NBA’s Biggest Draft Busts: Where Are They Now?
Sam Bowie (1984, No. 2 Overall)
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They may be widely known for being “busts,” yet life still goes on for many high NBA draft picks who didn’t realize their potential. In advance of the 2013 NBA Draft on Thursday, we update the current whereabouts of 25 of the most infamous busts in history. (NOTE: Former college players only.)
It’s often forgotten that Bowie was a 1985 First Team NBA All-Rookie performer with the Portland Trail Blazers and spent 11 seasons in the league. Rather, his basketball-playing legacy is largely defined by being the player drafted immediately before Michael Jordan — whose legendary career makes Bowie’s feel like a huge disappointment in comparison.
After the conclusion of his playing career, Bowie returned to Lexington, KY, where locals still fondly recall his college days (his No. 31 jersey is retired by Kentucky). He has forged a successful second career as an owner and trainer of standardbred race horses.
Michael Olowokandi (1998, No. 1)
A largely disappointing first-round draft class in 1998 (just four of those 29 picks became All-Stars) was best symbolized by the not-so-sweet career for “The Candy Man.”
The 7-footer from the University of the Pacific became another link in a long chain of disappointments for the Los Angeles Clippers, never averaging more than 12.3 PPG or better than 43.7% FG shooting in any of his five seasons with the club. (He did earn 1999 Second Team NBA All-Rookie honors.) After similarly nondescript stints with the Timberwolves (2003–2006) and Celtics (2006–2007), he was out of the league.
Now living in anonymity in Dallas, Olowokandi’s longest-lasting contribution to the NBA is perhaps his ex-fiancée, Suzie Ketcham, who has been a cast member of VH1’s “Basketball Wives” since its 2010 inception.
Greg Oden (No. 1, 2007)
[Update: Oden is now a member of the Miami Heat.]
A dominant, all-everything season at Ohio State had many thinking that Oden could be the next Bill Russell. Much to the horror of the Blazers and their fans, however, he was a Sam Bowie 2.0.
Three separate season-ending knee injuries have limited Oden to a total of 82 NBA games — the equivalent of one full NBA season even though he was drafted No. 1 overall six years ago this month. Adding to the embarrassment was the January 2010 reveal of a bathroom selfie Oden had evidently taken to impress a lady friend.
Waived by the Blazers last March, Oden — who only turned 25 in January — still has time to turn around his once-promising career. After returning to Ohio State to take classes, his recent workouts in preparation of a comeback have earned numerous rave reviews.
Adam Morrison (No. 3, 2006)
[Update: Morrison is now a student assistant for Gonzaga.]
Gonzaga’s floppy-haired, iconoclast star forward launched a scoring race with Duke’s J.J. Redick that held college hoops fans in thrall throughout the 2005–2006 season. Although he was the third overall pick, pundits still had doubts about his ability to play defense and whether his prodigious scoring in college would carry over to the NBA.
Despite a 2007 Second Team NBA All-Rookie showing, those doubts were realized — compounded by a torn ACL Morrison suffered in his second season, in 2007. He earned a pair of NBA championship rings as a Lakers benchwarmer in 2009 and 2010 and was most recently a member of the Blazers, who waived him last October 27th.
Fast approaching Morrison’s 29th birthday on July 19th, his future in basketball is up in the air.
Joe Alexander (No. 8, 2008)
As it turns out, “Workout Wonders” exist in the NBA draft as well.
One of the catalysts behind West Virginia’s surprise run to the 2008 Sweet Sixteen, Alexander — who earned First Team All-Big East honors that season — was widely considered the best overall athlete in that year’s NBA draft. Scouts raved at him having the second-most number of 185-lb bench press reps (24), the second-highest max touch (12’ ½”) and the second-fastest ¾ spring time (2.99 seconds).
Alas, Alexander averaged just 3.5 PPG as a rookie, commencing a career which so far has seen him bounce around to two other NBA teams (albeit very briefly), the D-League, Russia and China. Most recently a member of China’s Liaoning Jiebao Hunters, Alexander is currently a free agent.
