In 2003, LeBron James took his talents to the NBA. UK’s Keith Bogans was also a part of that draft. And so was I.
A journalist always remembers how his stories begin.
From The Washington Post, 2003:
After Prep Work, James Is Chosen One
By Ryan Clark
Washington Post Staff Writer
NEW YORK, June 26 — Hand it to LeBron James for stealing the spotlight in his first moments as an NBA player.
While the 2003 NBA Draft was expected to take on an international flavor, and did so with a record 20 foreign players taken mostly in the latter half, James commanded immediate attention.
And he didn’t even need a court to do it.
James, as expected, was selected No. 1 by the Cleveland Cavaliers tonight at the Theater at Madison Square Garden, and the 6-foot-8, 240-pound 18-year-old came dressed for the occasion. He sauntered to the stage to shake Commissioner David Stern’s hand in a white suit, save a touch of black on the shoes.
White shirt. White tie. White jacket and pants.
“It wasn’t like I was wondering where I was going,” James said. “I’m still excited. The dream has finally come and the hard work had paid off.”
I still love how that story began. I love that I got a chance to write it, and I love that the 2003 draft, which also featured players like Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh, can at least be in the argument as the best of all-time.
I was technically just an intern, fresh off graduating from Western Kentucky University. But I’d spent more than five years in school, mostly because I interned at some of the largest newspapers in the country. Baltimore. Atlanta. Orlando. I’d been lots of places and covered a lot of sports. I was more than just a young sportswriter.
But covering the draft was different — and it was an experience I’ll never forget. I remember sitting down to write and looking to my left — next to me, Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News was typing away. I had to laugh at that. Me, the intern, next to one of the loudest guys on ESPN. Of course, before I left for New York, Michael Wilbon (of PTI fame) and Rachel Nichols, who were both then writers at the paper, told me that if I needed any help I should just give them a call.
I was, indeed, in rare air. It was all very surreal.
But of course, I had a job to do, and it was so much fun covering the cocky, young, talented LeBron as he officially introduced himself to the NBA. In truth, I’ve been a fan ever since. I feel like I was there when it all began.
But there’s another reason why I loved being a part of that draft. It was much more insignificant in the whole scheme of things. Still, as the night wore on, I felt a little sense of pride when the Orlando Magic used the 43rd pick to choose UK’s Keith Bogans.
I remember I stopped typing when I heard his name announced. Way to go, Keith, I thought.
We all know the story about Keith Bogans. Came to UK as a McDonald’s All-American. Tough as nails. Reliable three-point shooter. Great defender. Became a great leader. Stayed four years and led UK to an undefeated SEC run. Sprained his ankle and lost to DWade in the 2003 Elite Eight. Finished his college career as an All-American and became UK’s all-time scoring leader at guard.
I never would have thought that in 2015 Bogans would still be earning an NBA paycheck. Yet it’s true. Whether Keith ever dons another NBA jersey. He’s still getting paid, in part because he was added to the blockbuster trade that Brooklyn made to land Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in 2013. Keith was given a gift of several million dollars just so he could make the trade work.
Shouldn’t we all be so lucky?
But before Bogans became trade fodder, he was exactly what he was in college: a hard-nosed, defensive stopper who could shoot the three and help lead a team. He became a fixture in the league, which is something we cannot say for his long-ago and much ballyhooed high school teammate Joe Forte, who went to North Carolina. In fact, when Bogans entered the league in 2003, Forte was completing his last of two total seasons in the NBA. He now plays for a team in Tel Aviv.
Fans tend to forget that just four years ago, Bogans was the backcourt mate of league MVP Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls and Bogans started at shooting guard for all 98 of the team’s regular season and playoff games.
So, we pose the question: Is Keith Bogans the most overachieving NBA Wildcat?
First, I suppose we should look at those UK players who have gone to the league. A quick visit to Jon Scott’s website gives us the answer:
Obviously, I won’t go over the whole list. If you want, go and check it out for yourself.
But I do think we need some parameters when talking about the topic. I mean, I can hear some people now: Keith Bogans was a high school and college All-American. He should have played 12 years in the NBA.
Good argument. I get it. Still, something about the plucky Bogans makes me include him on this list. After all, college achievement does not equal NBA success. So then, perhaps we should think about where the player was drafted — or, even if he was drafted at all.
It makes sense that we should then think about longevity and success of the NBA career, especially relative to the expectations we had for that player.
Lastly, we should include what I would call the intangibles — was the player expected to do well, but then exceeded those expectations? Was there something the player had to overcome to reach this dream?
That said, I’ll invite you to look at the list of Kentucky pro players. But there were a couple of things that stood out to me:
- I’m not going to reward one season of play, so the cup of coffee that Reggie Hanson and Wayne Turner had don’t count for much.
- A lot of our most revered players did not have great professional careers. (Jack Givens, Kenny Walker, Winston Bennett, etc.)
- If I haven’t heard of you, you probably didn’t do a whole lot.
So here’s my list of most overachieving NBA Wildcat players.
5. Scott Padgett — I cannot believe this guy spent parts of nine seasons in the league. I remember when Rick Pitino recruited Padgett out of St. X high in Louisville, and I thought: Are you kidding? What are we going to do with this guy?
Turns out we were going to win. A lot. And after bowing out in the Elite Eight to Michigan State in 1999, the 6-9, 240-pound Padgett was drafted in the first round by Utah. He started in nine games as a rookie and by his fourth season, he was a regular in the rotation, averaging 6.7 points and 3.8 rebounds per game.
He’d then go to New Jersey, then Houston as a backup, and then Memphis before going to Spain before retirement.
