When Stardom Ends In College

When Stardom Ends In College

Published on June 24th, 2012

Many college athletes were stars on campus, but things changed for them when they did not make it to the NBA...

Posted by Daye Kaba
Many college athletes were stars on campus, but things changed for them when they did not make it to the NBA. The examples of Mateen Cleaves (Michigan State), Keith Langford (Kansas) and more recent college graduate Jacob Pullen (Kansas State) were used in this great article by ESPN's Dana O'Neil:
In four years at Kansas, Keith Langford scored 1,812 points, won three Big 12 regular-season titles and played in two Final Fours, a remarkable run of collegiate success that earned him a lifetime of free drinks and adulation in Lawrence.
Yet for a long time after his KU career ended, the last place Langford wanted to be was Lawrence. The place where he made a name for himself had become his discomfort zone. The community that embraced him instead made him feel unworthy.
It's not what anyone did. They still treated him the same, asking for his autograph, slapping him on his back.
It's what they said, unwittingly cutting to his core with the simplest of questions:
Why wasn't he in the NBA?
An honest query, those six words instead felt like daggers to Langford because, in them, he heard the implication:
What's wrong with you? You did so much in college. What happened? You're a failure.
"It becomes too much to explain," Langford said. "On campus, in your hometown, you're just so ashamed that, for a while, it's easier to just not be around."
It's ludicrous, really, to think that someone as accomplished as Langford could ever feel like a bust.
Statistics tell us that only 2 percent of all high school athletes earn Division I scholarships. Only 15 will be named All-Americans (that's including first, second and third teams) and only five to an All-Final Four team, like Langford was. Far less will play in a Final Four and an infinitesimal percentage will play in two national semifinals, as he did.
By any normal number crunching, he is the elite of the elite. Yet on the basketball yardstick, which measures one to D-Wade, he felt like he came up short.
If only Langford were unique.
Ask any college coach and he will spin you a similar tale of a wildly successful college player who, for a time, didn't come around because he was embarrassed, ashamed that his professional accolades didn't match his collegiate accomplishments and convinced that, because he didn't make it in the NBA, he was little more than a failure.
"It's NBA or nothing," said Xavier guard Tu Holloway, who grew up in New York, where the pressure begins on the playgrounds. "If you're not in the league, you didn't make it. Period. That's what people think. That's how you feel."
It wasn't always this way. There used to be a pedestal reserved for great college players, guys whose games didn't translate into the pros or who were too vertically challenged to find a position.
But today, from the day that kids first see their names in some version of national rankings -- and that can be as early as middle school -- one drumbeat sounds in their heads: Get to the NBA, make it in the league, get to the NBA, make it in the league.
It is an all or nothing proposition that has left everything else in its wake. College careers are all but devalued and lucrative overseas deals viewed with snobbish disdain.
"I see it all the time," said former Michigan State All-American Mateen Cleaves. "Guys don't want to show their face. They want to seclude themselves. It makes no sense. These guys have accomplished so much, but if you don't make it to the NBA, you think you're a failure."
Holloway can imagine how it would feel to be one of those guys. He just hopes he doesn't experience it.
In my opinion, this was about the best basketball read all year. The rest of the article can be seen here. Stardom doesn't exactly end after college for all the athletes that don't make it to the NBA, and choose to go overseas. Stardom in the US probably stops, but sometimes starts all over again on a different continent. There are many overseas professional basketball players that are better, and make more money than NBA players. People don't look at that though. If they don't see you on the NBA courts, then you automatically must not be doing very well.

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