D3 basketball players, for the most part, play ball for reasons other than an NBA dream. Very few play professionally – though a handful players from the D3 ranks go to leagues in Europe, Asia and other places each year. Here are five guys who played ball at schools now in D3 (though some weren’t at the time) who did make it to the NBA – four as players and one as a coach.
BOSTON CELTICS COACH , PLAYED AT DEPAUW
Let’s start with the coach, Brad Stevens, who has had probably the most fantastical and seemingly unlikely path to the NBA. And not just the NBA – one of the league’s most storied franchises.
Stevens turned plenty of heads when he was tapped to coach the team where legends like Bird, Havlicek, Cousy and Russell played. The hire was unusual not just because Stevens came from coaching college ball, but from a mid-major, a small college powerhouse and two-time Final Four team, Butler.
But as a player, Stevens came from even humbler roots. Stevens attended DePauw in Greencastle, Ind., where he played in every game over four years and was all-conference more than once. He captained DePauw’s team his senior year, and got his start in college coaching by volunteering in Butler’s basketball office before taking an administrative job for Butler coach Thad Matta. Stevens was hugely successful at Butler taking the Bears to the national championship game twice. He was hired by the Celtics in 2013.
JACK SIKMA, ILLINOIS WESLEYAN
Jack Sikma averaged 27 points and more than 15 rebounds in his senior year at Illinois Wesleyan, and surprised a lot of people by becoming the eighth overall pick in the 1977 NBA draft, taken by the old Seattle Supersonics. Many thought he’d be a journeyman role player. But Sikma was a leader of the Sonics team that won the NBA championship in 1979.
The 6-foot-11 center led the NBA in free throw percentage, and was a good shooter on the short-range jumper, unusual for big men at the time – more like many of the European big men of today. He was named to the NBA All-Rookie team in ’77, averaged more than 15 points a game and nearly 10 rebounds throughout his career and topped the league in defensive rebounds twice. He was a seven-time All-Star and some writers have even suggested that Sikma should be considered for the Hall of Fame. Sikma played from 1977-1991 with Seattle and Milwaukee, and later was an assistant coach for the Sonics from 2003-2007.
DEVEAN GEORGE, AUGSBURG COLLEGE (MINN.)
Devean George was another first round NBA draft pick out of D3, going 23rd overall to the Lakers in 1999 out of Augsburg. George would have a solid decade-long career in the league, averaging just over seven ppg, and has three rings to show for it. He was a key role player on the Lakers teams that won three straight championships from 2000 to 2002.
George was a super star at Augsburg, where he averaged 27.5 ppg as a senior. He ended his career as Augsburg’s second all-time leading scorer.
VERN MIKKELSEN, HAMLINE
While Devean George can claim three NBA rings – former Hamline Piper Vern Mikkelsen has him beat. Mikkelsen helped the Lakers to four NBA titles during his career, playing in the league from 1949 to 1959. Mikkelsen, often called the first power forward, was a six-time All-Star who averaged nearly 15 points and just under 10 rebounds per contest and was enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1995.
At Hamline, he was the only small college player to be asked to play in the East-West College All-Star game, and was the game’s leading scorer. Mikkelsen, the son of Danish immigrants, started playing at Hamline when he was just 16. The school played then in the NAIA and Mikkelsen and the Pipers won its 1949 national championship when he was a senior.
Mikkelsen’s most lasting mark on the NBA record books is a bit dubious – he still holds the record for the most ejections in the history of the league. Mikkelsen died in 2013.
TERRY PORTER, WISCONSIN-STEVENS POINT
Terry Porter told NBA.com a couple years ago that he got recruited to Stevens Point by accident. Then-Coach Dick Bennett came to one of his high school game to watch a player on the other team.
“He was there to watch somebody else,” Porter said. “And it was his wife who initially said, ‘You have to stop watching that No. 30 on that team and watch No. 30 on the other team.’ And that was me.” Once he got to Stevens Point it took a bit of time for Porter to go from anonymous to superstar. He averaged just two points a game his freshman year, but by his junior year was averaging just under 20. His senior year at Stevens Point – then in NAIA – he shot an incredible 65 percent from the field.
Porter was the 24th pick in the 1985 draft by the Portland Trailblazers and played 10 seasons there, making All-Star teams in 1991 and 1992. Porter, played 10 of his 17 NBA seasons in Portland and is still the career franchise leader in assists (5,319) for the Blazers and in three-pointers made (773). Porter retired from playing in 2002. He now works as a team ambassador in the Blazers front office.