Although this is a site dedicated to covering a pro basketball team, with the NCAA tournament upon us I felt it would be appropriate to get a little college flavor flowing around here. So what better way to combine the two pursuits than to take a little trip down memory lane for all of your favorite Phoenix Suns players.
Common sense dictates that someone playing in the NBA was likely a college star. Taking the point further, college stars typically end up taking their teams to the NCAA Tournament, and usually relatively deep into it and your Phoenix Suns certainly do nothing to dispel those common notions.
Suns by the NCAA Tournament Numbers:
10: Of the thirteen players on the Suns roster, ten played NCAA basketball. This article isn't for you STAT, Dragic, or Barbosa fans.
9: Nine of the ten Suns who played NCAA basketball appeared in the NCAA tournament. Poor Lou Amundson (UNLV 2001-2006) was stuck playing in 3 NITs.
8: Eight of the nine reached at least the Sweet 16 one time in their college careers. Everyone step forward....not so fast Canadian guy.
6: Six of the eight who cracked the Sweet 16 also went on to play in the Elite 8. The dream died here for Jared Dudley and Robin Lopez.
3: Three of the six who made it to the Elite 8 were lucky enough to make it to the Final 4. That means no piece of net for Channing Frye, Earl Clark, or Taylor Griffin.
2: Suns players that cut down the nets. Grant Hill did it twice with Duke in both 1991 and 1992 and Jason Richardson has a ring from 2000.
As you can tell, all March talents were not created equal - so let this Suns breakdown be your guide:
THE FINAL FOUR TRIO:
Grant Hill (Duke 1990-1994) - If you didn't know any of this you probably don't follow college basketball, watch ESPN Classic, or even know who Grant Hill is.
- 17-3 overall tournament record in 4 appearances.
- 2 National Championships (1991 and 1992), National Title game appearance (1994).
- 2 seed in 1991 and 1994, 1 seed in 1992, and 3 seed in 1993.
1991 and 1992 - Both historic championship teams featured a couple of the greatest players in college basketball history in Christian Laettner and Bobby Hurley - but a young Hill was still featured prominently. Grant and his flat top produced highlight reel dunks all tournament long and played the role of doing whatever Duke needed to win. He also threw this pass which you see about 800 times a year.
- 1993 - The Laettner-less Blue Devils were upset in round 2 by a freshman version of Jason Kidd and Cal, but it wasn't for lack of performance from Hill - who put up 18 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 assists in the game.
1994 - This was Grant Hill's opus. In spite of a supporting cast that consisted of Cherokee Parks and a pair of future coaches (Jeff Capel and Chris Collins) - Grant carried Duke to within a few minutes of the national title before falling to Arkansas by 4. For the tournament Hill defined well rounded as he averaged 17.7 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 5.3 assists per game. It's true what they say - Grant Hill
wears Fila'sdrinks Sprite.
Jason Richardson (Michigan State 1999-2001) - Richardson may have only played 2 years at Michigan State, but that was really all he needed to make a serious impact at a collegiate level.
- 10-1 overall tournament record in 2 appearances
- 1 National Championship (2000), Final Four appearance (2001)
- 1 seed in both 2000 and 2001
- 2000 - J-Rich was a bench contributor for the national title winning Spartans - a team with Mateen Cleaves, Morris Peterson, and former Sun Charlie Bell. It was such a tough rotation to crack that in 3 of MSU's 6 NCAA Tournament wins, Richardson didn't score at all. Yet in the championship game against Florida, J-Rich hit 4 of his 7 shots and scored 9 points to help win a title.
- 2001 - With Cleaves and Peterson off to the NBA (or in Cleaves' case off to highly paid towel waving), Richardson took a more prominent role in the Michigan State season - averaging 14.7 points per game, shooting 50.3% from the field, and hitting 40.2% of his threes. Although those numbers (and you know...ability) were enough to spring board J-Rich into the top 5 of the 2001 NBA Draft - his 2001 tournament left a bit to be desired. MSU came into the tourney as a 1 seed and did make it all the way to the Final 4 - yet Richardson shot just 35.7% for the tournament and averaged only 10.4 points per game. A 2/11 shooting night in the Final 4 against Arizona helped send the Spartans home.
