The lights are never brighter on a player than during March Madness. Legends are born, and legacy’s are secured. A young man can be the big man on campus and never have to buy a drink in town again when he returns as a beloved alum. Like so many of us learn, college is a great place and for many the best time of our lives.
This is also true for college basketball stars. Many of whom go on to the professional ranks and discover being BMOC doesn’t earn you anything in the NBA where paychecks are on the line every single week. We’ve made a list of some of those stars who just didn’t make it at the next level. We’ve done a bit of speculating ourselves as to why we think they didn’t make it.
So as you’re watching the madness unfold this spring, flip through this list and see the stars of yesteryear who just didn’t quite make it.
Jimmer Fredette: Lack of Skill
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. In 2011, Jimmer Fredette was on top of the world. In his senior season at BYU, Jimmer lead the NCAA in scoring (28.9 ppg) and was named the 2011 National Player of the Year. Jimmer was a threat to score from any spot on the court — so much so — that the term “Jimmer-range” was created to describe the endless range of his deadly three-point shot. In his senior season, he led the Cougars to the Sweet 16 and finished his career as BYU’s all-time leading scorer.
Fast forward to today and Jimmer Fredette is playing basketball in China. Since he was selected with the 10th overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, Jimmer has played for the Kings, Bulls, Pelicans, and Knicks before heading overseas.
Tyler Hansbrough: Lack of Size
Andrew Tyler Hansbrough will likely be better known as “Psycho T” for the remainder of his basketball career. But Hansbrough was — and is — so much more than a world-class agitator. At the University of North Carolina, he was the first player in ACC history to not only be named First Team All-ACC four times, but to also be named to a First Team All-American squad in each of his four seasons.
After being taken in the first round of the 2009 NBA Draft, Hansbrough spent the past eight seasons in the league, before joining the Fort Wayne Mad Ants of the NBA G-League, and finally landing in China. While some will try to argue that Hansbrough’s career wasn’t a complete train-wreck (like some of the others on this list) — 6ppg on 43% shooting is not exactly what you look for when you draft a guy who was one of the best college basketball players of all time. Although his lack of athleticism was always going to limit him, there have been plenty of NBA players who have done much more with much less.
Adam Morrison: Lack of Skill
Remember Adam Morrison? As the leader of the Gonzaga Bulldogs, this 6-foot-8 small forward dominated college hoops from 2003-2006. During his junior season, Morrison was the nation’s leading scorer, averaging an absurd 28.1 ppg. In a game before March Madness tipped-off, Morrison exploded for a career high 44 points. Nowadays, you see entire teams fighting to score 44 points in a game…
Charlotte Bobcats “Manager of Basketball Operations” — Michael Jordan — loved Morrison and selected him with the 3rd-overall pick in the 2006 NBA Draft. But just like MJ’s performance as a talent evaluator, Morrison was a huge disappointment. During his five seasons in the NBA, he started only 33 games, and shot an embarrassing 39% from the field.
Rashad McCants: Lack of Focus
Rashad McCants was a scoring machine during his three years at Chapel Hill. As a freshman, McCants lead the Tar Heels in scoring with 17.5 points per game. McCants was an All-American all three years at UNC, and was a crucial part of their 2005 National Championship team… The Timberwolves selected McCants with the 14th-overall pick in the 2005 NBA Draft, but received very little return on their investment. During his four seasons with the T-Wolves, McCants started just 38 games and often feuded with teammates and coaches.
After one more miserable season with the Sacramento Kings, McCants was out of the NBA by 2009. Since then, McCants has played in pro leagues in Puerto Rico, Philippines, China, Brazil, Lebanon, Venezuela, and Dominican Republic. At least we know his passport has a lot of stamps!
Shelden Williams: Lack of Skill
The picture on the right tells you everything you need to know about Shelden Williams’ NBA career. But let’s talk about the good before the bad. Shelden Williams was an elite defender, and rebounding machine during his four years at Duke (2002-2006). He won the 2005 and 2006 Defensive Player of the Year Award, becoming only the fifth college player in history to win the award in back-to-back years. Williams also holds Duke’s career records for blocks and rebounds… By selecting Williams with the 5th-overall pick in the 2006 NBA Draft, the Atlanta Hawks thought their frontcourt would be set for years to come. Boy were they wrong.
