Many college hoops stars go on to become stars in the NBA but once in a while, we see a great collegiate player that ultimately doesn’t make it to the big time… or maybe they do make it, but fizzle out in a season or two. This kind of thing always confounds basketball fans and is very often the source of arguments and bets around barbershops and basketball courts. Check out our list of the top 10 NCAA stars that just never made that NBA magic.
Steve Alford, Indiana
Alford starred at the University of Indiana where he played under coach Bob Knight. He is probably best known for knocking down seven three-pointers in the 1987 national championship game en route to a one-point win over Syracuse. At Indiana he became the school’s all-time leading scorer with 2,438 points. (That record was later broken by Calbert Cheaney.) Alford also led the team to an amazing upset of Michael Jordan’s North Carolina Tarheels team in the 1984 NCAA Tournament.
In four seasons in the NBA, Steve played the equivalent number of games for two seasons. Despite his ability to put the ball in the basket, he averaged just 4.4 points in less than ten minutes a game.
Tommy Amaker, Duke
Tommy Amaker started every game of his four-year career at Duke and during that time helped lead the Blue Devils to a 108-30 record, four NCAA Tournaments and an appearance in the 1986 Final Four. He was the national defensive player of the year in 1987 and was named an All-American that year as well. His 259 career steals and 708 assists rank second all-time at Duke. But it was his size, 6 feet and 150 pounds that more than likely kept him from playing in the NBA. Currently, he is the head basketball coach at Harvard University and this year he has led the team to their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1946.
Lorenzo Charles, Sidney Lowe and Dereck Whittenburg, North Carolina State
These three are kind of joined at the hip. They were the best players on the 1983 North Carolina State team that won the National Championship. They were a real underdog but led by their backcourt of Whittenburg and Lowe, who had played together in high school, just outside of Washington DC, the Wolfpack seemingly shocked everyone on their way to the title. They survived a series of two and three point victories and even trailed in the last minute of most of their post-season games that year. Lorenzo Charles, who died in a bus accident last year, dominated under the basket for them and to this day, is best known for dunking Whittenburg’s airball at the buzzer to win the Final game.
Ultimately, Charles was drafted by the Atlanta Hawks with the 41st pick in the second round of the 1985 Draft. He played just 36 games in the NBA and averaged 3.4 points. Whittenburg was drafted by the Suns in 1983 but never played in the NBA. Lowe played parts of three seasons with the Pacers, Hornets and Timberwolves averaging less than three points a game.
Mateen Cleaves, Michigan State
Mateen Cleaves had an outstanding college career and if for nothing else, is remembered for leading his team to the 2000 national championship where he was named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four. He is Michigan State’s only three-time All-American in basketball and ranks 14th in MSU career scoring with 1,541 points. And with 193, Cleaves is also the school’s all-time steals leader. Mateen is MSU’s and the Big Ten’s all-time leader in assists with 816.
In 2000, The Detroit Pistons drafted Cleaves with the 14th pick. During his rookie season, he played in 78 games, averaging 5.4 points and 2.7 assists. It was downhill from there. In the following season he only played in 32 games and by 02-03 that number was down to 12.
Julius Hodge, North Carolina State
Julius Hodge arrived at North Carolina State as a freshman and set the Wolkpack’s world on fire. He filled up the stat sheet every night and was the leading freshman scorer in the ACC, scoring 10.7 points per game. He was also the leading voter-getter for the league’s All-Rookie squad and finished second in the voting for ACC Rookie of the Year. By he time he was a junior, he was second in the ACC in scoring with 18.2 points per game. As an NBA player over the course of two seasons, he only averaged 1.2 points a game in a mere 23 games before moving on to play for several teams in Europe, Australia and Vietnam.
Ray Jackson, Michigan
How good of a player was Ray Jackson? No one really knows for sure. In 1992 he was part of what is still considered the greatest recruited class of all time. At the University of Michigan, he was a member of the Fab Five. Five freshman, including Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard and Jimmy King, who managed to change the culture of basketball, garner the nation’s attention while playing their way into the NCAA Championship game as freshmen and again as sophomores. The Wolverines lost both games. The Fab Five blew teams out and looked stylish doing it. They were the first college team to popularize baggy shorts, which is now the norm. They wore black sneakers and were the only team to wear black socks, as well. Somehow, their shoes and socks were intimidating when they stepped on the court for the layup line. Ray Jackson, a legitimate star at his Texas high school, was the last of the Five that coach Steve Fisher inserted into the starting lineup. He is also the only one of them to never play a game in the NBA.
Mark Macon, Temple
As successful as Temple’s program has been over the years, producing many NBA stars including Eddie Jones and Aaron McKie, Macon is widely considered to be the best player Temple has had. In school, he averaged over 20 points and nearly six rebounds per game. In his freshman year, the 1986-‘87 season, he led the Owls to a 32-4 record and the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Even with the talent that graduated that year, in his sophomore campaign, the team improved with a 34-2 record and a No. 1 ranking for the majority of the year. The Owls made it all the way to the Elite Eight before losing to Duke in a heartbreaker. As an NBA player Macon managed to stick around for parts of six seasons with the Nuggets and Pistons, but never took off and was rarely heard from. He missed two entire seasons before returning for his final season in which he played only seven games.
Ed O’Bannon, UCLA
Eddie O starred at UCLA despite tearing his anterior cruciate ligament prior to ever setting foot on the court with the Bruins. In 1995, his senior year, he averaged 20.4 points (.533 field-goal percentage, .433 3-point percentage) and 8.3 rebounds and was named the USBWA player of the year. He also earned the John Wooden Award, was a consensus first team All-American and was the Pac-10 co-player of the year along with Damon Stoudamire. Drafted by the New Jersey Nets he never really took off with them. He was too small to play down low and his surgically repaired knee limited his quickness on the perimeter. Ultimately, he was gone after two seasons and played seven years in Europe.
Victor Page, Georgetown
Victor Page was an out and out star playing for John Thompson at Georgetown. In his freshman year (’95-’96) he played in the backcourt with future NBA superstar Allen Iverson and started 33 of 37 games. He averaged 12.5 points a game for the #4 ranked Hoyas and helped the team get to the Finals in the Big East Tournament where they ultimately lost by one point to UConn courtesy of a Ray Allen miracle shot. Page was named the MVP of that tournament, only the second MVP from a non-title team.
As a sophomore, Page practically led the Hoyas into a post-season berth all by himself. Averaging 22 points a game, he led the young team to eight wins in its last nine games, including five on the road. In just 67 games, he is among Georgetown’s top 25 scorers and his career average is 5th all time.
Victor left Georgetown after his sophomore season declaring himself eligible for the NBA draft. However, he was never drafted. At a pre-draft camp in Chicago, he sat up one night at a hotel bar, in front of NBA officials, then stayed out all night and missed the morning workouts. Instead of the NBA, he was picked 11th in the CBA Draft. He was later picked up by the Timberwolves but was released after injuring his arm in a fight and then lying to the team about it. If he had any hopes of making it to the League, those were extinguished in 2003 when sitting in a car, he was shot in his face, chest and leg. He is now missing an eye and wears a patch because of it.
Is the list fair? Who did we miss? Shout ’em out!