The summer of '96.
What a memorable summer. The Chicago Bulls capped - and still - the greatest season in NBA history, America was preparing for a centennial Olympic celebration. A hustler from Brooklyn left no Reasonable Doubt who the future of rap was at home, while across the pond five Brits with Spice told you what they really really wanted. Twenty years later, I still haven't figured out what "a-zig-a-zig-ahh" means. I think we should travel back to 1992 and ask Wreckz-n-Effect.
The summer of 1996 might be best remembered for one of the deepest draft classes the NBA has ever seen. A third of the 29 first round selections would become All-Stars. Eight players were named to at least one All-NBA team, the most among any draft. Three MVPs emerged from this class, as well as four Defensive Player of the Year honors, three of them won by the undrafted Ben Wallace.
The Big East in the mid-90s were dominated by four programs - UConn, Villanova, Syracuse and Georgetown. Three of those schools finished in the top 10 at the end of the season, with Syracuse falling in at #15. The 4th-seeded Orangemen were the only team of this bunch to make it to the Final Four in '96, losing by nine to Kentucky in the National Championship game. But where Jim Boeheim and his Orange were given March luck, the other schools were gifted with NBA talent.
Today, two future Hall-of-Famers and a sharp-shooter from NOLA are highlighted in today's Lottery Look Back.
Question: What player, despite his small stature, will go down in history as one of the most productive scorers in basketball history.
The Answer: Allen Iverson.
If you're looking for a player who defined the culture that consumed basketball post-Michael Jordan, AI would be your face. The enigmatic guard left Georgetown after two seasons where he led the Hoyas to a Big East regular season championship in 1996 and finished as Georgetown's all-time leader in scoring average with 22.9 points a game. He took John Thompson's squad to a 29-8 record, 13-5 in the Big East, and they coasted their way to the Big East tournament finals against Connecticut. Georgetown led 74-63 with just under five minutes to go when the Hoyas decided to slow up the pace and give the ball to Iverson for inside looks. This particular game was not generous to AI, who shot just 4-of-15 from the field all evening. Georgetown wouldn't score the rest of the way, and the Huskies climbed back to win 75-74.
Going into the 1996 NBA Draft, the question wasn't "who would be drafted first overall?" It was "which lucky team will find The Answer to their basketball problems." The Philadelphia 76ers were that lucky franchise, and took the 6-foot superstar number one in the draft. The shortest number one pick ever, Iverson averaged 23.5 points and 7.5 assists for a 22-win Sixers team, winning Rookie of the Year in the process, but his most memorable rookie moment came against the defending champion Chicago Bulls. With the greatest guarding him at the top of the key, Ivo gave Jordan a little shake to see if he'd bite. He didn't. Iverson went left-to-right and shook MJ out of his shoes, making a star out of the Hampton kid in an instant.
AI would never win a ring, losing in the NBA Finals just once in 2001. His pro career was mired in controversy and exile. After many near moves, Philly had enough after ten seasons and traded him to Denver, where he complimented Carmelo Anthony for a few years before bouncing around the league. Still, the greatness of the 11-time All Star and 2001 MVP lives on in the minds of many 20-somethings who grew up hating practice and chucking up the ball. We have Iverson to thank for playing hero ball in pickup games. Clap for him.
Flashback to that 1996 Big East tournament final. Thirteen seconds remain, and the Georgetown lead has all but vanished. Down one, the Huskies called on their hero, who threw up an off-balance shot that connected to give UConn the Big East championship. That's something Ray Allen would do for years to come.
Allen came to UConn in 1993 after being recruited by longtime assistant and current Rutgers associate head coach Karl Hobbs. Allen was automatic from anywhere on the floor, finishing his three-year stint in Storrs third all-time on the Connecticut scoring list with 1,922 points, and set a single-season record with 115 three-pointers in 1995-96.