Williams didn’t have the size or the skills to compete in the NBA, and his time in Atlanta was done after two disappointing seasons. Williams played for 7 different teams during his 9 seasons in the NBA — never averaging more than 5.5 ppg or 6 RPG. To make matters worse, he isn’t even the best basketball player in his house! His wife, famous WNBA star Candace Parker, is considered one of the best female basketball players of all-time.
Hasheem Thabeet: Lack of Skill
When you play the game of basketball, it helps to be 7-foot-3 and 265 pounds. UConn center Hasheem Thabeet used his immense physical stature to lead the Big East in blocked shots during all three seasons at UConn… Although his game was still very raw, the Memphis Grizzlies fell in love with his potential and drafted Thabeet with the 2nd-overall pick in the 2009 NBA draft. Let’s be clear — what happened with Hasheem Thabeet isn’t new.
There has been a long list of big guys who played well in college and couldn’t hack it in the NBA. But Thabeet stands out more than most because he was absolutely awful in the pros. In 7 NBA seasons, Thabeet averaged an embarrassing 2.2 ppg and 2.7 rpg. To date, his biggest professional accomplishment is finishing All-Defensive Third Team for the Grand Rapids Drive (D-League).
Jonny Flynn: Lack of Size
As a freshman at Syracuse in 2007, point guard Jonny Flynn took college basketball by storm. In his very first game, Flynn scored 28 points, breaking Carmelo Anthony’s record for most points in a freshman’s debut. With expectations high entering his sophomore season, Flynn did not disappoint. In one of the most memorable college basketball games ever, Flynn led the Orange (37 points, 11 assists) to a 127-117 win in six overtimes against Big East rival UConn…
Impressed by his leadership and ability to get to the basket, the Minnesota Timberwolves selected Flynn with the 6th-overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft. Unfortunately, Flynn lasted only four seasons in the NBA, with stints in Minnesota, Houston, and Portland. His NBA career was over by the age of 23.
Jahlil Okafor: Lack of Skill
Jahlil Okafor had all the makings of the next great “freak” NBA prospect: someone who stands 6’11 but moves and plays offense like someone half-a-foot shorter. But while nobody questioned Okafor’s ability to score, there were major questions about whether he could play even somewhat passable defense to where he’s not a liability while on the floor.
Unfortunately, those concerns became very evident when he got to the NBA. Less than two years after drafting him, the 76ers openly shopped Okafor as aggressively as possible, eventually trading him to the Brooklyn Nets approximately two-and-a-half years after drafting him. He is currently with his 4th NBA team, the Pistons.
Joseph Forte: Lack of Skill
Joe Forte’s NBA career was so forgettable, it’s easy to lose track of how good he was in his two seasons at North Carolina. In his freshman season, Forte earned the 2000 ACC Rookie of the Year — and in 2001, he was voted ACC Player of the Year. In one matchup against hated rival Duke, Forte single-handedly led the Tarheels to a 85-83 victory, finishing with 24 points, 16 rebounds, and 6 assists… Impressed by his flashes of brilliance, the Boston Celtics selected Forte with the 21st-overall pick in the 2001 NBA Draft.
Unfortunately, Forte got off to a rocky start with the coaching staff, and things never panned out. Aside from his awful play on the court, Forte made some questionable decisions off the court — once famously showing up to a game wearing a Lakers jersey! After one miserable season with the Celtics, and another with the Seattle Supersonics, Forte was out of the NBA by age 22.
Thomas Robinson: Lack of Skill
Thomas Robinson was the real deal at Kansas. In his junior season, the 6-foot-9 forward averaged 17.7 ppg and 11.9 rpg. In a game against the University of North Dakota, Robinson exploded for 30 points and 21 rebounds. Robinson was recognized for his stellar play and named a first-team All-American and Big 12 Player of the Year…
The Sacramento Kings selected Robinson with the 5th-overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. After a disappointing rookie season (4.8 ppg, 4.7 rpg), he was traded to the Houston Rockets. Since s2017, Robinson has been playing Europe.
Pervis Ellison: Injuries
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, close to his current hometown of Voorhees Township.
