As March Madness comes to a close and we turn our attention to the NFL Draft, here is a look at athletes who went from playing in the NCAA Basketball Tournament to having prominent careers in the NFL.
March 31, 2016
1 of 10John W. McDonough and David E. Klutho for Sports Illustrated
Before he launched a Hall of Fame career as a tight end for the Chiefs and Falcons, Tony Gonzalez appeared in four NCAA tournament games during his junior and senior years in UC Berkeley. After a first-round exit at the hands of Iowa State in 1996, Gonzalez averaged 29.6 minutes and 13.3 points per game the following March during the No. 5-seed Golden Bears’ run to the Sweet Sixteen, where they came up short against top-seeded North Carolina.
2 of 10Manny Millan and Al Tielemans for Sports Illustrated
Julius Peppers averaged just under six points per game during the eighth-seeded Tar Heels’ Final Four run in 2000 and posted a double-double (21 points and 10 rebounds) in UNC’s second-round loss to Penn State the following year. He left the hardwood to focus on football for his final year in Chapel Hill and was a unanimous first-team All-America selection before the Panthers took the hyper-athletic defensive linemen with the second pick in the 2002 draft.
3 of 10Doug Pensinger/Getty Images; John W. McDonough for Sports Illustrated
Before embarking on a standout career in San Diego, Antonio Gates starred on the 2002 Kent State basketball team, the only team in school history to reach the second weekend of the tournament. Gates scored 75 points in four games to key the tenth-seeded Golden Flashes, playing all 40 minutes and leading all scorers with 22 points in the season-ending loss toIndiana that snapped his team’s 21-game winning streak.
4 of 10Tim Roske/AP; Bob Rosato for Sports Illustrated
Terrell Owens’ modest contributions on the hardwood at Chattanooga included a cameo in the 15th-seeded Mocs’ 100-71 loss to Connecticut in the 1995 tournament. Ray Allen and current UConn coach Kevin Ollie were among the notable players on that Elite Eight-bound Huskies squad that ended Owens’ college basketball career. In 1996 Owens was drafted by the 49ers in the third round and spent the first eight years of his 15-year NFL career in San Francisco before moving on to the Eagles, Cowboys, Bills and Bengals.
5 of 10Michael Okoniewski/AP; Al Tielemans for Sports Illustrated
During his first two years at Syracuse, Donovan McNabb played under Jim Boeheim as a reserve guard once football season had ended, giving the future 13-year NFL quarterback a front-row seat to the Orange’s run to the national title game in 1996. McNabb got on the floor during his team’s first-round win over Montana State and a tight Sweet Sixteen duel with Georgia, but he watched Syracuse’s 76-67 national championship loss to Kentucky from the sidelines.
6 of 10Richard C. Lewis/Icon SMI; Al Tielemans for Sports Illustrated
Game-changing tight end Jimmy Graham made the only tournament appearance of his four-year college career as a junior at Miami in 2008, when the Hurricanes made the tournament as a No. 7 seed and played Texas to a close 75-72 loss in the second round after eliminating St. Mary’s. Graham finished with 15 points off the bench in the two games.
7 of 10Jamie Squire, Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Tight end Julius Thomas reached the Big Dance in his first two years on campus at Portland State. As a freshman, he played seven minutes for 16th-seeded Portland State in an 85-61 loss to eventual national champion Kansas and logged another 15 minutes in a first-round loss to No. 4 seed Xavier in 2009. Thomas set school records for games played, wins and career field goal percentage before walking onto the football team after his final season of basketball eligibility, showing enough promise for the Broncos to take him in the fourth round of the 2011 draft.
8 of 10Pat Sullivan, David J. Phillip/AP
Martellus Bennett played two seasons of hoops at Texas A&M from 2005-07 and only appeared in one tournament game, a 58-57 second-round loss to LSU in 2006. He elected to focus solely on football early in 2007, finishing his junior year with 49 catches for 587 yards and four touchdowns before being drafted by the Cowboys in the second round of the 2008 draft.
9 of 10Andy Lyons/Getty Images; Bob Rosato for Sports Illustrated
Antwaan Randle El
Antwaan Randle El’s standout four-year career at quarterback in Bloomington included two seasons as a point guard on the Indiana basketball team in the waning years of Bob Knight’s coaching tenure. He played sparingly in the 1999 tournament on Indiana’s sixth-seeded squad, which rolled past George Washington in the first round before being stopped in the second round by a St. John’s squad on its way to the Elite Eight. After carving out a place on the Steelers as a receiver and return man, Randle El reached back to his Indiana days for a 43-yard touchdown pass to Hines Ward in Super Bowl XL that cemented his NFL legacy.
10 of 10AP; Al Tielemans for Sports Illustrated
Former Seahawks, Browns and Colts defensive lineman Sam Clancy led Pitt to a No. 10 seed as a senior in 1981 and posted a double-double with 22 points and 13 rebounds in his team’s opening-round victory over Idaho. But Clancy and company ran into a buzz saw in the next round, as James Worthy and second-seeded North Carolina dispatched the Panthers, 74-57. Clancy played professional football for 13 years between the NFL and USFL after being drafted by Seattle in the 11th round of the 1982 draft.
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