10 March Madness Legends That Flopped in the NBA
For college basketball's most prominent talents, March Madness serves as a crucial element of the professional interview process.
Provided a chance to pad resumes and display leadership on a massive national stage, the NCAA tournament can function as a key determinant of future success in the NBA.
However, as we've learned over the past 20-plus years, not every player is cut out for the professional ranks, and collegiate success most certainly is not a definitive indicator of future prosperity in the Association.
So how does a player become classified as a flop?
We've compiled a list of players over the last 25 years who not only saw tremendous individual success during their collegiate years, but who helped carry their teams to new heights in the month of March before making a bumpy transition to the NBA. In addition, players drafted in the lottery were given preferential treatment as it pertains to qualification for the list, although there were a few exceptions.
Simply putting up numbers wasn't enough to qualify. Players had to thrive as the faces of their alma maters, leaving their stamp on the NCAA tournament in the form of deep runs or, preferably, championship seasons.
Rumeal Robinson, PG, Michigan
Career Collegiate Stats: 14.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.3 blocks
Draft Selection: No. 10 overall by Atlanta Hawks (1990)
Career NBA Stats: 7.6 points, 1.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.2 blocks, 12.9 PER
Before Rumeal Robinson floundered after six seasons in the NBA, he was the star point guard of a Michigan Wolverines team that shocked the NCAA and won the 1989 national championship shortly after head coach Bill Frieder was fired and replaced by Steve Fisher.
From his freshman to his breakout sophomore season, Robinson's scoring average jumped more than five points as he shot an other-worldly 55.7 percent from the field and 46.9 percent from three as the Wolverines marched their way to a thrilling 80-79 title game victory over Seton Hall.
Robinson was later named a 1990 second-team consensus All-American along with Alonzo Mourning, Bo Kimble, Dennis Scott, Doug Smith, Hank Gathers and Kendall Gill.
A member of six NBA teams in six years, Robinson was never able to carve out a permanent role for himself, averaging 18.1 minutes during his truncated career.
Bobby Hurley, PG, Duke
Career Collegiate Stats: 12.4 points, 2.2 rebounds, 7.7 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.0 blocks
Draft Selection: No. 7 overall by Sacramento Kings (1993)
Career NBA Stats: 3.8 points, 1.1 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.0 blocks, 8.1 PER
While there are several March standouts from Durham who never made the leap upon arriving in the NBA (Shelden Williams, Jon Scheyer and Trajan Langdon come to mind), Bobby Hurley's name is the one that comes to mind given the criteria established to qualify for the list.
A member of back-to-back title teams (1990-91, 1991-92) who appeared in three Final Fours in his first three years with the Blue Devils, Hurley cemented his place as one of the greatest point guards in Duke history by playing the role of primary distributor and complementary scorer alongside Grant Hill and Christian Laettner.
However, after recording career highs of 17.0 points and 8.2 assists during a senior season in which Duke was bounced from the NCAA tournament in the second round (a loss to California), Hurley departed for the NBA, where he was drafted by the Sacramento Kings with the seventh overall pick.
After recovering from traumatic injuries experienced in a car crash during his rookie season, Hurley bravely and miraculously returned for the 1994-95 campaign. He would appear in 68 games and start six, but played a back-end rotational role, managing a shade over 16 minutes per game.
The story remained the same throughout Hurley's abbreviated five-year stay in the NBA, as he was never able to take hold of a full-time starting gig.
That said, the fact that Hurley returned to the court at all was a minor miracle given the severity of the accident, so his perseverance in the professional realm should be celebrated.
Ed O'Bannon, G/F, UCLA
Career Collegiate Stats: 15.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.8 blocks
Draft Selection: No. 9 overall by New Jersey Nets (1995)
Career NBA Stats: 5.0 points, 2.5 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.2 blocks, 9.1 PER
Now known as the face of a prominent lawsuit against the NCAA, Ed O'Bannon was once a bona fide superstar at UCLA who averaged better than 16 points in each of his final three seasons with the Bruins.
However, O'Bannon didn't truly explode until his senior season, when he won the John R. Wooden award and cemented his place as the most outstanding player in college ball during a prosperous 1994-95 campaign.
Not only that, O'Bannon led UCLA to a 1995 NCAA tournament championship that included wins over UConn, Oklahoma State and Arkansas.
