“With the final pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, the Los Angeles Lakers select, Robert Sacre from Gonzaga University.”
– Adam Silver, Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer of the National Basketball Association.
As the quote above indicates, the 7’0” center from North Vancouver, BC was the final pick of the NBA draft this year. No Duck was drafted this year, but Oregon State’s Jared Cunningham was picked 24th by Cleveland, then sent to Dallas in a trade.
With another year gone by without an Oregon player selected on the big board, it got me thinking. The best chance for a collegiate player to have success in the NBA is to have your name called on draft day, right?
Olu Ashaolu, Devoe Joseph and Garrett Sim all were available for the NBA Draft this year, and not one of them were picked for one of the sixty available spots.
So, Joseph and Ashaolu packed their bags and headed back to Toronto, and Sim returned home to Portland to contemplate what’s next, right?
Keep in mind that the NBA season doesn’t actually start in September/October. The NBA Summer League, which is held in Las Vegas, starts in July. The rosters of the summer teams look to fill vacancies from players who have left for free agency, draft picks that did not get signed, and so on.
Once again I began thinking about players before Ashaolu, Joseph and Sim that went undrafted and went on to have great NBA careers. The list should be uplifting to Oregon fans, because it shows that the Duck trio are not out of the running for an NBA job just yet.
C-F, Brad Miller- Undrafted, played in Italy until he was picked up by Charlotte in 1999. Miller is not a Hall of Famer, but since coming to the NBA has played for five teams (including playoff runs) averaging 13 point and 10 rebounds.
F, Udonis Haslem- The two-time NBA champion went undrafted out of Florida, when he weighed almost 300 pounds. He played in France where he re-dedicated himself to basketball and lost 70 pounds, and was picked up by the Miami Heat. The rest is history…
G, Bruce Bowen- One of the NBA’s best 3-point shooters of all time, Bowen did not start his NBA career until he was 25. Bowen could barely hold a job in Europe from 1993 to 1997 after coming out of Cal State-Fullerton. He ended up with five consecutive appearances on the All-NBA Defensive First Team and three championships.
G, Avery Johnson- Because of his small size, Avery Johnson wasn’t selected on draft day, and switched teams 10 different times during his career, including three different tenures with the San Antonio Spurs. He played with them for part of the 1990-’91 campaign and 1991-’92 season before getting traded to Houston. Johnson then signed back with the Spurs in the following off-season, only to sign with the Golden State Warriors the next off-season. Johnson led the NCAA in assists in his senior year at Southern, averaging 13.3 per game. A true success story when all doubted his abilities, he is an NBA champion as both a player (San Antonio) and coach (Dallas Mavericks).
F, David Westley- Because of his 6’0” frame, scouts thought the Baylor point guard was “too big,” and he went undrafted. After proving he could play with the Celtics, He went on to average 17 points per game, shooting as high as 42% from beyond the arc. Alongside guys like Baron Davis, Jamal Mashburn and Jamaal Magloire, he helped lead the Hornets to a number of post-season appearances.
For the three Ducks who possibly face the same fate, they should look at a list like this and know that going undrafted is nowhere near the end of a career. July was the opportunity for Ashaolu, Sim and Joseph to send their best highlight tapes to all 30 teams and hope that only one team likes what they see.
It’s a short audition time, the Summer League only lasts from July 13-22. The NBA isn’t the end-all be-all for basketball, just like in football. There are divisional leagues, international leagues, many opportunities to keep playing for those who are not yet ready to give up on the dream. Many Ducks are scattered around the globe doing just that, with Joevan Catron in Australia and Bryce Taylor playing in Germany, just to name a few.
Garret Sim got his shot in the NBA Summer League with the Golden State Warriors, a rapidly improving franchise known for running the floor and quick strikes from range, perfect for Sim’s style. He played against the Los Angeles Lakers and the Denver Nuggets in summer league, his Warriors team defeating both. Sim averaged 3.0 points per game, was perfect from the free throw line, and shot 50% from behind the arc.
