NBA Finals Features Plenty of College StarsPosted by EJacoby on June 12th, 2012
The 2012 NBA Finals between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat begins tonight in a dream matchup of star-studded teams that is sure to draw huge viewer ratings. The major media narrative of the series centers around the two superstars — LeBron James and Kevin Durant – and all basketball fans should enjoy watching them battle at the highest level. But digging deeper, diehard college hoops supporters are in for a real treat as each team features veteran players that were once stars at the collegiate level for Final Four-bound squads. Thought the Fab Five was a distant memory? Juwan Howard, former Michigan star from 1992-94 and current Miami reserve forward, thinks otherwise. Before the current John Calipari era, Kentucky’s last run of glory came in the late 90s, during which Nazr Mohammed was on the star-studded 1996 championship team before playing a much bigger role on the 1998 championship team. Fans surely remember Mario Chalmers‘ performance during the 2008 National Title game as well, featuring arguably the biggest shot in recent NCAA history. Chalmers is Miami’s starting point guard who will have to knock down some more big shots in order for the Heat to win. There are plenty of other players in this championship series that will bring college fanatics down memory lane.
The rosters of the Heat and Thunder combine to feature 12 (!) different players that once played in a Final Four during their college careers. Oklahoma City’s Final Four attendees include Cole Aldrich, Nick Collison (twice), Daequan Cook, Royal Ivey, Russell Westbrook (twice), and Mohammed (three times). Miami, meanwhile, features Shane Battier (twice), Dwyane Wade, Udonis Haslem, Mike Miller, Howard (twice), and Chalmers. These 12 players combined for five National Titles. Miller and Haslem were teammates at Florida for the 2000 Gators team that lost in the Championship Game to Michigan State. And this list doesn’t even include Durant, who won the National Player of the Year award in his only season at Texas (2007). Battier was also a NPOY winner at Duke during his accomplished college career. March Madness fans probably remember Derek Fisher, Eric Maynor, and Norris Cole, too, each of whom led small schools to the NCAA Tournament through leading point guard roles. Now they are all valuable reserves for potential NBA champions, though Maynor has missed this season with an ACL tear in his knee.
Just seeing some of these names should bring back some great memories. Cook hasn’t gotten much run for the Thunder in these playoffs but he hit two crucial three-pointers in the Game 5 victory over San Antonio during the last round, just like he used to do for Ohio State as part of the “Thad Five” team that reached the National Title game in 2007. Westbrook hardly played as a freshman at UCLA but became a huge part of the Bruins’ success as a sophomore, where he ended his career with 22 points in a Final Four loss to Memphis and shot up NBA draft boards. The rest is history as Westbrook became a top five pick and just finished as the All-NBA Second Team point guard in just his fourth season. And who can forget about Dwyane Wade, the blossoming star at Marquette who dropped a triple-double in the Elite Eight against Kentucky to send his team to the 2003 Final Four in what remains one of the great individual NCAA Tournament performances of all-time.
Who says that four-year collegiate careers do not equate to NBA success? Many of the players in this year’s NBA Finals prove otherwise. While the superstars in this series generally didn’t spend a lot of time in school (one year between Durant and James), it’s not a coincidence that the heady bench play of each squad features several former NCAA stars. Though players like Collison and Haslem don’t draw media headlines, they are crucial role players who will play valuable minutes in this series. NBA general managers might want to study the composition of these Finals rosters as an example of how valuable college experience is. It’s great to see some of our past collegiate heroes go on to great pro success now with a chance to shine on the biggest stage in the NBA Finals.
Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby.