The second game of the 2012 NBA Finals Thursday night will feature a slate of players who made their marks at the collegiate level before they competed in the pros. Here’s my list of the top 10 college players competing in the NBA Finals. And keep in mind, this puts more weight on a lengthy college career, rather than just one memorable season (i.e. Kevin Durant).
[Editor's Note: Our writers and analysts shared their memories of covering the high school and college days of the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City players. Here's a lookback at the Heat players and a similar stroll through memory for the Thunder players]
Shane Battier (Duke). Yes, he’s a role player for the Heat. But he was a stud in college. Battier was one of the top defenders in America all four years at Duke. He led the Blue Devils to the national title in 2001, the same year he earned every meaningful national player of the year honor. He won multiple NABC defensive player of the year awards, too. Simply stated, Battier was one of the greatest college basketball players of all time.
Nick Collison (Kansas). The Iowa native and Oklahoma City Thunder big man became a legend during his time at Kansas, where he teamed with fellow Iowan Kirk Hinrich to lead the Jayhawks to consecutive Final Four appearances (2002, 2003). He left the program as the No. 2 scorer and No. 3 rebounder in team history. The only blotch on his resume was a 2003 loss to Carmelo Anthony’s Syracuse squad. But that doesn’t diminish his full contributions during his time at the collegiate level.
Udonis Haslem (Florida). Earlier this year, Haslem was inducted into Florida’s hall of fame for his achievements under Billy Donovan. He was a four-year starter for the Gators and he helped the program reach the 2000 national title game. He averaged 16.8 ppg and 7.5 rpg as a junior (2000-01) and 16.0 ppg and 8.3 rpg his senior season (2001-02). The Heat forward certainly left an imprint at Florida.
Dwyane Wade (Marquette). The Chicago native shocked the national scene with his prolific, albeit brief, stay with the Golden Eagles in Milwaukee. He was academically ineligible as a freshman but he led Marquette in scoring during his two seasons with the program. He averaged 17.8 ppg during the 2001-02 campaign and 21.5 ppg in 2002-03. During the latter, he led Marquette to its first Final Four appearance in more than 20 years.
Kevin Durant (Texas). Durant didn’t stay long. But by the end of his first and only season with the Longhorns, he’d left his mark. After just one year, the Longhorns retired his jersey. Fitting for the only freshman to ever win the Naismith Award at the time and a multitude of other national player of the year trophies. He averaged 25.8 ppg, 11.1 rpg and 1.9 bpg during the 2006-07 season. He shot 40 percent from the 3-point line. Durant had one of the most dominant seasons in recent college basketball history, but the Longhorns were dismissed by USC in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
James Harden (Arizona State). Before the Beard, the Oklahoma City star was a great college player. He was a consensus All-American in 2008-09. He led the Pac-10 in scoring as a sophomore with 20.1 ppg. As a freshman the previous year, he recorded 17.8 ppg. He earned first-team all-Pac 10 honors that season. And he left college following a year that warranted the conference’s player of the year award.
Mario Chalmers (Kansas). The point guard earned fame for his 3-pointer in the final seconds of the Jayhawks’ national championship game victory over Memphis (Mario’s Miracle) in 2008. The shot sent the game into overtime, where the Jayhawks earned the title. He averaged 12.8 ppg and led the team with 4.3 assists per contest that year. And he was named Most Outstanding Player of the 2008 NCAA tournament. Now, he’s starting point guard for the Miami Heat.
Mike Miller (Florida) . The Heat wing led Florida to the national title game in 2000. But the Gators wouldn’t have survived the first round against Butler without his buzzer-beater in overtime. He averaged 13.3 points per game as a sophomore in 1999-2000, the same season he earned all-SEC first-team honors. It was the second year that he’d led the Gators in scoring. The NBA veteran was named to the Allstate SEC Basketball Legend squad in February.
Juwan Howard (Michigan). He’s a veteran/reserve for the Heat (and Lance Stephenson adversary) right now. But Howard was elevated to the national spotlight as a key member of Michigan’s Fab Five, a collection of freshmen who led the Wolverines to consecutive national title game appearances. In 1994, he earned All-America honors after averaging 20.8 ppg and 8.9 rpg. He was also one of the best interior defenders in the country during his time at Michigan.
Eric Maynor (VCU). He became the Rams’ all-time leading scorer in four seasons at the collegiate level. The Oklahoma City guard tore his right ACL in January, so he won’t be on the floor during the Finals. But he’s certainly worth a lofty ranking considering his exploits at VCU. His game-winner knocked Duke out of the NCAA tournament in 2007. And he averaged 22.4 ppg in the 2008-09 campaign.