Photo by Flickr/mcdonaldsallamericangames
Part III will explore two different one-and-done scenarios, and the NCAA Tournament history of players on top NBA teams. We will also see the “good ol’ days” are aptly named.
One-and-done and one-and-done
Before the NBA outlawed entering the draft right after high school, many players made the leap from prep-to-pro. The only March Madness footage you’ll see of Dwight Howard and LeBron James is during their McDonald’s commercial. We won’t hear highlights of Gus Johnson screaming “rise and fire!” before Kobe Bryant nailed a game winner. It’s sad these players were never part of March Madness. Fortunately, the restrictions on draft eligibility have led some NBA stars to the Big Dance.
The NBA’s leading scorer, Kevin Durant, steered Texas to the tournament in 2007, but that was about it. The Longhorns beat New Mexico State in round one, and lost their next game. In the 2008 Final Four, Derrick Rose and Memphis toppled the UCLA Bruins, who featured Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook. Rose came close to a title, but his team lost a late lead two days later in the championship game. Highlight machine Blake Griffin reached the Elite Eight in his final collegiate season before falling to North Carolina.
Other NBA greats went to college before the restrictions were in place, but they didn’t cut down the nets either. Dwyane Wade led the Marquette Golden Eagles to the 2003 Final Four, but was knocked out by Kansas. Tim Duncan reached the Elite Eight at Wake Forest, but Chris Paul never made it past the Sweet 16 as a Demon Deacon. Shaquille O’Neal, one of the most intimidating players of all time, met kryptonite in three straight NCAA Tournaments and never advanced past the second round.
Failing to stand on stage with Jim Nantz wasn’t the end of the world for these guys. Tim Duncan and Shaquille O’Neal both boast four NBA rings and will be remembered as two of the best players ever. Dwyane Wade won a ring with Miami, and Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose are positioning themselves for some jewelry.
The basic structure of the tournament is the simplest explanation for these all-time greats never winning an NCAA championship. The one-and-done format essentially caters to underdogs, as the randomness of single elimination allows many inferior teams to advance. Sustaining tremendous performance throughout a series is much more difficult and is a major reason the best NBA teams usually meet in June.
Chicago has playoff experience
The aforementioned dynasties in the West (Lakers, Spurs) lack starters with NCAA Final Four experience. And by lack, I mean Richard Jefferson is the only starter on the Lakers or Spurs to ever appear in the Final Four. The Lakers have an extremely egregious NCAA record; Ron Artest is the only starter who has played an NCAA Tournament game. Derek Fisher never made the Big Dance, and sixth man Lamar Odom lost in his only appearance.
Spurs Tim Duncan and DeJuan Blair played in Elite Eight games, and their teammate, Matt Bonner, was a member of the second place Florida team in 2000.
The Celtics don’t have a starter who ever played a Final Four game either, but Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and Rajon Rondo all made the Elite Eight. Newly acquired Jeff Green enjoyed March Madness in 2007 before his team was knocked out of the Final Four by Ohio State.
Some of the great people at Blog A Bull didn’t enjoy my previous piece, but this may warm their hearts – the starters for their preferred team have had tremendous success in the NCAA Tournament. Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah have three college titles between them. Derrick Rose played every single minute of an overtime loss in the 2008 finals, and Luol Deng was a Duke Blue Devil when they lost in the 2003 Final Four.
The Orlando Magic has a roster packed with tournament experience, too. Chris Duhon and Jason Richardson were both on champions in the early 2000’s. As previously noted, Gilbert Arenas was a member of Arizona’s 2001 finals team. Starting guard Jameer Nelson was on an Elite Eight team as a senior, and J.J. Redick mixed in a trip to the Final Four during a legendary career at Duke.
The Walk was worth it
Back when kids were walking uphill to school in blizzards, they were gettin’ paid with dribbling deities every March.
The National Finals were loaded with future NBA stars three decades ago. In 1979, two of the best basketball players of all time went head to head. In the end, Magic Johnson and the Spartans knocked off Larry Bird’s Indiana State team for the title belt. Isaiah Thomas helped Bob Knight secure a championship in 1981. The next season, Michael Jordan and James Worthy helped North Carolina outlast Patrick Ewing and the Hoyas in the National Finals. Jim Valvano’s North Carolina State team beat Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler to take home the 1983 hardware. In 1984, Olajuwon lost again as current Orlando assistant coach Patrick Ewing led Georgetown to a title.
All of these Hall of Famers stayed in school for more than one year. The extra time working with teammates and coaches certainly helped these teams reach great heights and made the early 1980’s one of the greatest runs in tournament history. Hopefully, the NBA’s decision forbidding players to enter the draft straight out of high school will eventually provide us with future greats leading their team to One Shining Moment. Until then, ESPN Classic should be required by law to show the championship games from 1979 – 1984 frequently.