With the recent increase in interest in the recruitment process, it is easy to forget that some of the NBA’s best players were not recruited out of high school.
Excluding players that never played college basketball (high school and foreign players), here is a list of five of the greatest players that had to work their way onto college basketball teams and into the NBA.
Scottie Pippen is a member of the Hall of Fame and is considered one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History. He won six championships, went to seven All-Star Games and was a three-time member of the All-NBA First Team.
Despite all his success as an NBA player, Pippen almost did not play college basketball.
He walked on to the University of Central Arkansas men’s basketball team, where he also served as the team manager.
Pippen then grew seven inches and became an integral member of the Bears.
His 23.6 points per game earned him a spot in the 1987 Draft, and the rest is history.
Steve Francis is most known for his play at the University of Maryland.
He, however, only played for the Terrapins after he transferred from Allegany Community College.
In his sophomore season, Francis averaged 22.7 point, 9.2 assists and 5.8 steals a game.
He was also known for putting on a show. Francis would have scouts drooling after they watched him dunk over other players, throw no-look assists to wide-open teammates and get steal-after-steal.
Francis’s success at Maryland got him a spot in the 1999 NBA Draft. He enjoyed a wonderful career with the Rockets, Magic and Knicks.
Overall, Francis averaged 18.1 points and six assists a game. Not bad for a player who had to play his way through the system to even get a crack at the NBA.
Avery Johnson, now the coach of the Brooklyn Nets, had a long road to the NBA.
Johnson had a great high school career, but he saw little recruitment activity. He began his journey at New Mexico Junior College. Next, he would move to Cameron University.
Johnson would eventually land at Southern University. In his senior season with the Jaguars, Johnson averaged an NCAA record 13.3 assists per game.
Despite his success in college, Johnson’s name was not called in the 1988 NBA Draft.
Eventually, Johnson was signed by the Seattle SuperSonics, and after that, he enjoyed a 16-year career as an NBA journeyman.
After his playing career ended, Johnson turned to coaching. He began as an assistant coach under Don Nelson for the Dallas Mavericks, but he would inherit Nelson's job five months later.
Avery Johnson is now the head coach of the Brooklyn Nets. His work down the difficult road to the NBA has certainly paid off.
Ben Wallace was named NBA Defensive Player of the Year on four separate occasions. The only other player who can claim that he achieved that feat is Dikembe Mutombo.
Wallace was a three-sport athlete in high school. He received all-state honors for basketball in Alabama, but he also played baseball and football.
Wallace played two years at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, Ohio, where he averaged 17 rebounds and just under seven blocks a game.
He then transferred to Virginia Union. At Virginia Union, Wallace averaged a double-double with 13.4 points and 10 rebounds a game.
Despite winning all-state honors in basketball, football and baseball for the Panthers, Wallace went undrafted.
After playing professionally in Italy, Wallace was picked up by the Washington Bullets.
Wallace eventually ended up in Detroit, where his defensive talents helped anchor a championship run in 2004.
Wallace is considered one of the greatest defensive stoppers in the history of the game, and many teams probably regret not giving him a shot.
John Starks is probably most known for “The Dunk,” when he dunked over Horace Grant in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Starks almost never had a chance to complete “The Dunk” though.
Starks did not get recruited to play college basketball. He, instead, was a member of the Rogers State College “taxi squad." These were players that were not even on the first squad. Starks’ only responsibility was to replace an injured or suspended player.
He never got the chance, though. He was expelled from Rogers State for stealing another student’s stereo.
Starks’s next stint with Northern Oklahoma College did not end much better. His 11 points per game were overshadowed by his off-the-court behavior. Starks was arrested for robbery and had to spend five days in jail. After that he was caught smoking cannabis and was asked to leave the college.
After two years at Tulsa Junior College, Starks transferred to Oklahoma State University.
Starks’ problems off the court kept him from being drafted in 1988.
He signed with the Golden State Warriors, but he was released after just one season.
Starks would eventually solidify his position with the New York Knicks. He became known as a fiery competitor, and for that reason, he was popular with the equally fiery New York fans.
His road to the NBA was tough, but because of his hard work, John Starks and his dunk will forever be on posters in college dorm rooms and man caves everywhere.