Anthony or Dave Bing there’s been a Jonny Flynn or Pearl Washington. One could reasonably argue that there have been even more Syracuse busts than Syracuse stars. As one of the most prolific schools at sending players to the pros, a total of 48 Syracuse Orange/Orangemen have made their way to the NBA. It’s time to look back at some of these players who didn’t quite pan out as hoped as we present the top 15 Syracuse players who were NBA busts.
16 Kris Joseph
The Canadian born and Washington DC-bred Joseph had one of the most accomplished Syracuse careers under Jim Boeheim. He played on three Sweet Sixteen teams and one Elite Eight team during his four years at Cuse. After limited playing time as a freshman, Joseph then won the Big East Sixth Man of the Year Award as a sophomore and then made All-Big East teams as both a junior and senior.
However, Joseph’s NBA career would be much less memorable than his college career. He is best known for being one of the throw-ins in the deal that sent Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce from Boston to the Nets and sent seemingly every Nets 1st round pick from Brooklyn back to the Celtics. Three days after the trade Joseph would be waived by the Celtics as his NBA career lasted all of 54 minutes. But hey, that’s 54 more minutes than you or I had in the NBA!
15 Fab Melo
The Brazilian big man had the perfect name to be a member of Syracuse’s basketball team and he was a productive member, when he was actually on the court. He was the Big East Defensive Player of the Year in 2012 but was suspended twice for academic issues. Those issues would then result in a self-imposed Syracuse postseason ban after Melo had left for the NBA. Despite being a first round pick, Melo’s NBA career lasted all of six games. After spending two seasons in the D-League, Melo then returned to his native Brazil but his career in their pro league lasted just 7 games. On February 11, 2017, the 26-year-old Melo passed away in his sleep exactly five years to the day he helped lead Syracuse to a win over rival, UCONN.
14 Tyler Ennis
Ennis played just one season at Syracuse but it was an electric year as he led the Orange to a top-15 AP finish and was a missed 3P away from sending the team to the Sweet Sixteen. He was even named a semi-finalist for the Naismith Player of the Year award and parlayed his amateur success into being the #18 draft selection by the Suns in 2014. However, he was at the back of the line of a logjam of point guards in Phoenix and couldn’t crack a rotation that already had Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas, and Eric Bledsoe. Ennis wouldn’t even last his entire rookie year in Phoenix as he would be traded to Milwaukee at the trade deadline. Switching teams would become a common theme for Ennis as he has since moved onto Houston and then Los Angeles (not to mention multiple trips to the D-League). If the Lakers draft LA-native Lonzo Ball this summer, then Ennis will likely be packing his bags again.
13 Donte Greene
Greene apparently had the Carmelo Anthony Blueprint pinned to his wall as a kid as he followed Melo to Towson Catholic High School in Maryland and then followed Melo to Syracuse. Greene also became the first Orange player since Anthony to lead Cuse in scoring as a freshman and then bolted for the NBA after just one season…and that’s where the comparisons to Melo end.
The start of Greene’s NBA careers served as a foreshadowing to his entire pro career. He was drafted by Memphis, then traded to Houston, and then traded to Sacramento before he even made his debut. He started a total of 82 games in four seasons in Sacramento and outside of D-league stints and Summer League appearances, hasn’t appeared in an NBA game since 2012. Since then his career has taken him to Puerto Rico, China, Dubai, the Dominican Republic and most recently, the Philippines.
Carmelo might own homes in all of those countries!
12 Chris McCullough
After playing at three different high schools, McCullough entered Syracuse as one of the most promising players in the nation. He was a five-star recruit and a top-20 player nationally by moth recruiting services. The New York native would dazzle in the 16 games he played at Syracuse before a knee injury ended his season. C-Mac’s potential would land him in the first round of the draft and was taken 29th overall by the Nets in 2015.
At just 22, it may be a bit early to label McCullough a bust; but he’s not off to a promising start. If you can’t get off the bench for the Brooklyn Nets, then what does that say about you? After one-and-a-half years in Brooklyn, McCullough was packaged in a deal and traded to the Wizards for a 1st round pick. Just as he did with the Nets; McCullough dominated the D-League with the Wizards but had limited playing time with the parent club. After being assigned to the D-League an unfathomable 19 times in his brief career; it’s time for C-Mac to show something on the big stage if he wants to make it off this list.
