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NBA AM: NBA’s Biggest March Madness Stars

Only a handful of NCAA champions are employed in the NBA, and the number seems to be dwindling.

Joel Brigham

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We like to think that March Madness success translates to NBA success, but the truth is that the fraternity of NBA players with college championships on their resumes is rather small, and most of the league’s biggest stars don’t have one to their name. In fact, of all the current players who won NCAA championships, only five of them have even made an All-Star Game, and none of those five have NBA championship rings.

Despite that, there are 26 players in the NBA who have won NCAA championships, and the glory lives on. In chronological order, here they are:

Jason Terry, University of Arizona (1997) – Considering Terry is one of the oldest active players in the league, it should come as no surprise that he’s also the league’s oldest NCAA champion. Terry’s Arizona Wildcats came into the ‘97 tournament that year as only a 4-seed, but they topped two 1-seeds on their way to a championship matchup against a third 1-seed, the Kentucky Wildcats, who they beat in overtime, 84-79. To illustrate just how long ago this was, that Kentucky runner-up team featured former NBA players like Jamaal Magloire, Ron Mercer and Nazr Mohammed.

Mike Dunleavy, Jr., Duke University (2001) – While Dunleavy is the only player remaining from this championship team, he was only the fourth-best player on that team behind Jay Williams, Carlos Boozer and Shane Battier. Arizona kept the game close for most of the second half, but that’s entirely too much Dukie talent not to win a national championship.

Carmelo Anthony, Syracuse University (2003) – While Carmelo Anthony could have declared for the NBA after high school, he chose to attend college instead in pursuit of a national championship, which he did, of course, ultimately win. Anthony averaged 22.2 PPG and 10.0 RPG as a member of the Orangemen in his lone college season and they cruised to a title. After scoring 33 points against Texas in the semis, Anthony dropped in his typical 22 and 10 in the championship game, earning the tourney’s Most Outstanding Player and wrapping up what would be the prototype for the one-and-done college championship pursuit.

Marvin Williams and Ray Felton, University of North Carolina (2005) – As one of the first college “Super Teams” of the new millennium, the 2009 Tar Heels were absolutely stacked with talent. Williams (who didn’t even start for that team) and Felton are the only two players from that squad still in the league, but teammate Sean May was a 2005 lottery pick, and Rashad McCants spent his fair share of time in the NBA, as well. Ultimately, though, this UNC group gave Roy Williams his first college championship and blocked Deron Williams and the University of Illinois from getting their first NCAA hoops title.

Joakim Noah, Corey Brewer, Marreese Speights and Al Horford, University of Florida (2006 & 2007) – These were glorious years in the world of college basketball, if only for the dancing Joakim Noah GIFs that have survived. Of the aforementioned five active All-Stars to win National Championships, two (Noah and Horford) were on this team. College basketball dynasties don’t happen often, but this crew was the last we’ve seen of anything even remotely approaching that. In a world where college basketball’s biggest stars leave after only a year, it may be some time before back-to-back championships happen again, particularly with teams featuring the same core of stars.

Brandon Rush, Cole Aldrich and Darrell Arthur, University of Kansas (2008) – Mario Chalmers, no longer in the NBA, was the star of this game, knocking down one of the most dramatic three-pointers in college basketball history. Memphis, up two with only a few seconds left, saw Derrick Rose make one-of-two free throws to push the lead the three, but Chalmers ended up with a weakly-contested three-point opportunity in the waning seconds that sent the game into overtime. Following “Mario’s Miracle,” Rush and Arthur would help Chalmers earn the victory, and over the course of the last 20 years, Rush and Chalmers are two of only a small handful of players with both college and NBA championships.

Danny Green, Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Ed Davis, University of North Carolina (2009) – Interestingly, the best player from this team, Tyler Hansbrough, isn’t even on an NBA roster anymore, while four of his teammates remain employed. The 2009 championship game itself was a blowout. That Michigan State team was fairly pedestrian (even with freshman Draymond Green on the roster) and got blown out by 17, the first team in almost a decade to lose the title game by double digits.

Mason Plumlee, Miles Plumlee, Kyle Singler, Lance Thomas, Duke University (2010) – This game probably always will be remembered for the half-court game-winner that Butler’s Gordon Hayward didn’t make, but Singler, Thomas and the two Plumlees were the ones that walked away with the championship, however much the country may have been rooting against them.

Kemba Walker, Jeremy Lamb and Shabazz Napier, University of Connecticut (2011) – Few times in the last ten years has a team built up more momentum heading into the tournament than the 2011 UConn team that sliced through the Big East tourney like a warm knife through butter. Walker led that crew to a National Championship and Most Outstanding Player honors, while 2014’s UConn star, Shabazz Napier, barely played. That 2014 team, by the way, was one of the most improbable in college basketball history, winning the title as 7-seed, and that was when Napier was given his opportunity to shine.

Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Terrence Jones, University of Kentucky (2012) – Easily one of the most loaded recruiting classes in college basketball history, the 2012 National Champion Kentucky Wildcats featured talented freshmen Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who would go on to be the first ever college teammates to be taken with the first two selections of the NBA Draft. Jones was a little older during that title run, but he’s made his own footprint in the league anyway. Other teammates on that team, like Marquis Teague and Doron Lamb, weren’t quite as effective in their own short NBA careers.

Gorgui Dieng, University of Louisville (2013) – It’s only been four years, but only Dieng remains of this talented Louisville team. Peyton Siva and Russ Smith, both barely six feet tall, were the team’s top scorers, while Dieng’s role was more that of a rebounder and rim protector. Tiny guards don’t always do well in the NBA (Isaiah Thomas notwithstanding), while Dieng-like rim protectors are all the rage these days. Either way, Rick Pitino earned his first championship at Louisville with this squad, which is most of the historical relevance of this game.

Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow, Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook, Duke University (2015) – Duke never has had a freshman class quite like this one, with top overall prospect Okafor and fellow five-star recruit Jones announcing their commitment to Duke at the same 2014 press conference. Winslow committed just a week later and Grayson Allen threw his hat into the ring that year, as well. That year’s National Championship game against Frank Kaminsky’s Wisconsin squad was a good one, with the score tight most of the game and tied up with just seven minutes to go. Okafor came alive in the final minutes, however, after sitting out a good chunk of the game in foul trouble, and the Blue Devils won their second championship in six years.

Daniel Ochefu, Villanova University (2016) – While last year’s title game was as thrilling as it gets, Villanova wasn’t exactly a team loaded to the brim with NBA talent. Only Ochefu is on an NBA roster this season, and even he has been minimally effective as an undrafted rookie on a loaded Washington Wizards team. Kris Jenkins was the real star of the 2016 title game, drilling a thrilling three-pointer at the buzzer to clinch Villanova’s first National Championship since the mid-80s, while Ochefu finished the game with 9 points and six rebounds. He has only 14 points and 15 rebounds total in his rookie season with the Wizards.

***

There’s a high probability that we’ll see even more future NBA stars hoisting up a championship trophy this spring, but for now we have no idea which players that will be. While there are a million great reasons to watch March Madness, getting an early look at potential NBA legends cutting their teeth in clutch situations is certainly one of the more compelling. That means this year’s tournament is only going to get more fun from here.

Joel Brigham is a senior writer for Basketball Insiders, covering the Central Division and fantasy basketball.

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NBA Daily: Troy Brown Poised To Bring Versatility To The Next Level

Coming into the NBA Draft with just one season of experience at the collegiate level, Troy Brown feels that his wide range of skills makes him a player who has a lot to offer.

Spencer Davies

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Coming into the NBA Draft with just one season of experience at the collegiate level, Troy Brown feels that his wide range of skills makes him a player who has a lot to offer.

Originally recruited as a point guard by Dana Altman at the University of Oregon, the 19-year-old naturally fell into the wing position as his body matured, but he wasn’t your average one trick pony.

“It wasn’t really an option,” Brown said of the transition at the Draft Combine in Chicago. “It was more so because I grew, just a lot of size and stuff like that and playing with a lot of smaller guards. It hasn’t really been a problem for me.”

In his freshman year with the Ducks, Brown filled the stat sheet. He averaged 11.3 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.2 assists in over 31 minutes per game and finished third in the Pac-12 with 55 total steals.

Among his class across the NCAA, Brown was one of four players to put forth those averages in scoring, crashing the boards and dishing out passes. If you can’t tell, there’s more than one strong suit in his game and he feels the same way.

“I would just say being able to rebound at my size,” Brown said of what he best brings to the floor. “I feel like being able to push it and not having to kick it up to a guard. Being able to create fast breaks for my teammates and stuff like that and get guys open really helps a lot.”

Brown measured in close to 6-foot-7 and 208 pounds on the dot with over a 6-foot-10 wingspan, which ideally will make slot him as a three at the professional ranks. He’s a solid defender as well, though he’ll definitely need to put on more weight to match up with the bigger wings in the league.

That being said, he is absolutely capable of playing point forward and already has modeled his game after a mix of different guys in the NBA, including veterans and rookies who impact their teams on a nightly basis.

“I definitely grew up and watched Penny Hardaway a lot,” Brown said. “Ben Simmons is a really big guard—triple-double type of player, that’s how I feel like I am.

“Even the role players like Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston. Just big guards. Jayson Tatum, even though he played at the wing a little more, just a great mid-range game and post game.”