At Oregon, Sim completed his four-year career ranked first in games played (136 consecutive), eighth in career 3-pointers made (185), ninth for career free throw percentage (.818) and tied for 10th all-time for career steals (103). Sim is the 32nd player in school history to eclipse the 1,000-point mark (ranks 29th with 1,078 points).
The former Oregon big man, Olu Ashaolu was invited to play for the playoff-ready Milwaukee Bucks. Ashaolu played against New Orleans, Washington, Boston and Chicago. The 6’7” power forward’s Bucks went 3-1, averaging 4.0 points per game and 2.0 rebounds per contest.
In his very short, but endearing career with the Ducks, he played in all 34 available games, starting 10 of those outings. Ashaolu ranked fourth in the Pac-12 in field goal percentage (.565) and he led Oregon in field goal percentage (.565), offensive rebounds (71) and free throws attempted (144). He ranked second on the team in rebounds (5.2 rpg) and blocked shots (0.5 bpg). The big man was fourth on the team in scoring (9.2 ppg), and even represented Oregon in style in a post-season dunk contest aired on ESPN.
Ashaolu reached double-figures in scoring 13 times, amassing 20+ points on three separate occasions, and scored 22 points plus six boards in the NIT vs. Iowa, following that performance two days later with an additional 22 and nine in the loss to Washington ending Oregon’s season.
The Toronto native Devoe Joseph got the best deal of the three. He was invited to play for the team he grew up watching, the Toronto Raptors. Numbers-wise, Joseph has also had the most success on the floor of the three; though the Raptors went 2-3, Joseph had an impact that surely opened the eyes of coach Dwane Casey and Raptors management.
Joseph played in games against Houston, Miami, Dallas, Sacramento and New York. He averaged 8.0 points per game with one rebound and one assist per game. He shot 50% from three point range and 83% from the free throw line, averaging 16 minutes per game.
Like Olu Ashaolu, Joseph played only one season for Oregon, but that one season will be remembered for years to come. After being forced to sit for much of the season early, Joseph entered his first game as a Duck against Fresno State on Dec. 10 and led the team in scoring with 18 points, shot 46.2 percent from the field and recorded four assists in nearly 30 minutes off the bench. Overnight, Oregon had a new star.
Over the course of his college career, Joseph has averaged just under 10 points per contest, but in his only year with the Ducks he averaged 16.6 point-per-game. His efficiency increased as well, as his 47.2 field-goal percentage was the third best on the team, easily the highest of his career.
Oregon is not (yet) considered a basketball powerhouse, so even those who shine as bright as Joseph have a difficult time getting an honest look from the pros compared to players at entrenched successful programs like Kentucky, Duke, and North Carolina. Perhaps the league is gunshy, seeing mixed results from Oregon’s highly-touted trio of lottery picks a decade ago, awaiting Oregon’s program as a whole to prove itself further before giving the talented individuals within the program an honest look. Not since Maarty Leunen, Malik Hairston, and Aaron Brooks has an Oregon player been drafted.
Yet players have emerged as quality role players, particularly highlighted by Ivan Johnson, a forward at Oregon for 2005-2006 who honed his skills overseas for years before joining the Atlanta Hawks this past season, playing a vital role for that franchise.
While the spotlight in the greatest professional league has been distant from the Ducks recently, the one thing that the basketball program at UO has instilled in its players the last few years from the Ernie Kent era and into the Dana Altman regime has been determination and the drive to keep going. Ashaolu, Joseph and Sim refused to let college be the last form of competitive basketball they play.
For the three basketball players that led Oregon to postseason play, the tapes they sent to all 30 teams was not to say ‘hey, you have roster spots available and I happen to be available. Whatdya say?‘ Their auditions in the summer league sent a message: ‘For some reason I went undrafted, here’s what you missed about my game that could benefit your team.’
Perhaps the NBA Summer League experience will be the closest the three ever get to reaching the NBA, or perhaps with the persistence and skills earned during their time as Ducks they too can end up like Ivan Johnson, or any other number of players who wouldn’t be denied the dream even after the NBA initially passed them by.