We had a chance to ask J-Rich about his NCAA Tournament experience, winning it all, and wondering how far Michigan State would have made it in 2002 had he not declared for the draft. Jason also throws in a tournament prediction for good measure (I love his superstitious nature).
Jarron Collins (Stanford 1997-2001) - Although he is now a stoic bench warming big man, there was a time where Collins was a collegiate force. It may come as a surprise to some of you, but Collins was actually a two-time All-American in his time at Stanford.
- 8-3 overall tournament record in 3 appearances
- Missed the 1999 NCAA Tournament with an ankle injury and Stanford lost to Gonzaga in the 2nd round
- 1 Final Four appearance (1998). 1 Elite 8 (2001)
- 3 seed in 1998, 1 seed in 2000 and 2001
- 1998 - Collins was a freshman big man stuck behind Tim Young, Kris Weems, and Mark Madsen in the front court for a Stanford team that reached the Final Four. Jarron played only 8 total minutes in the first 2 games of the tournament run but foul trouble from Young and Madsen forced him into action in the Sweet 16 against Brad Miller and Brian Cardinal's Purdue squad. The youngster rose to the challenge, putting up 12 points and 11 rebounds (8 offensive) to help Stanford survive.
2000 - Life was a bit different for Collins as he was an All-American this time around, leading a Stanford team that was carrying a one seed. Unfortunately for our hero, the tourney run ended suddenly in the 2nd round when 8th seeded North Carolina pulled the upset behind future mega-bust Joe Forte, center Brendan Haywood, and current Bears defensive end Julius Peppers. Jarron didn't do a whole lot to help the Cardinal cause - hitting just 3 of his 10 shots in the game while getting outscored by Haywood. Former Sun Casey Jacobson managed to out-suck Collins - making 2 of his 12 shots.
- 2001 - Stanford again went dancing as a one seed and again fell short of the Final Four. This time they did make it to the Elite 8, but for the second year in a row nothing was overwhelmingly impressive about the All-American Collins. While getting knocked out in the regional final by Maryland, Collins battled foul trouble and only had 9 points and 2 rebounds in 24 minutes
Jarron offered up his perspective on the difficulties of carrying a number one seed into the NCAA tournament along with an opinion on how far Stanford would have made it in 1999 had he been healthy.
ELITE...BUT THAT'S IT
Channing Frye (Arizona 2001-2005) - Most of the people reading this probably have a pretty good handle on the Arizona teams from these years so I won't bore you with the details - but for the uneducated, Channing was a player in March.
- 8-4 overall tournament record in 4 appearances
- 2 Elite 8s (2003 and 2005)
- 3 seed in 2002 and 2005, 1 seed in 2003, 9 seed in 2004
2002 - Just a wee freshman, Frye put up 14.3 points and 7.7 rebounds per game in 3 tournament games before 'Zona bowed out to Final Four-bound Oklahoma (Hollis Price anyone?).
- 2003 - I call this year Channing Frye: Rebound Machine. Frye wasn't too shabby scoring wise - including a 22 point performance against Gonzaga in a 2nd round overtime thrilled you should remember - but his 10.3 rebounds per game on Arizona's road to the Elite 8 is what impressed me.
2004 - Not much to say about this one. Arizona was an average team that lost to another average team in Seton Hall. Frye went for 13/12 in the game but it took him 16 shots to get his points.
- 2005 - Throw out a foul-trouble marred performance in the 2nd round against UAB (25 minutes played), and Frye had a flat out awesome tournament. The finest performance of all happened in a game Arizona fans would prefer not to talk about - as he put up 24 points on 11/14 shooting, grabbed 12 rebounds, and blocked 6 shots in U of A's heartbreaking Elite 8 loss to Illinois.
Earl Clark (Louisville 2006-2009) - Though he may currently be chillin' in Iowa with the Energy, Earl is still a member of the Suns - and one that happened to be pretty damn good in the NCAA Tournament. Clark was a decent shooter in his 3 college seasons (46.7%) but really stepped his game up in the tourney - popping off for 55% shooting in his 10 games. Leave your sample size arguments at home.
