On Sunday night, I was sitting at my brother, Scott’s final athletic banquet, growing up, he always spoke of wanting to play in the NCAA. He was a basketball player for McMaster University, in Hamilton, Ontario. They spoke very highly of him, in every direction. He had suffered some injuries, and surgeries during his university career, but it made him that much more determined to play. It’s been amazing to watch him grow into such a great player, teammate, and person.
Seeing him receive a few of the awards from last night, and the smile one his face while they spoke so highly of him, made me happy. His university career might be over, but the memories from the university days, will live on forever.
Most players in the NBA have attended 1-2 years of college or university before starting their career, than there are some like Kobe Bryant and Lebron James who came out of high school. Sure, they both have had amazing careers thus far, but they missed out on the NCAA experience. The new rules state players can’t enter the draft until they’re 19, so most go to university on scholarship to mature as a player for a year or two.
Here are a few student athletes that turned into a little more than just an NCAA basketball player:
J.J Redick: Duke University
In his freshman year, he led his team with 30 points in their win against NC State, to win the ACC Tournament Championship game. They made it to the Sweet Sixteen, and then lost to Kansas, in 2002. He was a co-captain in junior year, with Daniel Ewing, and then in his senior Shelden Williams, Sean Dockery held it. He set records for most consecutive free throws made in the ACC with 54. His career free throw percentage was 91.16%. Winning a bunch of awards, like: John R. Wooden Men’s Player of the Year (2006), Naismith College Player of the Year (2006), Oscar Robertson Trophy (2006), 2x ACC Tournament MVP/Player of the Year (2005-2006). The Orlando Magic selected him in the first round, 11th overall. He was then later traded earlier this year to the Milwaukee Bucks. His jersey was later retired by Duke University, #4 (One of only 12).
Shane Battier: Duke University
Leading the Blue Devils, to 2 Final Fours, in 1999 and 2001 (losing to the Connecticut Huskies in the finals, in 1999). In His final year at Duke, they won the NCAA championship game defeating the Arizona Wildcats. Sweeping the NCAA National Player of the Year awards: NCAA Tournament MVP (2001), John R. Wooden (2001), Naismith College Player of the Year (2001), ACC Player of the Year (2001), 3x NABC Defensive Player of the Year (1999-2001), Academic All American of the Year (2001), NCAA All American First Team (2001). Pretty impressive for a kid that graduated high school with a 3.96 GPA, who then graduated Duke, with a major in religion. He is tied with J.J. Redick for most minutes played in a single season, and 36 double-figure scoring games. His jersey number #31 was later retired by Duke. He was drafted in 2001, in the first round, 6th by the former Vancouver Grizzlies. He won the championship title with the Miami Heat in 2012.
Rajon Rondo: University of Kentucky
Even though he only attended university for two years, he led Kentucky to several clutch-shot defeats against Louisville, South Carolina, and Central Florida. They never made it to the Final Four in either of his years with UK, but he set a record, for the most steals in a single season, 87, he made at least one steal every game in his freshman year. He set another record in second year, with 19 rebounds in a single game; unfortunately they lost that game to Iowa. He was drafted 21st overall by the Phoenix Suns who later traded him to the Boston Celtics. He had the best selling jersey in the 2010-2011 season, 4x NBA All-Star (2010-2013), 2x NBA All Defensive First Team (2010-2011), NBA Steals Leader (2010), NBA assists leader (2012). He won the NBA Championships with the Boston Celtics in 2008.
Rudy Gay: University of Connecticut
The UCONN Huskies were the home of Rudy Gay’s NCAA career. He was named the National Freshman of the Year, by The Sporting News, Co-winner of the 2005 Big East Conference Freshman of the Year Award, with Jeff Green of Georgetown. He was nominated for the Naismith College Player of the Year Award in 2006, in which J.J. Redick won. He led the Huskies to a 30-3 record, being the highest scorer before losing to George Mason in the regional final, 86-84 in overtime. Houston Rockets selected Gay, 8thoverall and then traded him to Memphis Grizzlies for Shane Battier. He went under-the-knife, for season ending surgery in 2011, to repair a shoulder subluxation in his left shoulder. In 2013, Gay was traded to the Raptors, where he set a franchise record for scoring 74 points in his first three games, with the Toronto Raptors.
Tristan Thompson: University of Texas
Tristan was born in Brampton, Ontario. He started playing basketball in his hometown high school; he later went on to play at a prep school in the USA. Better opportunities, which increased his exposure, and skill level. He played for the University of Texas for one year (2010-2011) before entering the draft in 2011. He was selected as Big 12 All-Rookie Team (2011), Big 12 Freshman of the year (2011), Big 12 All-Defensive Team (2011), All-Big 12 Second Team (2011), USBWA Freshman All-America Team (2011) and Wayman Tisdale Award (2011). He represented Canada Basketball at the FIBA Americas U18 championship in 2008 winning bronze, than participating in the 2009 FIBA Under-19 World Championship with Cory Joseph (San Antonio Spurs, University of Texas). He was selected 4th overall by the Cavaliers, and Joseph was selected 29th, which made NBA history, because this was the second time that two Canadians were selected in the first round of the same draft (Leo Rautins, and Stewart Granger in 1983). He was the first Canadian to ever be on the All-Rookie Team.
Earvin “Magic” Johnson: Michigan State
Magic focused on school, as he was a communications studies major, as he wanted to be come a television commentator. He didn’t really plan on playing professional ball, in his first year of university. He led the Spartans to a 25-5 record in the Big 10 Conference, where they reached the Elite Eight in the 1978 NCAA Tournament. In 1979 they qualified for the NCAA March madness tournament, where they advanced to defeat Indiana State University (which was led by Larry Bird) 75-64 in the final game. It was the most watched NCAA basketball game ever. He was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four (1979). The Los Angeles Lakers drafted him in 1979, in the first round, 1st overall. In 1991-92 NBA season, Johnson tested positive for HIV, and immediately retired. He was chosen by the fans to be a start in the All-Star Game that year. He played, despite the negativity from former teammates, and won All-Star MVP after recording 25 points, 9 assists, and 5 rebounds. He was then chosen to compete in the 1992 Summer Olympics for the US Basketball team, named the “Dream Team” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1992_United_States_men%27s_Olympic_basketball_team), he received standing ovations from the crown, and used the platform to inspire HIV + people, and provide awareness. During his career he won numerous awards: NBA’s 50th Anniversary All-Time Team, 2x NBA Steals Leader (1982-1983), 4x NBA Assists Leader (1983-1984, 1986-1987), NBA All-Rookie First Team (1980), All-NBA Second Team (1982), 9x All-NBA First Team (1983-1991), 2x NBA All-Star Game MVP (1990, 1992), 12x NBA All-Star (1980, 1982-1992), 3x NBA MVP (1987, 1989-1990), 3x NBA Finals MVP (1980, 1982, 1987), 5x NBA Champion (1980, 1982, 1985, 1987-1988).
He is now a studio analyst for ESPN, and an NBA Commentator for TNT