What is it about leading the nation in scoring that dooms a college basketball player to failure in the NBA?
One would think that the single greatest scorer over the length of a college basketball season would translate into at least some sort of success at the next level when all evidence, in fact, points overwhelmingly to the contrary. Most of the guys who have won scoring titles in college are players you’ve never even heard of.
How do we explain this?
When it comes to college football, single season rushing leaders generally go on to have successful NFL careers. Ricky Williams, Larry Johnson, LaDanian Tomlinson, Ron Dayne, Garrison Hearst, Barry Sanders, Lorenzo White, Keith Byars, Marcus Allen and Earl Campbell have all led the nation in rushing and turned out to be pretty good pros. Perhaps college football’s passing leaders is a more appropriate comparison but at least NFL teams will take a chance on drafting a quarterback with a healthy arm. Have you ever heard of Harry Kelly or Keydren Clark? How about Charles Jones or Freeman Williams? I didn’t think so. They all led college basketball in scoring two years in a row. If I asked the Where Are They Now people about their whereabouts, even they’d have to Google ‘em and hope for the best.
I get that basketball is a team game. I get that the talent in smaller conferences, where many of these guys drop 30 points a game, is inferior to big time basketball. I also get that it takes well-rounded talent, and defense, to make a successful run in the NBA. But we’re talking about pure scoring here, putting the biscuit in the basket. With the notable exception of Stephen Curry, no player that has led the NCAA in scoring over the last twenty years has been worth a damn in the Association. One would think that, even by accident, a dominant college scorer could put something together in the pros. Some of these guys aren’t even getting drafted!
Let’s look at the evidence and introduce you to a long list of guys that you (nor I, for that matter) have ever heard of before.
Note: For the sake of brevity, I chose not to go any farther back than 1970, when Pete Maravich led the NCAA in scoring three consecutive years, averaging 43.8, 44.2 and 44.5 points per game. (There’s a reason there’s a building in Baton Rouge named after him.) Can you imagine if a player did that now? He’d receive more attention that Johnny Manziel at an autograph signing. Maravich’s 3,667 points scored (in only three years, mind you) is one of sports’ most untouchable records. Prior to Pistol, guys like Rick Barry, Oscar Robertson, Clyde Lovellette and Paul Arizin all led the NCAA in scoring and went on to have incredible professional careers but after that, there’s not a single NBA Hall of Famer in the mix.
1970-71 Johnny Neumann, Ole Miss, 40.1 ppg
Neumann spent five years in the ABA, where he averaged nearly 15 a game, yet in the NBA, he managed only six. He played professionally for seven seasons, only two of those in the NBA.
1971-72 Bo Lamar, Southwest Louisiana, 36.3 ppg
No relation to Hedley, Bo played only one season in the NBA, with the Lakers, where he scored seven points per game, a far cry from his college output.
1972-73 Bird Averitt, Pepperdine, 33.9 ppg
Larry Bird this guy was not. Nor was he Dennis Johnson, who played his college ball at Averitt’s alma mater a few years later. Averitt spent three years in the ABA before jumping to the NBA, where he played for two years, averaging 8.3 ppg.
1973-74 Larry Fogle, Canisius, 33.4 ppg
Fogle played in two games for the Knicks where he scored one basket. In fact, Fogle has more career personal fouls than he does points.
1974-75 Bob McCurdy, Richmond, 32.9 ppg
Bob McCurdy never played in the NBA. I’m sensing a theme here.
Williams led the NCAA in scoring back-to-back seasons so he must have done some sort of damage in the NBA, right? Williams actually had some early success with the San Diego Clippers, where he played four seasons, averaging double-digits in scoring. He then went on to play in Atlanta, Utah, Washington and the CBA before disappearing into relative obscurity.
1978-79 Lawrence Butler, Idaho State, 30.1 ppg
Like McCurdy before him, Butler never played a minute in the NBA.
1979-80 Tony Murphy, Southern, 32.1 ppg
Murphy also never played in the NBA
1980-81 Zam Fredick, South Carolina, 28.9 ppg
We wouldn’t expect a guy named Zam Fredrick to play professional basketball. He didn’t. That makes three consecutive leading scorers to not even be drafted.