A first-team consensus All-American along with Damon Stoudamire and Jerry Stackhouse, O'Bannon went on to be selected at No. 9 overall by the New Jersey Nets, with whom would he played a season-and-a-half before being dealt to the Dallas Mavericks in a blockbuster that included Shawn Bradley and Sam Cassell.
In total, O'Bannon's stint in the Association lasted just two seasons, as he appeared in 34 games during runs with the Nets and Mavs. Concerns over a troublesome knee ultimately shut his career down.
Mateen Cleaves, PG, Michigan State
Career Collegiate Stats: 12.5 points, 2.1 rebounds, 6.6 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.1 blocks
Draft Selection: No. 14 overall by Detroit Pistons (2000)
Career NBA Stats: 3.6 points, 1.0 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.0 blocks, 8.5 PER
A three-time consensus All-American and one-time national champion during his time at Michigan State, Mateen Cleaves operated as the steadying force for Tom Izzo's Spartans during all four years of his stay in East Lansing.
After a solid freshman season, Cleaves turned heads during his sophomore campaign, posting career-best averages of 16.1 points and 7.2 assists while shooting 40 percent from the field and 33.6 percent from three.
But the fact that Cleaves never topped 42.1 percent shooting from the field or 37.6 percent from three in a single season should have served as a warning that he wouldn't be able to operate as a dual-threat point guard at the professional level.
Upon graduating, Cleaves was selected by his hometown Detroit Pistons, but only lasted one season before he was dealt to the Sacramento Kings in September 2001 for Jon Barry and a first-round pick that later turned into Carlos Delfino.
Marcus Fizer, PF, Iowa State
Career Collegiate Stats: 18.9 points, 7.4 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.9 blocks
Draft Selection: No. 4 overall by Chicago Bulls (2000)
Career NBA Stats: 9.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.3 blocks, 13.4 PER
After falling short of reaching the NCAA tournament during his first two years at Iowa State, Marcus Fizer took the reins and led the Cyclones to the promised land during a breakout junior season.
Wins over Central Connecticut State, Auburn and UCLA capped off the deepest tournament run in Iowa State history, and Fizer built upon that success, earning consensus first-team All-American honors along with eventual No. 1 overall pick Kenyon Martin of Cincinnati.
Fizer, himself, would go on to be selected No. 4 overall by the Chicago Bulls, but wound up being the team's second lottery bust in as many years (Eddy Curry, 2001).
In four seasons with the Bulls, Fizer started a combined 33 games—all of which came during his first two years in the Windy City—due to repeated ACL tears that effectively ended what once looked to be a bright career filled with upside.
Jared Jeffries, PF, Indiana
Career Collegiate Stats: 14.4 points, 7.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.2 steals, 1.3 blocks
Draft Selection: No. 11 overall by Washington Wizards (2002)
Career NBA Stats: 4.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.5 blocks, 9.6 PER
Unlike a majority of the players who qualified for this dubious list, Jared Jeffries actually made a living in the NBA for more than a decade.
And while Jeffries did rack up more than $40 million in paychecks (never change, New York Knicks) and provide reliable perimeter defense, he never lived up to lottery billing after the Washington Wizards selected the former Indiana Hoosier with the 11th pick in the 2002 draft.
Selected one year after the Wizards took a colossal gamble on Kwame Brown, Jeffries made it through 20 games (one start) as a rookie before tearing his ACL. Fortunately, Jeffries rebounded and played in all 82 games the following season, but shot just 37.7 percent from the field and never flashed the double-double promise that made him so dominant at Indiana.
During a 2001-02 campaign that saw the Hoosiers make a run to the national title game before losing to the Maryland Terrapins, Jeffries captured second-team consensus All-American honors and turned heads with a 25-point, 14-rebound performance against the Duke Blue Devils in the Sweet 16.
Juan Dixon, SG, Maryland
Career Collegiate Stats: 16.1 points, 4.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 2.4 steals, 0.2 blocks
Draft Selection: No. 17 overall by Washington Wizards (2002)
Career NBA Stats: 8.4 rebounds, 1.9 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.1 blocks, 12.8 PER
The star attraction of the 2002 NCAA champion Maryland Terrapins, Juan Dixon solidified his place as one of the country's most prestigious players during a season in which he averaged better than 20 points on 14.9 shots per game.
The hot-handed Dixon attempted more than four shots more per game than teammate Lonny Baxter and five more than Chris Wilcox, functioning as the shooting guard while now-Golden State Warrior Steve Blake controlled things at the point, averaging 7.9 dimes per game.
Over his final three years in College Park, Dixon averaged better than 18 points, but the 2001-02 season was his coming-out party.
