Top 10 Players who never made it to the NBA

DNP – For different reasons

10. Krešimir Ćosić
Center, 2.11 m, Croatia
The first European “Unicorn” was Krešimir Ćosić from Zagreb. The 2.11 meter center could do so much more than just clean up things around the basket. Armed with an excellent jumpshot and strong techniques, he was one of the most exciting players of his generation.

Even though he rejected offers from the NBA and became a legend in Europe, Ćosić did play in the United States. “Kreso” was one of the most defining players in the WACC conference during his playing days at Brigham Young University from 1970 to 1973. He averaged 20.2 points and 9.5 rebounds as a senior for the Cougars and was named an All-American.

The LA Lakers drafted him in 1973 with the 84th pick, but Ćosić returned to Europe where he became a dominant player. As one of the stars of the Yugoslavia national team, Ćosić won Olympic gold as well as a FIBA Basketball World Cup crown and numerous FIBA EuroBasket titles. After ending his active career, Ćosić became a coach and then a Croatian diplomat in the United States.

9. Len Bias
Small Forward, 2.03 m, United States
One of the biggest “What if?” stories is the short and tragic career of Leonard Kevin Bias. In 1986, Len Bias was selected second in the NBA Draft and was expected to extend the success of the legendary Boston Celtics.

But just days after he was drafted, the star forward from the University of Maryland died from an overdose of cocaine. The 2.03 meter Bias had averaged 23.2 points and 7.0 rebounds during his senior season with Maryland and scouts were drooling about his athleticism, calling him the best wing from the 1986 draft and comparing him to Michael Jordan, who was just starting to dominate the NBA.

Bias was supposed to be the answer for the ageing Celtics around the likes of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish. But it would never happen. The party celebrating his bright future ended up costing Bias his life – and the NBA lost what was expected to be superstar.

8. Marques Haynes
Point Guard, 1.83 m, United States
Long before the first AND1 mixtapes and the likes of Rafer “Skip to my Lou” Alston or Shane “The Dribbling Machine” Woney, Marques Haynes took the skill of ball handling and turned it into an art form.

Haynes could dribble the ball up to six times a second, which was actually only one of many tricks he had and inspired the likes of Bob Cousey and Pete Maravich. Haynes not playing in the NBA despite all his talent was due to racial segregation.

Haynes instead joined the Harlem Globetrotters and wowed spectators for years. He was one of the main reasons the travelling team grew to the popularity it has today. He played more than 12,000 basketball games as he showcased his dribbling into his 60s.

7. Dimitris Diamantidis
Point Guard, 1.96 m, Greece
“Triple D” or “Three-D” were just two nicknames for the great Dimitris Diamantidis with the abbreviation standing for Dimitris Diamantidis Defense since the latter was the calling card for one of the smartest and most versatile point guards on the old continent.

Diamantidis played for just one club in his 12 years as a professional, winning nine Greek championships with Panathinaikos Athens and six times taking home the Most Valuable Player award in Greece’s top flight. Still today, “Triple D” leads the EuroLeague all-time ranking in steals and is third in assists. But the NBA showed the Greek star no love in the 2002 NBA Draft as he did not get selected at all.

6. Theodoros Papaloukas
Point Forward, 2.00 m, Greece
Many NBA teams over the years were intrigued by Theodoros “Theo” Papaloukas, a 2.00 meter point guard from Greece. What Papaloukas was lacking in athleticism and speed, the Athens native made up in shrewdness, wittiness and ballsyness – though throughout his career he preferred the assist over his own scoring.

Instead of trying it in the NBA, Papaloukas remained one of the biggest fish in European basketball – and made plenty of money playing more than a decade in the EuroLeague for Olympiacos Piraeus, CSKA Moscow and Maccabi Tel Aviv. He was one of the best playmakers on the continent and captured two EuroLeague titles as well as numerous individual awards.

5. “Pee Wee” Kirkland
Combo Guard, 1.85 m, United States
Richard “Pee Wee“ Kirkland is a man with many talents. So many that despite his tremendous basketball skills and never reaching the NBA, he drove a Rolls Royce and earned a lot of money.

Major college coaches wanted Kirkland in their programs, such as the legendary John Wooden, who was looking to team him up with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – then Lew Alcindor – at UCLA. But the guard, who Sports Illustrated called the fastest man in college basketball, decided on the smaller Norfolk State and stayed true to the streets.