- 7-3 overall tournament record in 3 appearances
- 2 Elite 8s (2008 and 2009)
- 6 seed in 2007, 3 seed in 2008, 1 seed in 2009
2007 - Young Earl contributed well in a blowout win over Baby Robin Lopez and Stanford, scoring 12 points on 4/7 shooting. Louisville fell to Acie Law's Texas A&M team in the 2nd round - with Clark hitting just 1 of his 5 attempts from the field.
2008 - This was the year Earl really started to come into his own. Clark averaged 14.5 points and 8.3 rebounds per game in the Cardinals 4 tournament games (they lost to UNC in the Elite 8), all while shooting 62.2% from the field. Now I know Louisville had a lot of talent, but would it have killed them to let Earl shoot a bit more? You'd think a guy hitting 62% of his shots would get a chance to shoot more than 9 times a game.
2009 - Another strong tournament performance from both Louisville and Clark. The Cardinals may have again just missed the Final Four (Elite 8 to Michigan State this time), but it wasn't on Earl as he increased his scoring to 15.5 points per game, picked up 7.8 rebounds per game and again shot well - hitting 56.3% of his shots.
Taylor Griffin (Oklahoma 2005-2009) - As a Kansas State fan, I watched a lot of Big 12 basketball. Thus each and every time I see Taylor Griffin in an NBA uniform it shocks me. I mean good for him and all...but the NBA? Prove me wrong Taylor. Oh he played a few times in the NCAA Tournament.
- 4-3 overall tournament record in 3 appearances
- 1 Elite 8 (2009)
- 6 seed in 2006 and 2008, 2 seed in 2009
2006 - By far my favorite Taylor Griffin tournament stat comes from his first year at OU when his Sooners lost to UW-Milwaukee in the first round. T-Griff scored 4 points in the game but that isn't really what's fun - the guy played 5 minutes total and fouled out. Now I thought this statistic was super fun and prompted Seth to ask him about it...as you'll hear below, Taylor didn't think it was nearly as interesting as I did.
2008 - Griffin was only slightly more impressive this year than in his first attempt at the tourney. After a first round win over St. Joe's in which Taylor played 17 minutes without scoring, Griffin and Oklahoma ran head-first into Earl Clark and Louisville. As Taylor himself mentions below - the game was never that close and OU was done.
2009 - Fortunately for Taylor he got his senior moment as his brother Blake carried OU all the way to the Elite 8 before falling to eventual champion North Carolina. This time Taylor had at least one pretty good game in the tournament - going for 18 on 7 of 8 shooting in a first round blowout win over Morgan State. He didn't crack double digits against Michigan or Syracuse and somehow managed to score just 4 points, grab 2 rebounds and put up no other stats to speak of (no assists, steals, blocks...nothing) in 37 minutes in the Elite 8 loss. And just for symmetry sake he ended his last tournament game just how he ended his first - by fouling out.
We got Taylor to speak on a number of subjects including his matchup with Earl Clark, his fouling out, and his predictions for this year's tournament
ESCAPED THE FIRST WEEKEND:
Jared Dudley (Boston College 2003-2007) - JD was nothing if not consistent in his 4 years of NCAA Tournament play at Boston College - logging less than 35 minutes only once (1st round in 2007) in 9 games. So right from the beginning, Dudley was a guy BC could rely on.
- 5-4 overall tournament record in 4 appearances
- 1 Sweet 16 (2006)
- 6 seed in 2004, 4 seed in 2005 and 2006, 7 seed in 2007
- 2004 - Dudley played 35 minutes but it was Suns nemesis Craig Smith that carried BC to a win over Andrew Bogut and Utah in the 1st round. Yet not even 13/9 from JD was enough to get past Final Four-bound Georgia Tech in round 2.
2005 - In Dudley's sophomore year the Eagles were again stopped in the 2nd round. While the 18 points per game averaged by Dudley in the 2 tournament games was certainly nice, it's his line from the 2nd round loss against UW-Milwaukee that jumps out at me. Dudley had an impressive 22 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 assists - but 18 of his 22 came via the free throw line where he took 21 attempts. That's right, the uber-athletic Jared Dudley was so unstoppable that he shot 21 free throws in a game. As you'll hear below from JD this was partially due to a press and his playing some point guard in the game...but I don't think we'll ever see this in the NBA.
