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The 20 Greatest Basketball Players to Never Play in the NBA

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 The 20 Greatest Basketball Players to Never Play in the NBA
Unread 2 years agoclass of '09 - away - #1
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20. Alexander Belov
Accolades: 1972 Olympic Gold medalist, 2007 FIBA Hall of Fame Inductee

Alexander Belov is not loved by American fans because he scored the winning basket in the controversial 1972 gold medal game. Despite this, Belov was a winner and dominant everywhere he went. He won a World Championship gold medal in 1974, a Soviet National League title in 1975, and three European Saporta Cup Finals in 1971, 1973 and 1975. Belov passed away very early at the age of 26 after a short battle with the rare blood cancer, cardiac sarcoma. He was named one of FIBA's 50 Greatest Players in 1991.


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19. Doug Wrenn
Accolades: 1998 Washington HS Player of the Year

Doug Wrenn used to do his thing in Seattle. He would give Jamal Crawford, Brandon Roy, and Nate Robinson the business on city courts. He was a 6'6" scorer with a bad temper. In 2003, he was a top ten high school prospect along with Melo, LeBron, and Wade. Doug averaged 22 PPG, 8.4 RPG, and 7.3 APG as a senior in high school and was expected to put up similar numbers in college.

Wrenn attended UConn, but then transferred back home to the Washington Huskies where he complained about playing time and his role with the team. Nowadays, Doug can't stay out of trouble. He had to do some time for pulling out a gun during a traffic dispute in 2009. If it weren't for his bad temper, Wrenn could've been in the league sonning his hometown friends all over again.

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18. Jack Ryan
Accolades: NYC Streeball legend, averaged 26 PPG in HS

Black Jack Ryan was and still is a deadly three-point shooter. His jumper is so money his other nickname is "Water." The game came so effortlessly to Jack, he never took it seriously until it was too late. He had a drinking problem and was never in shape, but it didn't matter. Ryan still became a legend.

When he was 29, he got a tryout with the Nets, but injured his knee and was told to go to the CBA to get in shape. He wasn't feeling that and went back to running pick-up games in his hometown of Brooklyn. Chris Mullin once said, Jack was the best shooter he had ever seen that never played in the NBA. These days he travels the country as the "Hoop Wizard" performing magic tricks with basketballs like spinning eight at a time during halftime shows and birthday parties.

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17. Lenny Cooke
Accolades: 2000 adidas ABCD MVP

There was actually a player ranked higher than LeBron James in high school and his name was Lenny Cooke. A year older than James, Cooke was a 6'6" manchild that could do no wrong on the basketball court. All that changed one fateful day at the 2001 ABCD camp. Lenny's team beat Carmelo's squad to set up a showdown between he and James. With LeBron's team down by two, James hit game-winning three-pointer in Cooke's mouth to win the game. LeBron outscored Lenny 24-9. That was the day Lenny Cooke started to head in the wrong direction. He lost confidence, took advice from the wrong people and the rest is history. These days he's overweight and still hanging on to the hoop dreams he had over a decade ago.

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16. Bob Kurland
Accolades: 2x Olympic Gold medalist, 1961 Basketball Hall of Fame Inductee

The NBA isn't for everyone. Bob Kurland was a dominant big man before that term ever existed. Kurland was such a force that the NCAA banned defensive goaltending in 1945. He played six years of Amateur Athletic Union basketball for Phillips Petroleum, winning three championships. Since he never played professionally, he was eligible as an amateur for the 1948 and 1952 Olympics and won gold medals both times.

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15. Larry Brown
Accolades: 1964 Olympic Gold medalist, 1969 ABA Champion, 3x ABA All-Star, 1968 All-ABA Second Team

We know Larry Brown as one of the greatest coaches of all time. He's the only coach to win a championship in both the NCAA and NBA. People forget that Larry Brown used to ball though. He was the first ABA All-Star Game MVP, he led the ABA in a.ssists three years in a row, and has the record for most a.ssists in an ABA game with 23. Although he led the Olympic struggle team in 2004 to a bronze medal, he does have a gold medal as a player from the 1964 Olympics. One parallel for his coaching and playing career is his affinity for changing teams. Brown played for five teams in five years, and coached for 14 different teams spanning the NBA, ABA, and NCAA.

