June 4, 2014
By Steve Lewis
STORRS, Conn. - Over the years, a select group of former UConn basketball players, mostly Jim Calhoun-products, have played professionally in the NBA. An even more select number have actually played in the NBA Finals.
With the NBA season reaching its conclusion and the league title up for grabs beginning this week, one cannot help but think of the Husky greats who have experienced the opportunity of competing for an NBA championship in the Finals. Win or lose, it's an experience not all professional players get to have.
Before the NBA Draft this year in late June, UConn has had 38 draft picks in school history, not counting current head coach Kevin Ollie, who entered the league as an undrafted free agent in 1997. Of those 38, only nine have been on a team's roster that has competed in the NBA Finals.
That list includes well-known Huskies of Honor, such as Ray Allen (1993-1996), Richard Hamilton (1996-1999), Clifford Robinson (1985-1989), and Donyell Marshall (1991-1994). Others who have competed in an NBA Finals include Scott Burrell (1989-1993), Travis Knight (1992-1996), Caron Butler (2000-2002), Donny Marshall (1991-1995) and Ollie (1991-1995).
Allen has the most championship success of any former Husky, having won two NBA titles to date, with the possibility of winning a third this year as he and his Miami Heat teammates take on the San Antonio Spurs in the Finals beginning this week. Allen, the NBA's all-time leader in three-point baskets, played in two Finals as a member of the Celtics (2008, 2010) and this will be his second with the Heat (2013, 2014).
Out of all nine players on the list, it is Allen who has played and won an NBA Finals most recently, helping the Heat repeat as NBA Champions in 2013. Allen was the hero for Miami, who faced elimination in Game 6 at the hands of the Spurs. He hit a game-tying three-point field goal with 5.2 seconds left, sending the game into overtime. The Heat would go on to win Games 6 and 7, accomplishing the repeat.
In 2010, he was part of the Celtics team that was beaten in seven games by the Lakers. In Game 2, Allen set the NBA record for most three-pointers made in a Finals game (8-for-11). He would spend two more seasons in Boston before signing with Miami.
Allen's first championship ring came in his inaugural season with the Celtics, playing alongside Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. The Celtics won the 2008 NBA Championship over the Lakers in six games, giving Boston its first title since 1986.
Allen helped orchestrate Boston's 24-point comeback in Game 4, driving in for a layup in the final seconds to seal a victory for his team on the road. He averaged 20.3 points per game in the series (career-best in the Finals), while shooting 50.7 percent from the field.
As a member of the Dallas Mavericks in 2011, Caron Butler won his first championship ring after a six-game series against Miami. Butler, who spent two seasons at UConn, did not play in the Finals due to a torn patella tendon in his right knee suffered in early January. The season-ending injury hit the Mavericks so hard that they dedicated their playoff run to him.
The former Husky started 29 games for Dallas in the 2010-2011 season, averaging 15 points and four rebounds per contest. He would go on to see his team, led by Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki, complete their postseason run by winning the title and earning Butler his first championship ring.
NBA journeyman and Husky great Donyell Marshall got a crack at an NBA title in 2007 as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers. The series marked the first Finals in which Marshall, as well as teammate LeBron James, had ever played.
The Cavaliers were swept, 4-0, by the Spurs, putting a quick end to Cleveland's title hopes. Marshall played in 81 games for the Cavs that season, averaging 16.8 minutes off the bench and contributing seven points per game.
Marshall, who was Big East Player of the Year in 1994, played for eight teams in his reputable 15-year NBA career.
Richard "Rip" Hamilton is one of five Huskies to win an NBA championship, and he did so with the Detroit Pistons in 2004. A five-game series win over the powerful Lakers gave Hamilton his first and only ring as a professional.
In the 2004 regular season, Hamilton broke his nose twice, forcing him to wear a protective mask while playing. Hamilton led the Pistons in scoring throughout their postseason run (21.5 ppg), creating the belief that the mask was his "Superman cape."
Hamilton, the Most Outstanding Player in the 1999 NCAA Tournament, would make another appearance in the Finals with Detroit the following season, but it resulted in a loss to San Antonio.