Mateen Cleaves: Lack of Skill
It might surprise you to know that Mateen Cleaves, not Magic Johnson, is the all-time leader in assists at Michigan State. During his impressive run at MSU (1996-2000) Cleaves became the school’s all-time leader in steals and assists while leading the Spartans to an NCAA title in 2000. In his final home game in East Lansing, Cleaves dished out 20 assists, breaking the Big Ten single-game assist record…
Looking to excite their local fan base, the Detroit Pistons selected Cleaves (a Michigan native) with the 14th-overall pick in the 2000 NBA Draft. But after one disappointing season in Detroit, Cleaves was traded to the Sacramento Kings. By the time his pro basketball career was over, Cleaves had played more games in the D-League than the NBA.
Trey Burke: Lack of Skill
Alfonso Clark “Trey” Burke III played for two years at the University of Michigan and was constantly referred to as one of the best — if not the best — players in the nation during his sophomore year in college. In 2013, Burke became the first player to win the college basketball player of the year award and lead his team to the national championship since Ed O’Bannon in 1995.
But college basketball appeared to be the peak of Burke’s career, as he was one of those guys whose game simply couldn’t translate in the NBA. After being dumped by the Utah Jazz (who originally drafted him), Burke has had a couple of forgettable seasons as of late, but has settled into a decent role player with the Dallas Mavericks.
Miles Simon: Lack of Skill
From 1994-1998, Miles Simon teamed up with point guard Mike Bibby at Arizona to form one of the best backcourts in college basketball. Simon, not Bibby, won the Most Outstanding Player award in the 1997 NCAA Tournament in which Arizona knocked off (heavily favored) Kentucky in overtime to win the national championship…
But even after all his success at the college level, he played a grand total of 5 games in the NBA. Simon’s career totals in the NBA — two points, two rebounds, three turnovers, and one foul — in 19 minutes of action. Simon bounced around between the CBA and several international leagues, before finally calling it quits in 2004. He currently works with ESPN as a college basketball analyst.
Ed O’Bannon: Lack of Confidence
Before he became known as “the guy who is suing the NCAA” — Ed O’Bannon was one heck of a basketball player. In the 1995 NCAA title game, O’Bannon lead the Bruins past the Arkansas Razorbacks with a staggering stat line of 30 points and 17 rebounds. After graduation, O’Bannon was inducted into the UCLA Hall of Fame and the University retired his No. 31 jersey. But life as an NBA player wasn’t nearly as fun for the 6-foot-9 power forward from Los Angeles.
In two NBA seasons, O’Bannon averaged just 5 ppg and 2.5 rpg. After his short-lived NBA career, O’Bannon played in multiple international leagues for another eight years, before eventually settling in as a car salesman in Nevada.
Trajan Langdon: Injuries
Trajan Langdon was a gifted shooter right from the get-go. He set the school record for most career 3-point field goals made (which was later broken by J. J. Redick in 2006), earning him the nickname “The Alaskan Assassin.” After being taken with the 11th overall pick in the 1999 NBA Draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers, Langdon only played in 10 games his rookie season, after having surgery on his knee. From there on, he was never really the same player as he was at Duke.
In three seasons in Cleveland, he never averaged more than six points per game, and didn’t even average two three-point attempts per game. The gifted sharp-shooter was simply never able to fully showcase his talents in the NBA, for one reason or another. After leaving Cleveland in 2002, after only three seasons, Langdon played in Italy, Turkey, and then Russia, until he retired in 2011. These days he is the General Manager of the New Orleans Pelicans.
Harold Miner: Injuries
In the late 80’s Harold Miner absolutely dominated high school basketball in the state of California. Miner’s spectacular dunking ability resulted in him being given the nickname “Baby Jordan.” With scholarship offers on the table from every major program in the country, Miner decided to stay local and attend USC. During his illustrious career at USC Miner was a three-time All-Pac-10 player, the conference’s Player of the Year in 1992 and a first-team All-American the same year. Miner was selected with the 12th overall pick in the 1992 draft by the Miami Heat.
Unfortunately, Miner did not last very long in the NBA (just four seasons), retiring due to multiple knee injuries at the age of 24. As of 2011, Miner had settled in Las Vegas, Nevada, and was married with two children. He said that he had wisely invested the money he earned in salary and endorsements during his playing career, allowing him to remain a stay-at-home father, rather than needing to seek employment. Over most of the time since his retirement from basketball, he declined to give interviews or make public appearances, instead remaining private and mostly inaccessible.