Shelden Williams (No. 5, 2006)
The Midwest City, OK, native was a two-time national Defensive Player of the Year at Duke as well as a key player on the Blue Devils’ 2004 Final Four team and three Sweet Sixteen squads (2003, 2005 and 2006). The worthy successor to Carlos Boozer and Elton Brand as the school’s premiere post player was expected to have an NBA career just as productive as those two.
Alas, Williams has never had enough time in one city to get comfortable. Since 2006, he has been with seven different NBA teams: the Hawks, Kings, Timberwolves, Celtics, Nuggets, Knicks and Nets. He’s only recently rediscovered his game this past season, averaging 13.3 PPG and 7.5 RPG with France’s Chalon.
Despite his lackluster NBA career, Williams has scored in one instance: He’s married to arguably the best women’s basketball player alive, Candace Parker.
Rafael Araújo (No. 8, 2004)
NBA general managers and scouts constantly frothed at the mouth over European-style big men in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and Araújo — a native Brazilian — struck while the iron was still hot.
It’s easy to see why the Toronto Raptors’ brass was so enamored with the BYU star center. He stood 6-foot-11 and 275 pounds yet supplemented that strength with a deft touch, a big reason why he averaged 18.4 PPG en route to 2004 Co-Mountain West Player of the Year honors.
Yet Araújo never took to the NBA game, lasting just three seasons (two with the Raptors and one with the Jazz). He’s picked things up again since returning to his native Brazil in 2009, even making the internet rounds after shattering a backboard on a dunk in January 2011. He spent the 2012–2013 season with Mogi das Cruzes, with whom he averaged 14.6 PPG and 6.1 RPG.
Luke Jackson (No. 10, 2004)
The lanky lefty starred alongside PG Luke Ridnour and SG Fred Jones in keying a resurgence in Oregon basketball, leading the Ducks to one of their best seasons ever in 2001–2002 (a 26-win campaign that ended in the Elite Eight). Jackson also earned First Team All-Pac-10 honors twice (2003 and 2004) and was a Second Team All-American in ’04.
Injuries limited him to only 46 games in his two seasons with the Cavaliers, after the last of which he was traded to the Celtics and then waived. From 2006–2011, he bounced around the NBA, D-League, Italy and Israel, experiencing a little success here and there before hanging up his high-tops in 2011.
Basketball is still Jackson’s life, however. He returned to Eugene, OR, in February as the new men’s basketball coach at NAIA Northwest Christian University.
Mike Sweetney (No. 9, 2003)
For most of the 2000s, the Knicks struck out on all of their first-round draft picks. Sweetney was one of them.
A force inside who twice earned First Team All-Big East honors at Georgetown (2002 and 2003), Sweetney was badly undersized to play power forward in the NBA. Compounding his struggles at the pro level was a losing battle to keep his weight down; it got so bad that following the 2006–2007 season with the Chicago Bulls, he was out of basketball for two full seasons.
Returning to the game in 2009, Sweetney has since played in the D-League, China, Puerto Rico, Uruguay and Venezuela. Now 30 years old, he’s currently with Puerto Rico’s Vaqueros de Bayamon.
Patrick O’Bryant (No. 9, 2006)
The 7-footer went from late-blooming big man to NBA lottery pick after leading Bradley to a surprising Sweet Sixteen berth in 2006, highlighted by upset wins over Kansas and Pitt. It looks as though the opening weekend of that Big Dance might represent the pinnacle of his hoops career.
O’Bryant had the ignominy of being the first lottery pick ever sent down to the D-League, less than two months into his rookie season. It led then-Warriors coach Don Nelson to say of O’Bryant, “He’s not only not dominating, he’s not playing very well. ... I really liked him the first week of training camp, but I assumed there would be great progress. ... He hasn’t gotten better one bit.”
Anyone still waiting for O’Bryant to have that “a-ha” moment as a pro better have a book handy. He was most recently with Lithuania’s Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius, with whom he averaged a modest 4.9 PPG in nine games before being released in May.