Legend has it that Kirkland popularized both the crossover and spin-move on the New York playgrounds. He ended up turning down a contract offer from the Chicago Bulls because he was able to earn more as a drug dealer than with an NBA deal back then.

His lifestyle eventually landed him in prison where “Pee Wee” is said to have scored more than 100 points in numerous games in prison leagues. Today, Kirkland talks to youngsters across the country about his moving life.

4. Dejan Bodiroga
Point Forward, 2.05 m, Serbia
When you consider the rosters in the NBA today, the fact that “White Magic” never played in the league is almost unimaginable. But during the best years of Dejan Bodiroga’s career, the internationalization of the NBA was still in its infancy. Clubs rarely had the courage needed to give responsibility to talented Europeans. That meant Bodiroga, a two-time EuroLeague MVP and MVP of the 2002 FIBA Basketball World Cup, would stay on the old continent and dominate at will. And the 2.05 meter scoring playmaker did just that.

Whether it was in Yugoslavia, Italy, Spain or Greece, Bodiroga ruled the continent for years and was just as respected as he was feared. Despite having just modest athleticism, he was almost unstoppable thanks to his cleverness, instincts and talent. Bodiroga also helped the former Yugoslavia to the world title in 1998 and 2002.

And in terms of glamour, Bodiroga would have fit right in among the NBA stars. The band Inspektor Blaza even immortalized him with the song “Sex, Droga I Bodiroga”.

3. Earl Manigault
Combo Guard, 1.85 m, United States
“For every Michael Jordan, there’s an Earl Manigault. We all can’t make it. Somebody has to fall. I was the one.” Manigault, better knows as “The Goat”, told that to the New York Times and he is one of the true legends to not make the NBA.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said the 1.85 meter Manigault is the best player he ever faced. Kareem saw first hand what Manigault could do on the courts of New York City with his 52-inch (1.30 meters) vertical – one time doing 36 consecutive reverse dunks to win a bet for 60 dollars. Legend has it that Manigault would also sky to the top of the backboard and pull dollar bills off and leave change.

“The Goat” is one of the greatest legends of New York streetball. His story was made into a film in 1996 with the movie “Rebound”. But Manigault’s story does not have a happy end as he died of heart failure at just 53 years of age after decades of drug abuse.

2. Nikos Galis
Shooting Guard, 1.83 m, Greece
One of the best ballers that New York City ever produced is a Greek: Nikolaos Georgalis. The son of emigrants from Hellas, Nikos Galis – as he is known by all today – averaged 31.2 points over his entire career.

That helped him lead the Greek league in scoring 11 times while picking up five Most Valuable Player awards and winning eight league titles. Galis rejected NBA contracts from the Boston Celtics and New Jersey Nets because FIBA regulations at that time would have made him ineligible to play for his beloved Greek national team.

The scoring guard remained in Europe and dominated at will. He still is among the pantheon of Greek basketball and is worshipped accordingly there. Legend has it that Galis even once scored 50 points against Michael Jordan in an exhibition game against his North Carolina collegiate team in 1983.

1. Oscar Schmidt
Shooting Guard, 2.05 m, Brazil
“Mao Santa” – the “Holy Hand” – is what they call Oscar Schmidt in his homeland Brazil. Oscar can laugh off the some 38,000 points that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar scored in the NBA. Schmidt ended up scoring 49,703 points in his career.

Schmidt played professional basketball for 26 years for clubs in Brazil, Spain and Italy. He also represented Brazil internationally for nearly 20 years – from 1977 to 1996 – earning 326 caps and scoring like a machine. In 38 Olympic games from 1980 to 1996, Schmidt totalled 1,093 points, for an impressive average of 28.8 points a game, making him the top scorer in Olympic basketball history. The 2.05 meter shooting guard averaged an outstanding 42.3 points at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul.

Despite a number of offers – including being selected 131st in the 1984 NBA Draft by the New Jersey Nets – Schmidt was never really interested long-term in the NBA. He said it was too rough and player unfriendly while Schmidt was thought of as a selfish wimp from some in the U.S. When asked why he shoots all the time, Schmidt legendary answered: “Some people, they play the piano. And some people, they move the piano.” To this day, Oscar Schmidt remains the best player who never played in the NBA.


by FIVE Magazine #170 – Top 10 Players who never made it to the NBA – Text: Peter Bieg

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