More to come in the next post

Last edited by McmasterlockPt2; 08-07-2013 at 06:41 PM..
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92 comments for "The 20 Greatest Basketball Players to Never Play in the NBA"

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Unread 2 years agoclass of '13 - away - #2
Eazy123 276 heat pts276 space
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hook mitchell
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How's the only player in the hall of fame at the bottom of your list?
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14. Angel "Monchito" Cruz
Accolades: NYC Streeball legend, 2x Baloncesto Superior Nacional (BSN) Champion in Puerto Rico

Monch was another little guy that dominated the streets of NYC. He had a successful career in Puerto Rico and was a fixture on their national team. Cruz had a heated rivalry with another streetball legend named Nate "Tiny" Archibald and, at times, got the best of him. He also had memorable performances against guys like Drazen Petrovic in international play. Angel played 13 years in Puerto Rico, averaging 15 PPG and 5 APG. In 1997 he went missing and has not been heard from since, but his legend still looms large on in the playgrounds of NYC.




13. Ed "Booger" Smith
Accolades: Featured in Soul in the Hole and on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1997

Ask anybody that has seen Booger play and they'll tell you he could've played in the NBA. He did things with the basketball that can only be compared to the likes of God Shammgod and Rafer Alston. His handle was crazy and his passes were magical. But like many that came before him, Smith chose to make fast money on the streets rather than develop his skills in college.

How many guys can say they had a classic basketball documentary made about them at 17? Booger was featured in the 1997 film Soul in the Hole and was also on the cover of Sports Illustrated the same year. He began hustling at the age of nine, often making fiends wait for him to finish games so he could serve them. Booger Smith is the last streetball star that gained popularity through word of mouth, before the internet.




12. Ronnie Fields
Accolades: 3x Parade All-American, Consensus First Team All-American (Parade, USA Today, McDonald's). Third All-Time leading scorer in Chicago Public League history (2,619)

The 6'3" guard played high school ball with Kevin Garnett at Farragut Academy and was a legend in the playgrounds of Chicago. Ronnie could jump out of the gym with his 50" vertical. He averaged 34 points, 12 rebounds, four a.ssists, four steals and four blocks a game in high school—no, that's not a typo. KG once said, that Ronnie was better than him, but Fields never got a chance to prove his teammate right. He broke his neck in a car accident during his senior year and when he finally healed he couldn't get into a DI school because of his grades—the same reason why KG skipped college.




11. Fly Williams
Accolades: As a freshman at Austin Peay University, was fiftly in the nation in scoring.

James "Fly" Williams is a prime example why streetballers rarely make it to the NBA. Sometimes organized ball restricts a playground player's game, often taking away his showmanship. He was a dynamic scorer that often shot from 30 feet with efficiency. His game was documented in the streetball scripture, Heaven is a Playground by Rick Telander. Fly attended Austin Peay and put them on the map, twice leading them to a NCAA tournament bid. He put up 29 points a game during his freshman year and nearly 28 in his sophomore season. Williams could never fully adapt to team ball and never played professionally because of his attitude.




10. Demetrius "Hook" Mitchell
Accolades: N/A

Your favorite point guards like Gary Payton and Jason Kidd played with Hook Mitchell growing up in Oakland. He was the west coast version of Earl "The Goat" Manigault (more on him in a bit). At 5'10", Hook had crazy hops and often dunked over cars during playground dunk contests. He played a couple years in college, but could never turn his back to drugs and a life of crime. The documentary, Hooked: The Legend of Demetrius "Hook" Mitchell, tells of his days on the Oakland playgrounds where he made his name. Kidd and Payton believe had he made it to the L, Hook had the talent to be greater than they were. That says a lot coming from two future Hall of Famers.
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9. Raymond Lewis
Accolades: Scored 73 points in a college game.

