They were stars in college.
As pros, they were men wondering just how many drachmas it takes to buy a liter of milk.
No, college stardom may not always prepare All-Americans for a NBA life (though those European geography classes likely came in handy), but being the biggest man on campus has a way of earning NCAA players their own slice of sports immortality.
So, with the recent news that Scottie Reynolds will be taking his talents to Europe instead of the NBA, NCAA basketball editor Ray Holloman and associate editor Matt Snyder compiled a team of players who should've been allowed to play college basketball forever.
First, the fine print.
The criterion were excellence at the NCAA level since 1985 (the beginning of the 64-team tournament era), 82 or fewer games played in the NBA and general artistic impression. We tried to balance out the teams with frontcourt players, so it was easier to make one of our squads as a forward or center than it was among the stockpile of guard talent who were just too short to make a living as a pro basketball player, or a stockboy in charge of things on high shelves.
We avoided cases of players who were clearly marked for more than 82 games in the NBA but didn't play them due to off-the-court reasons. That list includes former Maryland standout Len Bias, who died shortly after his draft selection as well as former Duke star Jason Williams, whose career ended due to a motorcycle accident, among others.
We also opted not to include Reynolds, the Villanova guard whose exile to Europe spawned this list, or other players of the last few draft classes who might still play more than 82 games in the NBA.
Who did we forget? Let us know in the comments.
Ed Cota, PG, North Carolina (1996-2000) -- An Ed Cota pass was a basketball love song. The stylish Brooklyn-born point guard was one of the most creative distributors of the basketball in the history of college hoops, though he unfortunately played before the YouTube era put exclamation points and misspelled praise to any run-of-the-mill fastbreak. Cota led the ACC in assists each of his four years in Chapel Hill, helped the Tar Heels to three Final Fours, and still ranks third overall in NCAA history in career assists. He was never a standout scorer, but the pure point guard was at his best when orchestrating the virtual NBA jayvee teams Dean Smith put together in his final years (Cota's teammates included NBAers Vince Carter, Antawn Jamison, Shammond Williams and Brendan Haywood, along with All-ACC talents like Ademola Okulaja, Makhtar N'Diaye and forgotten ACC player of the year Joseph Forte). Cota's NBA shortcomings were obvious -- he was never particularly quick and his jumpshot was more like a slapshot (Cota even shot just 72 percent from the free throw line for his career), but when Cota ran the Heels, a highlight was only one pass away.
Randolph Childress, SG, Wake Forest (1991-1995) – It wasn't just the talent, it was the swagger. In the last golden era of college basketball, some were better, but none were badder than Wake Forest's sharp-shooter. Childress scored more than 2,000 points in his career, hit 329 3-pointers and, if anyone in the ACC kept statistics on back-breaking shots, he surely led the league in that too. In fact, all you need to know about Childress' mix of swish and swagger is one tournament, Wake's 1995 ACC tournament championship. Childress scored 40 against Duke in the opening round, 30 against Elite Eight-bound Virginia in the second round and 37 in the championship game, including the game-winning shot in overtime, against Final-Four bound North Carolina (of the powerhouse Stackhouse, Wallace, McInnis vintage.) His 107 points are a tournament record, and helped him to win tournament MVP honors over a real what's-his-name teammate, Tim Duncan.
Then again, all you really need to know about Childress is this highlight from the championship game against the Tar Heels. Call it the Randolph Childress three-point play: Step 1) Ankle-breaking crossover on future 11-year NBAer Jeff McInnis, Step 2) Taunt, Step 3) Bury a 3-pointer.
Even North Carolina's Shammond Willliams (No. 15 on the bench) and the Carolina pine squad give it up to Childress.
Anderson Hunt, SG, UNLV (1988-1991) -- Hunt was as fearless behind the 3-point line -- he remains the school's career leader despite playing just three seasons -- as he was scaling a shot-blocker in the lane. A two-time All-American and the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four in 1990, Hunt is best remembered for the 29 points he scored in the Running Rebels' 30-point rout of Duke in the 1990 championship game, and perhaps the 3-pointer he missed the following year that ended the Rebels' surprising Final Four loss to Duke. Of course, by that point in 1991 Hunt had already scored 29 points again against the eventual national champions, so while the Blue Devils figured out UNLV, they didn't crack Hunt. He left college during the 1991 UNLV exodus that saw seniors Larry Johnson, Stacy Augmon, Greg Anthony and George Ackles move on to the NBA. However, Hunt wasn't selected in the NBA Draft and never played a game in the Association. Too short to play the off-guard in the pros, Hunt passed on the chance to play point guard at UNLV as a senior, and almost certainly cost himself a shot at the NBA. "If I had come back for my senior season and worked hard with Coach [Tim] Grgurich and had a great season," Hunt told the Las Vegas Review-Journal in 2000, "I probably would be living next to Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston in Malibu." Unfortunately, there was no happy ending for Hunt ... or Brad and Jennifer.