Standouts Jay Williams, Drew Gooden, Dan Dickau and Steve Logan joined Dixon as consensus first-team All-Americans, but things wouldn't get much better after that.
Dixon lasted three seasons with the Washington Wizards before signing with the Portland Trail Blazers as a free agent, although he did play in 76 games and make 42 starts during his first year in the Northwest.
Dealt to the Toronto Raptors one season later, Dixon's career flat-lined as he bounced around the pro ranks for the final three seasons of a disappointing career.
Dee Brown, PG, Illinois
Career Collegiate Stats: 13.2 points, 3.3 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.1 blocks
Draft Selection: No. 46 overall by Utah Jazz (2006)
Career NBA Stats: 2.1 points, 1.0 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.1 blocks, 7.9 PER
Remember the 2004-05 Illinois Fighting Illini?
If you don't, here's a quick refresher: NBA All-Star Deron Williams was the star of the show, flanked by dangerous weapons like Luther Head, Roger Powell and James Augustine.
But the true point guard in Bruce Weber's vaunted backcourt was Dee Brown, the six-foot floor general who led the Illini in steals and finished second in points scored.
During their memorable run to the national championship game, Brown and the Illini pieced together one of the most memorable comebacks in tournament history by obliterating a 15-point deficit in the final four minutes of an Elite Eight showdown with Arizona before capturing a 90-89 overtime victory.
Illinois would go on to lose to Sean May's North Carolina team in the title game, but a capable scoring and passing guard like Brown appeared to have a future as a role player in the Association.
However, the undersized point man could never establish himself after being selected in the second round by the Utah Jazz and found himself out of an NBA job the following year. In total, Brown made 68 pro appearances and 11 starts (all with the Toronto Raptors) after being named a two-time consensus All-American.
Sean May, PF/C, North Carolina
Career Collegiate Stats: 15.8 points, 10.0 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.2 blocks
Draft Selection: No. 13 overall by Charlotte Bobcats (2005)
Career NBA Stats: 6.9 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.4 blocks, 14.9 PER
Like several members of North Carolina's 2004-05 national title squad, Sean May wound up being an epic bust upon reaching the NBA.
One of four Tar Heels selected in the 2005 draft lottery (Raymond Felton, Marvin Williams and Rashad McCants were the other three), May looked like a promising building block for the Charlotte Bobcats. That wouldn't be the case.
May was limited to 23 appearances and one start after a knee injury derailed his rookie season, and despite averaging 11.9 points and and 6.7 rebounds during his second year in the Association, May appeared in just 12 more games in 2006-07 than he did the year prior.
A former second-team consensus All-American, May serves as a cautionary tale when it comes to drafting players who saw tremendous collegiate success but lack significant upside.
Adam Morrison, SF, Gonzaga
Career Collegiate Stats: 19.7 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.4 blocks
Draft Selection: No. 3 overall by Charlotte Bobcats (2006)
Career NBA Stats: 7.5 points, 2.1 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.1 steals, 0.1 blocks, 7.4 PER
Adam Morrison is perhaps the greatest example of a player who successfully parlayed collegiate excellence into a high NBA draft selection and ultimately faded out of professional relevancy.
The nation's leading scorer during the 2005-06 season, Morrison averaged 28.1 points per game while shooting 49.6 percent from the field and 42.8 percent from three.
However, we can't discuss Morrison's collegiate legacy without mentioning two moments in particular. The first was a game-winning three that Morrison banked in against Oklahoma State from the right wing that perpetuated the mustachioed legend.
But the second is far more indelible.
Matched up against the second-seeded UCLA Bruins in the 2006 Sweet 16, Morrison and the Zags held a three-point lead with 30 seconds to play when disaster struck. After Morrison missed a jumper from the left baseline and the Bruins nailed two free throws, Gonzaga couldn't handle UCLA's pressure defense, turned the ball over and conceded a bucket with under 10 seconds remaining before turning the ball over on their next possession.
To this day, the look on Morrison's face as he sat distraught and teary-eyed at midcourt remains one of the most striking images in NCAA tournament history.
And as if that loss to end his college career wasn't painful enough, Morrison went on to have a remarkably poor showing in the NBA. He started a grand total of 28 games with the Charlotte Bobcats (he missed the 2007-08 season due to knee surgery) before being dealt to the Los Angeles Lakers, although he would go on to win two rings with the Purple and Gold as a benchwarmer before calling it quits.
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