NCAA seasons come and go before many of us can even comprehend that they happened. In around 40 games stars rise and fall, March serving as a showcase for what we think is the best that college basketball has to offer.
Unfortunately, America’s most exciting tournament isn’t always an indicator of future success. Whether it’s quality of competition, holes in their game, or problems that haven’t manifested themselves yet, many college basketball luminaries have seen their success come to an abrupt halt after stepping off campus. For some, their 15 seconds of fame in the One Shining Moment montage will be the pinnacle of their hoops careers.
So what makes a bust? This is a search from top to bottom for the most underwhelming professional careers of college legends. Brief careers will be favored (negatively), injuries will be accounted for, and tears will definitely be shed. We’re not just looking at high draft picks who failed; we want to know who just wasn’t good enough to cut it in the pros.
Eddie Griffin – The pride of Roman Catholic High School in Philadelphia, Griffin turned heads during one memorable season at Seton Hall, averaging 17.8 points, 10.7 rebounds and 4.4 blocks in one year for the Pirates. Attitude questions surrounded his draft status, but his production and physical tools were so impressive that the Houston Rockets traded three players to the New Jersey Nets for him on draft night in 2001.
Griffin was never able to cash in on his potential, largely due to struggles with alcoholism off the court. He died tragically as a result of a drunk driving accident in 2007, having been released by the Timberwolves in March of that year. The brevity of his college career excludes him from this list, but he’s a noteworthy, heartbreaking figure nonetheless.
Pervis Ellison – “Never Nervous” Pervis burst onto the scene at the University of Louisville in 1985, leading the Cardinals to the second national championship in school history. Ellison became just the second freshman in history to be named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, and was eventually selected by the Sacramento Kings with the No. 1 pick in the 1989 Draft.
His career was underwhelming, and the 6-9 Ellison struggled to stay healthy throughout 11 seasons in the league. He did, however, manage to win the league’s Most Improved Player award in the 1991-92 season, amassing 20 points and 11.2 rebounds per game en route to the award. It was a brief flash in an otherwise ordinary career, but that’s more than many members of this list can say.
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The “What Might Have Been” Tier
25. Sam Bowie
The poster child for bad draft decisions, Kentucky’s Sam Bowie is remembered a little more harshly than he should be. This is the guy who was taken before Michael Jordan and immediately after Hakeem Olajuwon, so hindsight paints an ugly picture when judging his career.
Bowie’s career was filled with injuries, which limited his output and kept his averages at a paltry 10.9 PPG and 7.5 RPG. He also managed to shoot just 45.2 percent from the field, an inexcusable number for a player who stood over seven feet tall. But Bowie is remembered more for being a bad selection, rather than a terrible player. He did make the 1984-85 All-Rookie First Team, and lasted 10 seasons in the league before calling it quits. Not bad for a guy considered by some to be the worst draft pick in sports history.
24. Christian Laettner
Arguably the most hated and decorated player in the history of college basketball, Duke’s Laettner is one of only four players to go to four consecutive Final Fours, and remains the only player to ever start in all four. His iconic shot to beat Kentucky in the 1992 East Regional Final is replayed on a yearly basis during the tournament, and being the only college player included on the original Dream Team speaks to how highly regarded he was in the early ‘90s.
Never able to replicate the individual brilliance of his college years, Laettner still managed to eke out a long professional tenure, lasting 13 seasons before calling it quits. Perhaps he was just ahead of his time–a 48.5 percent shooter from downtown in college, Laettner attempted less than half a three per game in the pros. Had he been given the green light to fire from deep like many bigs in today’s NBA, maybe we’d remember him differently.
23. Jay Williams
Not to pick on Duke–okay, kind of to pick on Duke–but Williams is another one of Coach K’s disciples that failed to carve out a niche in the pros. Williams was showered with awards for his efforts during his junior season, winning the Wooden, Naismith and Rupp Trophies as the best player in the country.
Williams lasted just one season in the NBA, shooting an inefficient 39.9 percent from the field and 32.2 percent from three, struggling to score against the taller, longer athletes in the league. A devastating motorcycle accident following his rookie year severed nerves in his leg and dislocated multiple ligaments in his knee, derailing his career before it ever had a chance to take off.
22. Greg Oden
When people touted Andrew Wiggins as the most hyped prospect since LeBron last year, they conveniently glossed over the hubbub surrounding Oden’s ascent. Oden put up 15 and 10 in his only season for Ohio State, taking them all the way to the National Championship, despite mostly playing with his off hand due to preseason wrist surgery.
Like Bowie before him, Oden’s professional reputation suffers because of the player drafted immediately after him. When healthy, he was an impactful player for the Blazers, dropping 11.1 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in just under 24 minutes per game during his sophomore season. But knee problems have dogged him, with Oden finally resurfacing with Miami this year after being out of basketball from 2010-2013.
The Limited Game Tier
21. Danny Ferry
A dominant scorer and prototype stretch big at the college level, Ferry scored 22.6 points per game on 52.2 percent shooting during his senior season at Duke, bending and breaking opposing defenses by dragging his men out to the perimeter. But he was more than just a scorer–Ferry became the first player in ACC history to collect more than 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 500 assists over the course of his career.
Drafted second overall by the Clippers in 1989, Ferry continued to be a plus-shooter for 13 seasons in the league. The problem was, stretching the floor was about all he did. Ferry’s career scoring average was 15 points lower than in his final season at Duke. Shooting helped him keep a job for a long time, but limited athleticism curtailed his potential.