What Ever Happened to These Forgotten NCAA Basketball Stars?
They were some of the biggest stars in the sports world and they weren’t even cashing checks to play the game. That’s the beautiful and bizarre world of NCAA basketball.
College programs are essentially a rotating door churning out student athletes every four years (if they stuck around that long), but that’s all this list of NCAA stars needed to leave an everlasting impression on their program and throughout the nation.
Let’s look back at some of college ball’s top talents whose time in the spotlight seemed to have peaked when putting their school on the map or as the face of their powerhouse program.
1. Scottie Reynolds, Villanova
Villanova has grown into one of the most dominant basketball programs in the NCAA, and Scottie Reynolds played a gigantic role in getting the Wildcats to that point.
The sharpshooting guard tore up the Big East from 2006-10, dropping the second most points in school history (2,222) as he led the Cats to four straight NCAA Tournament appearances.
Despite earning first team All-American honors his senior year, the offensive-minded point guard’s lack of versatility simply didn’t align with NBA expectations.
Even though Reynolds hasn’t been balling in the States, he’s keeping plenty busy playing overseas playing for clubs in Italy, the Philippines, Turkey, Czech Republic, Israel, Russia, Turkey and Croatia.
Just reading those countries will give a person jet lag.
2. Matt Howard, Butler
Butler went from barely on the map to a real deal basketball school during Matt Howard’s collegiate career (2007-11). Alongside future NBA players Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack, Howard catapulted Butler from relative obscurity to back-to-back national championship appearances as a junior and senior.
Howard was the quintessential utility man in college, hustling on both ends and always willing to sacrifice the body for a loose ball.
Even at 6’8”, 230 lb, Howard’s undersized frame for a power forward forced him to take his talents overseas where he now plays for Tel Aviv of the Israeli Premier League after stints in Greece, Germany and France.
3. Adam Morrison, Gonzaga
Adam Morrison was as loveable of a star as college players can be. The Gonzaga forward was an unstoppable scoring machine in his three years before declaring for the draft. The 2006 D-I scoring champion (28.1 ppg) led the Bulldogs to three straight tournament appearances and a Sweet Sixteen appearance that proved even our heroes cry.
The Charlotte Bobcats really went all in, drafting Morrison No. 3 overall pick. After a solid rookie campaign, Morrison suffered a torn ACL heading into his second season.
After bouncing around the league (and scoring two championships at the end of the Lakers bench), Morrison played overseas before returning to his high school, Mead, (Spokane, WA) as an assistant coach.
4. Khalid El-Amin, Connecticut
There was loads of talent on UConn’s 1999 Championship team, but Khalid El-Amin was the Huskies husky leader. It’s easy to understand why El-Amin was so popular. He was the pick-up star we all knew well throughout the country – undersized, deceptively athletic, relentlessly physical.
El-Amin’s 5’10”, 200 lb frame didn’t do him any favors in the NBA, and it was off to Europe to play professionally after just one year. Overseas, however, El-Amin has thrived and compiled a list of teams on his resume that would make adamant world travelers envious.
5. Ed O’Bannon, UCLA
Ed O’Bannon, the older of the O’Bannon brothers, was a mega monster. The dominant power forward improved each of his four years at UCLA and was the cornerstone of the Bruins’ 1995 National Championship. With 20.4 ppg, 8.5 rpg and 2.5 apg, O’Bannon was a one-man wrecking crew.
Many know O’Bannon for his beef with the NCAA more than his time playing college ball. His role as the lead plaintiff in O’Bannon v. NCAA, stating that D-I basketball/football players are entitled to financial compensation has been a catalyst for this debate.
Aside from publishing Court Justice: The Inside Story of My Battle Against the NCAA, O’Bannon enjoys life away from basketball working as a car salesman in Nevada.
6. Jimmer Fredette, Brigham Young
Anyone who wasn’t a fan of Jimmer Fredette simply isn’t a true believer in the blessing our basketball gods gave us.
By Fredette’s senior year (2010-11), the entire nation caught Jimmer fever, as he jacked NBA-range shots to a cool 28.9 ppg and National Player of the Year.
Even though Fredette’s moonshot was as prepared as anyone for the transition to the NBA, the rest of his game couldn’t translate. After a few years in the league, Fredette turned to China’s CBA in 2016 where he’s been a superstar on the Shanghai Sharks since.
One highlight of the 2017 CBA International MVP was his 73-point performance in a rookie that saw him average a mind-boggling 37.6 ppg.
7. Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina
Sure, the Dukies always have a good front-runner for the NCAA’s Most Hated of the Year, but Hansbrough checked all the boxes: UNC Tar Heel, national champion (2009), NCAA Player of the Year (2008), big bug eyes… the list goes on for Psycho T.