Most of those talents he mentioned have the all-around game, including a reliable perimeter presence. That’s where the biggest knock on him comes into play.

On over three attempts per game beyond the arc, Brown shot just a hair over 29 percent from three. As the game has become more and more driven on stretching the floor, that won’t cut it in the constantly evolving pro environment.

The numbers aren’t in his favor, but Brown believes his performance wasn’t indicative of his true ability with his jumper.

“I never felt like I couldn’t shoot before and I still don’t feel that way now,” Brown said. “I’m still very confident in my jump shot. Right now it’s just getting adjusted to the new three-point line, the NBA line. Once I get that locked down, I feel like I’ll be really good.”

If you’re familiar with the Oregon basketball tree and the league itself, there were a number of players who made the most of their opportunities this past year.

Jordan Bell is a fast up-and-coming forward for the Golden State Warriors. The Memphis Grizzlies got a gem in Dillon Brooks. Even Tyler Dorsey got a shot at significant minutes late in the season with the Atlanta Hawks.

Brown didn’t play with any of them, but admits he’s had conversations with Brooks about the entire pre-draft process, receiving “words of wisdom” whenever they’ve gotten the chance to talk.

As for his own expectations for year one in the NBA, Brown agreed that those types of roles are a good starting point and hopes to follow that path before bigger things come his way.

“Of course I want to be the best I can,” Brown said when asked about his goals. “I want to be the best player, but coming in as a rookie you have to really stick with yourself and know what teams you’re coming in and playing with and your role on the team.

“I feel like the more you perfect your role, the more minutes you’ll have. By doing that, I feel like I can climb up the board and become a starter.”

In order to do that, he’ll have to improve his consistency from game-to-game.

But make no mistake about it—Brown has the tools, the work ethic and the personality to become a potential first-round steal outside of the lottery.

And with a toolbox as deep as his, there’s no reason to believe Brown won’t achieve his aspirations.

“Ultimately I feel like because of my versatility on the court, I can do a lot of different things,” Brown said.

“It’s just playing with the ball in my hands I feel a lot more comfortable making plays for my teammates and making the right plays and playing the right way.”

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NBA Daily: The Restricted Free Agency Crapshoot

With free agency money scarce, restricted free agents may be impacted the most this summer, writes Lange Greene.

Lang Greene

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The NBA playoffs are heating up as we approach the Finals, but there are other topics in the league simmering beneath the surface. The 2018 NBA Draft is less than a month away and the annual free agency period begins on July 1.

After rampant league wide spending the past two summers, free agency money won’t be as plentiful in 2018. The biggest group impacted will be players entering the land of restricted free agency. Extending an offer sheet to a restricted free agent is always tricky – especially at the beginning of the free agency period. In short, the offering team gives up their cap space while the player’s current team has time to decide whether or not to match the contract. If the current team does so, the offering team not only misses out on the player but also other free agents who are likely to come off the board during the waiting period.

For this reason most league executives are hesitant to dip their toes into the restricted free agency pond, especially if their cap space is limited in nature.

This summer there will be multiple players entering restricted free agency looking for significant pay bumps with an uncertain market for their respective skill set. The biggest question will be whether these guys ultimately find a deal to their liking or gamble on themselves and take the qualifying offer.

Taking the qualifying offer is a risky alternative. But it gives players an opportunity to showcase their skills in a contract year and enter unrestricted free agency the following summer.

Dallas Mavericks center Nerlens Noel is the most recent example. The former lottery pick reportedly turned down a four-year, $70 million deal last summer and signed a one-year contract worth $4.2 million. Fast forward, Noel played in just 30 games this season, was suspended for five games for a positive drug test and also tore a ligament in his left thumb. Noel is far from done as he is under 25 years of age, but the one year gamble did not work in his favor and he will enter free agency this summer looking for another prove it type of contract as a consequence.

Today we’ll take a look at some players who may face the same decision as Noel did last summer. With limited cap space, will these players take the one-year qualifying offer or be able to secure a mega deal in free agency? Please note, we are excluding guys almost guaranteed to receive substantial deals this summer (i.e. Zach LaVine, Clint Capela, Jusuf Nurkic, etc.)

Marcus Smart, Guard, Boston Celtics

After signing All-Stars Al Horford and Gordon Hayward in free agency the past two summers, the Celtics aren’t projected to have cap space. But the team can match any offer for Smart. The question is whether president of basketball operations Danny Ainge will proactively retain arguably the team’s toughest defender or allow the market to set itself. Smart is a tough as nails competitor, but the Celtics will have decisions coming up in the next couple of years on Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier. Not to mention Horford, who has a player option for the 2020 season, can also elect to enter free agency next summer. What exactly is the market for a sub 40 percent shooter from the field (sub 30 percent from three-point range) and a player who has only played more than 70 regular season games once in four years?