Hamilton is best known in college for his magical shot against Washington in the Sweet Sixteen of the 1998 NCAA Tournament, as well as his 27-point performance in the 1999 National Championship game (77-74 win over Duke).
Donny Marshall, UConn teammate of Kevin Ollie's from 1991-1995, played only five NBA seasons, but still competed for an NBA title as a member of the New Jersey Nets in 2002.
The Lakers, led by Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, swept Jason Kidd and the Nets in Marshall's sole appearance in the Finals. Marshall had limited minutes in the series.
Marshall, a member of UConn Basketball's All-Century Team, played three seasons with the Cavaliers and one season-plus with the Nets. The 1996-1997 season in Cleveland was his best, as he scored 175 points, grabbed 70 rebounds, and dished out 24 assists in his 56 appearances that year.
Current UConn men's basketball coach Kevin Ollie had the opportunity of teaming up with one of the best to ever play the game in his only Finals appearance in 2001.
As a member of the Philadelphia 76ers, one of 12 teams that Ollie played for in his professional career, the Husky coach was the backup point guard to Allen Iverson. Among many accolades, Iverson was a four-time scoring champion and was named MVP in 2001, a season where he averaged 31.1 points per game.
Ollie saw playing time in every game in the Finals series against the Lakers, but only on a limited basis. After winning Game 1 in Los Angeles, the 76ers lost the next four games and dropped the series.
Ollie's 13-year NBA career started in 1997 when he signed with the Dallas Mavericks, two years removed from college after not being drafted in 1995. He played with the Continental Basketball Association from 1995-1997 before going to the NBA.
Travis Knight, former Husky big man, cemented his spot in NBA history by winning a championship ring in 2000 as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers beat the Pacers, 4-2, winning the first of what would be a three-peat for the franchise.
Knight, a 7-foot center, stayed all four years at UConn and was drafted 29th overall by the Chicago Bulls in the 1996 NBA Draft. He ended up playing his rookie season with the Lakers, averaging 4.8 points and 4.5 rebounds in 71 games during the 1997-1998 season.
Celtics' general manager and coach Rick Pitino signed him the year after, where he stayed for one season before being traded back to the Lakers and taking a trip to the Finals in 2000. Knight, a member of the UConn All-Century Team, played very limited minutes in the series, mainly serving as the back-up to Shaquille O'Neal.
UConn legend Scott Burrell, who is widely remembered for his full-court pass to Tate George with one second left in the 1990 NCAA East Regional Semifinal against Clemson ("The Shot"), earned his chance to play in the Finals while teaming with Michael Jordan in 1998.
The Bulls defeated the Jazz in six games, giving Burrell a championship ring in his only trip to an NBA Finals series. The 6-foot-7 guard/forward saw significant time in the series, accumulating 84 minutes over the course of all six games.
The highlight of the series for Burrell came in Game 3 when he scored 10 points and grabbed nine rebounds in 25 minutes of play in a lopsided 96-54 Bulls victory. He ended the series with totals of 21 points and 15 rebounds.
Burrell only played with the Bulls for one season, spending half of his eight-year career with the Charlotte Hornets after being drafted by them in the first round of the 1993 draft. His best statistical year was the 1994-1995 season, when he averaged 11.5 points and 5.7 rebounds per game.
Clifford Robinson rounds out the list of UConn players and rightfully so, considering he was the first Husky to play in an NBA Finals. Robinson played in the 1990 and 1992 Finals for the Portland Trail Blazers, losing both to the Pistons and Bulls, respectively.
In 1990, it was Pistons point guard Isaiah Thomas who led Detroit to an NBA title (4-1) over Robinson's Blazers. The former UConn forward played 82 total minutes in the series and scattered 19 points over five games in the losing effort.
Taking on Jordan and the Bulls in 1992, Robinson turned in an impressive average of 10.3 points and three rebounds per game in the series. His 17-point, six-rebound effort in Game 4 was his best Finals performance, helping the Blazers to a 93-88 win. Portland would go on to lose to Chicago in six games.
In his 18-year NBA career, Robinson played for the Blazers, Suns, Pistons, Warriors, and Nets, scoring 19,591 total points. The Buffalo, N.Y., native is on UConn's top ten lists for career scoring and blocks.