Thanks to houwarrior for presenting a great question on MUScoop of who had the best MU college careers vs. pro careers. I wanted to systematically try to answer his question, as well as the reverse - who came out of nowhere to overachieve in the NBA.
One point I try to always drill home is that there are 4500 Division I players every year and thousands more in Europe and only about 50 of them make it to the NBA every year. So there are thousands of great college players who don't make the pros, and even most who do don't average double figures. In fact, Dwyane Wade and Wesley Matthews are two of only seven MU players to ever average double figures in the NBA, so even making it and playing over 400 games as a defensive specialist who doesn't score much (see Tony Smith and Jim McIlvaine) puts you in very select company.
I ranked the top 40 pro careers of MU players - mostly NBA but then added a few strong European/D-League players at the end of the rankings, and then compared those 40 pro careers to how I ranked the same 40 players for their MU careers.
MU players who were even better in the pros
If Jimmy Butler lives up to the Bulls expectations and is even still playing in five years, he will be the greatest pro surprise in MU history. Obviously I am somewhat guessing on Lazar Hayward and Jimmy's potential careers, conservatively just projected they play a few years each on the bench that would still put them in the top 20 of all MU pro careers, but even with that conservative approach, Butler would rank as one of the top surprises with just the 33rd best career among the MU pros.
|Rnk||Pro Rank||MU Rank||First||Last||Comments|
|1||16||35||Chris||Crawford||1663 pts in injury shortened career|
|2||12||30||Steve||Novak||one of longest pro careers|
|3||5||21||Glen (Doc)||Rivers||864 games most, 1 of 7 to ave. double figures|
|4||19||33||Jimmy||Butler||If he plays at least 5 years will rank #1 on this list|
|5||24||34||Amal||McCaskill||114 NBA games|
|6||29||39||Tom||Copa||surprise late emergence for 33 NBA games|
|7||4||12||Wesley||Matthews||biggest surprise to non-MU fans|
|8||11||19||Jim||McIlvaine||1 of 10 to log 400 NBA games, def specialist|
|9||9||16||Tony||Smith||same as McIlvaine|
|10||8||14||Jerome||Whitehead||697 games ranks 4th|
So overall I rank Jimmy with a slightly better MU career than Chris Crawford (33rd of the 40 for Jimmy compared to 35th for Crawford). As good as Crawford was for MU, right now I have him as the biggest overachiever in the pros, and if he wasn't sidelined prematurely with back issues, he really may have built a nice career with a few thousand points.
Wesley Matthews is the best player on this list, and should eventually nudge out Doc Rivers as the 4th best pro to come out of MU, but he was pretty darn great at Marquette so he is not as much an overachiever based on his MU career.
MU players who were better in college than the pros
I do believe Jerel McNeal is the player with the biggest gap in the other direction - one of the top 10 college players in the country according to the AP (2nd team All-American), but so far hasn't been on the court for an NBA game. But I hope he is remembered long-term like Bo Ellis is, he did wonders at MU even if his NBA career is short or he doesn't make it at all, but hopefully he repeats a Tom Copa and keeps at it until he breaks through.
|Rnk||Pro Rank||MU Rank||First name||Last||Comments|
|1||36||9||Jerel||McNeal||10 games on NBA bench, so let's hope|
|2||25||3||Alfred (Butch)||Lee||Just 96 games after POY at MU|
|3||20||2||Maurice (Bo)||Ellis||Just 168 games after AA career|
|4||39||22||Dominic||James||Nice numbers in Turkey|
|5||21||11||Terry||Rand||drafted by Lakers, but outbid by Industrial League|
|6||22||13||Dave||Quabius||played for NBA team before league formed|
|7||31||23||Bernard||Toone||23 NBA games|
|8||10||5||Dean||Meminger||416 games solid|
|9||30||25||Michael||Wilson||32 NBA games|
|10||37||32||Tony||Miller||dominant Euro player for 12 years|
Tony Miller and Kerry Trottier were two of the most dominant European players, but I rank the European standouts behind anyone who played any games in the NBA.
I believe the best 10 MU players to never play in the NBA (though I could have missed a great Euro career for any of these), were (in order); Gary Brell, Aaron Hutchins, Walt Mangham, Ric Cobb, Ron Curry, Marcus Washington, Brian Wardle, Damon Key, Russ Wittberger and Robert Jackson.
20 of the 40 were about the same in the NBA
But really, 20 of the 40 players ranked within a few spots of their MU perforamce based on their pro careers. Dwyane Wade was the best MU player and is the best pro player to come out of MU, etc.
|Pro Rank||MU Rank||First name||Last||Comments|
|1||1||Dwyane||Wade||the best at MU & in NBA|
|2||7||Maurice||Lucas||grabbed NBA title, just behind Rivers in games|
|3||4||George||Thompson||18.6 ppg 2nd to Wade if count ABA|
|6||8||Don||Kojis||NBA All-Star, 3rd in games|
|7||6||Jim||Chones||623 games, solid though not star|
|13||10||Earl||Tatum||9.6 ppg is 11th best|
|14||18||Travis||Diener||Solid few years|
|15||17||Larry||McNeil||297 games, 8.5 ppg solid|
|18||15||Lazar||Hayward||just signed for 3rd year|
|23||24||Ed||Mullen||5 yrs pro before NBA|
|27||27||Sam||Worthen||1st round, but just 69 games|
|32||29||Gene||Berce||one of 1st NBA players|
|33||38||Brian||Brunkhorst||scored a few NBA points|
|34||31||Allie||McGuire||got in a couple of games|
|35||40||Bill||Downey||got in a couple of games|
|38||37||Kerry||Trotter||ave. 30+ per game as European MVP twice|
|40||36||Cordell||Henry||strong Euro player|
So really overall players have been about as good as would be expected overall. Sure, some great college players skills translate better to the pros than others (Wesley and Jimmy have NBA bodies, while Jerel is short for a 2 and Dominic may not be long enough), but let's remember all these guys for the memories they gave us on the court in Milwaukee or the pride they brought to us when being announced, "from Marquette University ..." before NBA games.