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Top Ten NBL Players from the NBA Draft

The 2015/16 NBL season is gearing up to be the most stacked it has been in recent years, with more NBA draft picks bringing their talents down under to set the League alight. The NBL’s first ever NBA draftee was Ollie Johnson, selected at number 30 by Portland in the 1972 NBA Draft from Temple University. The small forward went on to play 690 NBA games for seven teams in between 1973 and 1982. Johnson made his NBL debut in 1985, scoring 101 points in his first three games and despite just winning two games with the Devils that season, he finished the League second in scoring (32.5 points per game) and fifth in rebounding (13 rebounds per game.) The recent Sydney Kings signing of Marcus Thornton, the William and Mary graduate drafted 45th by the Boston Celtics this year, marks the 100th player the NBL has acquired from the NBA draft. With the upcoming season tipping-off on October 7  featuring more NBA talent than ever before, let's take a look back at the best draft picks to bring their basketball prowess to Australian shores. 1) LEROY LOGGINS In 1980 Leroy Loggins was just one of two players ever drafted out of Fairmont State University, West Virginia. The eighth round pick was selected by Detroit, and began his NBL career in Brisbane in 1981. Loggins then transferred to West Adelaide, winning the 1982 NBL Championship before returning to the Bullets to play from 1983 through until 2001. “Leaping Leroy” is the only player to have played in six straight NBL Grand Finals (1982-1987) in his 21-year career that included three Championships, three League MVP’s, 10 All-NBL First team selections, two Defensive Player of the Year awards and game MVP in the first two NBL All-Star games played. He retired with the most games played in NBL history (567) but has since lost the title to Andrew Gaze and Tony Ronaldson. Loggins has more career wins (337) than 95.6 per cent of players in NBL history, and scored 40-points on 23 occasions, with a career-best of 55 points at Albert Park on the same night his Melbourne Tigers opponent Andrew Gaze put up 54. Loggins also represented Australia at the 1992 Olympics and was admitted into the Hall of Fame in 2006. 2) RICKY GRACE Ricky Grace was drafted in the third round of the 1988 NBA Draft by Utah after playing in the NCAA Final with the University of Oklahoma. Perth Wildcats general manager Cal Bruton enticed Grace to the West on a one-year contract that eventually would lead to a 16-year 482-game career with the Wildcats that included a short NBA cameo with Atlanta in 1993 and Olympic representation with the Boomers in Sydney 2000. Grace surprisingly never led the League in any major statistical categories until his 14th year, but he was a known winner. He led the Wildcats to their first Championship in 1990 and was named Grand Final MVP, then he went back-to-back with another title in 1991. In 1993 he made history as the first player to be awarded two Larry Sengstock medals, but the only Grand Final MVP from the losing team. “Amazing Grace” also won Championships in 1995 and 2000, and his 14 consecutive play-off appearances (he was injured in 2004) would rank second of all time, to Tony Ronaldson (20 appearances.) Grace was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010. 3) AL GREEN Al Green made worldwide headlines during the 1979 draft. Not only did Green get drafted by the Phoenix Suns in the third round of the NBA draft, but the star athlete from Louisiana State University was also selected in the NFL draft by the San Diego Chargers despite not having any school football experience. Green’s passion remained with basketball and after a stint in the Philippines, he ended up at West Adelaide in 1981 where he finished fourth in scoring and made the All-NBL First team. In 1982 Green was named NBL MVP after helping lead the Bearcats to the Championship. It was in 1984 that "Mean" Al Green made history,  averaging 39.5 points per game and setting an all-time record on 25 May when he exploded for 71-points in a game at Frankston, including a record 28-point third period. He was also a member of the all conquering Adelaide 36ers Championship-winning team in 1986 that finished the year 24-2. Green played his final three NBL years at Newcastle after a decade in Adelaide, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1999. 4) ROCKY SMITH Rocky Smith is the only player in history to lead the League in scoring, be named MVP of the League and MVP of the Grand Final in his first NBL season. Smith played college basketball with Oregon State University and was drafted to the Houston Rockets in 1977. His scoring average of 33.4 points per game in 1980 - a sweet left hander jump shot from the free-throw line was his specialty - remains the best individual season by any player before the introduction of the three-point line. In 1981, St Kilda again finished on top of the ladder and Smith was second in scoring at 28.8 points per game. However, a clash of dates prevented Smith from participating in the Finals, choosing to play instead at the World Club Championships in Brazil. Smith continued his incredible form, averaging 35.2 points over their seven matches but his outstanding skills became the NBL’s loss. Smith accepted an offer to stay in South America, ultimately becoming a massive star and reportedly the highest paid player in Brazil in the 1980’s. 5) JOSH CHILDRESS It’s a big call to include a one-year NBL player on a list that is measuring contributions, but that’s what Josh Childress delivered last season. Drafted by Atlanta as the sixth pick in 2004 out of Stanford University, ‘J-Chill’ finished his NBL debut with the Kings as just the second player in history to lead the League in scoring and rebounding in the same season, and the only player ever to also finish Top 5 in assists and blocks. Whilst suited up, Sydney never fell behind the .500 mark at any stage but without him the Kings were 0-10 due to his pectoral injury. His 36-points, 19 rebounds, seven assists and five blocks against the Adelaide 36ers last November was one of the greatest per-minute displays in the history of the competition. 