They Were Once NCAA’s Promising Basketball StarsBy Dannis H. Newman
From buzzer-beaters to nets getting chopped down, the NCAA Tournament showcases as much drama in one month as March Madness does. The competition is also a creator of superstars. It can solidify incredible players as legends of the sport, or it can provoke questions as to whether someone should truly be counted among the legends of the competition.
With that said, we’ve assembled a rundown of some of the biggest college basketball stars. Each of these ballers ruled the court during their prime, but what on Earth has happened to them since?
Jimmer Fredette, BYU
In 2011, Fredette was large and in charge. In his senior season at BYU, Jimmer dominated the NCAA in scoring (28.9 PPG) and was declared that year’s National Player of the Year.
Considered a scoring threat from any point on the court, the term “Jimmer-range” was coined to illustrate the unending scope of his dangerous three-point shot. Fredette drove the Cougars to the Sweet 16 and completed his career as Brigham Young University’s all-time leading scorer.
Jimmer Fredette Today
In the 2011 NBA Draft, Fredette was chosen as the 10th overall pick by the Sacramento Kings. After three seasons, it became clear that the NBA was a level too high for Fredette who couldn’t repeat his former scoring glory.
Fast forward to the present time, and Jimmer Fredette has had an unbelievable profession abroad. He’s won the Chinese Basketball Association MVP Award and a Greek League Championship. At present, Fredette plays for the Shanghai Sharks in China.
Tyler Hansbrough, UNC
Representing the University of North Carolina, Hansbrough was the first player in ACC history to be named First-Team All-American Crew multiple times and likewise inducted into the First-Team All-ACC in all four of his seasons.
He left the college basketball game with averages of 20 PPG and 8 RPG, building a legacy at UNC that will never be forgotten. He’ll always be loved by the Chapel Hill loyal for his tireless drive and desire to win.
Tyler Hansbrough Today
After being selected in the first round of the 2009 NBA Draft, Hansbrough spent eight seasons in the class before joining the Fort Wayne Mad Ants of the NBA G-League. From there, he moved to China’s league.
Hansbrough inked a deal with the Sichuan Blue Whales for the 20-21 season but didn’t show up in a game because of travel limitations. He remained in the US and worked as a color commentator for the ACC Network.
Adam Morrison, Gonzaga
As the head of the Gonzaga Bulldogs, Adam Morrison overwhelmed the college scene from 2003-2006. In his junior season, this 6’8” small forward was the country’s top scorer, averaging a ludicrous 28.1 PPG.
In a game just before March Madness, Morrison amassed an incredible 44 points. Who does that in one game? These days, you see whole teams battling to score as many points in a game. Morrison was the image of Gonzaga b-ball, somewhat unique yet energetic and gifted.
Adam Morrison Today
As Manager of Basketball Operations for the Charlotte Bobcats, Michael Jordan adored Morrison and made the young star his third pick in the 2006 NBA Draft. However, Morrison turned out to be a tremendous disappointment.
During his five seasons in the NBA, he began just 33 games and shot a humiliating 39% from the field – a far cry from his performance back in college. After a brief NBA career, he resigned to a humble community just north of Spokane where he and his family live.
Kevin Pittsnogle, West Virginia
Kevin Pittsnogle is more West Virginian than any Mountaineer ballplayer has ever been. If you’re a fan, you’ll understand what we mean. Back in 2005, the un-athletic-looking large man drove the Mountaineers all the way to the Elite Eight.
At that point, they pushed Louisville to additional time for an excursion to the Final Four. It was a wonderful run. Pittsnogle returned for his senior season and West Virginia enjoyed much the same success as the year before.
Undrafted out of school, Pittsnogle played with a couple of D-League groups and something many refer to as “the Pittsburgh Xplosion.” He put in a couple of Summer League seasons with clubs, but nothing stuck.
Nowadays, he works as a special education teacher and is a secondary school ball mentor. He lives in his old neighborhood of Martinsburg, West Virginia with his better half and their eight children. At least he’s putting his basketball playing skills to good use!
Shelden Williams, Duke
Shelden Williams was a first-class defender and rebounding machine during his four years at Duke. He was named the 2005 and 2006 Defensive Player of the Year, turning out to be only the fifth college player to win the honor in consecutive years.
Williams also holds Duke’s professional records for rebounds and blocks. By choosing Williams as their fifth pick in the 2006 NBA Draft, the Atlanta Hawks thought their frontcourt would be unbeatable.
