5 NBA Stars Who Never Played in the NCAA Tournament

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Damian Lillard is one of the few NBA stars who never played in the NCAA tournament.

NCAA March Madness is a chance for college and pro basketball fans to get on the same page. College hoops fans get to see the best of the best trying to win a title, while NBA fans get to watch the future stars of the game in action before they go pro. LeBron James went straight from high school to the NBA, of course, and international sensations, such as Luka Doncic and budding superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo, didn’t play college ball, either. However, a few NBA stars who attended college didn’t get a chance to play in the tournament for one reason or another, and fans can only imagine how dominant they would have been on college basketball’s biggest stage. Let’s take a look at the five best players in the NBA that didn’t see a game in March.

Damian Lillard, Portland Trailblazers

Lillard is one of the league’s best combo guards, one of the game’s highest-paid players, and an All-Star who can catch fire at a moment’s notice. He’s also one of the few NBA stars never to play in the NCAA tournament. He was the No. 6 overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft out of Weber State, and he quickly made a name for himself in the league.

However, during Lillard’s time on the team, the Wildcats failed to make the NCAA tournament. The first two seasons of his career, the Wildcats won 20 games and made the NIT, and after a medical redshirt in 2010-11, Lillard-led Weber State was bounced in the second round of the CIT tournament after going 25-7.

Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers

Simmons’ arrival on the LSU campus was a major coup for the coaching staff. Along with another pair of highly touted recruits, LSU was a sleeper pick to make a deep run into the tournament. After a 3-0 start, the team played mediocre for much of the season, including a horrible loss to the College of Charleston.

Simmons was the best player in college basketball for much of the season, but after a GPA scandal, the Tigers opted not to play in any postseason tournaments, ending his first and only season in Baton Rouge.

Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors

One half of the “Splash Brothers” along with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson made an immediate impact as a freshman at Washington State in 2008. He played in college for three years, but he’s one of the NBA stars who never got to experience the NCAA tournament.

Thompson averaged nearly 13 points per game, but the Cougars finished the year with a 17-16 record and missed the tournament. His sophomore season, Thompson continued to improve his game, but the supporting cast again wasn’t enough to get a bid as the Cougars finished one game over .500 for the second straight season, going 16-15.

Returning for his junior season Thompson put on a show in the Pac-10, being named All-Pac-10 first team while putting up more than 21 points per contest. Still, that couldn’t help the Cougars get into the Big Dance, as they finished just 19-14 and Thompson declared for the draft after the end of the season.

Trevor Ariza, Washington Wizards

Trevor Ariza is one of the few NBA stars who never played in the NCAA tournament.
UCLA has tons of NCAA tournament appearances, but not during Trevor Ariza’s time there. | Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Entering his freshman season at UCLA in 2003-04, Ariza was a five-star recruit and figured to be a game changer on campus. He started 23 games for the Bruins, averaging 11 points and six rebounds per game. However, UCLA struggled with the talent around Ariza, and it finished with an 11-17 record. Ariza declared for the draft after the season, and he was a second-round pick by the Knicks.

Paul George, Oklahoma City Thunder

Paul George is easily in the running for MVP during the 2018-19 season. The Thunder are a major threat to the Golden State dynasty in the Western Conference, and he is having the best season of his career, but he’s one of the NBA stars who never made the NCAA tournament.

He was an excellent prospect coming out of Fresno State, but the Bulldogs didn’t make the tournament, or ever play .500 ball, in his two seasons with the team. He averaged over 16 points and seven rebounds in his sophomore year, and then he as off to the draft after the season.

Which college stars are you most excited to see in the pros?

As the college basketball season comes to a close and the NBA playoff picture sorts itself out, which college standouts do you think will form the next crop of NBA stars? Everyone is raving about Zion Williamson, but don’t forget about Cam Reddish and Nassir Little, who could also be top-five picks.