Top 10 NBA Players Ever From Non-Division I Schools: Part 1

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manute bol
Fighting Refrigerator Perry signaled Christ-like humility. Yes, the argument has been made.

EDITOR’S NOTE: THIS RANKING HAS BEEN EXPANDED TO SIXTEEN PLAYERS IN A LATER POST.

In June, we saw an eventful NBA Draft that drew from a variety of sources – Canada, Germany, Greece, Brazil, France, the NBDL and, of course, all levels of Division I basketball.

What we didn’t see – and haven’t seen for a while – is a draftee taken from a non-D1 college basketball program. Perhaps, the days of the Division II, Division III and even NAIA superstar who also ends up making a splash in the pros is over. It’s been more than a decade since anybody of note made this kind of jump.

For the sake of commemoration, let’s look back at the Top 10 “really, really small college” players in pro basketball history. Each of these guys didn’t let a non-D1 college basketball background stop them from achieving their dreams.

You’ll find three Arkansans on the list:

10. Devean George

College: Augsburg (Minneapolis, Minn.)

NBA Draft: Round 1/Pick 23rd by Los Angeles Lakers

NBA Playing Career: 1999-2010

All-Star Appearances: 0

Career High Averages

Points per game: 7.4

Rebounds per game: 4.0

Assists per game: 1.4

Steals per game: 1.0

Blocks per game: 0.5

43.2 % FG

39.0 % 3PT

George was a dominant scorer in Division III, averaging 27.5 ppg as a senior, but will forever be remembered as a sort-of-vital glue guy bench player during the Lakers’ 2000-02 threepeat. His career apex came in 2003-04, when he started 48 games and played nearly 24 minutes a game.

9. Flip Murray

College: Shaw University (Raleigh, N.C.)

NBA Draft: Round 2/Pick 42nd by Milwaukee Bucks

NBA Playing Career: 2002-10

All-Star Appearances: 0

Career High Averages

Points per game: 13.5

Rebounds per game: 2.5

Assists per game: 3.5

Steals per game: 1.4

Blocks per game: 0.3

44.8% FG

38.9% 3PT

(boldfaced statistics are from the 28-game stint Murray spent with Cavaliers in 2006)

As a senior, Murray set a Shaw University record of 23 ppg while racking up Division II Player of the Year honors. He made another splash as a Supersonic in 2003-04, when he scored 20 or more points 10 times in the season’s first 11 games (he started in absence of an injured Ray Allen). During the partial season  Murray played for the Cleveland Cavaliers, he averaged nearly 37 minutes a game.

8. Manute Bol

College: University of Bridgeport (Conn.)

NBA Draft: 1st time: Round 5/Pick 97 by San Diego Clippers (in 1983)

2nd time: Round 2/Pick 35 by Washington Bullets (in 1985)

NBA Playing Career: 1985-1995

All-Star Appearances: 0

Career High Averages

Points per game: 3.9

Rebounds per game: 6.0

Assists per game: 0.5

Steals per game: 0.4

Blocks per game: 5.0

60% FG

60% 3PT

The 7’6” Bol averaged  22.5 points, 13.5 rebounds, 7.5 blocks in leading DII Bridgeport to a 22-6 record in his one season there. His rookie season ended up being his best in the pros, and he remains the only player in NBA history with more blocked shots (2,086) than points (1,599).

Bol’s legacy reaches far beyond his record-setting 8’6” wingspan. He spent most of the money he made as a basketball player to alleviate the poverty and war afflicting the people of his native Sudan. He told Sports Illustrated in 2004  “God guided me to America and gave me a good job. But he also gave me a heart so I would look back.”

Indeed, when Bol’s fortune dried up, he raised quick cash through publicity stunts in which he turned himself into a humorous spectacle – horse jockey, hockey player, celebrity boxer.

As John Shields wrote for the Wall Street Journal after Bol’s death in 2010:

Bol agreed to be a clown. But he was not willing to be mocked for his own personal gain as so many reality-television stars are. Bol let himself be ridiculed on behalf of suffering strangers in the Sudan; he was a fool for Christ.

Shields noted many sportswriters covering Bol’s death from severe kidney problems labeled him a “humanitarian” rather than “Christian.. Shields argues Bol’s Christian faith is fundamental to his identity, and whatever good he did for man was an outcome of first and foremost serving God.

Similarly, the mainstream media has avoided stressing the faith of other famous athletes, Shields wrote. “The remarkable charity and personal character of other NBA players, including David Robinson, A. C. Green and Dwight Howard, are almost never explicitly connected to their own intense Christian faith. They are simply good guys.”

7. Robert Reid

College: St. Mary’s University (San Antonio, Texas)

NBA Draft: Round 2/Pick 40 by Houston Rockets

NBA Playing Career: 1977-91

All-Star Appearances: 0

Career High Averages

Points per game: 15.9

Rebounds per game: 7.1

Assists per game: 4.3

Steals per game: 2.0

Blocks per game: 1.0

49.2% FG

38.2% 3PT

 Before guys like Barry Sanders and Michael Jordan retired (for the first time) near their athletic primes, there was Robert Reid.

And before former Celtics guard Delonte West worked at a big box chain store to make ends meet, there was Robert Reid.

The second-leading scorer* on the Rockets’ 1980-81 team, Reid abruptly retired before the 1982-83 season to devote more time to his Pentecostal beliefs. He ended up working at a discount store, on a construction crew and at a pharmaceutical firm while taking firefighting classes at local community college.

 No surprise he un-retired the next season.

*What is a surprise is that Reid was not that much better of a scorer during his DII college days than as a pro. In his best season at St Mary’s, he averaged 19.6 ppg, along with 10.3 rpg.

6. Wil Jones

College: Albany State (Georgia)

NBA Draft: Round 5/Pick 69 by Los Angeles Lakers

ABA Playing Career: 1969-76

NBA Playing Career: 1976-77

All-Star Appearances: 1 as ABA All-Star

Career High Averages

Points per game: 14.9

Rebounds per game: 10.4

Assists per game: 3.0

Steals per game: 1.3

Blocks per game: 1.0

48.3 % FG

77.5 % FT

One of the more dominant rebounders in NAIA history, Jones averaged 23.9 boards his senior season at Albany State. Although only 205 pounds, the 6-8 interior player also became of the ABA’s best rebounding forwards during his early years in Memphis. He then was an important role player on the Kentucky Colonels’ 1975 championship squad.

*Jones, a McGehee natives is the third-best Arkansan rebounder in NBA/ABA history.

Stay tuned for the Top 5 players in an upcoming blog post…

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