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Super Bowl Ballers

January 22, 2003 Columns No Comments


Super Bowl Ballers

by Jed Tai

While there is a nice slate of college basketball games on tap for this weekend, the attention of the sports world will be fixated on one event – the Super Bowl. Considering it’s the single biggest sporting event in the world, it’s no shame if the average college hoops fan decides to watch that instead of missing perhaps the end of Samford/Troy State if it goes into overtime.

But that’s not to say that college hoops doesn’t have at least some relevance to the big game. How, you ask? Well, as one marvels at the athleticism and power of the athletes on display, realize that a handful of the participants in Sunday’s game have hoops in their blood – and played the sport at the college level. In fact, some college basketball aficionados might even claim that these ballers were hoopsters first before they hit the gridiron.

The first player that we’ll mention who is playing in this year’s Super Bowl with a college hoops background is the one that has scored the most career basketball points of anyone currently in the NFL who once graced the hardwood. Yes that’s right; the top scorer is not Tony Gonzalez nor is it Terrell Owens. It’s Buccaneer tight end Ricky Dudley. In fact, Dudley started his collegiate career strictly as a basketball player and over four years, he scored 527 career points in 100 games.

Coming out of high school in Texas, Dudley was a two-sport performer but was rated more highly as a basketball player. Signing to play hoops at Ohio State, the 6-7, 255 pound Dudley spent his first three years as part-time starter at power forward, putting his muscle to use on the boards and on defense. After his junior year however, he thought he would give football another shot, and prior to his senior year on the basketball court, played his first year of college football at tight end. Rejoining the basketball team at the end of football season, Dudley went on to post career highs in scoring and rebounding at 13.3 ppg and 7.5 rpg in 19 games.

But despite those numbers, short power forwards weren’t in vogue in the NBA, so Dudley turned to option #2 – his future on the gridiron. Although he had exhausted his hoops eligibility, he still had one year left to play football, so he returned to OSU for that one season – a special year that saw the Buckeyes reach the cusp of a national championship. His play on the field was brilliant as well, and he was able to parlay it into a first round selection in the NFL draft, and a lengthy NFL career.

But Dudley isn’t the only Buccaneer with hoops experience. Starting QB Brad Johnson was once a solid hoops player as well. Also a two sport star in high school, the 6-6 Johnson was actually player of the year in basketball for Class 3A schools in North Carolina. Since he expressed a desire to play football and basketball in college, many college recruiters backed off. But not Bobby Bowden and Florida State, who gave him the opportunity to participate in both sports.

Since he would sit his first year out at FSU football-wise as a redshirt, Johnson instead spent the entire 1987-88 season with the Seminole basketball team, playing key minutes as a part-time starter (11 starts in 29 games). He displayed a good feel for the game and a nice touch from the outside, averaging 5.9 ppg while shooting a sizzling 58.3 percent from the floor. He even hit three treys in Florida State’s NCAA Tournament opener. He would get his first action as a football player in 1988-89 as a backup QB and place-kick holder, but would return to the court after the season. However, his role would be more diminished in his second year, as Johnson only averaged 1.8 ppg in 5.9 minutes a game, although he did appear in most of the team’s games.

With his role decreased, it was the last action he would see as a hoopster, as the former Parade All-American quarterback decided to stick with football. While Johnson never was a consistent starter at FSU, playing behind the likes of Peter Tom Willis and Casey Weldon his entire career, his raw talent was enough to land him in the NFL where he has been considered starter material ever since.

Peering over the line staring at Johnson and Dudley for the Raiders will be Napoleon Harris, who would have been just as tough a matchup on the basketball floor as he will be on the field. While the 6-3, 256 pound rookie linebacker from Northwestern is known for his hard hits and speed on the field, basketball has always been a love of his as well.

As a prep at Thornton HS in Illinois, he played power forward on a nationally ranked team that included future NBA player Melvin Ely and current Pittsburgh Steeler Antwaan Randle-El. While sitting out his redshirt freshman year on the gridiron in 1997-98, Harris walked on to the basketball team where he slowly became a solid contributor. He appeared in 18 games, averaging 15.4 minutes a contest, scoring 4.9 points and grabbing 5.1 rebounds a game – an average second only on the team to future NBA player Evan Eschmeyer. Harris’ stint with the team even featured a two double-double performances: against Indiana with 14 points and 13 rebounds, and against Ohio State with 18 points and 11 rebounds.

Harris would return briefly to the team as a sophomore, but after two games of limited action (13 minutes, 4 points, 4 rebounds), he decided that he would concentrate the rest of his college career on football. And the rest has been history as the combination linebacker/defensive end developed into an all-conference player, a first round draft pick, and now – a Super Bowl starter.

While Harris is the only Raider active for the Super Bowl, they have two other players on the team who have collegiate playing experience: offensive tackle Chad Slaughter (inactive) and running back Terry Kirby (on injured reserve). The 6-8, 340 pound Slaughter lettered for one season at Alcorn State in 1998-99, averaging 4.3 ppg and 5.9 rpg at center, helping the Braves reach the NCAA Tournament. The 6-1 Kirby, who possesses a 38-inch vertical leap, competed for two seasons as a backup point guard on the Virginia basketball squad. However, after averaging 2.8 ppg and 1.0 rpg in 29 games, Kirby gave up playing hoops competitively to excel as a running back for the Wahoos before heading to the NFL.

So when you see Johnson deftly passing in-between defenders, Dudley grabbing the tough catch, or Harris hustling for a loose ball – remember this. You can bet that some of the skills obtained from their hoops-playing days helped them make that play.

Enjoy the game!

Addendum: Since this article was originally published, the Raiders have
activated yet another college basketball alum: former North Carolina QB and PG
Ronald Curry. Curry played two seasons of hoops at UNC, 1998-99 and 2000-01,
averaging 4.2 ppg and 3.0 apg in 54 games before deciding to dedicate himself
to football.

     

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