When scoring means nothing: The inexplicable drop-off from college basketball to pro

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?

Ricky Williams Texas

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.

Johnny Neumann basketball card1970-71 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.

1975-76 Marshall Rogers, Texas-Pan-American, 36.8 ppg

Rogers played only one season with the Golden State Warriors, where he averaged 3.8 points per game.  Sir, you are no Steph Curry.

Freeman Williams1976-77, 77-78 Freeman Williams, Portland State, 38.8 and 35.9 ppg respectively

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.

Xavier McDaniel looks on1984-85 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.

Gathers Kimble1989-90 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.

Kurt and Stern1994-95 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.

Co Alexander1999-2000 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.

Steph Curry jumper2008-09, 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.

20 thoughts on “When scoring means nothing: The inexplicable drop-off from college basketball to pro

  1. Pingback: When scoring means nothing: The inexplicable drop-off from college basketball to pro - BallHyped Blog Network, NCAA Basketball | BallHyped Sports Blogs

  2. My only question is: How tall were these people. If you just correlate by height, I bet you solve your little “mystery” as to why scoring doesn’t translate to NBA success. Average height in NBA: 6’7″, average height of these guys: ?

  3. Al…

    By your comment, I’m assuming you mean that college coaches will tend to let these guys go, particularly if they have a guy who does nothing but score, but NBA coaches will more reign them in?

    Please expound.

    I mean, I don’t recall Phil telling either Kobe or Michael to not shoot as much.

    Rays are having a tough time at it, man. Not even their horses, Price or Archer can stop the bleeding. Here’s hoping Matt Moore can do that when he comes back off the DL, which I think might be tonight.

  4. Chris

    Your thougts on Mr Kardashian (Lamar Odom) gettin` popped for a DUI , but refusing to take a sobriety test and making available to law enforcement a blood or urine sample ? Odom , like his father is now a chronic `coke` and marijuana user . Yet he still wants to be a member of the NBA fraternity as a player . It is not going to happen on any team within the NBA , because they simply do not want to be the ones to now undertake such a risk . Now we know why the Mavericks simply waived him from their roster . Anyone not named Kardashian or Jenner associated with that family seems to end up with severe issues and that includes your namesake .

    Can`t wait to see what now happens with Yeezus (Kanye West) ! LOL,LOL,LOL !!!

  5. Santa…

    I’m not sure it’s entirely a height thing, although there seems to be at least a little merit to your argument in the cases of McDaniel, Thomas and Big Dog.

    Although the average height in the NBA is obviously larger than in college, I’m not so sure that tells the entire story.

    At first glance at this list, most of these guys are guards but it’s not like they’re lilliputians.

    Johnny Neumann
    F/G
    Bo Lamar
    G
    Bird Averitt
    G
    Larry Fogle
    G
    Bob McCurdy
    G
    Marshall Rogers
    G
    Freeman Williams
    F/G
    Freeman Williams (2)
    F/G
    Lawrence Butler
    G
    Tony Murphy
    G
    Zam Fredrick
    G
    Harry Kelly
    F
    Harry Kelly (2)
    F
    Joe Jakubick
    G
    Xavier McDaniel
    F/C
    Terrance Bailey
    G
    Kevin Houston
    G
    Hersey Hawkins
    G
    Hank Gathers
    F/C
    Bo Kimble
    G
    Kevin Bradshaw
    G
    Brett Roberts
    F
    Greg Guy
    G
    Glenn Robinson
    F
    Kurt Thomas
    C
    Kevin Granger
    G
    Charles Jones
    G
    Charles Jones (2)
    G
    Alvin Young
    G
    Courtney Alexander
    G
    Ronnie McCollum
    G
    Jason Conley
    G
    Ruben Douglas
    G
    Keydren Clark
    G
    Keydren Clark (2)
    G
    Adam Morrison
    F
    Reggie Williams
    G
    Reggie Williams (2)
    G
    Stephen Curry
    G
    Aubrey Coleman
    G
    Jimmer Fredette
    G
    Reggie Hamilton
    G
    Erick Green
    G

    Hersey Hawkins is 6’3 and so is Curry, probably with heels on.

