Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The best player ever from Vermont is...

Well, whoever it is, he never made it to the NBA.

One of my favorite web sites is

It's a great way to kill one, two, three, or four...days. Not only does it have the career statistics of everyone who's ever played in the NBA, but it has features like head-to-head competitions (beginning in 1986), where you can compare how two players did in every matchup against each other. So if you need to know who won an epic matchup like the one between Mark Eaton and Bill Laimbeer, the information is right there. Or, of perhaps of more interest, the matchups between Hakeem and Shaq.

Another area I get lost in is the section that shows where every player was born.

Now this is where they were born, not where they played high school or college or pro or pickup games. So when looking at Alabama, you can see that Charles Barkley was surely the best player the state ever produced. Alaska's produced one player: NCAA hero Mario Chalmers.

And Vermont? Well, no one.

But my interest is in Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes and nearly as many bench-warming centers. When you think of the great big men in the game's history, Minnesota won't come into the discussion. When you talk about the great foul artists in the game's history, then Minnesota makes an appearance.

Randy Breuer, Tom Copa, Chris Engler, Brad Lohaus, Bob Martin, Mark Olberding, Jim Peterson, Mark Randall, Trevor Winter. For NBA historians, it's more a Who's That than a Who's Who. Nearly every NBA team has seemingly had a twelfth man who at one point in time was a gangly goof from Minnesota who would probably have rather been fishing than boxing out.
To Minnesotans, though, many of the names are very famous, but because of what they did while wearing short shorts at the high school level, not for anything they accomplished while being paid to do it.

Here's the entire list.

So who are the best of the best?

Well, unless you're Sid Hartman and think it's Mark Olberding, the answer is obviously Kevin McHale. The dropoff after that is steep, like the dropoff between McHale's accomplishments on the hardwood compared to the ones in an office.

Is it Randy Breuer, the 7-3 high school legend who had a decent career with the Bucks before eventually ending up with the Timerwolves? Meh.

The aforementioned Olberding put together a decent career, with nine points and five boards a game. Jim Petersen played in the NBA Finals, but his contributions to the Houston Rockets in 1986 weren't quite as substantial as, say, Hakeem Olajuwon's. In the olden days, a Hibbing native named Dick Garmaker averaged 13 points per game, but he's not even the best NBA player out of Hibbing, an honor that goes to McHale, although legend has it Dylan had a decent jump shot too.

Devean George has to earn consideration, as he was a key bench guy on a couple of Lakers titles.
Joel Przybilla, this era's tall guy who fouls a lot, makes nice defensive contributions to the Blazers, but Breuer probably still gets the nod over him. I don't know. In a way, it's like asking who was the best quarterback to ever come out of Pennsylvania, only instead of names like Montana, Unitas, and Marino, you're dealing with names like Nordgaard, Lamp and Humphries.

The irony is that players like Breuer, Humphries, Przybilla and Khalid El-Amin were much more accomplished high school players than McHale, who didn't earn stardom until heading east to Boston.

The shortest career goes to one of the tallest: Slayton native Trevor Winter. Trevor is known as being an extremely nice guy, a dominant high school player who graduated in 1992 and a decent contributor to the Gophers' 1997 Final Four team. He was probably also the only member of that team who did his own homework.

His NBA career, however, was more Moonlight Graham than McHale. Trevor played one game. In 1999. It was against the Lakers. He played five minutes. He grabbed three boards but didn't score. But in the proud tradition of Minnesota big men in the NBA, he did rack up five fouls, nearly fouling out in 300 seconds, something Wilt Chamberlain never did in 1,045 games.

But Trevor's one-game effort isn't even the best bit of trivia involving a tall Minnesotan. Arvid Kramer - a 6-9 center from Fulda, Minnesota, which is to Trevor's Slayton what Boston is to New York - is the only player to ever be selected in two expansion drafts and never play for either team. Kramer was a legend at Fulda High school, where he led his team to a third-place finish in the 1975 state tournament. Some of the stories about him are almost Bunyanesque - "He once blocked 21 shots in a game, but no one kept track of that stat back then!" - but the reality was nearly as impressive as any myths. He went on to a standout career in Division II and was eventually drafted by Utah, before settling with Denver. He played eight games and scored 16 points.

But about those expansion drafts. Dallas selected him in the 1980 expansion draft, but didn't have enough roster spots so Kramer went to Italy. He remained overseas the rest of his career. Then, bizarrely, his name reappeared in the NBA eight years later, a ghost of basketball past.

The Miami Heat selected him with the first choice in the 1988 expansion draft, though they had no intention of building their franchise around a 31-year-old former farm boy. According to a story in the June 24, 1988 New York Times, Dallas, "seeking to insure that the Heat would not select Uwe Blab, Steve Alford or Bill Wennington, who were left unprotected, offered Miami the rights to Kramer and their first choice (No. 20) in the college draft Tuesday."

Today that line almost reads like a farce. But, yes, back in 1988, Dallas was determined to protect Uwe Blab, Steve Alford and Bill Wennington. It should be noted that the Mavericks would go on to win 38 games in 1989, 47 in 1990, 28 in 1991, 22 in 1992, 11 in 1993, and 13 in 1994, a stretch that makes the current Timberwolves look like Russell's Celtics. Maverick fans who were there when their management did everything possible to protect Blab, Alford and Wennington probably could have predicted those records.

Here's another good story on Kramer.

So Kramer's part of the best trivia question involving a Minnesotan in the NBA, but he certainly wasn't the second-best player from the state to make it to the league. So who was?


Brock said...

Whitey Skoog...

Shawn Fury said...

I doubt your grandfather even remembers Whitey Skoog. Well, he probably does.

Grandpa Pat said...

Yes his grandfather remembers Whitey Skoog as a player with the Lakers and as coach of Gustavus when my brother Mike played for Hamline. It's kind of scary that I remember a lot of sports from the 50's.