With the NBA draft starting Thursday evening, my wheels started turning regarding the process and WVU basketball.
Of course, there’s been many memorable moments.
Of late, point guards Miles “Deuce” McBride and Jevon Carter have been selected in the second round. The latter is carving out quite a nice NBA career for himself.
Still fresh in my mind is when the Milwaukee Bucks took forward Joe Alexander No. 8 in the first round in 2008.
Indeed, six WVU players (Alexander, Ron “Fritz” Williams, Rod Thorn, Jerry West, “Hot Rod” Hundley and Mark Workman) have been taken in the first round. Two – Hundley and Workman – were taken with the overall No. 1 pick. (West was taken No. 2 in 1960 behind Oscar Robertson.) All exciting moments for Mountaineer fans.
But I started wondering which NBA picks truly panned out and which was the best pick from WVU aside from West.
If you’re reading this you surely know of West’s success: 25,192 career points (27-point average) shooting 49 percent with 5,366 rebounds (5.8 per game) and 6,238 assists (6.7). He was an All-Star from 1961-74 and both an NBA All-Star and Finals MVP. That’s all before his incredible career as an NBA executive.
Yet after West which former Mountaineer that was drafted had the best NBA career?
I know a lot of WVU fans are following Carter and he’s not doing bad, averaging 4.4 points in 223 games.
To find the best NBA careers beside that of West, however, one must go back a bit.
First let’s look at the two No. 1 overall picks. I think – if you disregard prep schools – Hundley and Workman are the only two top picks from the same high school: the now-defunct Charleston High. (As every friend of mine always says to me, don’t quote me on that though. I tried to research but…)
Anyway, Workman, a center, was drafted by the Milwaukee Hawks in 1952, but went on a tour of Europe with the Harlem Globetrotters and played but a few years in the NBA with Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Baltimore.
And then there was Hundley, whose number is retired at WVU. There’s little doubt he made an impact within the NBA, coming out of Morgantown with his “Clown Prince” tag and flair. One would have thought him the better Globetrotter candidate.
But the future celebrated broadcaster only played six NBA seasons because of bad knees. Understand that within those six seasons he made two All-Star games. His best season was 1959-60, when he averaged 12.8 points. He once scored 33 for the Los Angeles Lakers in a Feb. 28, 1961, loss to the Philadelphia Warriors.
Overall? Hundley averaged 8.4 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.4 assists in his NBA career.
I suggest two other former WVU players challenge that.
The first is Weirton native “Fritz” Williams, one of the first African American players at WVU. He was selected No. 9 overall by the San Francisco Warriors in 1968. He was also a 14th-round NFL draft pick as a defensive back by the Dallas Cowboys.
Anyway, if you go to NBA.com you’ll see “Fritz” played for eight years with the Los Angeles Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks, etc. In the 1970-71 season, he scored 36 against Detroit. And he was one of the NBA’s best free throw shooters.
His stats? Over eight seasons, Williams averaged 9.3 points, 1.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists in 516 games played. Hundley played in 431. No All-Star games for Williams, but…
And then there’s Princeton native Rod Thorn. A Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee of 2018, Thorn is known for his off-the-court work. As the general manager of the Chicago Bulls, all he did was oversee the drafting of Michael Jordan. He chaired the Olympic “Dream Team.” He was the NBA’s President of Operations. On and on his resume goes.
But also take a look at his playing career. He was recruited so intensely before college that the West Virginia legislature determined him to be a “state natural resource” to push him toward WVU.
It worked. And after a fantastic career in Morgantown, the guard was the No. 2 overall pick of the Baltimore Bullets in 1963.
He made the All-Rookie Team and, like Williams, played for eight seasons. Thorn, however, kept getting traded, even though he always had good numbers. From Baltimore to Detroit to St. Louis to Seattle.
In his first season, with Baltimore, Thorn averaged 14.4 points. His best season was later, in 1967-68, with Seattle, when he averaged 15.2 points.
But his final stats? Thorn averaged 10.8 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.6 assists. That was over 466 games.
So Williams averaged a tick less than Thorn but played 50 more games. There’s the argument for “Fritz.”
Hundley averaged a point or two less in 85 fewer games than Williams and 35 fewer than Thorn but made two All-Star games. So, there’s your argument for Hundley.
I, however, am giving the slight nod to Thorn. No, he wasn’t an All-Star, but he was an All-Rookie and because of better health held up longer than Hundley. He was very productive within the NBA ranks for years until injuries also caught up with him.
Argue amongst yourselves. And have a great NBA draft watching party.
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Mitch Vingle covered sports in West Virginia for 38 years. Follow Mitch on Twitter at @MitchVingle and be sure to check out the rest of Wheelhouse Creative’s website for your marketing and advertising needs. If interested, call us at 304-905-6005.