6) STEVE CARFINO Of all the inductees in the Australian Basketball Hall of Fame that have come via the NBL, no one had a playing career shorter than Steve Carfino, illustrating the impact that he had. Graduating from the University of Iowa, Carfino was drafted by the Celtics in the sixth round of 1984 but never got to experience Boston Garden. Instead it was the hardwood of Kingsborough in Hobart that saw him become a state sensation. The Devils only won a combined eight games in their first three seasons, but in 1986 they managed nine victories. Carfino made headlines with two games, scoring a career best of 52-points coming in his first dozen appearances. At the end of the season, "Mr Magic" would be the first player in NBL history to finish in the Top 5 in scoring, assists and steals, runner-up MVP, and would be the only Hobart player ever to be named in the All-NBL team, a feat he would repeat in 1987. A 20-year career as a television commentator has cemented Carfino’s place in NBL history. 7) DEAN UTHOFF Dean Uthoff never made it onto an NBA court despite being drafted by the San Antonio Spurs in 1980 but he certainly made a massive impression in Australia. Listed at 208cm and 119kgs, the Iowa State centre led the NBL in rebounding three times throughout his 12-season career. Of the Top 6 highest rebounding games in history,"The Man Mountain" owns four of them, including an equal League high 34 boards vs Hobart at Nunawading in 1984. Just as impressive was his career-shooting percentage at 60.3 per cent, and at no surprise also led the NBL three times in that category. One of the true giants of the competition, Uthoff was named as a Sydney Kings legend in their 25th Anniversary celebrations. 8) OWEN WELLS Owen Wells played 31 NBA games for Houston after being drafted at number 77 in 1974. The athletic swingman came to Newcastle in 1981 and led the Falcons in scoring at 24.4 points per game and was named in the All-NBL First team. It was in 1983 that he set some incredible records as playing coach of the Supersonics, taking the team from 12th in 1981 to top of the table in 1983 and leading the team in both scoring and assists despite Sydney having an excellent point guard in Gordie McLeod. Wells was named as League MVP that season, but did not make as many waves the following year.  The Sonics started 2 and 8, and Wells was gone as a coach and a player despite posting a personal best 50-points against Devonport. He retired from playing, but in 1986 returned to the Supersonics as a coach only. One year later, Wells became the only man in NBL history to coach different teams in the same season. 9) DARNELL MEE Darnell Mee was selected at number 34 by the Golden State Warriors in the 1993 NBA Draft out of Western Kentucky University, but was traded to Denver later that night. He played the first of his 40 NBA games in Sacramento in November and shared the court with teammate Kevin Brooks. They two would later form a double-Championship combination in Adelaide. Mee began his NBL career alongside Rob Rose in Canberra and they took the Cannons to the semi-finals after six seasons without making the play-offs. During his 362-game NBL career with the Cannons, 36ers, Hawks and Taipans, Mee would also be the first player to be named Defensive Player of the Year five times – impressively at three different clubs. Mee also represented Australia at the Oceania Championships in 2007 and maintains the record of just one of two players that have recorded triple-doubles in consecutive NBL matches. 10) DWAYNE MCCLAIN Dwayne McClain won an NCAA Championship in 1985 with Villanova before being selected at number 27 by Indiana that year. He played 45 games for the Pacers in 1986 before finding himself at the Sydney Kings after stops in France and the CBA. A replacement player for one-game import Kenne Young, McClain helped make the Kingdome the hottest ticket in town for three seasons where he averaged 27.7 points over 78 games, earning him an All-NBL First team selection in 1992 and eventually a place as starting small forward on the Kings 25th Anniversary team. McClain completed his career on the Gold Coast in 1996 and then had a final season in Brisbane in 1997. HONOURABLE MENTIONS 11) Tiny Pinder round 5 pick by Atlanta in 1979 – 220 NBL games 12) Butch Hays round 7 pick by Chicago in 1984 – 232 NBL games 13) Julius Hodge pick 20 by Denver in 2005 – 40 NBL games 14) Dave Colbert round 5 pick by Boston in 1986 – 144 NBL games 15) Vince Hinchen round 5 pick by Cleveland in 1984 – 188 NBL games 16) Kevin Brooks pick 18 by Milwaukee in 1991 – 158 NBL games 17) Andre Moore pick 31 by Denver in 1987 – 226 NBL games 18) Cecil Exum round 9 pick by Denver in 1984 – 197 NBL games 19) James Ennis round 2 pick by Atlanta in 2014 – 33 NBL games 20) Willie Simmons round 4 pick by Sacramento in 1985 – 225 NBL games This editorial is an opinion piece and views do not necessarily reflect those of the National Basketball League.
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