Rodney Hood, Guard-Forward, Cleveland Cavaliers

Hood was likely on his way to an eight figure per year salary, until he arrived in Cleveland. While with the Utah Jazz, Hood established himself as a double-digit scorer with high upside. However in 13 playoff games with the Cavaliers he is averaging 4.9 points on 42 percent shooting and 16 percent from three-point range. Hood has also been in and out of the rotation with an unfavorable plus-minus. Hood has upside but his market value has likely taken a hit entering free agency this summer.

Julius Randle, Forward, Los Angeles Lakers

Randle has increased his scoring and field goal percentage every season since entering the league. He is a traditional power forward and doesn’t shoot the three ball consistently, which limits his value in some circles. Randle is also seemingly the odd man out in Los Angeles if the team is able to secure two max level guys this summer with their cap space. This puts Randle in a holding pattern. But the second half of the regular season was very promisinmg as Randle put up 19.5 points and 9.4 rebounds per game after the All-Star break.

Jabari Parker, Forward, Milwaukee Bucks

Parker was once considered the Bucks’ foundational building block. Yes, even more so than Giannis Antetokounmpo. Funny how a span of less than five years can change career trajectories. Parker has played in just 183 out of 328 regular season games since entering the league. 56 percent availability. He has displayed a knack for scoring, when healthy, but his role during the team’s playoff run this season was wildly inconsistent. Parker’s injury history is a red flag for potential suitors and the Bucks may opt to let Parker’s market value play out before issuing a mega deal this summer.

Dante Exum, Guard, Utah Jazz

Exum flashes potential, but he has also missed plenty of time due to injuries. Exum has appeared in just 162 out of a possible 328 regular season games since entering the league. Young guys can only get better when playing and Exum just hasn’t had the court time to warrant a significant pay increase without leveraging the risk associated with his injury history.

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NBA Daily: Zhaire Smith ready to take the next step in the NBA

Zhaire Smith is ready to prove his worth and he seeks to transition to the NBA.

Simon Hannig

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Zhaire Smith out of Texas Tech is a name that rises up on a lot of people’s draft boards this season with his stellar play, especially on the defensive end.

This past season, Smith averaged 11.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.1 blocks and 1.1 assists per game. He also shot 55.6 percent from the field and 45 percent from three point range. Despite a strong performance this season, though, Smith has not been consistently appearing in NBA Mock Drafts until at least 2019.

He addressed it at the NBA’s Draft Combine in Chicago.

“Yeah, I didn’t know that,” Smith said of his seemingly low perceived value. “I really don’t pay attention to all that, but it is what it is.”

One of Smith’s biggest strengths that makes him an intriguing prospect for an NBA team is defense.

“Just being a little physical,” Smith said. “Not too physical where they can draw a foul on me, but just playing. Getting low. Just playing. Moving my feet.”

Smith had a highlight reel dunk vs. S.F. Austin in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. It was one of those dunks you had to watch over and over again because you could not believe it. It came off of a pass from his teammate, Keenan Evans.

Although on play is rarely enough to get a player noticed, the play did exhibit Smith’s exceptional athleticism. Along with his defense, his ability to convert explosive finishes could also help his value among NBA teams and potentially help him end up in the league.

“Yeah. If it was a bad pass, I made it look good, but yeah,” Smith said of the dunk. “I just adjusted to it. It just happened. I didn’t even know that was what had happened.”

For players coming into the NBA, there is a bit of a learning curve—both with respect to surviving in the league and how to fit in with their particular team.

“I see myself fitting in probably rookie, first two years, just fitting in, doing good, being a solid role player,” Smith said. “And in a few years I can see myself as an All-Star.”

During his freshman year at Texas Tech, Smith played in all 37 games, including 21 starts. He holds a total points record as a freshman with 417 points. He also totaled 185 rebounds, 42 blocks and 42 steals. The 42 total blocks for a freshman were second in team history.

In terms of his numbers being more than “empty” production, on the season, Texas Tech was 19-8 when Smith scored 10 or more points. And during the team’s four-games March Madness run, he averaged 12.0 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists, one block and one steal per game.

Although it’s early, Smith could end up being an “under the radar” type of prospect, similar to the Jazz’s Donovan Mitchell. To this point, he has been mostly renowned for his excellent defensive game, but his offensive game is respectable, even if it is still considered a work-in-progress.

As for whether he can be the “next” Donovan Mitchell, Smith didn’t shy away from the prospect.

“I think so,” he said. “…If I put in the work.”

For him, the process is just beginning. Hopefully, for his sake, his NBA journey is far from over.

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