That's a weird question for a college hoops blog, but hear me out.
Scottie Pippen was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame Friday, and you don't need me to tell you why. He was named one of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players, he won six NBA titles, he was one of the best defenders to ever play the game, and his versatile offensive play helped revolutionize the small forward position. He's Scottie Pippen. You get the point.
What's interesting about Pippen, though, is how obscure he was before and during his college days at Central Arkansas, an NAIA school. From his NBA bio:
He was one of a dozen children who grew up in tiny Hamburg, Arkansas. As a freshman at tiny University of Central Arkansas, an NAIA school, he was a nonscholarship player and received financial aid for being the team manager. To pay for the rest of his education he worked in the summers as a welder attaching the arms of school desks to the legs, leaving him with scars on his own arms.
The common college hoops refrain accompanying Pippen's induction to the Hall of Fame is that we'll never see a player like Pippen again. Not on the court, exactly, but off it. In 2010, the age of immense scouting services, ubiquitous AAU camps and countless opportunities for high school exposure, a player like Pippen could never fall to lowly Central Arkansas, only to be plucked from obscurity and into stardom by the NBA. Too many people are scouting high schoolers now. No way Pippen sneaks through the cracks.
I'm not exactly sure that's right.
Sure, recruiting exposure is greater now than ever. But anecdotally, the past few years have featured plenty of college stars that were missed on by recruiting services for whatever reason. They were too small. Or too in-between. Their bodies hadn't developed yet. Their skills were too unorthodox.
The two most recent examples are Stephen Curry and Gordon Hayward. Curry was too small and too thin to make an impact in college hoops; Hayward was an undersized, run-of-the-mill Indiana guard until a growth spurt in high school. Both went to mid-majors, and both became first-round NBA draft picks.
In many ways, Hayward's story mirrors Pippen's. From the Chicago Tribune:
Before that near-miss, as is well-documented, Pippen spent his freshman year as a team manager on a work-study program because he wasn't good enough coming out of Hamburg, Ark., to earn a scholarship until two players quit. [Central Arkansas coach Don] Dyer let Pippen be part of the program only as a favor to Pippen's high school coach, Donald Wayne, who played for Dyer in college.
"Scottie was only about 6-2 leaving high school, but his brothers were tall, so I thought he could grow,'' said Wayne, whom Pippen invited to Springfield, Mass., for the induction. "And as a point guard for me, he always did exactly what I wanted him to do."
Pippen's story is far more extreme than either Curry's or Hayward's. Central Arkansas is much smaller than Davidson and Butler. Neither Curry nor Hayward are likely to accomplish Pippen's legendary NBA heights.
Still, as long as humans are in charge of recruiting -- and recruiting services -- players are going to come from nowhere. People are going to make mistakes. Fortunately, for a fan, these mistakes are welcome: It's one of the great joys of college basketball to watch an unknown become a star. And even if we never get another Scottie Pippen at Central Arkansas, college hoops will still be full of surprises. May it always be so.