Shelden Williams Today
Williams had neither the size nor the skill to contend in the NBA, and his time in Atlanta was done after two disillusioning seasons. Williams played for seven different teams during his nine seasons in the NBA, always failing to average more than 5.5 PPG or 6 RPG.
Funnily enough, Williams isn’t even the best b-ball player in his home! His significant other, celebrated WNBA star Candace Parker, is regarded as one of the best female basketball players in history. Yikes!
Hasheem Thabeet, UConn
Having a height of 7’3” and weighing in at 265 pounds, UConn center Hasheem Thabeet is one hard man. During his rookie season, he clinched the Husky record for most blocks in a game.
After his junior year, he left Uconn. However, by this time, he had already been named Big East Defensive Player of the Year twice and Big East Player of the Year once. He even helped UConn take home their very first Final Four since 2004.
Hasheem Thabeet Today
Much has been said about the giants who played great in college and couldn’t hack it in the NBA. Although Thabeet’s game was still crude, the Memphis Grizzlies loved his potential and chose him as their second pick in the 2009 NBA draft.
In his seven seasons with the NBA, Thabeet averaged a frustrating 2.2 PPG and 2.7 RPG. He’s now playing for the Hsinchu Lioneers in Taiwan.
Mateen Cleaves, Michigan State
It may astound you to realize that Mateen Cleaves, not Magic Johnson, is the record-breaking pioneer in assists at Michigan State. Interestingly, he is the school’s only three-time All-American.
During his noteworthy run at MSU (1996-2000), Cleaves became the school’s all-time leader in assists and steals while driving the Spartans to an NCAA title back in 2000. In his last home game in East Lansing, Cleaves doled out 20 assists, crushing the Big Ten single-game assist record.
Mateen Cleaves Today
Hoping to energize their fan base, the Detroit Pistons chose Cleaves (a Michigan local) as their 14th pick during the 2000 NBA Draft. Sadly, the impulsive decision backfired fast. After one baffling season in Detroit, he was traded to the Sacramento Kings.
Cleaves played a larger number of games in the D-League than the NBA. After resigning, he began work as an analyst for Fox Sports Detroit. He also now runs All Varsity Entertainment, his own record label.
Miles Simon, University of Arizona
Who doesn’t know Miles Simon? From 1994-1998, he collaborated with point guard Mike Bibby at the University of Arizona to create an extraordinary backcourt duo.
Simon was named the Most Outstanding Player in the 1997 NCAA Tournament in which Arizona crushed three #1 positioned teams (the University of Kentucky, University of Kansas, and the University of North Carolina) to win the national championship. Such is Simon’s illustration of intense and amazing playing skills.
Miles Simon Today
Despite the promise he showed at the college level, Simon played just five games in the NBA. His career totaled just 19 minutes of cour time, with 2 points, 2 rebounds, 3 turnovers, and 1 foul.
Before resigning in 2004, he became the most decorated player in the history of CBA and played for international leagues. In 2017, Simon joined the Los Angeles Lakers as an assistant coach.
Trajan Langdon, Duke
A talented shooter, Trajan Langdon set the school record for most career 3-point field goals made, earning him the moniker “The Alaskan Assassin.”
After being selected as the 11th pick in the 1999 NBA Draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers, Langdon played in only 10 games during his rookie season. This was due to a medical procedure he had to have on his knee. From that point on, he never returned to the amazing form he displayed during his time at Duke.
Trajan Langdon Today
In his three seasons for Cleveland, Langdon never averaged more than six points a game. Due to his injury and other unknown factors, the skilled sharp-shooter was never able to share his gifts with the NBA. Sad but true.
After leaving Cleveland in 2002, after just three seasons, Langdon played in Italy, Turkey, and Russia until he resigned in 2011. Nowadays, he serves as General Manager of the New Orleans Pelicans.
Bo Kimble, Loyola Marymount
Bo Kimble had an extraordinary school career, but one tragic moment forever changed him. During the 1990 WCC Tournament, Hank Gathers (Kimble’s childhood pal and Loyola Marymount teammate) died.
Kimble helped Loyola Marymount University to the regional finals of the NCAA Tournament to pay tribute to his fallen colleague. Kimble was an extraordinary talent, earning Second-Team All-American distinctions and West Coast Conference Player of the Year before leaving for the NBA.
Bo Kimble Today
Though he was the eighth pick of the 1990 NBA Draft for the Los Angeles Clippers, Bo Kimble’s career never amounted to what fans are convinced it could have. His playing career in the NBA was plagued with injuries. After three seasons, he played for several years in the CBA.