11 Billy Owens
Before he was even old enough to drink, Owens had one four straight state titles in high school, was named Big East Player of the Year, and was billed as the next Magic Johnson. No wonder he failed to live up to the hype! Owens was never able to reach a Final Four during his three years at Syracuse despite the team being a #2 seed each year. After getting bounced by a #15 seed in his junior year, Billy O then bounced to the NBA. Still hated by many Bay Area fans today; Owens (along with Don Nelson) helped break up Run-TMC with the Warriors as Nelson would trade Mitch Richmond for the rookie.
Owens would have a solid career but didn’t live up to his billing as a #3 overall pick. He is the only top-5 pick from the 1991 draft that didn’t make an All-Star team and had a 10-year journeyman career with six different teams.
10 Leo Rautins
Another one of the many Canadians on this list (sorry, Canada!); Rautins transferred to Syracuse after playing one season at Minnesota. He would make history with the Orangemen as he became the first Big East player in history to record a triple double in conference play. That would lead him to becoming the first ever Canadian to be taken in the first round of the NBA draft.
Rautins was drafted by Philadelphia and joined a loaded 76ers team that was the defending NBA champion. The organization hoped he would be the successor at small forward to an aging Dr. J but Rautins’ NBA career would last just 32 total games. After playing in Europe and in the CBA; Rautins then became a broadcaster for the Toronto Raptors in their inception in 1995 and remains in that role.
9 Pearl Washington
A New York legend before he even stepped foot on Syracuse’s campus; Dwayne Washington earned the nickname of Pearl because his game resembled that of Hall of Famer, Earl “The Pearl” Monroe. Coming out of high school, Washington was the #1 ranked player in the class of 1983 even ahead of such players as David Robinson and Scottie Pippen. Washington would then electrify the Carrier Dome with his flashy play but the Orange were never able to win more than one NCAA Tournament game in any of his 3 seasons there. Washington had to think things would get better in the NBA especially after being drafted by the Nets who played just 15 miles from where he grew up in Brooklyn.
However his NBA career would be a short one as it lasted just three seasons and his teams went a combined 58-188. The Pearl was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 1995, survived that, and lived for another 21 years before passing away from cancer in 2016.
8 Michael Carter-Williams
How does a NBA Rookie of the Year Winner make a bust list? By being perhaps the worst rookie of the year award winner in NBA history. In MCW’s first ever NBA game, he lit the world on fire with 22 points, 12 assists, 9 steals, and 7 rebounds; but little did we know it would be all downhill from there. Seemingly just after Carter-Williams’ name was engraved on the Rookie of the Year trophy he was traded from the 76ers to the Bucks. Paired with a coach in Jason Kidd who was similar to Carter-Williams as a player; not even Kidd’s magic touch could turn around MCW’s spiraling career and he was benched and then traded to Chicago where he is currently a backup.
Point guards that can’t shoot just have no place in the league today and MCW is, statistically, the worst 3P shooter active in the game today. With Carter-Williams being a free agent at the end of the season, it will be interesting to see if his next team is in the NBA or in Europe.
7 Hakim Warrick
The author of perhaps the most famous block in college basketball history; Warrick sealed Syracuse’s only NCAA Championship with his game-saving block vs. Kansas in 2003. Warrick is one of the few guys on this list who played 4 years at Syracuse and that culminated with a first-team All-American selection as a senior in 2005.
After being a first round pick in 2005 and then having a nine year NBA career; Warrick doesn’t exactly scream “bust.” But if you look deeper at his career, you are left a bit disappointed. He started just 108 games in his NBA career which is fewer than he started in his Syracuse career. Warrick also never developed an all-around game in the NBA and his career averages of 4.0 rebounds per game and 0.3 blocks per game are underwhelming for a player with his athleticism and talent. Warrick never had a postseason win during his nine year NBA career and has since taken his talents to China, Europe, and Australia.
