Carolina Blues: The NBA’s Undercover Underachiever Factory

06.01.10 9 years ago 79 Comments

If Vince Carter is the 2010 Most Disappointing Player of the NBA playoffs, Rasheed Wallace took the crown during the regular season. But while Vince’s untimely no-show helped deny the Magic a return trip to the Finals, ‘Sheed is still in position to sneak out of his letdown of a season with a championship.

Vince and ‘Sheed share another legacy. They are two of the most talented players to ever come out of the University of North Carolina, and at the same time, could be Exhibit A and Exhibit B of a trend I’ve noticed: Over the last 20 years or so, the North Carolina NBA register looks more like a ballot for the Da Vinci Code All-Stars.

Big-time college programs get big-time high school recruits because they usually have a unique selling point. Kentucky offers the most insane fan base (for better or worse) and John Calipari‘s recent habit of cranking out NBA Rookies of the Year. Michigan State makes Final Four appearances like clockwork. UCLA has a gym full of national championship banners and the L.A. weather/women.

North Carolina has championships and tradition, but more importantly to today’s five-star recruit, UNC has a long list of NBA alumni at every position, headlined by The G.O.A.T. When 2010 All-American Harrison Barnes kept a recruiting diary for High School Hoop, he wrote this about his official visit to Chapel Hill:

After that I had lunch with Coach (Roy) Williams, and then I got to see the North Carolina museum. I’m not sure if you guys have heard about that, but it has all of the priceless North Carolina things such as Michael Jordan‘s shoes, and a letter from Coach K to Michael Jordan saying that he hopes he does well at UNC. Then there’s a huge wall that lists all of the draft picks in North Carolina history. It was just huge. Who knows how big it was. The have a little room where they have a highlight film going and they had their national championship room. It was a cool experience to see all of the accomplishments that they have had over the years.

The UNC alumni game was that weekend, so before the game I got to get up a few shots with the players. We ate, and then we started the pregame festivities. I got to meet Michael Jordan and Dean Smith. That was a great experience because Michael was one of my favorite players ever to play the game.

Then we went out for the alumni game and the place was packed. Just to see guys like Vince Carter and Antawn Jamison playing with guys that just came out of college like Danny Green, Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington … it was just cool to see how they interacted with each other.

After that we went to a team tailgate in the practice gym. There were a lot of parents of the players there and Coach Williams and we all ate together so it was real cool. A lot of the pro guys were there, too, and I got a chance to talk with them about their experiences. Like Vince Carter, you could tell he missed it and he really loves Carolina. He was real aggressive about why I should want to go to Carolina. I got to meet George Karl, Larry Brown … There were a lot of really important people from there that I got to meet.

Not many kids are going to say “No” after that presentation. Forget the weather, the women, the academics. The message is clear: Come to Carolina, and you’re going pro.

But then what? Over the last couple decades, UNC has produced a string of pros with a habit of falling short of expectations and/or not living up to their potential. Carolina fans rag on rival Duke for putting out failed NBA players, but once you get past earlier legends like Jordan and James Worthy, the Tar Heels don’t exactly have the best track record of NBA success, either. And trust me, I’m in no way a Duke fan. I’m just calling it like I see it:

* J.R. Reid — 5th pick, 1989 NBA Draft. High school All-American and national Player of the Year. Olympic bronze medalist at UNC. Eleven NBA seasons, 8.5 points, 5.0 rebounds per game, zero All-Star Games.

* Rick Fox — 24th pick, 1991. Thirteen NBA seasons, three championships, 9.6 ppg, 3.8 rpg, zero All-Star Games.

* Pete Chilcutt — 27th pick, 1991. HS All-American. Nine NBA seasons, one championship, 4.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg, zero All-Star Games.

* Hubert Davis — 20th pick, 1992. Twelve NBA seasons, 8.2 ppg, zero All-Star Games.

* George Lynch — 12th pick, 1993. HS All-American. NCAA national championship, UNC career steals leader. Twelve NBA seasons, 6.6 ppg, 5.0 rpg, zero All-Star Games.

