Darrell Griffith, Louisville (1980)
Darrell Griffith was so good in high school that he could’ve been the NBA’s first guy to skip college and go straight to the pro’s. However, Griffith enrolled at the University of Louisville, and lead the school to its first-ever NCAA men’s basketball championship in 1980. That season, Griffith was named First Team All-American by the Associated Press and was given the Wooden Award as the best college basketball player in the nation. After a mostly unheralded career in the NBA, as a member of the Utah Jazz, Griffith still managed to have his #35 jersey retired by the team, and now serves as a special assistant to the President of the University of Louisville.
Isiah Thomas, Indiana (1981)
Playing for legendary taskmaster Bob Knight at the University of Indiana, future Hall of Fame point guard Isiah Thomas became one of Thomas’ favorite players while he was the coach of the Hoosiers. Fans in the Hoosier state nicknamed Thomas “Mr. Wonderful,” while Knight (affectionately) referred to Thomas as “Pee Wee,” because of Thomas’ lack of height (he was 6’1).
Thomas led the Hoosiers, and then the Detroit Pistons, to basketball championships at their respective levels, and continued to stay around basketball after his playing days in various capacities. That included working as an executive for the Toronto Raptors, New York Knicks, and even the Continental Basketball Association.
James Worthy, North Carolina (1982)
Before a certain phenom step foot on the floor of the Dean Dome in the 1980’s, the big man on campus at the University of North Carolina was actually small forward James Worthy. After leading the Tar Heels to the 1982 NCAA Championship, Worthy was named the NCAA tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, and was subsequently selected with the top overall pick in the 1982 NBA draft by the defending NBA champion Lakers.
After winning three championships with the Lakers, Worthy dabbled in television, working for Time Warner’s local coverage of the Lakers in Southern California, while dabbling in a few big screen cameos as well. In 2015, Worthy was hired to work with the Lakers coaching staff with a focus on the team’s big men.
Akeem Olajuwon, Houston (1983)
Before we started affixing the “H” in the spelling of his first name, Akeem “The Dream” Olajuwon paired up with fellow future Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler at the University of Houston as the founding members of “Phi Slama Jama”, the first slam-dunking “fraternity” in college basketball. Olajuwon was selected with the #1 overall pick in the 1984 NBA Draft (ahead of Michael Jordan), and finished his NBA career as a two-time champion and Hall of Fame inductee.
In his post-playing days, Olajuwon has become something of a Real Estate mogul, with his estimated profits exceeding $100 million in that endeavor. He also tutors young hoops hopefuls and current professional basketball players in the nuances of playing the game.
Patrick Ewing, Georgetown (1984)
One of the greatest college basketball players of all time, Patrick Aloysius Ewing led his Georgetown University Hoyas to three National Championship game appearances during his four years in the nation’s capital. After being taken with the #1 overall pick in the 1985 NBA Draft, Ewing played in 11 All-Star games in the NBA, and was named to the 1992 Men’s Olympic Basketball team, known as “The Dream Team.”
After retiring from the NBA, Ewing immediately tried his hand at coaching, working his way up the ladder with three NBA teams between 2003 and 2017, after which he was named the head coach of men’s basketball at Georgetown, his alma mater.
Ed Pinckney, Villanova (1985)
A 6′9″ forward from The Bronx, New York, Ed Pinckney was a key member of a “Cinderella” Villanova University team that defeated Patrick Ewing and the Georgetown Hoyas for the 1985 NCAA Championship. Pinckney was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player after registering 16 points and 6 rebounds in the title game, which is widely considered as one of the greatest NCAA tournament upsets of all time.
Pinckney had a relatively modest NBA career, which still spanned 13 seasons (with seven teams). After retiring from the NBA, Pinckney served as an assistant coach at his Alma Mater for four years, and is currently an assistant coach with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Pervis Ellison, Louisville (1986)
At the University of Louisville, forward Pervis Ellison earned the nickname “Never Nervous Pervis” for his laid-back demeanor even in the most intensely high-pressure situations. In his freshman year, Ellison led the Cardinals to their second-ever national championship, and Ellison was named the Most Outstanding Player; it was only the second time a freshman had ever been awarded that honor. Ellison went on to become the #1 overall pick in the 1989 NBA Draft, but after a rash of injuries, he earned the derisive nickname “Out of Service Pervis” for all the ailments he was afflicted with as a professional.
In his post-playing days, Ellison currently coaches basketball at the Life Center in Burlington, New Jersey, which is close by his current hometown of Voorhees Township.
Danny Manning, Kansas (1988)
In his fourth and final year at the University of Kansas, forward Danny Manning finally led the Jayhawks to a National Championship win over the University of Oklahoma by an 83-79 score. In the title game, Manning finished with 31 points, 18 rebounds, 5 steals and 2 blocked shots. The fact that Manning put up such a ridiculous stat line, coupled with the fact that Manning’s Jayhawks became the team with the most regular season losses (11) to win an NCAA title, earned him — and his teammates — the nickname of “Danny and the Miracles.” After being taken with the top pick in the 1988 NBA Draft, Manning’s professional career basically ended before it really started, as he tore the ACL in his knee during his rookie season, and was never really the same player after that.
