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College basketball stars who flopped in NBA

By Kevin Hanson, Contributing writer
Published On: Mar 21 2012 05:47:49 PM CDT
Updated On: Mar 28 2013 09:40:00 AM CDT
closeup of Spalding brand basketball, NBA

miguel ugalde/SXC

Not every great college basketball player is going to make it as a pro, but some just have further to fall than others.

Some players who were legends on the college court just couldn't seem to translate that success in the NBA. In other words, they were flops.

It's subjective, this thing we call an NBA flop. But, really, it all boils down to one thing: expectations. This is the ruler by which all athletes are judged, regardless of whether they're professionals or amateurs.

In this article, we aren't going to focus on simple NBA underachievers, those players who didn't live up to their expectations coming out of college, but still had respectable NBA careers, like Danny Manning or Danny Ferry.

Instead, let's look at five flops: NCAA superstars who not only didn't live up to expectations, but also wreaked havoc on the teams that drafted them ...

Christian Laettner, Washington Wizards

No. 5: Christian Laettner

Christian Laettner could serve as the poster-boy for the didn't-live-up-to-expectations players.

When the Minnesota Timberwolves drafted him third overall in 1992, they thought they were drafting the Laettner who beat out Jim Jackson and, believe it or not, Shaquille O'Neal to gain a spot on the gold-medal-winning U.S. men's Olympic basketball team, considered by many to be the best team ever assembled in any sport.

The T-Wolves wanted the Laettner whose No. 32 jersey was retired by Duke, after he averaged 16.6 points and 7.7 rebounds per game and led the Blue Devils to four consecutive NCAA tournaments, finishing as champions in 1991 and 1992.

Instead, they got the Laettner who played pretty well his rookie season, averaging 18.2 points per game, but that was about it. The T-Wolves hoped he would only get better, but he went from the penthouse to the outhouse about as fast as Milli Vanilli.

Steve Alford, college basketball coach

No. 4: Steve Alford

The young Steve Alford was the quintessential hometown hero: he earned the coveted Mr. Basketball title for the state of Indiana in his senior year; averaged 18.5 points per game during his career at Indiana University, earning first-team All-American honors in both his junior and senior years; grabbed a gold medal in the 1984 Olympics; and led the Hoosiers to a national title in 1987.

So it's understandable that Indiana Pacers' fans would be livid with the squad after selecting Reggie Miller with the 11th overall pick in 1987's draft instead of golden boy Alford. But, as much as we fans love to gripe about management, they happened to make the right move this time.

Alford, after going 26th overall to the Dallas Mavericks, only played four seasons in the NBA, averaging a measly 4.4 points per game.

Alford has since followed his father's footsteps, with successful coaching stints at Southwest Missouri State, Iowa and New Mexico, but that doesn't change the fact he flopped in the NBA.

Pervis Ellison, Boston Celtics

No. 3: Pervis Ellison

Although we're ranking "Never Nervous" Pervis Ellison No. 3 on our flops list, we would rank him near the very top if we had a Best Nicknames Ever list.

Perhaps it's true that Pervis was never nervous, as unlikely as that seems, but what we do know for certain is that he played a pivotal role in the Louisville Cardinals' run to the NCAA championship in 1986.

Ellison was only a freshman when he put on a show in that championship game, putting up 25 points and hauling in 11 rebounds as Louisville snuck past Duke for a three-point victory.

The Sacramento Kings picked "Never Nervous" No. 1 overall in 1989. Jump ahead only three years and Ellison was already given the dubious honor of being the NBA's Most Improved Player. In Ellison's defense, however, it must be noted that he suffered debilitating knee injuries from 1992 to 1994.

Adam Morrison, Charlotte Bobcats

No. 2: Adam Morrison

It's unfortunate, but Adam "Crybaby" Morrison is probably best known for openly weeping on the court after his Gonzaga Bulldogs lost to UCLA in 2006's Sweet 16.

Tears aside, Morrison was an outstanding college player. A consensus first-team All-American, Morrison led the nation in scoring in his junior year (which would turn out to be his last in college, turning pro after the season) with 28.1 points per game.

The kiss of death for Morrison came when he graced the cover of Sports Illustrated (twice), prompting the inevitable comparisons to Larry Bird. The Charlotte Bobcats bought into the hype, selecting the Gonzaga Bulldog with their third overall pick in 2006.

Barring a Herculean career comeback, those Morrison-Bird comparisons are a bad joke. After four lackluster seasons in the NBA, including a final year warming the bench for the Lakers, Morrison then played professional basketball overseas in Istanbul, Turkey. Meanwhile, somewhere in the Carolina wilderness, there are Bobcats crying like ... well, like Morrison in that Sweet 16 loss.

Ed O'Bannon, New Jersey Nets

No. 1: Ed O'Bannon

Unless you're a diehard college basketball fan -- or an even more die-hard NBA fan -- you probably don't remember Ed O'Bannon.

UCLA fans, however, probably remember him as the player who made a miraculous recovery from a knee injury and, in 1995, led the Bruins to their first national championship since the John Wooden era. His college career stats are incredible, averaging 20.4 points and 8.3 boards per game.

The New Jersey Nets, no doubt anticipating similar, if not better, numbers, took O'Bannon with their ninth overall pick in 1995.

This would turn out to be the peak of O'Bannon's NBA career. He played in only 128 games in his two years in the league before that dang knee injury cropped up again. This time there would be no miraculous recovery. This time it signaled the end of a forgettable professional career.

Unless you're a Nets fan, of course. They might never be able to forget the pick wasted on O'Bannon.


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