Bobby Hurley: Injuries
If we’re using superheroes as metaphors for members of the Duke University basketball team in the early 1990’s, Christian Laettner was undoubtedly Batman, and Bobby Hurley was Robin. Hurley was an All-American in 1993, leading to the Sacramento Kings taking him with the 7th overall pick in the 1993 NBA Draft. But early in his rookie year, Hurley was involved in a terrible car accident, and because he wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, he was thrown from the car and suffered life-threatening injuries.
While he recovered, he wasn’t anywhere near the same basketball player again. After retiring, Hurley dabbled in horse racing (he still owns a stable) before turning to coaching. He worked his way up the ranks, and currently is the head coach of basketball at Arizona State University.
Bo Kimble: Lack of Skill
Bo Kimble was the 8th overall pick of the 1990 NBA Draft, taken by the Los Angeles Clippers. Kimble helped lead Loyola to the regional finals of the NCAA Tournament in honor of a fallen teammate.
Kimble’s NBA career wasn’t quite as illustrious as his college career. Kimble spent 3 seasons in the NBA before bouncing around the CBA before hanging it up in 1998.
Danny Ferry: Lack of Skill
One of the first great players under Mike Krzyzewski, Ferry was the 2nd overall pick in the 1989 NBA Draft but was selected by the Los Angeles Clippers, whom he refused to play for. Ferry instead headed to Italy for a year, before the Clippers cut their losses and traded him to the Cleveland Cavaliers at the start of what would’ve been his rookie year.
Ferry signed a huge deal in Cleveland, but never lived up to the billing of his college accolades. Ferry finished out his career with a three-year stint in San Antonio, picking up a championship ring with the Spurs in 2003. He currently works for the Spurs as a consultant in the front office.
Jay Williams: Injuries
Unless you’re interested in getting into a physical altercation with fans or alumni of the University of Maryland, don’t bring up the name “Jay Williams” around them. The two-time first-team All-American and two-time college basketball player of the year led the infamous “Miracle Minute” comeback against the Terrapins, in which his Blue Devils erased a 10-point deficit in the last minute of the game. Williams ended up being the #2 pick of the 2002 NBA Draft, taken by the Chicago Bulls.
After an up-and-down rookie season, Williams suffered a series of catastrophic injuries while riding his Yamaha R6 motorcycle, and not wearing a helmet while doing so. Riding said motorcycle was a violation of Williams’ contract with the Bulls, and Williams’ injuries led him to never being the same player ever again.
Juan Dixon: Injuries
The NCAA Tournament is such an impossible gauntlet to overcome. Many great players never survive to the final weekend, much less lift the trophy at the end. However, Juan Dixon had a great career and capped it with a National Championship and a Most Outstanding Player award for his performances.
Dixon, and Coach Gary Williams, led the Terrapins to their first NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship in 2002. Later, he spent 8 seasons in the NBA before finishing his career playing in Turkey. These days he’s the head coach at Coppin State and hoping to rekindle some March Madness luck that he had many years ago.
Kevin Pittsnogle: Lack of Skill
Kevin Pittsnogle is the most West Virginia a Mountaineer basketball player has ever been. You know what we mean without even having to explain that. The un-athletic-looking big man led the Mountaineers all the way to the Elite Eight in 2005. Then, they pushed Louisville to overtime for a trip to the Final Four. It was a remarkable run.
Pittsnogle came back for his senior season and once again took West Virginia to the second weekend. Undrafted out of college, Pittsnogle played with a few D-League teams and something called the Pittsburgh Xplosion. These days he teaches special education and is a high school basketball coach.
Marcus Fizer: Lack of Skill
Marcus Fizer was a revelation from the moment he stepped on campus at Iowa State. Never before had the program featured a McDonald’s All-American before. Fizer had an immediate impact, winning all sorts of freshman awards. The real payoff came for Iowa State when the Big XI’s Player of the Year guided them to the Elite Eight.
After college, Fizer was drafted 4th overall by the Bulls. He spent six seasons in the NBA before playing basketball in such exotic locations as Uruguay, Bahrain, and Puerto Rico.
Taylor Coppenrath: Lack of Skill
It wasn’t just any win. Coppenrath led Vermont to victory over national powerhouse Syracuse. Coppenrath scored 16 points in the first-round overtime victory. The Gerry McNamara and Hakim Warrick led Orange were no match for the Catamounts.
After college, Coppenrath played 10 years of basketball in Europe before retiring. These days Coppenrath is a high school basketball coach and math teacher in his native Vermont. Coppenrath’s number 22 jersey was retired by the university in honor of his achievements.
Dee Brown: Lack of Size
Dee Brown was once a five-star, “can’t-miss” high school prospect coming out of Proviso East High School in Maywood, Illinois in 2002. Playing for the University of Illinois, he was a member of the team that went to the National Championship game in 2005, losing to the University of North Carolina.
After four years in college, Brown was taken with the 46th pick (in the second round) in the 2006 NBA Draft by the Utah Jazz. Over the next 10 years, he played for 13 different professional basketball teams, both in the NBA and overseas. He’s currently an assistant coach at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Greg Oden: Injuries
Unfortunately, like another Trailblazers big man, Oden had a devastating history with injuries. Oden started his Blazers career with micro-fracture surgery on his knee and missed his entire rookie season. Once he was able to see the court, he injured his foot after 13 minutes in his debut. Injuries continued to plague Oden at every turn and he would play just 105 career games in the NBA.
Since leaving the game, Oden has gone back to school in the hopes of finishing his degree. He also has plans to get into coaching and has helped the Celtics during their pre-draft workouts.
Sam Bowie: Injuries
Getty ImagesEven if Sam Bowie would have been drafted after Michael Jordan, he would have been considered a major bust. In a day when big men ruled the NBA, Bowie didn’t stand out in the crowd. He averaged 10.9 points and 7.5 rebounds per game over a 10-year career. It didn’t help that he had recurring leg injuries that prevented him from playing regularly and continuing his development as a player.
In retirement, Bowie returned to his native Kentucky, where he’s been raising a family and owning racehorses. He spends a lot of his time giving back to his community also.
Shabazz Napier: Lack of Size
Shabazz Napier will go down as one of three players in the history of Division I basketball to have won national championships as a freshman and a senior. He led the University of Connecticut Huskies to National Championship wins in 2011 and 2014; the latter victory was even more impressive, considering Connecticut entered the tournament as a #7 seed.
After his college career was over, Napier was taken in the first round of the 2014 NBA Draft by the Miami Heat, after LeBron James publicly stated his admiration for Napier’s play. Fast forward to today and he’s out of the league, having last played for the Wizards in 2020.
Tyrus Thomas: Lack of Skill
After making people believe LSU could be a basketball school, Thomas made the jump to the NBA. The Bulls selected Thomas with the number 4 overall pick, hoping to pair him with Eddy Curry to bring back the glory days of the 90s.
The Twin Towers pairing never got off the ground for the Bulls as Thomas farted his way through four meaningless seasons, and finished his career in Germany in 2016.
Ralph Sampson: Injuries
Ralph Sampson was one of the greatest college basketball players in the history of the game. He was a three-time College Player of the Year award winner at Virginia. The Houston Rockets selected the 7-foot-4 Ralph Sampson with the #1 overall pick in the NBA Draft (the same draft in which Michael Jordan was taken #3 overall).
Just two years later, alongside Hakeem Olajuwon, Sampson took the Rockets to the NBA Finals, thanks to an epic upset of the vaunted “Showtime” Los Angeles Lakers (Sampson hit the buzzer-beating shot to win that series). But Sampson hurt his knee the following season, and rushed back to the court way too soon. The result was the destruction of the cartilage in his knee, which led to a myriad of other related injuries that plagued him for the rest of his career.
Michael Beasley: Lack of Focus
Michael Beasley was a stud in his only season at Kansas State. He was a consensus All-American and was a genuine challenge to Derrick Rose for being the number 1 overall pick. Instead, he was drafted by the Heat with the number 2 pick.
While college ball came easy to Beasley, the NBA was not so simple. Beasley struggled to adapt to the energy required to be a quality player at the next level, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Beasley bounced around the league playing for 8 NBA teams and 3 Chinese teams before last playing in 2019.