NBA general managers and scouts spend all year searching for fresh young talent. Then they throw all of that hard work out the window when they see a strong NCAA tournament performance. Here are 10 players who dramatically boosted their draft stock with strong tournament performances only to completely fall off the face of the NBA map once they met up with harsher competition in the pros.
Hasheem Thabeet (Drafted #2 overall, 2009)
Attention draft “experts”: maybe it’s not a good sign when a guy only starts playing basketball at the age of 15. Despite the late start, Thabeet was a star by his junior year at UConn, averaging 13.6 points and 10.8 rebounds on his way to Big East Defensive Player of the Year honors and a Final Four appearance. But that success definitely hasn’t translated to the NBA, where Thabeet has been sent to the D-League (twice), been traded for young guns like Shane Battier and Marcus Camby and just last season recorded his first career double-double for the Thunder.
Drafted before: James Harden, Stephen Curry, Jrue Holiday
Adam Morrison (#3 overall, 2006)
The owner of the NCAA’s most famous crustache averaged 28 points in his junior season, leading Gonzaga to the Sweet Sixteen in 2006 and inspiring another cultivator of questionable upper-lip hair, Michael Jordan, to make Morrison the first of many horrible draft selections in his Bobcats tenure. Thirty-seven percent shooting and a torn ACL later, Morrison caught on with the Lakers, “earning” two championship rings as a benchwarmer — precisely two more than Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone and Charles Barkley combined.
Drafted before: Brandon Roy, Rudy Gay, Rajon Rondo
Joe Barry Carroll (#1 overall, 1980)
How good was Carroll’s senior year at Purdue in 1979-80? The seven-foot center was so dominant in leading the Boilermakers to the Final Four that he inspired the Warriors to trade Robert Parish and the No. 3 pick (which would become Kevin McHale) to take “Joe Barely Cares” first overall. Carroll would go on to average 20 points four times in a decent career. Parish and McHale would make the Hall of Fame.
Drafted before: Kevin McHale, Kiki Vandeweghe, Andrew Toney
Ron Mercer (#6 overall, 1997)
Rated above fellow phenoms Kevin Garnett and Vince Carter coming out of high school, Mercer was an All-American in his freshman year, leading Kentucky to a national championship in 1997. One year of glory was enough for Mercer, who was drafted by his old coach, Rick Pitino, flamed out in Boston, and was traded multiple times in a rocky NBA career. Though Mercer did average 19.7 points in one season as a Bull, his career ended unceremoniously when he was waived by the Nets in 2005 to keep them under the luxury tax threshold.
Drafted before: Tracy McGrady, Derek Anderson, Tim Thomas
Yinka Dare (#14 overall, 1994)
The man in the middle for head coach Mike Jarvis at George Washington University led the Colonials to the Sweet Sixteen in his freshman year, leaving college after his sophomore season as the school’s all-time leader in blocked shots. Maybe he should’ve stayed in D.C. The 7’0” Nigerian’s rookie season with the Nets lasted all of three minutes before he tore his ACL, and he was subsequently left unprotected (and undrafted) in the next year’s expansion draft. To this day, Dare holds the record for most games played in a season (58) without recording an assist.
Drafted before: Aaron McKie, Wesley Person
Chris Washburn (#3 overall, 1986 draft)
In hindsight, maybe it was a little troubling when he got caught stealing a stereo at NC State and his sub-500 SAT score was used as evidence in the trial. Still, the Wolfpack star averaged 17.6 points and 6.7 rebounds on his way to leading his team to the Elite Eight in 1986, inspiring the Warriors (again) to draft Washburn third overall. He would go on to score just 222 points in the NBA, but he did manage to average a respectable 1.0 failed drug tests over a three-year career. Ah, the eighties…
Drafted before: Ron Harper, John Salley, Arvydas Sabonis
Jimmer Fredette (#10 overall, 2011)
To be fair, it wasn’t just the insane tournament run that sent BYU to the Sweet Sixteen that launched the cult of Jimmer. The sharpshooting point guard was on fire the whole 2010-11 season, dropping a school record 52 points on New Mexico in one game on his way to breaking Danny Ainge’s career scoring mark. Unfortunately, that electric scoring has not translated to Jimmer’s pro career in Sacramento, where Jimmer seems more likely to convert Boogie Cousins to Mormonism than drop 10 points in a game.
Drafted before: Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson, Kenneth Faried
Joe Alexander (#8, 2008)
The 6’8” swingman dragged West Virginia kicking and screaming to the Sweet Sixteen in 2007, using his mid-range jumper and leaping ability to post an 18/10 in an overtime loss that nearly sent the Mountaineers to the Elite Eight. That inspired the Bucks to roll the dice on Alexander, whose spotty career included stops in Chicago, New Orleans, the D-League and Russia. But Alexander did amass one professional honor. The son of a Nestle executive, he was the NBA’s first ever player born in Taiwan.
Drafted before: Roy Hibbert, Brook Lopez, Serge Ibaka
Jared Jeffries (#11 overall, 2002)
The star of the Hoosiers’ unlikely run to the 2002 title game, Jeffries put up a 24/15 in an upset of No. 1 seed Duke and ultimately tied Maryland MOP Juan Dixon for top scorer in the tournament. But as a pro, Jeffries will be best remembered as a key cog in an entertaining Knicks-Nuggets brawl in 2006 and as a defensive specialist who couldn’t really play defense.
Drafted before: Carlos Boozer, Tayshaun Prince, Luis Scola
Next: The 30 Greatest NBA Players of the '90s
Yi Jianlain (#6 overall, 2007)
OK, so the star of the Chinese national team for the 2004 Olympics and 2006 FIBA World Championships never got any tournament time, but he's the most egregious example of a player adding to his stock through something even more fleeting than a two-week tournament run: the pre-draft workout. Yi earned the nickname “The Chairman” from Bill Simmons when he showed off his low-post moves to NBA executives by posting up a folding chair. (Quipped Celtics exec Danny Ainge: “The chair played good defense a couple of times.”) After five spotty seasons where he averaged 7.9 PPG, Yi currently represents a value pick in your Chinese Basketball Association fantasy draft.
Drafted before: Marc Gasol, Joakim Noah, Thaddeus Young