Nowadays, Bo Kimble sits on the board of directors of a non-profit organization he co-founded to honor his departed teammate. The Forty-Four for Life Foundation is dedicated to reducing cardiac-related deaths.
Juan Dixon, University of Maryland Terrapins
The NCAA Tournament is a particularly difficult gauntlet to get through. Many incredible players never make it due to the final weekend, and precious few get a chance to lift the prize at the end. Juan Dixon was one of the lucky few. He had an extraordinary year at Maryland and wrapped it up with a National Championship.
In addition to leaving Maryland as the highest-scoring men’s player, Dixon also became the only player in the history of the NCAA to earn 2,000 points, 300 steals, and 200 three-point field goals.
Juan Dixon Today
Dixon was drafted 17th overall in the 2003 NBA Draft by his old neighborhood Wizards. He was a fan top choice thanks to his incredible record at Maryland. Dixon played nine seasons in the NBA and resigned with a scoring record of 8.4 goals each game.
Nowadays he’s the head coach for the Coppin State and expects to revive some of the March Madness good luck he had many years prior. Did you know that “Real Housewives of the Potomac” chronicles his marriage issues?
Marcus Fizer, Iowa State
Marcus Fizer was a revelation from the moment he entered the campus of Iowa State. At no other time had the league encountered an All-American quite like him.
Fizer had a powerful effect, winning a wide range of first-year recruit grants. The best result came for Iowa State when the Big XI’s Player of the Year guided them to the Elite Eight. He is ranked fifth on ISU’s career scoring list with an accumulation of 1,830 points during his three seasons.
Marcus Fizer Today
After ISU, Fizer was the fourth pick of the 2000 NBA Draft for the Chicago Bulls. He spent six seasons in the NBA before playing in such distant lands as Australia, Uruguay, Bahrain, Taiwan, and Puerto Rico.
Nowadays, he runs his own company – SlipGuardians Floor Safety Solutions – that makes anti-slip floor remedies. Did he get the idea from the kids who run onto the basketball court to wipe up sweat? What do you think?
Dee Brown, University of Illinois
Remember Dee Brown? He was a five-star, “can’t-miss” secondary school prospect emerging from Proviso East High School in Maywood, Illinois in 2002.
Playing for the University of Illinois, Brown collaborated with Luther Head and Deron Williams to create perhaps the most unstoppable trio the Big Ten had ever seen. Averaging 13 PPG and 5 APG, he is still known for getting the Fighting Illini to the 2005 National Championship Game where they lost to UNC.
Dee Brown Today
After four years in school, Brown was the 46th pick during the 2006 NBA Draft, taken by the Utah Jazz. Throughout the following 10 years, he played for a total of 13 professional basketball groups, both in the NBA and abroad.
While playing, he accomplished something barely any NBA stars have done: he won a Bulgarian League Championship. Take note of that LeBron. Right now, Brown works as an assistant coach at the University of Illinois in Chicago.
Greg Oden, Ohio State
Greg Oden ruled school b-ball like none had ever done before in his single season at Ohio State. He averaged 16 PPG, 10 RPG, and 3 BPG. What’s more striking is that he spent the first half of the season with only one usable hand. Amazing!
When he got the use of his other hand back, he was a force to be reckoned with and drove the Buckeyes to the National Championship game. He made all the NBA scouts slobber with his impressive playing skills.
Greg Oden Today
Tragically, similar to another Trailblazers large man, Oden had a staggering history with injuries. Oden began his Blazers career with knee surgery and missed his whole rookie season. Injuries kept afflicting Oden every step of the way, and he ended up playing only 105 games in the NBA.
Since his retirement, Oden has returned to class with expectations of completing his degree. He has plans to get into coaching and has already assisted the Celtics during their pre-draft exercises.
Shabazz Napier, UConn
Shabazz Napier is best known as one of three players in Division I basketball history to have won national titles. He drove the University of Connecticut Huskies to National Championship wins in 2011 and 2014; the last triumph was considerably greater, considering Connecticut entered the competition as a #7 seed.
Napier’s accolades include the ACC Player of the Year, All-American, and Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player in 2014. He ranked fourth on the UConn scoring list with 1,959 points.
Shabazz Napier Today
After his school career was over, Napier was taken in the first round of the 2014 NBA Draft by the Miami Heat. This selection came after LeBron James freely expressed his adoration for Napier’s game.
