9 Pro Athletes With Alma Maters In The NCAA Tournament
With the field down to 12 after last night’s games, we’re beginning to get a small enough sample size that we can begin studying the teams. Should we study them in the context of the tournament and their strengths and weaknesses going into the late rounds?
Let’s take a look at the remaining schools and determine who their most notable athletic alumni are. And for the record, I just looked up “alumni,” and it’s “graduate or former student,” so we’re not going to get all snobby about who graduated and who left early to go big time. As long as they suited up and played at some point, they’re eligible.
It’s pretty amazing that a quarterback who has quickly beome a journeyman on the fringe of every roster is a no-brainer, but who else would you think of when you think of Florida? Emmitt Smith? Danny Wuerffel? Joachim Noah? No, you think of the Jeremy Lin of the NFL, Timothy Ezekiel Tebow. I actually don’t know his first name, but that sounds right.
9. Tim Tebow – Florida
It’s an odd phenomenon that the best schools in the country at basketball don’t always have a staggering list of successful professional alums. For instance, Duke (who didn’t make it past Mercer) perhaps the most storied basketball school in the nation, doesn’t do as well in the pros as one would think. Their best alum? Arguably Grant Hill. Huh. Well, Wisconsin is not Duke. So you get Michael Finley. The guy the Mavericks kept paying even as he played on other teams into his late 50’s.
8. Michael Finley - Wisconsin
Again, this list is “notable,” not the “best.” And while Bowie was an absolute rockstar basketball player for UK, he’s best known for who he was eclipsed by in his pro career. Bowie was drafted second in the 1984 draft, and failed to live up to expectations for the seven-footer. But those expectations were probably unduly high, because the person chosen behind him was Michael Jordan. So Sam Bowie, instead of being known as a solid player or even a draft bust (he wasn’t a super, Michael Olowakandi-level bust), has endured as just a really, really bad draft decision. Like a Greg Oden-type.
7. Sam Bowie – Kentucky
Richard Jefferson is the rare alum on this list of remaining NCAA tourney schools that actually played basketball for the school in question, and found some success. The other one? Keep reading. In 2001, Jefferson, along with Luke Walton and a few others, took AZ to the Final Four. Though they beat Oregon 104-65 in the tourney, and USC 105-61, they couldn’t take the trophy home, losing to Duke in the title game. Richard Jefferson never gound the same success in the NBA that he did in the NCAA tourney, but that’s probably because he played with teams like the Bucks and Nets for more than a decade.
6. Richard Jefferson – Arizona
Johnny Unitas. We’re going back a minute to find a crazy-good Louisville professional athlete. Known for being the anti-Joe Namath (at least according to The Simpsons), Unitas was one of the great QB’s in the nascency of the NFL for the Baltimore Colts. Unitas is also known for being the QB for the opposing team when Joe Namath guaranteed victory in the Super Bowl, and delivered it.
5. Johnny Unitas – Louisville
No qualifiers here. Michigan is a huge school in every sense, and Tom Brady is a hugely famous person in every sense. He won roughly 17 Super Bowls in the 2000’s, and he’s married to every one of the Victoria’s Secret angels in a polyamorous union. He makes about $20 million bucks a year, and he must have a monk’s patience to work for Bill Belichick. There’s only one bigger star in the NFL and he’s a few entries down the list. (And no, that person isn’t Sage Rosenfels, who plays for Iowa State, though I thought it would be pretty hilarious to put the former journeyman quarterback on the list. Sorry to Sage and his millions of fans.)
4. Tom Brady – Michigan
Finally, we’re cooking with some star power!!! Magic Johnson, along with Julius Erving and Larry Bird, single handedly saved the NBA in the early 80’s, and Magic stayed dominant for over a decade turning the Lakers into a group of celebrities as much as a recurring national champion. He was the highest-profile American to contract HIV, and became one of the biggest stories of our generation. And now he’s an in-demand studio presence for NBA and college ball shows. As long as we’re getting facts out there, his real name is Earvin.
3. Magic Johnson – Michigan State
BOOM! More Starpower! Take that, “Michael Finley” and “Richard Jefferson.” Peyton Manning is famous for being among the most talented, prolific, and capable passers in the history of the NFL. He’s more famous for losing the 2014 Super Bowl in spectacular fashion than he is for his Super Bowl victory in the 2006 season. He’s also incredibly funny in commercials, and his dad’s name is Archie, just like the comic book character. At Tennessee he emerged as a star in the making, and the cool hasn’t seen an athlete as notable since. And unless LeBron James and Kevin Durant have a male child together, and send him to play basketball for the Vols, no one will surpass Manning for a really, really long time.
2. Peyton Manning – Tennessee
This thing was turning into a real sausage fest so let’s end on a high note with Natalie Gulbis. She’s got one LPGA tour victory, which is far more than other alums Gilbert Arenas, Kurt Busch, Teddy Bruschi, and Steve Kerr (who actually went on to win 5 NBA titles, but, alas, no LPGA tournaments). While Gulbis may not have had the professional success of a Brady or Manning, she’s made quite a name for herself through sponsorship and personal appearances, having inked deals with McGladrey LLP, TaylorMade/Adidas, Canon, Michelob Ultra, SkyCaddie, Payment Data Systems, MasterCard, Winn Golf Grips, Lake Las Vegas Resort and EA Sports.