Lou Roe, F, UMass (1991-1995) -- Roe was a bulldozer among a bunch of shovels. It wasn't so much what he did that made him unique, but the motor and the brute strength that powered his game He was a bully in the lane at UMass and helped an up-and-coming coach named John Calipari build a power program at a basketball backwater. Roe was UMass' first All-American, led the Minutemen to the nation's No. 1 ranking -- the first time any New England school had done so -- and all the way to the Elite Eight in 1995. But Roe's inside game didn't hold up at the next level, despite the endorsement of his coach. "When he stays inside, he's a lottery pick," Calipari told the New York Times in January, 1995. "Handling the ball, that's not what sets him apart. Inside, he's unstoppable. He's too quick for big guys and too explosive for small guys." Roe played just 66 games in the NBA.
Kevin Pittsnogle, F/C, West Virginia (2003-2006) -- Pittsnogle never quite made sense on the court, a near-7-footer with a two-guard's game, a down-home type with a sleeve of tattoos, but somehow it all came together such that West Virginia's dead-eyecenter became not just a favorite college icon but his own adjective. The West Virginia native made an impact from his first year on campus, earning Big East All-Freshman team honors, but rose to national prominence during West Virginia's surprise run to the Elite Eight in 2005 and the Sweet 16 in 2006. By the time Pittsnogle graduated from West Virginia in 2006, he was the school's all-time leader in 3-pointers, connecting on 41.1 percent of his attempts (a higher career percentage than Division I 3-point king J.J. Redick). Pittsnogle wasn't drafted after his senior season, and though he had success in lower leagues, he's yet to earn a spot in the NBA. However, his college legacy is certain every NCAA tournament, and every time a 7-footer lofts a teddy-bear soft 3-pointer: It's Pittsnoglian.
Scoonie Penn, PG, Boston College (1995-1997) and Ohio State (1998-2000) -- This Brooklyn baller never saw a minute in the NBA, despite accruing a mantle full of awards for Ohio State (including 1999 Big Ten player of the year and two-time first-team All-Big Ten). The 5-foot-10 point guard led the Buckeyes to the 1999 Final Four alongside future NBA star Michael Redd, averaging 16.3 points a game in his time with OSU. He played his first two NCAA years for Boston College, where he was a first-team All-Big East selection and won the 1997 conference tournament MVP. Finally, it's a necessity to include James Donell Penn on this list simply for his nickname.
- Matt Snyder
Rodney Monroe SG, NC State (1987-1991) -- In the era of great backcourts in the ACC, none was better than the Wolfpack's Fire & Ice tandem of Chris Corchiani and Monroe. The ever-cool Ice half of the 'Pack backcourt is still the school's all-time leading scorer, and was as reliable as a Maytag behind the 3-point line. In the history of the ACC, no player has had more 20-point games in a season than Monroe, and 21 times in his career he topped 30. Monroe won the 1991 ACC player of the year award after averaging 21 points per game. How impressive is that? The ACC put two teams in the Final Four that season, including national champion Duke and Final Four-bound North Carolina, and the list of those that finished behind Monroe in the voting included future NBAers like Kenny Anderson, Christian Laettner, Bryant Stith, Rick Fox, Corchiani, Dale Davis, Rodney Rogers, Tom Gugliotta, Bobby Hurley, John Crotty and a freshman Grant Hill.
Troy Bell, SG, Boston College (1999-2003) -- Did you know Carmelo Anthony wasn't the Big East player of the year his one season at Syracuse, despite averaging 22.3 points per game and leading Jim Boeheim to his only national title? That's because the dynamic Troy Bell was (it was his second, too, as he'd previously shared one with Troy Murphy). The 6-foot-1 guard compiled a Boston College record 2,632 points over the course of his four seasons (an average of 21.6 per game for his entire career) and was a two-time second-team All-American. The 2003 NBA first-rounder is arguably the best player in BC history, yet played just 34 minutes in the NBA.
- Matt Snyder
Miles Simon, SF, Arizona (1994-1998) -- Can't you still hear Jim Nantz saying: "Simon says Championship," as 'Zona watched the final seconds tick away in 1997? Simon was the Most Outstanding Player of the 1997 NCAA tournament, in which Arizona rode a 4-seed through three No. 1s to a title -- beating Kentucky in overtime of the absolutely epic finale. Simon posted 30 points in that game and iced it with four clutch free throws in the final 41 seconds. Next season, as a senior, Simon was a consensus first-team All-American, averaging 17.2 points and 4.7 assists a game. And all this netted him was 19 measly minutes in the Association. We've had to move him to small forward just to round out the second team here, but remember, Simon was only 6-foot-3.