Raymond Lewis was known throughout the basketball world as a dominant force. As a freshman at Cal State-LA, he averaged 38.9 points per game and shot nearly 60 percent from the floor. At the time, Lewis was the youngest player ever drafted and signed in the NBA. He was the 18th player taken in the first round of the 1973 NBA Draft by the Philadelphia 76ers. In a full-court scrimmage, Lewis reportedly scored 60 points against Doug Collins by half-time. But, Lewis never played a game in the NBA after a contract dispute with the Sixers. He proceeded to torch NBA players in the highly-regarded Los Angeles Summer Pro League dropping 54 a game. Lewis claims that he was blackballed, as he tried out for multiple NBA and ABA teams, but never got a contract. In February 2001 he died at the age of 41 following a lengthy illness.




8. Marques Haynes
Accolades: 1998 Basketball Hall of Fame Inductee

There was no better ball handling point guard than Marques Haynes. He could reportedly could dribble a ball six times in a second. He revolutionized ball-handling, and his exploits in that field led to a stint with the Harlem Globetrotters. Haynes even started his own barnstorming basketball team the Harlem Magicians. He retired in 1992 after a 46-year professional career, and was inducted to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1998.




7. Joe "The Destroyer" Hammond
Accolades: Set a Rucker Park single game record with 82 points.

Joe Hammond had the Lakers knocking on his door with only a high school career and word of mouth to go by. And like some other street ball legends of his era, he turned them down because he was making more money in the street. They call him "The Destroyer" because he destroyed defenses. Homie once walked into a game against Dr. J during the second half and torched him for 50 points. Hammond could've been one of the greats, but had no desire to. He played ball on his spare time and figured the drug game would last forever. He's now a recovering addict that did a couple bids in prison, instead of being regarded as an NBA legend.




6. Benji Wilson
Accolades: 1984 No. 1 HS Basketball Player, 1984 IHSA State Champion, 1984 Chicago Public League City Champion

Benji Wilson never had a chance to show the world what he was fully capable of. He dominated the Chicago Public League and is heralded as the greatest player the Windy City has ever produced. When Michael Jordan was making his mark as a Bull in the NBA, Benji was taking the amateur hoops world by storm.

By all accounts, Wilson was a good kid that took basketball very seriously. He was a perfectionist and practiced new moves constantly. Benji was a 6'7" guard/forward with a lanky build, handles like a point and a smooth jump shot. As a junior, He led the now storied Simeon High School to it's first state championship in 1984. Unfortunately, he was gunned down in an altercation near his school during his senior year. He was only 17 and had been named the nation's No.1 high school player a couple months prior to being murdered on the streets of Chicago. The world never got to see, "Magic Johnson with a jumpshot." You can learn more of his story by watching the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary, Benji.




5. Hank Gathers
Accolades: 1989 WCC Player of the Year, 2x WCC Tournament MVP (1988, 1989), 1990 Consensus All-American Second Team, 3x All-WCC First Team (1988, 1989, 1990), 2x All-WCC Tournament (1988, 1989)

Anyone who was a fan of college basketball in the late '80s knew about Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble. The duo led Loyola Maramount to national prominence with their high octane offensive attack. LMU led Division I in scoring in 1988 (110.3 points per game), 1989 (112.5), and 1990 (122.4). Gathers was destined for NBA stardom when he first experienced problems with his heart in 1989, collapsing during a game in December.

Gathers found out that he had an abnormal heartbeat, but did not take the necessary medication because he felt that it negatively impacted his performance. After dunking an alley oop in the 1990 WCC tournament quarterfinal game, Gathers suffered a hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and passed out on the court. He never recovered, dying only months before he was projected to be the No. 1 pick in that year's NBA Draft.
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4. Oscar Schmidt
Accolades: 2010 FIBA Hall of Fame Inductee, Named to FIBA's 50 Greatest Players list

Oscar Schmidt is like the Michael Jordan of international hoops. He stood at 6'8" and could flat out shoot it. You don't get the name "Mao Santa" a.k.a."The Holy Hand" for nothing. The Brazilian legend played for 26 years (1974–2003) scoring a total of 49,703 points, about 11,000 more than Kareem. He also scored the most points in an Olympic game with 55 and averaged damn near 30 per contest in his Olympic career. Oscar had plenty of chances to play in the L, but instead chose to stay an amateur so he would be eligible to play for the Brazilian National Team. He once scored 46 points in a Pan-Am game vs. a US team that featured David Robinson, Danny Manning, and Pervis Ellison—a game Brazil won 120-115 after trailing 68-54 at halftime.




