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The Late Bloomers Who Became NBA Stars

By Ben Cohen and Andrew Beaton, Wall Street Journal, 06/20/19, 3:45PM CDT


It turns out college helped them become adults who are ready to work in the real world.

One night last month, as the entire NBA was busy watching a bunch of ping-pong balls determine the order of Thursday’s draft, the Golden State Warriors and the Portland Trail Blazers were getting ready to play a basketball game. There was something odd about the segue from the draft lottery to the playoffs. One event that exists because of an obsession with teenage potential was being followed by a series between teams built around late bloomers.

Golden State and Portland had the league’s two most talented backcourts. But you wouldn’t have guessed that based on where they played their college basketball: Davidson (Stephen Curry), Washington State (Klay Thompson), Weber State (Damian Lillard) and Lehigh (C.J. McCollum).

They seem like inspiring examples of players who went to obscure schools, stayed for more than one year and worked their way into the NBA. But maybe that’s the wrong way to think about them.

What if they’re big stars because they went to small schools?

That’s worth keeping in mind as NBA teams begin the annual exercise in maddening uncertainty better known as the draft. Ja Morant is likely to be the No. 2 pick. What makes that nothing less than insane is that Morant was also a zero-star recruit in high school who went to Murray State for college and wasn’t even the best player on his own AAU team.

Every college coach with a name worth recognizing watched Morant in high school. But strangely enough, they didn’t seem to notice him. There was another guy on his team who stole all of their attention. His name was Zion Williamson.