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The Wisconsin Badgers in NBA Draft History

Wisconsin has a history of putting players in the draft, but more recently it's been quality over quantity. Primed for a big night, how will the next draft contribute to the Badgers NBA draft history?

Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

As the NBA draft rapidly approaches, Big Ten Powerhouse continues to look at the draft histories of Big Ten programs.  Today, we look at the Wisconsin Badgers, a program that should have a good night on Thursday (Sam Dekker & Frank Kaminsky), but has a scattered draft history overall.

Despite the program’s success, it hasn’t churned much top-level NBA talent (only one first round pick in the last decade).  Many of its most heralded players have played overseas.

Though, since 1950, Wisconsin’s had 35 players drafted.  Devin Harris, currently with the Dallas Mavericks, and Michael Finley have probably had the most successful and recognizable careers, at least in the program’s recent history.

Badgers Currently in the NBA

Name Drafted Current Team GP PPG
Devin Harris 1(5) Dallas Mavericks 717 12.1
Jon Leuer 2(40) Memphis Grizzlies 186 4.2

Thursday night will shine a light on the program. In Dekker and Kaminsky, Wisconsin should have two first round picks in the same draft (for the first time in it's history).  With that, let’s take a look at some picks over the last six decades.

Six players from Wisconsin were drafted in the 1950’s.  Don Rehfeldt, perhaps the most talented and highly-touted, was selected second overall by the Baltimore Bullets.  He played three seasons in the NBA, two with Baltimore and a final season with the Milwaukee Hawks (which would eventually move to Atlanta).  In those three years, he scored 692 points and grabbed 494 rebounds.

Rehfeldt was also Wisconsin’s all-time leading scorer upon graduating, and was the last Badger All-American (until Alando Tucker 56 years later).

The sixties saw seven Wisconsin players selected.  The Baltimore Bullets took three of them throughout the decade.  None made an impact in the NBA, or collected any statistics (according to Basketball Reference).

Eight Badgers were picked in the decade (three in 1974).  Albert Henry, the first Badger selection of the seventies, went to Philadelphia (in the first round) with the 12th overall pick.  He played two seasons for the 76ers and average 16 points in his second, and final, NBA season.

Then, the Buffalo Braves drafted Kim Hughes, a center, in 1976.  Hughes played six NBA seasons for a variety of teams.  Nothing compared to his rookie year, though, when he averaged 8.2 points, and 9.2 rebounds per game.

Eight more Badgers were drafted in the eighties (all-in-all a busy decade).

Perhaps, the most successful player to date was picked in 1980.  The Washington Bullets selected Wesley Matthews with the 14th overall selection.  (Many probably recognize the name.  This Wesley Matthews, Sr. is the father of current Portland Trailblazer Wesley Matthews, Jr.)

Matthews, Sr. played with six NBA teams over 11 seasons.  He amassed nearly 4000 points and 2000 assists in his career.  But as a point guard, only shot 22 percent from three.  (It was a different NBA, after all.)

I’m not sure of the connection, but the Washington Bullets took another Wisconsin player in 1981.  (In case you were wondering, eight Wisconsin players have been selected by the Baltimore Bullets, Washington Bullets or Washington Wizards.  Ok, so you probably weren’t wondering.)

The Bullets took Claude Gregory, a 6’8" power forward, in ’81.  His two-season NBA career (with Washington and the Los Angeles Clippers) only spanned 25 total games.

Cory Blackwell, drafted by Seattle (RIP) in the second round of the famous ’84 draft, only lasted 60 games over one season.  A year later, the Spurs took Scott Roth, the former Wisconsin small forward, in the fourth round.  He played with three teams (Minnesota, San Antonio and Utah) over four NBA seasons.

Only three Wisconsin players were drafted in the ‘90’s, but it’s all about quality over quantity.

Michael Finley was selected 21st overall in the 1995 NBA draft by the Phoenix Suns.  This goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway:  His career has been the most successful of the former Wisconsin Badgers.  After four years at Wisconsin, where he averaged 18.7 ppg, he played 17 NBA seasons, nine with the Dallas Mavericks.

Finley made two NBA All-Star games (’99 and ’00) and played on the 2006 San Antonio Spurs championship team.  (He actually had a great playoffs for them, shooting 41 percent from three.)

Later in the Finley draft (that’s what I’m calling it now), the Milwaukee Bucks selected Center Rashard Griffith.  A second round pick, he never played in the NBA, but had a long career abroad.

Two years later, in ’97, Paul Grant was selected by the Minnesota Timberwolves with the 20th pick in the first round.  (He played only one season at Wisconsin after transferring from Boston College.)  Either way, he was in the league three years, and with a different team each year (Minnesota, Milwaukee and Utah).

Devin Harris emerged as a junior at Wisconsin and entered the draft a year early.  The 6’3" guard averaged 19.5 points his final collegiate season, and he became the 5th overall pick, selected by the Washington Wizards.  His rights were traded to Dallas on draft night, where he’s currently in his second stint with the team.

Over 11 seasons, Harris has bounced around the league a bit (Dallas, New Jersey, Utah and Atlanta).  In 2008-2009, he made the all-star game as a member of the New Jersey Nets.  At 31, his NBA days are not yet over; he’s signed with Dallas through the 2017-2018 season.

Upon arriving to Madison, Alando Tucker had NBA athletic ability, never a doubt about it.  However, as he matured, Tucker became a worthy NBA player.  His final two years he averaged 19 points per game and developed a fairly consistent three-point jumper (32 percent as a senior).   He also snapped Wisconsin’s 56 year All-American drought in 2007.

Tucker’s size (6’6", 205) made him somewhat of a tweener.  He played primarily on the low block early in college, but made a concerted effort to add a perimeter game.

In the ’07 draft, he slipped into the first round; the Suns picked him with the 29th pick overall.  Tucker played in the D-League for Phoenix, where he performed well.  Unfortunately, his opportunities were limited in the NBA, and he never really stuck. After four seasons with Phoenix and Minnesota, he’s now playing in France.

In 2011, the Milwaukee Bucks selected Jon Leuer in the second round.  Leuer, much like many Wisconsin players, grew tremendously over four seasons.  He blossomed as a senior.

Leuer’s still contributing in the NBA.  The Memphis Grizzlies signed him to a three-year deal in 2013, and he played in 63 games last year.

Now, Wisconsin turns its attention to this year’s NBA prospects, and it’s bittersweet.  The draft means players officially transition out of the program.  With Dekker and Kaminsky, Wisconsin will be on a national stage once again.