2006 - The furthest JD made it in his four years as Boston College made the Sweet 16 before falling to Villanova by just a point. Dudley had another impressive tournament, putting up 19 points per game while averaging 42(!) minutes in the three games. That's not a misprint, Dudley played 48 minutes in Boston College's double OT win over Pacific in round 1.
- 2007 - As the newly crowned ACC Player of the Year, Dudley took the 7th seeded Eagles through Texas Tech before being simply overmatched by Georgetown in the 2nd round. However, Dudz averaged 19/7.5 and shot 56.6% in the two games.
JD talked to us a bit about his 2005 free throw extravaganza and how BC was stuck with a 4 seed that year despite compiling a 25-4 record.
Robin Lopez (Stanford 2006-2008) - If you're like me (and are good at being wrong) you were probably underwhelmed with the Suns 2008 first round selection of Robin Lopez. As I saw it, a center who averaged 10/5 in his last year in college had no real business being in the middle of the first round - no matter how great the hair. But it appears that Robin used a strong 2008 NCAA Tournament to boost his draft stock.
- 2-2 overall tournament record in 2 appearances
- 1 Sweet 16 (2008)
- 11 seed in 2007, 3 seed in 2008
- 2007 - RoLo's 2007 NCAA Tournament would be considered short and sweet for just about anyone not named Taylor Griffin. In an opening round loss to Earl Clark's Louisville squad - Lopez's 11th seeded Cardinal lost by 20...and it wasn't even that close. However, Robin managed the impressive feat of fouling out in just 12 minutes of game action.
- 2008 - This was the breakout moment for Lopez. In the first and second round, Robin combined for 32 points, 13 rebounds, and 8 blocks to help Stanford into the Sweet 16. Although he was a bit overshadowed by his brother's 30 point effort in a thriller against Marquette and didn't exactly light the world on fire against Texas in the Sweet 16 (6 pts 5 reb 0 blocks in 21 foul prone minutes) he apparently exhibited the kind of skills that get you drafted in the first round.
STEVE NASH CATEGORY
Steve Nash (Santa Clara 1992-1996) - Although Steve has experienced a ridiculous amount of success at the professional level, he's the only Suns player with a losing record in the NCAA Tournament. Now in the interest of fair disclosure, Nash didn't have guys like Blake Griffin, Christian Laettner or Mateen Cleaves on his team so he gets a bit of a pass. What most U of A fans remember is that Nash was a guard on the 15th seeded Santa Clara Broncos that upset Arizona in 1993.
- 2-3 overall tournament record in 3 appearances
- 2nd round in 1993 and 1996
- 15 seed in 1993, 12 seed in 1995, 10 seed in 1996
1993 - In the aforementioned upset of Arizona, Nash - then a freshman - shot just 1/7 from the field in his 30 minutes of action, scoring 10 points, and in a fun statistical oddity he recorded more rebounds (7) than assists (4). The second round of the tournament didn't go that much better for the fresh faced Canuck as he hit only 1 of his 9 shots while fouling out in a loss to a Temple team featuring future NBAers Eddie Jones, Aaron McKie, and Rick Brunson. Not to belabor the point concerning fouling out, but Santa Clara recorded just 10 team fouls in the game - Nash and teammate John Woolery accounted for all of them.
1995 - Following an unscheduled break from dancing in 1994, Nash and company returned as a 12 seed to battle Erick Dampier and Mississippi State. This time around Nash's shooting improved (he was 7/13) but his skill in hacking did not as he again fouled out in an 8 point loss for the Broncos.
- 1996 - A mature Nash led Santa Clara back to the tournament - this time as a 10 seed (cue Jefferson's theme music) - to take on Exree Hipp and Maryland (had to work the name in). This time Nash avoided fouling out (he did pick up 4 fouls) and instead worked Maryland to the tune of 28 points, 12 assists and 6 boards to lead his squad to the win. But that was his second and final win as in the next round a loaded Kansas team (Pierce, LaFrentz, Vaughn, and Pollard) crushed Steve and his Santa's in a 25 point rout. Nash shot just 1/11 in the game and for those of you scoring at home that means the man John Hollinger described as the best shooter ever hit a grand total of 29.2% of his shots in 5 NCAA Tournament games. I suppose he turned out alright though.
So what can we conclude from this? Well frankly not a whole lot. - you were just supposed to have fun. Enjoy March Madness and enjoy the Suns playoff push.