1981-2, 82-83 Harry Kelly, Texas Southern, 29.7 and 28.8 ppg respectively
After two years of leading the NCAA in scoring, Harry Kelly never played in the NBA.
1983-84 Joe Jakubick, Akron, 30.1 ppg
Jakubick never played a minute in the NBA either but he does hold the distinction of scoring more college basketball points at Akron than LeBron James.
1984-85 Xavier McDaniel, Wichita State, 27.2 ppg
Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. The X-Man had himself quite the NBA career. He was drafted fourth overall by the Seattle Supersonics and played there for six years. He also played in Phoenix, New York, Boston and New Jersey. He is a career 15.6 points per game scorer, the best professional player to date on this list. He is not, however, in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
1985-86 Terrance Bailey, Wagner, 29.4 ppg
Terrance Bailey never played in the NBA.
1986-87 Kevin Houston, Army, 32.9 ppg
Neither did Kevin Houston.
1987-88 Hersey Hawkins, Bradley, 36.3 ppg
Make no mistake. Hersey Hawkins was a bad ass. He was drafted by the Clippers but made his mark with the 76ers. He also played for the Hornets, Sonics and Bulls. He was a scoring threat wherever he played, averaging nearly 15 points per game over his 13-year career. He was also a career 39% shooter from behind the arc. Hawkins, however, is not in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
1988-89 Hank Gathers, LMU, 32.7 ppg
We all know what happened to Hank Gathers. Like Xavier McDaniel before him, Gathers led college basketball in both scoring and rebounding but on one fateful day in 1990, Gathers suffered from an abnormal heart condition and collapsed on the court. He was sadly declared dead on arrival to a local hospital at the age of 23. Most of us who saw Gathers play have no doubts he would have made a huge splash in the NBA. Unfortunately, that’s something we never got to see.
1989-90 Bo Kimble, LMU, 35.3 ppg
Hank’s teammate and best friend led the league in scoring one year after his passing. Inspired by Gathers’ memory and no slouch himself, Kimble went on to drop 35 points a game the following season. Putting up points in Paul Westhead’s run-and-gun offense was never all that difficult. Kimble was later drafted by the Clippers and played there for two seasons but was never the player he was in college. Kimble also played nine forgettable games with the Knicks before retiring.
1990-91 Kevin Bradshaw, US International, 37.6 ppg
Kevin Bradshaw never played in the NBA and I don’t even know what US International is.
1991-92 Brett Roberts, Morehead State, 28.1 ppg
Brett Roberts never played in the NBA. It’s also a safe bet that nobody named Brett has ever been any good in the NBA.
1992-93 Greg Guy, Texas-Pan American, 29.3 ppg
Greg Guy might have been a great guy in college but he never played a lick in the Assocation.
1993-94 Glenn Robinson, Purdue, 30.3 ppg
Finally, the first guy on this list to lead the NCAA in scoring and be selected number one in the NBA Draft. Not even Maravich went number one. He was selected third in 1970 behind Bob Lanier and Rudy Tomjanovich. The Big Dog went on to have a pretty successful career with the Milwaukee Bucks. He was a two-time All-Star, averaged nearly 21 points per game and finished his career with a championship as a bench warmer, er… role player with the San Antonio Spurs. That being said, Robinson is not in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
1994-95 Kurt Thomas, TCU, 28.9 ppg
Kurt Thomas is 40 years old and still playing professional basketball. How’s that for a success story? Like Gathers and McDaniel before him, Thomas led the NCAA in both scoring and rebounding in the same season. Thomas played professional basketball for, wait for it, Miami, Dallas, New York, Phoenix, Seattle, San Antonio, Milwaukee, Chicago and Portland. Thomas made an impact wherever he went, more so with his rebounding and defense than with his scoring. Despite his lengthy stay in the league, Thomas never won a ring and most likely will never make the Hall of Fame.