Marcus Fizer (No. 4, 2000)
The first McDonald’s High School All-American to ever play basketball at Iowa State, Fizer led the Cyclones to just their second Elite Eight ever in 2000, earning Big 12 Player of the Year and First Team All-America honors in the process.
Though undersized by NBA power forward standards at 6-foot-8, Fizer put up decent numbers in his first three seasons (11.1 PPG and 5.1 RPG) for some awful Bulls teams in the early 2000s. Unfortunately, he never averaged more than 26 MPG in any of his four seasons in Chicago, and his NBA aspirations took a big hit when he tore his ACL in January of 2003.
For the past decade he’s bounced around the NBA, D-League and five different countries while dealing with a reputation for being hot-headed and lazy. He’s since found peace as a born-again Christian and ordained minister in his native Louisiana while still giving basketball a go, most recently playing for Argentina’s Estudiantes de Bahia Blanca last fall.
Ed O’Bannon (No. 9, 1995)
O’Bannon was one of the most accomplished players in UCLA history, which is saying something considering he didn’t star for the Bruins during their Golden Age in the 1960s and 1970s. He was a three-time First Team All-Pac-10 performer (1993–1995), the 1995 Consensus National Player of the Year and the NCAA Tournament MOP during UCLA’s run to the national title.
The dynamic lefty’s game, however, didn’t translate to success with a moribund Nets franchise. Hampered by both homesickness (he was playing across the country from his native southern California) and balky knees, he lasted just two seasons in the NBA — after which he, rather ironically, embarked on a journeyman foreign career that took him to five different countries.
Now the marketing director at Findlay Toyota in Henderson, NV, O’Bannon’s greatest contribution to sports might be yet to come: He is the lead plaintiff in an ongoing lawsuit against the NCAA, questioning the organization’s use of the images of its former student athletes for commercial purposes.
Harold Miner (No. 12, 1992)
Arguably no player was more scrutinized or more tormented by being the next Michael Jordan than Miner, the leading scorer in USC history with 2,048 career points.
Miner — who was known as “Baby Jordan” as far back as his playing days at Inglewood (CA) High School — certainly had the hops befitting the heir to His Airness, winning both the 1993 and 1995 NBA Slam Dunk Contests. But chronic knee injuries forced him to walk away from the game at just age 25.
For the next 15 years, he purposely stayed in anonymity while starting a family in Las Vegas with his wife Pamela, still bitter at having basketball taken away from him at a young age. It’s only been in the last three years that he’s made peace with it, even returning to his alma mater in November 2011 to watch them retire his No. 23.
Sean May (No. 13, 2005)
Of all the talent that North Carolina possessed on its 2005 national title-winning team, May was arguably the Tar Heels’ biggest star. The 6-foot-9, 266-pounder could bang inside yet had a soft touch around the hoop and could run the floor in Roy Williams’ fast-break offense.
Charlotte tabbed the home-state star as its first-round pick in 2005. What they couldn’t have foreseen, however, was the effect that injuries would have on May’s NBA career; he has yet to completely recover from the effects of micro fracture surgery on his right knee in October of 2007.
Don’t count him out just yet, though. He was a force to be reckoned with again in his first year with France’s Paris-Levallois Basket during the 2012–2013 season, averaging 19.8 PPG (on 60.5% shooting) and 7.8 RPG.
Trajan Langdon (No. 11, 1999)
Injuries and an inability to create his own shot limited the “Alaskan Assassin” to just three seasons with the Cavaliers. But when Langdon made the move overseas, he regained the scoring touch that made him a three-time First Team All-ACC performer at Duke — and then some.
Langdon’s best years were with Russian powerhouse CSKA Moscow (2005–2011), with whom he captured two Euroleague championships (2006, 2008), was named to two First Team All-Euroleague squads (2007, 2008) and earned 2008 Euroleague Final Four MVP honors. At the conclusion of the 2000s, he was one of 10 players named to the Euroleague All-Decade Team.