The 1996 Big East Player of the Year was selected fifth overall in the 1996 Draft by the Minnesota Timberwolves, but a union with Kevin Garnett was not in the cards (yet). The T'wolves packaged him in a deal to the Milwaukee Bucks for fourth overall pick Stephon Marbury, where he would spend parts of seven seasons, leading the Bucks to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2001. A three-time All-Star in Milwaukee, as well as a member of Team USA's gold medal team in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, he was shipped to Seattle in exchange for Gary Payton at the 2003 trade deadline. It was with the Supersonics that Allen cemented himself as one of the best shooters of the modern era, but he only had one playoff appearance in Seattle to show for it. He averaged 26.4 points per game in 2007, but was coming off a season-ending ankle injury when he was again traded, this time to the Boston Celtics, forming a 'Big Three' with KG and Celtics mainstay Paul Pierce. The 66-win Celtics dominated the Eastern Conference in 2008, and in the series-clinching Game 6, Allen tied a Finals record with seven three-pointers as Boston dispatched of the Lakers to give Allen his first NBA Championship.
He would stay in Boston until 2012, reaching the Finals once more in 2010, before joining the evil empire, the Miami Heat. Assuming the task of role player for the first time in his career, Allen saved the Heat from elimination in Game 6 of the Finals, knocking down a corner three with 5.2 seconds to go to force overtime against the San Antonio Spurs. His steal of Manu Ginobli underneath the basket and ensuing free throws cinched the game, and Miami would win Game 7 to give Allen his second NBA championship. The all-time leader in three-pointers made (2,973) and attempted (7,429), Allen would have one of the most successful NBA careers of any Big East alum, and his name and number were honored at Gampel Pavilion in 2007. No word yet on whether Lincoln High School will retire his number 34 Jesus Shuttlesworth jersey.
Kerry Kittles came 10 years after Villanova's first championship and 20 years prior to its most recent title, but he's arguably the most popular Wildcat ever. The man had a style to him, from the way he wore his socks to the flair he displayed on the basketball court. He was a sharp shooter, a three-point gunner who owns 15 Villanova records, including most points (2,243) and steals (277).
The 1995 Big East Player of the Year and consensus first-team All American in 1996 was tabbed with the eighth overall pick by the New Jersey Nets in the 1996 Draft, where he played the first eight seasons of his career. Kittles made an immediate impact in Jersey, setting an NBA rookie record with 158 three-pointers and making the All-Rookie second team after averaging 16.4 points per game in all 82 games. He would serve as their long-range specialist throughout his tenure with the Nets, reaching the NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003. After an injury-plagued season with the Clippers in 2005, Kittles went back to Villanova and completed an MBA in Villanova's School of Business. After a stint on Wall Street with investment bank Ledgemont, Kittles returned to the hardwood in 2016 as an assistant coach for Princeton.
Best of the Rest
John Wallace - The 1995 All-Big East forward withdrew from the '95 Draft and returned to Syracuse, where he repeated on the All-Big East team and took the Orangemen to the National Title game, leading with 29 points and 10 rebounds in a loss to Kentucky. Wallace was selected 18th overall by the New York Knicks, and spent seven seasons in the NBA, his best coming in 1997-98, where he scored 14 points per game in 29 minutes for the Toronto Raptors.
Jerome Williams - The Georgetown senior went 26th overall to the Detroit Pistons, and spent parts of five seasons there, before being traded to Toronto. He would later have short stints with the Bulls and Knicks, averaging 6.6 points and 6.4 rebounds for his career.
Travis Knight - A 7-footer from Connecticut, Knight was drafted with the 29th overall pick by the Chicago Bulls, who renounced his rights a month later. After making the All-Rookie Second Team, Rick Pitino signed him to a 7-year, $22 million deal with the Boston Celtics, but his heart lied in LA. He was traded back to the Lakers, where he won an NBA championship in 2000.
Othella Harrington - The first pick in the second round, Othella Harrington was the co-captain of the Georgetown Hoyas, leaving as the fifth leading scorer in program history, and the school's all-time leader in offensive rebounds. He spent three seasons with the Houston Rockets before having his best years in Vancouver, averaging over 10 and 6 a game with the Grizzlies from 1999-2001. He suited up for the Knicks, Bulls and Bobcats before shuffling through the D-League and overseas ball.
Doron Sheffer - Sheffer was a star in Israel before playing for Jim Calhoun and the UConn Huskies. The Big East Rookie of the Year in 1994, he won three conference titles in a row with Allen and Kevin Ollie, and is the only player in program history with 1,000 points and 500 assists in three seasons. The Clippers chose him 36th overall but he chose to sign with Maccabi Tel Aviv. He stayed in Israel before retiring in 2008.