3. Earl "The Goat" Manigault
Accolades: Set the NYC Junior High School record by scoring 57 points in a game.

The Goat had the skills to become an Hall of Famer but his drug addiction led to prison stints and death at a relatively early age. Standing at 6'1", Manigault was dunking on legends like Connie Hawkins and Kareem on a regular basis at the Rucker. Kareem said himself that Earl was the best player he ever played against. His story was immortalized in the HBO movie, Rebound starring Don Cheadle as The Goat. He used his 52" vertical leap to grab money off the tops of backboards and reverse dunked 36 times to win a $60 bet. He dominated in high school and was recruited by the top colleges in the country. But, his heroin addiction didn't allow him to reach his potential. He died of heart failure at the age of 53 in 1998.




2. Pee Wee Kirkland
Accolades: NYC Streeball legend

Just like Pusha said, Pee Wee was a legend in two games. He famously turned down a contract to play for the Chicago Bulls because he made more money hustling. Legend has it, Kirkland executed the first crossover and spin to the basket. During the 60's and '70s, Pee Wee was pulling up to the Rucker in Rolls Royces and then drop 50 in a game. While incarcerated, he scored 100+ points a couple times in various prison leagues (for what it's worth).

Coaches like John Wooden and Red Holzman were recruiting his services and Sports Illustrated referred to him as "the fastest man in college basketball" when he balled at Norfolk State. He had the opportunity to play with Kareem in UCLA, but was too immersed in the gangster lifestyle. Kirkland was basically unstoppable, If he would've chose the right path, Pee Wee become one of the 50 Best NBA Players of All Time.




1. Len Bias
Accolades: ACC Athlete of the Year (1986), ACC Player of the Year (1985–86)

Len Bias was the total package on the court for Maryland. In his senior year, Bias averaged 23 PPG along with 7 RPG and was a First Team All-American. Bias was drafted by the reigning NBA champion Boston Celtics with the overall second pick in the NBA draft, but was found dead in his Maryland dorm room from a cocaine overdose only a day after he was drafted. Bias had a rare mix of talent and athleticism, and many believe he would've helped the Celtics continue their run of Finals appearances during the '80s.
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Ronnie Fields stat line
Anybody have a link to the Benji 30 for 30
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Unread 2 years agoclass of '10 - away - #8
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Forgot about Len. That one, and Benji really hurt. Dude from Brazil though ...... that would have been nasty to see him in the league.

Good read man
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Unread 2 years agoclass of '04 - away - #9
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I've heard people say Joe Hammond would have been better than MJ in a few documentaries.

That Benji 30 for 30 was horrible to watch, sad story.
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Unread 2 years agoclass of '04 - on now - #10
StuNNa 184 heat pts184 space
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With the 1st pick......
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how did the celtics get a high draft pick that year?
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Unread 2 years agoclass of '04 - away - #11
rikedizzle  space
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*In 2003, he was a top ten high school prospect along with Melo, LeBron, and Wade.
lost credibility
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Remember reading about "Black Jack" in a streetball book years ago. They say the dude literally never missed! Ive played guys like that often in city leagues and tournaments, always amazes me how some people never get a shot or blow theirs all together.


In dayton we got a local legend named Dwight Anderson. Look him up, true beast.
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i GOTS ta say na nay no
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damn..my n*gga len was to hype from the pick and partied to hardy
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Unread 2 years agoclass of '04 - away - #14
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Reading this list is hard because it's aggravating to see how many people could have been better than the great players we have gotten to see and they do nothing with it.
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Good read
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Eazy123 said:
hook mitchell
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where alimoe tho
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Benji should've been in the top 5 if not 3.
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Knew Len was gon be #1

And Benji
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Kirkland. Benji, Bias

wtf man
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