9 College Stars Who Fizzled in the NBA
Oh, nothing like college draft busts to remind us how different the two games are. It’s one thing to see a high school or international player get picked up and fail when making the leap to the NBA, but when it’s an NCAA player, who has existed under our very noses, it makes us wonder about the mix of art and science going into draft selection. Well, the people who made these picks would almost surely argue that it’s largely “art.” At least that’s what they would say to save their jobs.
9. Greg Oden
The Oden/Durant debate raged on in 2007, with many in favor of Oden due to his size and wholesome attitude. As such, he was taken with the #1 pick and Durant slipped to #2. Before his first season, it was discovered that Oden would require microfracture surgery, which sidelined what would have been his rookie campaign. Myriad other injuries, including another microfracture surgery in 2010, have kept him from showing what he’s capable of, even though he’s four seasons in. His inability to perform is made all the worse by the stratospheric rise of Durant during the same period.
8. Sam Bowie
Nothing wrong with being drafted #2. Bowie had very solid, but not stellar seasons at the University of Kentucky before being sidelined more or less for two seasons with injuries. During his third season, he again put up respectable numbers. However, respectable won’t cut it when, in 1984, you’re sandwiched in between Akeem Olajuwon at #1 and an upstart named Michael Jordan at #3. This would not be the last time the Portland Trailblazers were left wondering what might have been.
7. Benoit Benjamin
Benjamin was supposed to redefine the center position with a mix of size and athleticism that the position, nor the game, had ever seen. Think Dwight Howard. Consequently, the Clippers took him at #1, as this was the era when the Clippers would start to get LOTS of #1 picks, squandering them all. At Creighton, the 7’, 250 lb. beast was combined shot blocking, close-range shooting, and power. In the NBA, not so much. He played for 9 NBA teams in 15 seasons, averaging 16 PPG in his best season in 1989. Snooze.
6. Shawn Bradley
This guy is just the worst. In the 1993 draft, which was hardly a wealth of talent, this gentle giant (too gentle, really) was picked in between Chris Webber and Penny Hardaway. His 7’6” frame was too promising to the 76ers, who were excited to think of what would happen once he grew into it. It never happened. He remained awkward and largely ineffective his entire NBA career. The frame that led the NCAA in blocks and scored 17 PPG wasn’t all that powerful once stacked up against the big guns. Never roll the dice on a white big man in the first round. Of course, that rule would have kept the Mavericks, via the Bucks from scoring Dirk Nowitzki six years later, so what the hell do I know?
5. Tractor Traylor
Ugh. This pile of goo played for Michigan and, as mentioned above is best known as the bargaining chip that brought Dirk to the Mavs. The 6’8” 284lb. (!) Traylor was a beast of a big man, leading his team to the NIT tournament championship in 1997, solidifying their place in history as the 65th greatest team in the nation that season, averaging 16 PPG and 10 rebounds. Once in the NBA, he bounced around from team to team and battled obesity, which is not an asset for a professional athlete paid to run up and down a court for 40 or so minutes per game. His weight took a toll on his heart, and in 2005 had heart surgery. He’s since been kicking around the international circuit with little fanfare.
4. Chris Washburn
If you don’t recognize this name, you’re not alone. A standout for then-powerhouse NC State, Washburn had trouble written all over him, despite being the nation’s most desired recruit. He didn’t go to class, he stole car stereos, and he scored below 500 on his SAT. I didn’t even know that was possible. Nonetheless, Washburn turned heads his freshman year, averaging 17 PPG and 7 rebounds. In 1986, Washburn was picked 3rd by the Warriors and the wheels came off. He was later revealed to have a cocaine addiction during this time, and averaged 3 PPG over 72 games over two seasons. BUSTBUSTBUSTBUST.
3. Pervis Ellison
The 6’ 9” “Nervous Pervis” (god awful nickname, BTW) led Lousiville to a national championship and scored player of the tournament during the 1988 season. After a plagued rookie year for Sacramento in which he missed more than half the season due to injury, he came back the next season to get Most Improved Player by scoring 20 PPG and grabbing 11 RPG. However, from 1994 on, he missed more than 60% of his games over the rest of his career. Warm that bench, Pervis! Warm it!
2. Ed O’Bannon
O’Bannon, with his brother Charles, Toby Bailey, Tyus Edney, and George Zidek, led the Bruins to an NCAA championship in 1995. The face of the UCLA squad was picked 9th in the draft due to scouts’ perception of him as a “tweener.” Well, the perception seemed to be accurate. After two lackluster seasons with the Nets, he was out of the league and playing internationally, where no one was watching.
1. Stromile Swift
The 6’ 10” power forward chosen #2 in 2000 by the Grizzlies is now playing in China. He made a name for himself at LSU while the program was under close scrutiny for violations. Nonetheless, he got the team to the Sweet 16 and was a top pick in the 2000 draft. He was able to fool NBA teams for a while, signing with Houston for $5 million a season in 2004, but from there, he went back to the Grizzlies, then to New Jersey, Phoenix, then the 76ers, before settling in China. Yay?