6 LeRon Ellis
Ellis is perhaps the only player in the world who has a legitimate claim to being on lists for Top Syracuse busts and Top Kentucky Busts! He played two years at UK before transferring to Syracuse amid Kentucky being placed on probation. He wasn’t spectacular at either school but he had pedigree as being the son of a 14-year NBA player and also from playing on the top high school basketball team in the nation. But not even that could prepare him for the rigors of the NBA as the first round pick started all of two games in his three year career. During his NBA days he is best known as being one of the throw-ins in a trade that was headlined by Alonzo Mourning being swapped for Glen Rice.
Ellis is also known for being so much of a nomad that even Larry Brown is jealous of him. Ellis attended two high schools, two colleges, and played for 12 different pro teams, never spending more than one season with any of them. Ellis last made headlines for getting arrested for a DUI and taking one of the worst mugshots in recent memory.
5 Derrick Coleman
Likely the most controversial selection for this list; Coleman had all of the makings of being an all-time great. He was Syracuse’s first ever Big East Player of the Year and remains the school’s only #1 overall draft pick. Coleman had everything you want in a modern power forward with the ability to score inside and out, put the ball on the floor, and anchor your defense. If you take away the fact that DC was the first overall pick, then you would think he had a successful career. He was the Rookie of the Year, made an All-Star team, and made two All-NBA teams.
However, his accomplishments are underwhelming considering his talent. Charles Barkley once said that the first time he saw Coleman play in the NBA, he thought DC would become the greatest power forward of all-time. Instead, as Sports Illustrated once said, “he played just well enough to ensure his next paycheck.” Not only was he a bust on the court, but he got into trouble off it. He was arrested five times during his NBA career and went bankrupt despite making over $91 million. However, this story seems to have a happy ending as Coleman was able to turn his life around after retiring and even completed his degree from Syracuse in 2015, some 29 years after enrolling.
4 Dion Waiters
The Cleveland Cavaliers passed on Damian Lillard, Andre Drummond, and Draymond Green to select Waiters 4th overall in 2012. In fact, Carmelo Anthony was the only Syracuse player to be drafted higher than Waiters in the last 20 years. That’s lofty acclaim for a player who didn’t start a single game in two seasons at Syracuse. However, the 2012 Big East Sixth Man of the Year had earned comparisons to Dwyane Wade for his play while wearing the Syracuse orange. But his career after taking off that orange got off to a rocky beginning.
Before Pat Riley and Eric Spoelstra threw a life raft to Waiters Island; Dion was on his way to being nothing more than a journeyman known more for social media memes than his actual play. He infamously (and unsuccessfully) couldn’t get LeBron to pass him the ball in Cleveland and then got cursed out by Durant in OKC. Fortunately Riley and Co. were able to look past his flaws and Waiters seems to be on the road to shedding his bust label…but not yet.
3 Wesley Johnson
After playing at Iowa State for his first two years, Johnson transferred to Syracuse and in his one season there he would win Big East Player of the Year and be named a consensus All-American. As of 2017, Johnson is the last Syracuse player to make the All-American first team and his lone season at SU would boost his draft stock from a second round pick to the number four overall pick. Miscast as a starter in Minnesota, Johnson has settled into a rotation player with the Clippers after later stops with the Suns and Lakers. While he is certainly an NBA-caliber player, he has not lived up to his billing as the #4 pick especially since the likes of DeMarcus Cousins and Paul George were picked after him. Based on draft position; Johnson is a bust, but he’s also a bust who lives in Los Angeles and makes $6 million a year. Can’t we all be busts?
1 Jonny Flynn
You knew it was coming and it’s finally here. The only Mr. New York Basketball to make this list, Flynn’s star power at Syracuse hinged on perhaps just one game: the six-overtime thriller vs. UCONN in the 2009 Big East Tournament. Flynn never made an All-American team while at Syracuse and he didn’t even make an All-Big East team. But the high-profile nature of that OT game propelled Flynn to become the 6th pick in the 2009 draft by the Timberwolves.
Flynn was clearly not a polished player once he reached the NBA and he struggled for a bad Minnesota team. After flaming out for three different teams; Flynn’s NBA career would be over at the age of 23. He then headed overseas to continue his pro career and, for what it’s worth (which is not much); he was named an All-Star in an Australian Basketball League. After playing down under, he would then surface in China and later in Italy but has not played since 2014. Who knew that Jonny Flynn’s career would peak at the ripe, old age of 20?