After graduating as the 13th highest scorer in D-I history (that’s one ahead of Larry Bird), Hansborough actually saw limited action in the NBA for seven seasons, but it wasn’t the same Psycho T we loved to hate.
In 2017, the Tar Heel took his talents to the CBA where he’s been crushing it with the Guangzhou Long-Lions.
8. Gerry McNamara, Syracuse
Before the Big East returned to its “Catholic Seven” roots, Syracuse was still a staple of the powerhouse conference.
Cuse was a favorite easy-to-hate team basketball school, and Gerry McNamara was the face of the Orange at their peak years, starting with his freshman year alongside Carmelo Anthony in their 2003 National Championship run.
Undrafted after graduation, McNamara played stints in the D-League and briefly played professionally overseas before returning to Syracuse as an assistant coach.
To understand just how iconic McNamara’s college career was, the Scranton, PA native was honored with a bobblehead by the Triple-A Scranton Red Barons, a bobblehead that sat on the desk of a certain Dwight Schrute of Dunder-Mifflin.
9. Jay Williams, Duke
Amongst the many great players to play for Duke, Jay Williams is largely thought to be one of, if not the greatest to represent the program.
In his three years, Williams led the Blue Devils to a national championship (2001) and various individual honors and accolades before graduating earl.
Selected No. 2 overall in the 2002 NBA draft, Williams appeared to be primed for a long, successful career before a motorcycle accident robbed the star point guard of that opportunity.
Once it was clear a comeback was not in his future, Williams returned to commentate college basketball games and has been working as an ESPN analyst since.
10. Len Bias, Maryland
In the ACC, the heavyweight division of college ball, Maryland’s Len Bias was larger than life. The 2x ACC Player of the Year led the Terps to four straight NCAA tournaments and two Sweet Sixteens.
After his storybook college career came to a close, the talented small forward’s promising NBA career was tragically cut short before it even began.
Only two days after the Boston Celtics selected Bias with the second pick, the 22-year-old died of an accidental drug overdose, leaving many to consider him “the greatest player to never play professionally.”
11. Steve Alford, Indiana
As a player, Steve Alford was the living embodiment of Hoosier basketball. The Indiana native had a borderline scary work ethic, practicing morning, noon and night to perfect his game.
The 1983 Indiana Mr. Basketball stayed in-state to play four years for the Hoosiers, which all paid off as he won the national championship his senior year.
After a brief NBA career (working the bench), Alford embarked on his next NCAA journey as a coach. Alford found ample success coaching Missouri State, Iowa and New Mexico before taking over as head coach of UCLA in 2013 where he had the pleasure of coaching his son, Bryce.
12. Mateen Cleaves, Michigan State
Right up there amongst the most successful programs in college basketball is Michigan State. It’s hard to describe just how large a role Mateen Cleaves had in catapulting coach Tom Izzo’s notoriety.
Cleaves masterfully ran the point as an upperclassman, leading the Spartans to back-to-back Final Fours (1999, 2000) and national championship (2000) as a member of “The Flintstones.”
Cleaves’ first-round selection in the NBA draft was well-deserved, but his time in the league consisted of little more than riding pine.
With his playing days officially over, Cleaves began working as an analyst for the team that drafted him, the Detroit Pistons, in 2010 and has held a role as an analyst since.
13. Ralph Sampson, Virginia
For four years, Ralph Sampson owned college basketball. The Virginia Cavaliers’ formidable tower was a 7’4” nightmare on the hardwood. Sampson swatted shots and racked up double-doubles at such a staggering rate he earned National Player of the Year status three straight years!
Unsurprisingly, Sampson was the first off the board in the 1983 NBA draft. After four All-Star seasons, all we’re left with are “what-ifs,” as the remainder of Sampson’s career was marred by knee injuries. Sampson’s two sons have carried on his legacy playing Division I basketball.
14. Luke Harangody, Notre Dame
Luke Harangody had a lot of fans ripping their hair out whenever their team had to face his Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
Yet another man to make the “Most Hated” list and for good reason, as the stocky power forward could bully his way into the paint for a bucket and just as easily turn and fade with a pretty hook shot.
After averaging 19.2 points and 9.5 rebounds over four years, the 2008 Big East Player of the Year was taken late off the board in the 2010 NBA draft, but Harangody’s old school style of play simply didn’t match up with the times.
Overseas, however, Harangody’s found his niche and has consistently found teams that can use his unique skillset.
15. Darrell Griffith, Louisville
Anyone unfamiliar with Louisville’s Darrell Griffith may have at least seen his alter ego, Dr. Dunkenstein.