After returning to Lawrence, Kansas and serving as a team manager for the Jayhawks, Manning worked his way up through the coaching ranks, and accepted a position as the head coach at Wake Forest University in 2014.
Glen Rice, Michigan (1989)
A couple of years before “The Fab Five” captured national headlines, the University of Michigan won a college basketball National Championship, thanks in large part to the efforts of the sharp-shooting Glenn Rice. Rice left Ann Arbor as Michigan’s all-time leader in points, field goal attempts, field goals made, and single-season three-point percentage (51.6% in 1988-1989). Rice was a perennial All-Star at the professional level, in a time when the league was absolutely loaded with star power.
After retiring from the league, Rice has kept a low profile, except for one police incident in 2008. In the spring of 2016, Rice and longtime girlfriend Tia Santoro, his youngest daughter’s mother, were married at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens in Miami.
Christian Laettner, Duke (1991)
You could make an argument that Christian Laettner was the greatest college basketball player in NCAA history, and also the most hated college basketball player in NCAA history, and you’d have a very compelling case for either. The two-time All-American and two-time NCAA Champion is enshrined in the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame, and was the lone college player on the famed “Dream Team” basketball team in the 1992 summer Olympics.
Having retired from basketball, Laettner has partnered up with former Duke teammate Brian Davis to pursue several business ventures together, including their attempt to purchase a stake in the Memphis Grizzlies.
Bobby Hurley, Duke (1992)
As the “Robin” to Christian Laettner’s “Batman,” Bobby Hurley helped the Duke University Blue Devils make three Final Four appearances in Hurley’s four seasons in Durham. The two-time All-American was named the Final Four Most Outstanding Player in 1992, and left Duke as the all-time leader in assists in NCAA basketball. Hurley’s professional career was ruined when he was involved in a serious car accident, which ejected him from his vehicle.
After a dalliance in horse racing, and briefly working as an NBA scout, Hurley returned to the hardwood, where he’s currently the head coach of the Arizona State University men’s basketball team.
Corliss Williamson, Arkansas (1994)
As one of the centerpieces for Hall of Fame head coach Nolan Richardson’s “40 Minutes of Hell”-style of basketball, Corliss “Big Nasty” Williamson was named Most Outstanding Player of the 1994 NCAA Tournament, after leading the University of Arkansas Razorbacks to a 31–3 record, and a National Championship victory over the Duke University Blue Devils. In the NBA, Williamson won the Sixth Man of the Year award (in 2002) and an NBA Championship (2004) as a member of the Detroit Pistons, one of the five NBA teams he played for during his pro days.
Williamson took the coaching route after his career was over, and currently works for the Orlando Magic as an assistant coach.
Ed O’Bannon, UCLA (1995)
There was a brief period of time, as a freshman at UCLA, where Ed O’Bannon was told he might never walk properly again, let alone play basketball, after tearing the ACL in his knee during a pickup game. Yet, three years later, O’Bannon was named team MVP of the Bruins, and one season after that, led UCLA to a National Championship win, while earning the NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player and John R. Wooden award that season (in 1995).
O’Bannon’s knee problems curtailed his NBA career, as he spent most of his professional days overseas. These days, you might recognize O’Bannon’s name as the lead plaintiff in O’Bannon v. NCAA, an antitrust class action lawsuit.
Miles Simon, Arizona (1997)
Mike Bibby was the guy who ended up being the lottery pick in the 1998 NBA Draft, but guard Miles Simon was considered to be the heart and soul of the University of Arizona Wildcats team that beat three #1 ranked teams in the NCAA Tournament, en route to winning the National Championship in 1997. Simon wasn’t taken until midway through the second round of the 1998 NBA Draft, and spent most of his career playing basketball internationally.
After returning stateside in 2005, Simon began coaching under his former college coach Lute Olsen at his Alma Mater. After a brief sabbatical from coaching, Simon currently works for the Los Angeles Lakers as an assistant coach.
Richard Hamilton, Connecticut (1999)
Before he became better known as “Rip Hamilton” at the professional level, Richard Hamilton paired up with guard Khalid El-Amin to lead the University of Connecticut Huskies to a National Championship win, defeating a Duke University Blue Devils team that was considered to be one of the most loaded college basketball teams of all time. Hamilton was named the Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player during that run, after averaging over 24 points per game. Hamilton was drafted by the Washington Wizards in 1999, but really made his career as a member of the Detroit Pistons in the 2000’s, where he helped lead the team to an NBA Championship in 2004.
With his professional playing days now completed, Hamilton spends much of his time working with youth and performing philanthropic work, or endeavors which combine both like the “Read to Achieve” program.