Retired as a player since the end of the 2011 season, the now 37-year-old Langdon makes his home in Arlington, VA, where he works as the San Antonio Spurs’ eastern regional pro personnel scout.
Dajuan Wagner (No. 6, 2002)
The first mega-recruit that John Calipari landed at Memphis, Wagner — nationally known since he scored 100 points in a January 2001 game for Camden (NJ) High School — displayed an impressive enough scoring ability (21.2 PPG) in his lone season at Memphis that the Cavs (one year away from drafting LeBron James No. 1 overall) tabbed Wagner to be their long-awaited franchise savior.
“Injury-plagued” isn’t strong enough to describe Wagner’s NBA career. At one point he suffered from a bladder infection, torn cartilage in the right knee, an inflamed liver and pancreas and a sprained ankle. During the 2004–2005 season — his last in Cleveland — he was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis and had to undergo a colonoscopy.
Wagner last played in 2008 for Poland’s Prokom Trefl Sopot, after which he returned to his native Camden. An eye-opening January 2012 piece by Jason Nark of the Philadelphia Daily News documented how Wagner was laying low and even training for an NBA comeback. Alas, at age 30, it’s a very distant possibility.
LaRue Martin (No. 1, 1972)
The predecessor to Sam Bowie and Greg Oden in “Blazers Big Man Bust” lore, Martin’s struggles in the NBA after a standout career at hometown Loyola-Chicago were compounded by the success of the player drafted immediately after him, Bob McAdoo. (To wit: Martin totaled 1,430 for the entirety of his four-year NBA career, while McAdoo scored 1,441 points in his rookie season.)
The road back from that infamy was a hard one — Martin says he “turned his back on basketball” and kept a safe distance from the media after his playing days were over.
Returning to Chicago, he’s worked in UPS’ corporate offices for the past 25 years — the last 15 of which as community services manager of the Illinois district. He’s been recognized several times with awards for his involvement in the community and has even gotten to hobnob with Barack Obama long before he was elected President of the United States.
Chris Washburn (No. 3, 1986)
These days, Washburn would be your classic “red flag” draft prospect. Despite having a lot of talent (1986 Second Team All-ACC), the 6-foot-11 Washburn’s NC State career was sullied by him getting caught stealing a stereo, allegations that he was admitted to NC State despite a substandard SAT score and questions about his work ethic.
Despite all that, Golden State selected him third overall. Washburn failed three separate drug tests in three years, leading to a lifelong NBA ban in June 1989. He struggled with cocaine addiction throughout the 1990s, only getting motivated to come clean after his father’s death in 2000.
Washburn is now back in his hometown of Hickory, NC, where he owns and operates an eponymous wings restaurant. This upcoming season, he’ll also have the joy of watching both his sons, Chris Jr. and Julian, play at UTEP.
Dennis Hopson (No. 3, 1987)
It’s not quite fair to label Hopson — the 1987 Big Ten Player of the Year at Ohio State — a total bust. After all, he led the Nets in scoring (15.8 PPG) during his final year with the organization. Yet he was not the franchise-altering scorer that the New Jersey brass had hoped for, and the Nets jettisoned him after just three seasons.
Hopson won an NBA title in his lone season with the Bulls (1990–1991) before spending a season with the Kings (1991–1992) and another nine overseas (in five different countries). He entered the college coaching ranks in 2007 as an assistant under former Villanova head coach Rollie Massamino at Northwood (FL) University. Since 2009, he’s held the same position at Bowling Green.
Kent Benson (No. 1, 1977)
A two-time First Team All-American pivot for Bobby Knight at Indiana, Benson forged a decent, 11-year NBA career, averaging 9.1 PPG and 5.7 PPG. But “solid yet unspectacular” is not what you want out of a player you draft as a franchise player. Nor do you want said player to only last 2.5 seasons with you after selecting him No. 1 overall.
Since concluding his playing career in 1989 with a stint in Italy, Benson — the MOP of the Final Four in 1976, when the Hoosiers went undefeated (32–0) — has returned to Bloomington, where he’s an independent representative for Lightyear Network Solutions, Weddell Communications and Timber Buyer.