Dunkenstein was an OG jammer who helped revolutionize the dunks we see today. The most remarkable part of it was that he was showing off these flashy jams while leading the Cardinals to three straight Sweet Sixteens and Louisville’s first ever national championship (1980).
The doctor of dunks didn’t slow down in the NBA. On the contrary, Griffith was everything the Jazz hoped for, as his 20.6 ppg earned him Rookie of the Year honors.
The scoring machine had five prolific years of play before a foot injury slowed his production in his final five NBA years. Griffith returned to his alma mater as a special assistant to the president for years until 2018. He’s also been keeping busy mentoring another high-flying star in Utah.
16. Bobby Hurley, Duke
When looking back on the history of Duke’s basketball program, their introduction to the league as the NCAA’s new top dog came with Bobby Hurley running the point.
Hurley improved each year, reaching the championship game as a freshman before winning back-to-back national championships (1991, 1992).
Hurley proved to be a terrible lottery pick, but an ugly run in the NBA wasn’t the end of his basketball career.
The former star guard returned to college ball, working his was up from an assistant at Wagner and URI to head coach at Buffalo where the team won two MAC championships before he took the reins at Arizona State.
17. Pervis Ellison, Louisville
After Louisville great Dr. Dunkenstein won the Cardinals a championship, it was Never Nervous Purvis’ time to shine.
Ellison started at center all four years, but it only took him one to win a national championship (1986) for the Cards.
Ellison was the first selection in the 1989 NBA draft and played 11 years in the league. Actually, he actually played a less than six full seasons, as he was riddled with injuries. U of L’s star center went from “Never Nervous” to “Out of Service Pervis.”
Since 2011, Pervis has coached basketball at Life Center Academy (Burlington, NJ).
18. Scott May, Indiana
Bob Knight saw immediate success when he took over as the Indiana Hoosiers’ basketball coach in 1971, but it was Scott May’s arrival in 1973 that IU became unstoppable.
In Scott’s sophomore season, the Hoosiers won by an average of 22.1 points, remaining undefeated until the Elite Eight when Scott broke his arm seven minutes into the game! The following year, Scott won his national championship with a bonus National Player of the Year… oh, and they went UNDEFEATED.
Sadly, Scott’s injury ravaged NBA career never saw a chance to take off. The NBA did, however, present Scott with the opportunity to invest in another future. Between each off-season, Scott repeatedly bought up apartments around his alma mater, and business around Bloomington has been booming since.
19. Hank Gathers, Loyola Marymount
Hank Gathers began his collegiate career at USC before a coaching change resulted in Gathers losing his scholarship and transferring Loyola Marymount. Gathers transformed into a basketball god at LMU, leading the NCAA in scoring and rebounding in 1989 and averaging 28.0 ppg and 11.1 rpg.
Remarkable as Gathers’ numbers were, there’s also a sad reality to his career low 26 games senior year. Gathers collapsed during a regular game, which led to a discovery that he had an abnormal heartbeat. A few weeks later in the conference semifinal, Gathers collapsed again, dying of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
20. Christian Laettner, Duke
Bobby Hurley left Duke as the Blue Devils’ all-time leader in assists, and it was one of the most notorious names in college hoops who the buckets to make that happen, Christian Laettner.
Laettner was the unstoppable scoring machine responsible for leading Duke to two national titles in ’91 and ’92 and graduating with a legacy as one of the greatest players (and most hated) players in NCAA history.
Laettner would go on to play 13 seasons in the NBA, earning one All-Star selection in that time. That didn’t stop him from nearly losing it all in an array of bad investments.
Since 2010, the former Duke star has taken his Christian Laettner Basketball Academy on the road for kids’ weekend developmental camps.
21. Dee Brown, Syracuse
The Illinois Fighting Illini have never won it all, but Dee Brown led the orange and blue all the way to their lone appearance on final stage of the Big Dance. Brown led the star-studded trio of guards (Deron Williams, Luther Head) to a 37-2 record, losing the championship game to the UNC Tar Heels.
Brown’s unassuming stature resulted in a brief NBA career before playing overseas. After calling it a career in 2015, Brown turned in his jersey for a shirt and tie, coaching for a year in China before returning to the States in 2017 to begin his coaching career as an assistant at UIC.
22. Michael Olowokandi, Pacific
Nigerian born Michael Olowokandi enrolled at University of the Pacific (Stockton, CA) in 1995. Having essentially no basketball experience, the 7’0” Olowokandi actually called the school to see if he could get a shot at the team. Fast forward to hi junior year and he’s torching the nation with 22.2 ppg and 11.2 rpg.