It just proves that if you’re big and you can shoot, you’ve got a spot in the NBA.
4. Keith Bogans — See above. I know he was an All-American. But he was a second round pick who not only made a team, he was still a starter on a playoff squad a decade later. He overcame a lot of people who said he couldn’t make it. Kudos to KeithBo.
3. Mark Pope — This is an incredible story. After transferring from Washington and helping UK win the 1996 national championship, Pope became the fourth player drafted off that Cats squad — the 52nd pick, in the second round, to Larry Bird and the Indiana Pacers.
Pope, a 6-10, 235-pound center, spent a year overseas before joining the team the next season. He then played two years before being cut. He went overseas again for a year before coming back to the Milwaukee Bucks, where he then started 45 games.
You read it right — he was a starter in the NBA. He averaged 2.4 points and 2.3 rebounds per game.
After two years Pope moved on to Denver, and after two more seasons there, he was cut. His NBA career was over.
But it doesn’t make it any less amazing.
2. Nazr Mohammed — Probably the most unreal transformation from a player we UK fans have ever seen. The only thing that keeps Nazr from being No. 1 is he had the body. He was, at his trimmest, 6-10, 250-plus pounds. He had soft hands and feet. He was made to play in the NBA.
And that’s why, out of all the stars who came from the 1996 champs (Tony Delk, Ron Mercer, Derek Anderson, Antoine Walker, Walter McCarty, Pope, Jeff Sheppard, etc.) Nazr is the one who is still playing in the NBA. This year he played for Chicago, his eighth NBA squad.
He’s averaged 5.8 points and 4.7 rebounds per game as a professional, and in 2005, he started every playoff game, averaging more than seven points per for the eventual world champion San Antonio Spurs.
1. Chuck Hayes — This one, to me, makes perfect sense. Chuck wasn’t big enough. He wasn’t fast enough. He couldn’t shoot.
But he could rebound. And he had a heart as big as Secretariat. And he just wins, baby.
Yes, he was California’s “Mr. Basketball.” Yes, he led Kentucky to some of its most successful regular seasons in its history, though his senior year ended in disappointing fashion (again) to Michigan State in the Elite Eight. But he went undrafted in the 2005 NBA Draft.
Instead, he went to the Developmental League, where the 6-6, 240-pound forward became a star, leading the DL in rebounding with a 12.2 per game average. Then, in January 2006, when half the Rockets team seemed to be on the disabled list, Hayes was called up for a 10-day contract.
He would never go back to the D-League.
In his second game, he posted a double-double in a win over Chicago, and by the end of his 10-day deal, the Rockets signed him to the squad for the rest of the season. He became known for his defense, and after the season, Houston picked up his contract option for the next year.
Finally — officially — Chuck was a pro. He started most of the games for the Rockets in 2006-07, became a fan favorite, and even signed a shoe deal in China worth a reported $5 million. Life was good for Chuck Hayes.
The success story continued, as Hayes signed a 4-year, $8 million contract with the Rockets, and in 2009-10, he became a co-captain of the team. It was then the 6-foot-6 player filled in at center for the injured Yao Ming. Hayes held his own.
In 2011, Hayes signed with a four-year deal with the Sacramento Kings worth $22.4 million. Two years later he was dealt to the Raptors, where he still plays with former Cat Patrick Patterson.
That’s nine seasons and millions of dollars. Not bad for a guy who was never drafted.
Eric Bledsoe — I guess living in the shadow of John Wall wasn’t that bad, was it, EBled? Who’s our next NBA All-Star from UK? It should be this guy, who grew up on dirt floors — and sometimes had no house at all — in Alabama. He came to UK, quick and athletic but undersized, not expected to be a one-and-done, and he has fought to be one of the biggest surprises in the league. Selected 18th overall in the first round by Oklahoma City in 2010, the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Bledsoe balled in 2015 to the tune of 17 points, six assists and five rebounds per game. Did anyone expect this kid to be this good?
Patrick Patterson — I know. McDonald’s All-American. Comes to UK. He may have single-handedly kept everything together during the whole Gillispie fiasco. But Patterson decides to stay for a season with Cal to work on his outside game. Well, look now — PPatt, all 6-foot-9, 235 pounds of him, is a full-blown three-point shooter. Drafted 14th overall by Houston in 2010, he shot 41 percent from behind the arc last season, and he made nearly two threes per game for a Raptor playoff team that needed what he provided. He’s also become a fan favorite, and with career averages of eight points and nearly five rebounds per game, he should stay in the league for a while.
Jorts Harrellson — Why didn’t this guy make the top five? He just didn’t do it for that long. I know he’s in the Phoenix camp right now, but I’m not sure Jorts will ever be back in the league. Still, even if he’s not, his two-plus NBA seasons were an amazement. He came to UK as a transfer under Gillispie, stayed under Cal, became a surprise starter, led his senior year team to the Final Four, and then — the surprise of all surprises — he got drafted by New Orleans with the 45th pick in 2011. Josh played his first season with the Knicks, and started four games, before bouncing to Miami for just six games the following season. He then played in Puerto Rico and China, before catching on with the Pistons in 2013-14. Last season, he was back in Puerto Rico and China. Over his NBA career he’s averaged 3.5 points and three rebounds per game.
So … Keith Bogans? Jorts? Nazr? Chuck Hayes? Which UK player do you think has overachieved the most in the NBA? Leave your comments below and let us know. Or email me at [email protected] or hit me up on Twitter: @rhinoKSR or my website: ForRyanOutLoud.com and maybe I’ll share them.
Go Big Blue!