He played for several teams, including the Orlando Magic and Brooklyn Nets and last played for the Washington Wizards in 2020. Napier has averaged 7.1 PPG and 2.5 APG. That is far from what everyone expected from the Napier that was drafted back in 2014. It may be time for LeBron to rethink his evaluating skills.
Ralph Sampson, Virginia
Ralph Sampson was one of the best basketball players in college. In his four-year career in Charlottesville, Samson averaged 16.9 points and 11.4 rebounds per game.
He was named College Player of the Year at Virginia three times. Sampson considered leaving school after his junior year, but didn’t want to miss out on the chance to play for the Clippers, who had a 50-50 shot at the #1 pick, so he went back to class for his senior year.
Ralph Sampson Today
The Houston Rockets selected Sampson as the #1 overall pick in the NBA Draft. Two years later, he took the Rockets to the NBA Finals, on account of an epic defeat of the surprise “Showtime” Los Angeles Lakers (Sampson took the buzzer-beating shot to win the finals).
Sadly, Sampson injured his knee the next season and hurried back to the court way too early, prompting a bunch of other related injuries that tormented him for the remainder of his career.
Michael Beasley, Kansas State
Michael Beasley was a stud in his lone season at Kansas State. He was quite possibly one of the most powerful basketball players in college. During his freshman season, he ranked third and second respectively for points and rebounds in the history of college basketball.
Though he spent only one season in college, Beasley holds 30 Kansas State career and single-season records. In a history-filled conference, Beasley has 17 Big 12 records under his belt, and we couldn’t be more impressed.
Michael Beasley Today
While school basketball came easy to Michael Beasley, the NBA was a different story. He had a difficult time adjusting to the energy needed to be a superstar player at the higher level, particularly on the defensive end of the court.
Beasley ricocheted around the league, playing for eight different NBA teams and three Chinese ones before his last outing in 2019. He signed with the Brooklyn Nets in 2020, but his contract was nullified due to health concerns.
Christian Laettner, Duke
Any rundown of major March Madness stars needs to incorporate Christian Laettner. His renowned game-winning shot against Kentucky forever deified Laettner into b-ball legend, at least on the college circuit. The phenomenal shot is regularly televised in college basketball montages.
If you’re too young to have seen the career Laettner enjoyed around his well-known buzzer-beater, you may get the impression he was only that shot. In reality, Laettner was the NCAA Player of the Year that season, and for good reason. He was truly a phenomenal player.
Christian Laettner Today
Christian Laettner had a decent NBA career. However, he never lived up to the promise of his outstanding school career. Awful b-ball players don’t remain in the NBA for long, so no one can say Laettner was a bad player. Indeed, he was named an All-Star once and resigned with an average of 12.8 PPG.
Laettner has remained active in the sport since his retirement, running youth ball camps and putting resources into the Durham, North Carolina territory. He also enjoys fishing for musky in Florida.
James Worthy, North Carolina
James Worthy was part of the 1982 Tar Heels, one of the best college basketball teams ever. With two future NBA stars on the team – Sam Perkins and Michael Jordan – it was a pretty decent crew, to say the least.
Worthy won the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award and is only one of eight Tar Heels to have their numbers resigned in Chapel Hill. He left the North Carolina Tar Heels with an average of 14.5 PPG and 7.4 RPG.
James Worthy Today
Worthy is one of the special crew of players whose school and professional careers were equally amazing. Indeed, many consider him to be one of the best players to ever appear in the NBA. The three-time NBA Champion was also a seven-time All-Star and was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2003.
His post-NBA career was spent as a studio analyst for Lakers TV, a role he held for many years. He has also coached the big men in the Lakers.
Emeka Okafor, UConn
The 2000s saw Emeka Okafor as the most dominant college big man. Okafor made it virtually impossible for his rivals to go hard in the paint. You could try, but it would never work out for you.
Okafor averaged 18 PPG, 11 RPG, and 4 BPG during his junior and senior years at the University of Connecticut. He was named a First-Team All-American for his stunning performance and helped the Huskies get a National Championship.
Emeka Okafor Today
Emeka Okafor’s career in the NBA began incredibly, earning him the first pick from the Charlotte Bobcats. In his first season, he won the Rookie of the Year Award, yet that was barely an indication of what might be on the horizon. Unfortunately, he never averaged over 15 points after his rookie year.
Okafor was set to play for Ulsan Hyundai Mobis Phoebus for the 2019-20 season of the Korean Basketball League, but the worldwide pandemic put an end to that.