1995-95 Kevin Granger, Texas Southern, 27 ppg and
Danny Granger went to the University of New Mexico. Despite being injured for most of last year, he has averaged 18 points per game over his career. Kevin Granger, no relation, did not get drafted by an NBA team despite scoring 27 points a game in college. He played his professional basketball internationally.
1996-97, 97-98 Charles Jones, Long Island, 30.1 and 29 ppg respectively
Jones led the nation in scoring for two seasons. Jones consequently played two seasons in the NBA, starting only five games and averaging 27 points per game less than he did in college.
1998-99 Alvin Young, Niagara, 25.1 ppg
Alvin Robertson was a pretty good pro. Alvin Young was not. He never played a minute in the league.
1999-2000 Courtney Alexander, Fresno State, 24.8 ppg
Courtney Alexander played three seasons in the NBA. He was drafted by the Magic but never played in Orlando, playing his three seasons in Dallas, Washington and New Orleans. You know if you play three seasons for three different teams, you’re probably not any damn good. Such was the case with Alexander who averaged a rather unmemorable nine points per game over that span.
2000-01 Ronnie McCollum, Centenary, 29.1 ppg
Ronnie McCollum never played in the NBA
2001-02 Jason Conley, VMI, 29.3 ppg
Jason Conley never played in the NBA either
2002-03 Ruben Douglas, New Mexico, 28 ppg
Ruben Douglas never played in the NBA. I’m just copying and pasting at this point.
2003-04, 04-05 Keydren Clark, St Peter’s, 26.7 and 25.8 ppg respectively
Not a bad two years of college ball for Clark. In fact, Clark is one of only seven players to have scored over 3,000 points over his college career. Only one of those players, Maravich, is in the Basketball Hall of Fame. Clark is not. He played his professional basketball in Greece. Perhaps he should have worn floppy socks.
2005-06, Adam Morrison, Gonzaga, 28.1 ppg
Morrison was drafted by Michael Jordan and the Bobcats, which pretty much sealed his fate. The former Gonzaga great did go on to win two rings with the Los Angeles Lakers but not because of anything he did.
2006-7, 07-08 Reggie Williams, VMO, 28.1 and 27.8 ppg respectively
Williams has played four seasons in the NBA with his scoring output dropping each year he’s been in the league. Last year, he played 40 games for Charlotte, starting none of them and averaging 3.7 points per game.
2008-09, Stephen Curry, Davidson, 28.6 ppg
His career is still young but it’s almost already safe to say that Curry is the best professional player on this list, or at least he’s on a pace to be. He’s become one of the best young players in the league but even with Curry, there were questions about whether he’d be able to compete at his size. So far, so good for Steph. Last season was his best, averaging nearly 22 ppg per game. He has a long way to go, however, before any Hall of Fame inductions are held, and even so, he’d be the exception rather than the rule.
2009-10 Aubrey Coleman, Houston, 25.6 ppg
Aubrey Coleman has yet to play a minute in the league.
2010-11 Jimmer Fredette, BYU,28.9 ppg
The Bucks took a big chance on Fredette, drafting him 10th overall in the 2011 NBA Draft over guys like Kawhi Leonard, Iman Shumpert, Kenneth Faried and Chandler Parsons. On draft night, Fredette was traded to the Kings where he has averaged seven points and 16 minutes per game over the last two seasons.
2011-12 Reggie Hamilton, Oakland, 26.2 ppg
Hamilton is currently in the D-League playing for the Idaho Stampede where he is averaging nine points per game.
2012-13 Erick Green, Virginia Tech, 25.0
Green was drafted by the Utah Jazz in the second round of this year’s draft but is currently playing professional basketball in Italy.
So what have we learned here, if anything? It takes a lot more than just putting the ball through the hoop in college to make it in the NBA. In fact, leading the nation in scoring is probably more of a jinx than any indication of promise. Aside from Curry, Thompson, McDaniel, Robinson and Hawkins, not a single player in the past thirty-plus years has been worth a damn in the league. That’s a pretty low percentage.
Memo to all future college players: Go easy on the scoring and work on other aspects of your game. That’s your best bet to having a successful NBA career.