The NBA All-Star starters were announced on Thursday, with special talents like Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant highlighting the list.
But Curry, Durant and the rest of the NBA’s elite didn’t become All-Stars overnight; they worked on their craft and honed their skills over many years of work.
Most of them saw their development truly take off at the college level. They simply became better all-around players and were prepared for the bright lights of the NBA by playing on the biggest stage in college sports: March Madness.
So let’s take a look back at where these guys got their start – how they became the players they are today – by reliving their March Madness careers.
Note: All-Star starters LeBron James and Kobe Bryant didn’t play college basketball, so they are excluded from this list.
Stephen Curry (Davidson, 2006-2009)
Curry had one of, if not the, most memorable individual run in NCAA tournament history. The sharpshooter put the Davidson Wildcats on his back and on the map by leading them to the Elite Eight in 2008. Curry’s Wildcats entered the Big Dance as a No. 10 seed and faced Gonzaga in the first round. Despite trailing by double-digits into the second half, Davidson won behind a whopping 40 points from Curry.
Davidson again trailed big in the second round against No. 2 Georgetown, losing by as many as 17 in the second half. But 25 second-half points from the baby-faced assassin pushed the Wildcats through to its first Sweet 16 since 1969.
There was less drama in the next round, but Curry wasn’t any less dominant; he scored 33 and Davidson smoked No. 3 Wisconsin 73-56. Curry’s magical run would end the following game, as No. 1 seed and powerhouse Kansas took them down in a hard-fought battle. Davidson had the game’s final possession down just two points, but couldn’t score and the Jayhawks advanced.
Still, Curry left a lasting March legacy. He was everything right about March Madness – the surprise nature of his run, the heart he played with and the fun we all had watching him make it something to cherish. Curry’s 2008 run is the stuff of legends and nobody who witnessed it should be surprised that he’s gone on to NBA superstardom.
2008 was Curry’s second and final March Madness appearance. Curry helped the Wildcats to a No. 13 seed seed in 2007; he scored 30 points in Davidson’s first-round loss to Maryland.
Russell Westbrook (UCLA, 2006-2008)
Former UCLA guard Russell Westbrook is the only one on this list to have appeared in two Final Fours. Granted, Westbook wasn’t a major part of UCLA’s rotation during the 2006-07 season and its tournament run – he averaged just 3.4 points in the regular season and played just 30 minutes during his team’s five-game tourney run. Still, that March Madness experience certainly seemed to set the stage for Westbrook’s 2007-08 season.
The athletic point guard helped UCLA to a No. 1 seed in the 2008 tournament. And as the tourney progressed, Westbrook played better. After scoring just 14 total points in the first two rounds, Westbrook posted 14 points, 11 rebounds and five assists in a Sweet 16 win over Western Kentucky. He then scored 17 points on 63.6 percent shooting during the Bruins’ blowout Elite Eight victory over Xavier.
But Westbrook saved his best for last, scoring a career-high 22 points against No. 3 Memphis in the Final Four. The Tigers easily won the game; however, it was a heck of a way for Westbrook to finish his collegiate career.
Kevin Durant (Texas, 2006-2007)
Kevin Durant played just one year at the college level, but it sure was a memorable one. He averaged 25.8 points and 11.1 rebounds while becoming the first freshman to ever win the Naismith Player of the Year. En route to the indiviudal honor, he carried the Longhorns to a 25-10 record and a No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Durant’s first taste of March Madness went as expected; he poured in 27 points and led Texas to a 79-67 win over New Mexico State. Durant would again do his part in his team’s second-round matchup against USC, scoring 30 points and posting nine rebounds, but it proved to be not enough. Current Los Angeles Lakers guard Nick Young scored 22 points as the No. 5 Trojans handled the Longhorns 87-68.
Kawhi Leonard (San Diego State, 2009-2011)
Kawhi Leonard and his San Diego State Aztecs made the tournament during both of his collegiate seasons.
