Players Who Improved Their Pro Prospects
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Aside from just being one of the most popular sporting events, the NCAA Tournament is also an event that can serve as a springboard for players who want to play basketball professionally. The following players were able to use the tournament to showcase for their abilities and move up draft boards by playing some of the best basketball of their careers on the stage where the most eyeballs were on them.
1. Stephen Curry - Davidson, 2008
Steph Curry might be the best three-point shooter in the history of the NBA, as he nears the top of the all-time threes made list with about half the games of those who lead it. But before he was a unanimous MVP and one of the best players in the world, he led little Davidson to the Elite Eight, where he showed the world just what he could do for the first time.
Curry scored 30 or more points in three of the team's four tournament games, with his one sub-30 point performance being a 25-point game against top-seeded Kansas in the regional final. His 40-point game against Gonzaga in the first round saw him hit eight of his ten threes, and helped him go in the top ten of his NBA Draft class to the Golden State Warriors. Needless to say, things worked out well for everyone involved in that selection.
2. Trey Burke - Michigan, 2013
One of the interesting things about the NCAA Tournament is how narratives about certain teams and players can develop almost overnight, and how they can continue to develop after each round of the tournament. For Trey Burke and Michigan, the narrative that sprung up was that Burke was an absolute assassin, with his clutch shooting turning him from a good player into one that was highly coveted by teams at the next level.
Burke had a nice college career, earning Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors after his first season. But it was his second and final season that saw his stock shoot through the roof, thanks in large part to a 23-point performance against Kansas that saw him hit a clutch shot from long distance to keep the Wolverines' hopes of advancing to the Final Four alive. Not only did Michigan get to the Final Four, but they reached the national championship game as well, where Burke scored 24 points and helped seal himself a spot as the ninth pick in the draft that followed.
3. Christian Laettner - Duke, 1992
Christian Laettner was one of the best players in college basketball throughout his time with the Duke Blue Devils, and was always going to be drafted highly as a result. But his performance in the Elite Eight against the Kentucky Wildcats in the 1992 tournament was the type of performance that guaranteed him a spot at the top of his draft class. Laettner put on a performance for the ages in that game, while helping his team to a national championship in the process.
In the Kentucky game, Laettner made all ten of his field goal attempts, including his only three-point attempt for the game. He also made all ten of his free throw attempts to go along with his seven rebounds, three assists, and two steals. And, of course, he made one of the most iconic shots in the history of the NCAA Tournament during that game as well. It was virtually the perfect performance from a player that most teams thought was a can't-miss prospect.
Laettner ended up getting drafted third overall after his senior season. Although his career didn't pan out as well as many expected, his tournament performance was a huge reason for his high draft position.