* Eric Montross — 9th pick, 1994. HS All-American. Two-time NCAA All-American, national championship. Eight NBA seasons, 4.5 ppg, 4.4 rpg, zero All-Star Games.

* Jerry Stackhouse — 3rd pick, 1995. HS All-American. NCAA All-American. Fifteen NBA seasons, 18.0 ppg, two-time All-Star.

* Rasheed Wallace — 4th pick, 1995. HS All-American. NCAA All-American. Fifteen NBA seasons, one championship, 14.6 ppg, 6.7 rpg, four-time All-Star.

* Antawn Jamison — 4th pick, 1998. HS All-American. Two-time NCAA All-American, ACC and national Player of the Year. Twelve NBA seasons, 19.8 ppg, 8.1 rpg. Sixth Man of the Year, two-time All-Star.

* Vince Carter — 5th pick, 1998. HS All-American. NCAA All-American. Twelve NBA seasons, 22.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 4.9 apg, Rookie of the Year, two-time All-NBA, eight-time All-Star.

* Brendan Haywood — 20th pick, 2001. HS All-American. First triple-double in UNC history. Nine NBA seasons, 7.7 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 1.5 bpg, zero All-Star Games.

* Joe Forte — 21st pick, 2001. HS All-American. NCAA All-American. Two NBA seasons, 1.2 ppg, zero All-Star Games.

* Marvin Williams — 2nd pick, 2005. HS All-American. NCAA national championship. Five NBA seasons, 11.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg, zero All-Star Games.

* Ray Felton — 5th pick, 2005. HS All-American, national Player of the Year. NCAA All-American, national championship. Five NBA seasons, 13.3 ppg, 6.4 apg, zero All-Star Games.

* Sean May — 13th pick, 2005. HS All-American. NCAA All-American, Final Four MOP, national championship. Five NBA seasons, 6.9 ppg, 4.0 rpg, zero All-Star Games.

* Rashad McCants — 14th pick, 2005. HS All-American. NCAA All-American, national championship. Four NBA seasons, 10.0 ppg, zero All-Star Games.

* Brandan Wright — 9th pick, 2007. HS All-American. Three NBA seasons, 6.2 ppg, 3.3 rpg, zero All-Star Games.

* Tyler Hansbrough — 13th pick, 2009. HS All-American. Four-time NCAA All-American, ACC and national Player of the Year, national championship. One NBA season, 8.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg, zero All-Star Games.

* Ty Lawson — 18th pick, 2009. HS All-American. NCAA All-American, ACC Player of the Year, national championship. One NBA season, 8.3 ppg, 3.1 apg, zero All-Star Games.

* Wayne Ellington — 28th pick, 2009. HS All-American. NCAA national championship, Final Four MOP. One NBA season, 6.6 ppg, zero All-Star Games.

Don’t get me wrong, any man with 8-12 years of NBA paychecks on his resume is far from a bust or a failure. Really, anybody who’s got one game of NBA experience has achieved the dreams of thousands of men and is better than 90% of the basketball players in the world. But the facts are right there: Twenty first-round picks from North Carolina in the last 21 drafts, and only four of them reached an All-Star level in the League. And of those four, three of them (Vince, Rasheed, Antawn) have become infamous for underachieving given their amazing talent. Obviously it’s still early for the ’09 class, and relatively early for the ’05 group, but beyond maybe Felton and Lawson and a bigger maybe on Hansbrough or Ellington, I don’t see an All-Star there.

Does this mean top-level high schoolers should avoid UNC? Of course not. The education, networking possibilities, and chance for exposure can only be matched by a handful of schools.

Does this mean NBA Lottery teams should shy away from UNC forward Ed Davis in this year’s draft? Not necessarily. But the 6-9 sophomore comes into the League with a profile awfully similar to Brandan Wright and Marvin Williams; unproven underclassmen with more potential than anything else and a powerful brand name behind them. At the very least, the teams that drafted Wright and Williams would want that pick back if they could do it over again. Ed Davis is projected to go in the Top-10 this month, but if history is any indication, he could have a forgettable NBA career in front of him.

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