Olowakandi hit the NCAA like a comet, and the NBA took notice. Just like that Olowokandi went from completely irrelevant to the No. 1 pick in the 1998 NBA draft.
It proved to be a bittersweet moment, as he simply could not cut it at the NBA level. After nine lackluster seasons, Olowokandi (unfairly) is remembered as one of the biggest busts in NBA history and has stayed out of the spotlight since.
23. Marcus Fizer, Iowa State
Oh my sweet Iowa State basketball Jesus, Marcus Fizer was flexing his big boy forward prowess all up on the Big 12. Fizer was the big hoss of Cyclone Alley and a boss in the paint. The hefty forward’s authoritative style pushed the Cyclones to the Elite 8 for the second time in school history as he earned the school’s lone All-American selection.
Throwing around that extra weight may have worked at the college level, but it wouldn’t allow him much longevity in the NBA. After falling to the NBA D-League, Fizer showed that he can still hoop, earning D-League MVP (2006) before going overseas to play out his career another decade.
24. Juan Dixon, Maryland
Juan Dixon was straight shootin’ twerking and Terpin his way through the Big Dance to immortalize himself as a Maryland legend.
After reaching the Final Four in his junior year for the first time in school history, Dixon ran a disgustingly talented Terrapins squad to the school’s first ever national championship (2002) for an unforgettable senior season.
Dixon never panned out to anything more than a backup guard off the bench in his seven years of NBA ball. As the story seems to go, Dixon took to the foreign lands to finish out his playing days before returning to the States to coach at the NCAA level. Today, Dixon is running the Coppin State men’s program.
25. Jameer Nelson, St. Joseph’s
Jameer Nelson is coming in hot on this list for the opposite reason as the rest of these hardwood heroes. Nelson looked like the prototypical college superstar whose production would fall off a cliff come graduation. Instead, he’s been hooping in the NBA since 2004.
Nelson was a superstar at St. Joe’s. He, along with Delonte West carried the A-10 underdog all the way to the Elite Eight, defying all expectations that little guys can lead a team to such success. Proving all the little guy haters wrong, Nelson hoisted his National Player of the Year trophy for all to see.
26. Marcus Camby, Massachusetts
The Camby Man was a nightmare of ‘90s NCAA hoops. During his three seasons with the UMass Minutemen, Marcus Camby thrived under Coach Calipari.
The shot-blocking phenom carried UMass straight to its first ever Elite Eight appearance (1995) and Final Four the following year (with an asterisk).
Following his junior year, Camby declared for the NBA draft and everyone was looking to get their hands on the National Player of the Year. After over a decade of defensive dominance, Camby returned to school to finish his credits and graduated in 2017.
27. Emeka Okafor, Connecticut
Jameer Nelson wasn’t the only POY in 2004. Emeka Okafor led his group of UConn Huskies (who looked more like the MonStars) straight to a national championship. What’d he do? Try everything. 17.6 points, 11.5 rebounds, 1.0 steals and 4.1 blocks. Yup, that’ll get a chip.
Okafor declared for the NBA draft after his junior year… because he was graduating a year early with a 3.8 GPA. That’s just unfair. Okafor played well for years for the otherwise dismal Bobcats and, after a four-year hiatus, made a stunning return to the NBA in 2018.
28. Calbert Cheaney, Indiana
Calbert Cheaney was a deadeye shooter and straight up hooper from freshman to senior year. Cheaney left his mark with a Final Four appearance, National Player of the Year and graduating as the all-time leading scorer in Big Ten history.
Cheaney had a long run of it in the NBA, lasting from 1993-2006 before hanging up his jersey. After retiring, Cheaney took up a couple front office positions with the Warriors and Hoosiers before working as an assistant coach for Saint Louis University for a few years.
29. Sean May, North Carolina
Sean May is one of four father-son duos in NCAA history to win a national championship. While his father held up the hardware in Indiana, May did it in North Carolina with the Tar Heels (2005).
May was large, but not quite in charge in his four NBA seasons. On the other hand, May torched the competition overseas, winning multiple championships in different leagues.
Since retiring, May returned to UNC where he now serves as director of basketball operations.
30. Shelden Williams, Duke
Oh look, another Duke Blue Devil… how fun. Shelden Williams was an undersized big who could defend the paint like few ever could. His efforts earned two Defensive Player of the Year awards and put him in the Duke record books as the school’s all-time leader in blocked shots (single season and total) and rebounds.
Williams took his talents to the NBA where the undersized big was inexplicably drafted fifth overall. After six years of little to no production. Williams hasn’t been in the news much since retiring in 2012, aside from scoring $400,000 in alimony from ex-wife and 2x WNBA MVP Candace Parker in 2018.