    Other shorter guards have also had success in the league.

    I’m sure there’s truth to most of the arguments presented by the Farksters: the smaller schools, the more schools, and the shorter three-point line. My point is, one would think, even by accident, that guys who have led the league in scoring would at least have some sort of success in the NBA when in fact, they’ve had very, very little.

  6. I think you hit it on the head when you were talking about the type of schools these guys go to. When you look at your list you see very few A-level schools and that’s where you’re going to get not only the most talented players generally but also the most physically dominant. Stephen Curry is the best guy on your list but he’s incredibly physically unimposing. For guys to make that transition to the next level, not only do they have to have the ability to play but they also have to handle the physicality of the NBA

  7. CR…

    I don’t think these other guys were tiny, though. I can look it up but I’m sure they were all a reasonable size.

    But they’re not even getting NBA looks.

    To Dub’s point, I wonder what it would take for a guy in a major conference to win another scoring title.

  8. Two things, first and foremost in the NC2A you get to shoot head on, straight at the basket. In the NBA not so much, actually never…seconder, these guys all played for chuck and duck college coaches, you’ll notice guys who played a lot of college ball in defensive snakepits like Philly’s Palestra, never won a CFB scoring title, another reason I like the Big 5 in Philly, thirdlier, I talked to a guy who was drafted the same year as Barkley by the 76’ers and he said it best, in college you might run into an NBA caliber player once every couple of games, in the NBA every single player is NBA caliber and that goes deeper than just scoring, as he said, he knew he was in trouble when he ran down the court into Barkley by mistake, he said, “Imagine running headfirst into a brick wall as fast as you can run” –great scribble Chris,

  9. See what I did there? I said “two things” then went three? That’s why Mel Kiper said about my turning pro-scribbler in 1993, “…he has a quick verbal release, plenty of adjectival strength and good noun placement. Has good analogies and should be extremely productive.”

  10. Two in a row for the Rays, Al. Looks like that little stint sending Hellickson back to the minors actually worked.

    Gators are favored by three in that game but I’m still not convinced. That’s always a tough place and team to play. I’m just hoping for the best.

  11. Chris

    That`s all one can ope for in an away game I believe that Muschamp will have his players ready to face the Canes .

    Was it the altitude that affected the Ravens last night ? God-damn ! Peyton Manning must`ve felt that Christmas had come early . I was watching that game and felt that the Broncos` quarterback could have thrown for at least double digits (ten) in terms of touchdowns !

    I don`t know about you , but it`s now time for the Rays to raise the level of their play during the final month of the season .

    It is the season to be jolly ……….. or maybe not

    tophatal …………….

  12. It’s hard not to like the Broncos this year, Al. They showed us all why last night. This team could go on to win another 12-13 games.

    The Rays have enough horses in their starting rotation that at least one of these guys should be able to step up.

    Can’t win though if you don’t score any runs though.

  13. Just like we thought, Al, the Gators offense couldn’t move, or more importantly protect, the football against a motivated Miami team. And Jeff Driskell. Remember when people were comparing him to Tim Tebow? Right now the only thing they have in common is that neither will be playing QB in the NFL.

  14. Chris

    Real disappointing loss for the Gators . I am not saying that Driskell is overrated but he might have to rethink his professional line of work as it relates to the NFL . Professional dog-walker or pet groomer might suffice .

    Did someone forget to tell the Bucs` players you play the game to win ? Never mind the fact that an NFL contest is for a complete sixty minutes and not fifty-nine minutes and forty-two seconds . `nough said !

    Left you a response on my latest NFL piece . In the process of closing out an article concerning the MLB season , specifically on the Rays , Dodgers and Pirates . Will let you know the details by the usual means .

    tophatal ……………

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