10 NBA Pros Who Owned March Madness
From Melo to Psycho T, these 10 guys made Gus Johnson’s blood pressure skyrocket and used the NCAA tournament to propel their pro ball careers.
Just like Chalmers, Shane Battier is a current Miami Heat player who led his college team to a national title while winning the Most Outstanding Player honors. It was back in 2001 when Battier and the Duke Blue Devils edged the Arizona Wildcats for the championship, two years after losing to UConn in the ’99 Finals. Throughout his four years at Duke, Battier gained a reputation as a team leader and gritty defender. Most memorable, his play prompted the Cameron Crazies to chant “Who’s your daddy? Battier!” In the ’01 title game against Arizona, Battier racked up a double-double of 18 points and 11 rebounds, cinching the third national title for the Blue Devils (they added a fourth in 2010). Battier segued his illustrious college career into a successful NBA career as a defensive stopper, and has a good chance to match his NCAA championship with an NBA one on the Heat.
Just to make sure there is no Tobacco Road bias allegations, here is the mandatory Tar Heel for this list. What Battier was to Duke during his four years, Tyler “Psycho T” Hansbrough was an equally larger-than-life figure at North Carolina during his four years. The ACC’s all-time leading scorer, Hansbrough became a huge fan favorite due to his gutty play, and was the 2008 Wooden Award winner as the nation’s best player. Despite immense success through his first three years at UNC, Hansbrough didn’t make it to the Final Four until his junior season, when the Tar Heels fell in the semis. Hansbrough received one more shot at glory when he returned for his senior season, and scored 18 points against Villanova in the Final Four semis, setting up a title bout vs. Michigan State. Hansbrough added another 18 as the Tar Heels went on to win their fifth national title, and while he was overshadowed by star point guard Ty Lawson and tournament Most Outstanding Player Wayne Ellington, no one can deny Psycho T’s moment in the sun.
Of French and Swedish decent, Joakim Noah may not seem like your prototypical U.S. college basketball star, but at 6'11" with a towering wing span, he fit the bill rather well at Florida, one of the nation’s premier basketball programs. After playing sparingly as a freshman, Noah had a breakout sophomore campaign, leading the team in scoring and blocks. The Gators, a team also including current NBA players Al Horford and Corey Brewer, won the school’s first national title in 2006, defeating UCLA by 16 points. Noah received Most Outstanding Player honors after compiling a line of 16 points, nine rebounds, and a championship game record six blocks. Noah was highly favored to be the top pick in the 2006 NBA Draft, but along with Horford and Brewer, opted to return to Gainesville and the move paid off—the Gators pulled off a rare repeat as national champs in ’07.
UConn has an impressive lineage of current NBA players (Kemba, Ray Allen, Rudy Gay, Ben Gordon) and Emeka Okafor is undoubtedly one of the greatest to ever don a Husky jersey. During his junior season, Okafor was a defensive beast for UConn, winning the nation’s Defensive Player of the Year award, while also claiming Big East Player of the Year honors. Entering the tournament as a two-seed, the Huskies marched their way to the Final Four and a semifinals matchup against a very good Duke team. Okafor finished with 18 points despite early foul trouble, setting up a matchup with Georgia Tech in the final. While Gordon had been the team’s leading scorer up to that point in the tournament, Okafor took over against the undersized Yellow Jackets, pouring in a game-high 24 points, to go with 15 rebounds and 2 blocks. Okafor was named Most Outstanding Player, and went on to be taken second overall by the Charlotte Bobcats in the 2004 NBA Draft.