He also got to watch his youngest daughter, Ashley, become Indiana’s first All-American in volleyball, in 2010.
Danny Ferry (No. 2, 1989)
In hindsight, there were two things working against Ferry upon being drafted second overall: 1) The lackluster history of former Duke stars in the NBA (in the 1980s anyway); and 2) The Clippers being the team that selected him.
Ferry did his part trying to avoid the fate that befell so many players drafted by the Clippers, spending his rookie season starring in Italy rather than toiling away in LA. He got his wish and was traded to the Cavaliers in November 1989, having a decent career in Cleveland but not anything like the success he experienced with the Blue Devils. Ferry averaged just 7.0 PPG in the pros compared to 22.6 as a senior in Durham.
After ending his playing career by winning an NBA championship with the Spurs, in 2003, Ferry transitioned almost immediately into life as a NBA front office executive. He is currently the Atlanta Hawks’ general manager.
Shawn Bradley (No. 2, 1993)
The 7-foot-6 Bradley only spent one season at BYU. But it was highlight worthy enough — he tied the NCAA regular season, single-game record for blocks (14) and set an NCAA tournament game record with 10 — that even after serving a two-year Mormon mission and opting not to return to school, he was the No. 2 pick overall.
Philly’s hope was that Bradley’s nonpareil shot-blocking ability would make him a force in the post immediately and that his offense would develop in time. While the former held true (he averaged 2.5 BPG during his 12-year NBA career), he never realized the latter. The 76ers traded Bradley to the Nets midway through his third season, after which he was a role player for the rest of his playing days.
Bradley is back in his home state of Utah, working as a cattle rancher and a spokesman for the Children’s Miracle Network while raising six children with his wife Annette. In 2010, he ran a losing Republican campaign for the 44th District seat in the Utah House of Representatives.
Pervis Ellison (No. 1, 1990)
Ellison was nicknamed “Never Nervous Pervis” for his standout play at Louisville, where he was the 1986 Final Four MOP as a freshman and became the only player in school history with 2,000 career points and 1,000 career rebounds.
When he got to the NBA, however, he became “Out of Service Pervis” — so nicknamed by Kings teammate Danny Ainge due to his constant struggles with injuries. After leaving Sacramento following the 1990 season, he earned NBA Most Improved Player honors in 1992 with the Washington Bullets by averaging 20.0 PPG, 11.4 RPG and 2.7 BPG.
It proved to be his best season as a pro, as the injury bug bit hard again the following year and nagged him until his retirement in 2000. He’s now the boys’ basketball coach at Life Center Academy in Burlington, NJ, where he went 10–13 during the 2012–2013 season.
Stromile Swift (No. 2, 2000)
The Grizzlies’ last lottery pick before relocating from Vancouver to Memphis, Swift was supposed to energize the franchise with his pogo stick-like jumping ability.
Alas, the player hailed as the next great LSU-produced big man fell very well short of expectations. Swift peaked in his second season with the Grizzlies, averaging 11.8 PPG and 6.3 RPG, before a swift descent (pun intended) into obscurity that ended with a season-long stint in China, in 2009–2010.
Swift hit rock bottom last July when he plead guilty to charges of stalking a Shreveport woman in 2011, for which he received a suspended sentence of six months in jail.
Robert Traylor (No. 6, 1998)
“Tractor” Traylor never played a game for the team that drafted him, the Dallas Mavericks. He was sent to Milwaukee in exchange for Pat Garrity and a then-unknown German prospect named Dirk Nowitzki.
While Nowitzki blossomed into an 11-time NBA All-Star (so far), Traylor — one of the players at the heart of the Michigan basketball scandal — was a role player for three different NBA teams between 1998 and 2004 before embarking on a foreign career in four different countries, battling weight problems throughout.
Sadly, Traylor died in May 2011 of a heart attack at age 34 while playing for Puerto Rico’s Vaqueros de Bayamon.