The 03-04 team was f'ing awesome. After a 24-6 regular season, they took care of business in the Big East Tournament and locked down a 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They blew out 4 teams en route to the Final Four where they overcame an 8 point defecit with 3 minutes left to beat Duke and then beat Georgia Tech for the title. They followed their historic season with an equally historic showing in the NBA Draft, with 2 players drafted in Top 3. Both of those players are still alive and kickin’ in the NBA and the third has enjoyed a very successful career in Europe.
Taken 2nd overall in the NBA Draft after Dwight Howard, many people were clamoring for ‘mek to be taken first because he represented more of a proven commodity compared to Dwight Howard coming out of HS. It seems as though the Magic turned out to be right and, as much as I LOVE Emeka, it’s looking like 2 overall was a little bit of a reach for UConn’s superstar. While his list of collegiate accomplishments is long and distinguished (insert Top Gun joke on your own- this is a family program), Okafor stood out among his basketball brethren because he was also an exceptional student, graduating in 3 years with Honors earning a 3.8 GPA and a Finance degree. Just for fun, I’ll list his basketball achievements too- it’s a wonderful trip down memory lane:
- 2x National Association of Basketball Coaches Defensive Player of the Year
- Big East Player of the Year, 2004
- NCAA Final Four MOP
- Bronze Medal, 2004 Summer Olympics
- Led the nation in blocks, 2004
- UCONN career leader in blocked shots (441)
He won Rookie of the Year on the expansion Bobcats, averaging a double-double. Despite some injury woes the next two seasons, Okafor had a generally good 5 year run with the Bobcats, averaging a double-double every year before being traded to the Hornets for Tyson Chandler. After 3 average seasons he was traded to the Wizards, playing 79 games last season while averaging 10 points and 9 rebounds (rounding up).
Anyone who wants to call him a disappointment can be refuted by the fact that he had the misfortune of playing on two very poorly managed teams. If by chance he could have landed on a more stable situation than an expansion team and a league-run ownership orphan, he probably would have been a solid contributor on a playoff team. Furthermore, he is likely a great character guy and solid locker room presence for a young Wizards team that may be poised for bigger things in the future. As a DC resident, I can assure you that despite their general suckiness, there is a lot of buzz around this team’s young talent.
Picked 3rd overall right after his good friend and college roommate, Gordon also got off to a quick start in the pros. He average 15 points per game in 26 minutes off the bench and actually was the first rookie to win the NBA’s Sixth Man Award, despite being edged out for Rookie of the Year. After 5 seasons, he passed Scottie Pippen as the Bulls career leader in 3 pointers made, though he has since been passed by Kirk Hinrich. He hit free agency in 2009 after his best year as a pro (76 games started, 20.7 ppg, 45.5 FG%, 3 apg, 3 rpg) and signed a 5 year, $55m deal with the Pistons. After two disappointing seasons he was traded to the Bobcats, joining our boy Kemba, where he played the familiar role of scoring threat off the bench.
I think many Husky fans tend to forget Taleik for whatever reason. He was a HS McDonalds All-American and at the time one of the best recruits to ever hit the hardwood in Storrs. Brown started at PG all 4 years, capping off his career by Point Guarding the Huskies to the 2004 National Championship. He says the best moment of his career besides that title was a 3 from wayyyy downtown to cement a win against Pitt in Double OT in the 2002 Big East Tournament Championship.
Though he was ignored by the NBA, Brown has enjoyed a very successful career internationally, winning championships in Venezuela, Bulgaria and Macedonia and also playing for teams in Turkey, Croatia and Poland.
Most recently, Brown has been seen on campus working to finish up his degree. Good on ya Taleik! Maybe we can get an APR boost when he does...
We learned the hard way from the class of ‘06 that an NBA roster spot is not a guarantee, so we should still be very proud of Gordon and Okafor even though they may not have lived up to their draft status. Winning the National Championship obviously boosted their stock and from there its the PR/Agents who take over... The whole point of the draft process is to trick NBA executives into thinking you might be great, so good for them. They've combined to earn nearly $140m thus far in contracts alone, so from that standpoint, they've done a great job earning lucrative second contracts and carving out a niche in the pros. I think Emeka has a shot if he takes care of himself to become a Kurt Thomas type, playing for years and years while providing a solid veteran presence. I'd love to see Gordon do more of what he did in '09, but at 30 years old it looks like his production has reached a plateau.
I must say, it was very fun to revisit the Taleik Brown era, particularly that shot in ’02 that I had pretty much completely forgotten about. At the end of the day, this is 3 of the greatest players to ever put on a UCONN jersey; its good to see they're all doing alright for themselves.