Leonard’s first go-around didn’t last long, as he posted a double-double in the Aztecs’ first-round loss to Tennessee.
But Leonard and the Aztecs sure came to play the following year, going 32-2 en route to a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. It didn’t take long for Leonard to find his groove in the tournament, as he posted 21 points and 12 rebounds in an opening-round win against Northern Colorado. He then followed it with 16 points and nine rebounds against Temple to lead San Diego State to its first Sweet 16 in program history.
However, the journey would end there. Eventual champion Connecticut finished San Diego State’s season despite 12 points and nine rebounds from Leonard.
San Diego State had made the tournament just once since 1978 prior to Leonard’s arrival on campus and has made it four times since his college career began, so it’s fair to say the Spurs star has had a huge impact on the program.
Kyle Lowry (Villanova, 2004-2006)
Kyle Lowry experienced deep NCAA tournament runs during both of his years at Villanova.
Working as a sixth man during his freshman year, Lowry was a part of a Wildcats team that made it to the Sweet 16. Lowry’s 15-point and five-rebound performance in the second round was good enough to earn him his third start of the season in the Sweet 16. He then posted 18 points and seven rebounds in the Sweet 16 loss to UNC, proving that special things were on the horizon for the feisty guard.
Lowry averaged 11.0 points and 3.7 assists as a a full-time starter for Nova the following year, helping the Wildcats earn a No. 1 seed. He didn’t exactly light it up during the Wildcats’ tournament run, but he helped his team reach the Elite Eight nonetheless. Jay Wright has coached some great guards over the years, but few have been more successful than Lowry.
Dwyane Wade (Marquette, 2001-2003)
Dwyane Wade’s 2003 March Madness run sure was special. The Chicago native led Marqeutte to a 23-5 record and a No. 3 seed in the tourney. After scoring 15 in an opening-round win against Holy Cross, Wade exploded for 24 points, eight rebounds and seven assists in a Round of 32 victory over Missouri. Wade followed that performance with 22 points in a hard-fought win over No. 2 Pittsburgh.
Then Wade put together arguably the best individual performance of the 2003 tournament; the future Miami Heat guard posted a triple-double of 29 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in a victory over No. 1 Kentucky that shocked the world. Wade’s brilliance gave Marquette its first Final Four berth since 1977. Marquette wouldn’t advance any further, but Wade’s run is something no Golden Eagles fan will ever forget.
Paul George (Fresno State, 2008-10)
Unfortunately, the Indiana Pacers star never made it to the Big Dance during his two-year college career at Fresno State, though to little fault of his own. George averaged 14.3 points and 6.2 rebounds during his freshman season, and he jumped to 16.8 points and 7.2 rebounds per game during his sophomore year. George might not have made the NCAA Tournament, but he grew tremendously as a player during his college days, setting the stage for what is turning into an excellent NBA career.
Carmelo Anthony (Syracuse, 2002-2003)
Carmelo Anthony is the only 2016 NBA All-Star starter to have won a championship at the college level.
With averages of 22.2 points and 10 rebounds, Anthony led the Orange to a 24-5 record and a No. 3 seed in the 2003 tourney. He had a fine start to the tournament, averaging 16 points and 8.3 rebounds over the first three games.
But the versatile scorer really made his mark in the tournament’s final rounds. Anthony posted 20 points and 10 rebounds in the Elite Eight, followed by a marvelous 33-point and 14-rebound showing against Texas in the Final Four.
Anthony punctuated his stellar tournament with a game-high 20 points and 10 rebounds against Kansas in the national championship game, helping the Orange to their first title in school history. Deservedly so, Anthony won the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player Award following the game.
Anthony was surrounded with plenty of talent at Syracuse, but he was the clear-cut, No. 1 option and led his team to a championship, far from an easy task, as further evidenced by the lack of titles from the other incredible players on this list.