- Matt Snyder
Wayne Simien, PF, Kansas (2001-2005) -- Kansas' 6-foot-9 power forward was a two-time All American and nearly won the Wooden Award in his dominant senior season (20.3 points and 11 rebounds per game). The first-rounder did garner a championship ring in the NBA (the 2006 Heat), but was out of the league after just 51 games. Still, his intimidating presence in the middle for the historic Jayhawks' program will not soon be forgotten in Lawrence.
- Matt Snyder
Steve Wojciechowski, PG, Duke (1994-1998) -- Duke's floor-slapping point guard was tougher than a Rubik's Cube and not just on the poor copy editors tasked with spelling his last name correctly. "Wojo" as he came to be known, won national defensive player of the year honors in 1998 and was a capable floor general. His 2.5-1 career assist-to-turnover ratio is still the best in Duke history, and any Virginia fan will tell you Wojo could dribble coast-to-coast in exactly 4.3 seconds (A substitution error on the part of officials in 1997 allowed Wojciechowski to dribble more than half the court with no time coming off the clock, an uncorrected mistake that launched a thousand Duke conspiracy theories). The SI coverboy for the 1997-1998 college preview, Wojo's finest game may have been his last at home, a come-from-behind 77-75 win over North Carolina. Wojciechowski scored exactly one point to go along with 11 assists.
Gerry McNamara, PG, Syracuse (2002-2006) -- This team wouldn't have won 10 bleeping games without Gerry McNamara (video is NSFW), just ask his former coach Jim Boeheim. The Syracuse coach's passionate defense of his four-year starter and the Scranton native's impossibly clutch shooting remain the signature of McNamara's decorated college career. A three-time All-Big East selection, "GMac" leapt to favored son status at Syracuse his freshman season, when Billy Edelin's suspension forced him into the starting point guard role. He hit six 3-pointers in the first half of the NCAA championship game as a freshman, scored 43 against BYU in the NCAA tournament as a sophomore (including a school record nine 3-pointers). But his finest moment was the 2006 Big East tournament. With 'Cuse on the wrong side of the Selection Sunday bubble, he hit a running half-court shot to beat Cincinnati at the buzzer in Syracuse's opener, a 3-pointer in the final seconds of regulation to tie No. 1 UConn in the quarterfinals, had the game-winning assist against Georgetown, and scored 14 points and won tourney MVP honors in a win over Pittsburgh. Not bad for the "most overrated" player in the Big East.
Fennis Dembo, SF, Wyoming (1984-1988) -- If a picture is worth a thousand words, then Fennis Dembo's covershoot for Sports Illustrated's 1987-88 college preview issue must have been a collage. The Wyoming star was depicted in full cowboy getup, complete with lasso, 10-gallon hat and cowboy boots, and a basketball propped on his left knee, all under the headline "A Dazzling Dude." If nothing else, it proved how an NCAA tournament hero can capture the public imagination from obscurity with one great tournament and one great name. Dembo starred at basketball outpost Wyoming but still garnered national attention in 1986 when he led the Cowboys to the championship game of the NIT. In 1987, Dembo scored 41 points against Reggie Miller and UCLA in the NCAA tournament and averaged 28 a game during Wyoming's surprising run to the Sweet 16. His unique combination of talent and unforgettable moniker set the mold for future out-of-nowhere March Madness heroes.
Chris Carrawell, F, Duke (1996-2000) -- The best place to start with Carrawell is the beginning. As a freshman on a Duke team forced to reinvent itself without a serviceable big man in 1997, the 6-foot-6 Carrawell drew the assignment of defending Wake Forest star Tim Duncan in a road game with the class-of-the-ACC Demon Deacons. Duncan scored 26, but Carrawell kept the ball out of his hands and even blocked the big man's shot in the final minute to preserve Duke's first win over Wake Forest since 1993. In later years, the natural small forward would hold Steve Francis to 11 points in his only visit to Cameron, and would win 2000 ACC player of the year. But it's his versatility – and the flair of his unique dribbling motion (what he once described as a "hippity-hop" ... think dribbling on a trampoline) that gets him on this team.
Dametri Hill, PF/C, Florida -- Before Florida basketball was the flash-and-dash of Billy Donovan, it was the meat and potatoes of Dametri Hill. The hefty power forward whose hook shot earned the nickname "Da Meat Hook" helped the Gators to their first Final Four in 1994, alongside future NBA center Andrew DeClercq. Hill's outsized physique and outsized personality ensured that this All-SEC selection's legacy lasted longer than his NBA career.