A Notre Dame NBA All-Star Team
Since 2003, only four Notre Dame players have been selected in the NBA Draft: Luke Harangody (2010, second round), Jerian Grant (2015, first round), Pat Connaughton (2015, second round) and Demetrius Jackson (2016, second round).
Grant and Connaughton currently are in their fourth seasons as reserves. Connaughton is averaging 5.8 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.8 assists in 17 minutes per game in his first season with the surprising Milwaukee Bucks. Grant is averaging 4.1 points, 2.8 assists and 1.7 rebounds for the Orlando Magic.
On NBA All-Star weekend, we review those Notre Dame alumni who had the most prominent careers in the league, statistically or otherwise. The Fighting Irish all-time NBA team does not stand out nearly as much as the all-time NFL unit, which is what makes Notre Dame a “football school." Nevertheless, here’s our starting NBA 5:
Center: Bill Laimbeer
Even though Laimbeer isn’t Notre Dame’s greatest NBA alumnus, one can make an argument that he might be the most famous — or infamous, depending how you look at it — member.
A prime “Bad Boy” during the back-to-back titles won by the Detroit Pistons in 1989 and 1990, he and other teammates took the “Enforcer” label to new heights with their physical style that rankled many and often made Laimbeer Public Enemy No. 1, notably with Boston Celtics icon Larry Bird.
Often overlooked is the 6-11, 245-pound Laimbeer was a four-time NBA All-Star with a velvet soft shooting touch from three-point range. Seven times in his 14 seasons he averaged a double-double in points and rebounds, and he finished his career with a 12.9 average in scoring and 9.7 in rebounding.
Honorable Mention: John Shumate
The No. 4 pick overall in the 1974 draft (second-highest ever by an Irish alumnus) missed two NBA seasons because of health reasons but averaged 12.3 points and 7.5 rebounds in the six years he played.
Power Forward: Adrian Dantley
The 2008 Basketball Hall of Fame enshrinee is the greatest Notre Dame player ever in the NBA.
When Dantley retired in 1991, he was ninth in league history in scoring with 23,177 points while shooting .540 from the field. His 24.27 scoring average is 16th on the NBA charts. Barely ahead of him at 15th is Bird (24.29) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at 14th (24.61). Right behind Dantley is Pete Maravich (24.24). When you are in the scoring company of Bird, Abdul-Jabbar and Maravich, you are in rare air.
At 6-5, 208 pounds, Dantley was not the prototype NBA power forward, but he was as smart and resourceful as they came during his 16-year career. During the 1980s, he scored the third-most points and had the second-best scoring average (26.5) in the league.
Honorable Mention: LaPhonso Ellis & Troy Murphy
Both played at least a decade, with Ellis posting career averages of 11.9 points and 6.5 rebounds per game and Murphy 10.8 points and 7.8 rebounds.
In 1996-97, Ellis averaged 21.9 points in the 55 games he played for Denver.
We also need to note two more power forwards from Notre Dame in the 1990s who played 10 years in the NBA: Monty Williams (11 years, 6.3 points and 2.8 rebounds per game) and Pat Garrity (10 years, 7.3 points and 2.6 rebounds per game).
Small Forward: Kelly Tripucka or Orlando Woolridge
Take your pick between these two 1981 Notre Dame graduates who were vital pieces to Notre Dame becoming a top-five program from 1977-81 before embarking on a decade-long (or more) NBA career.
Named the New Jersey Boys Basketball Player of the Century in 1999, Tripucka was a two-time NBA All-Star who finished his 10-year career with a 17.2 scoring average while shooting .454 from the field, mainly from the perimeter. Five times he averaged more than 20 points, with a career-high 26.5 average in his second year with the Detroit Pistons — after making the All-Star game as a rookie. His scoring average in the NBA trails only Dantley among Irish alumni.
Meanwhile, Woolridge averaged 16.0 points and 4.3 rebounds during an NBA career that saw him start 458 times. Woolridge was selected 6th in the 1981 draft and Tripucka 12th. Woolridge was the more explosive athlete, and one can make a strong argument that he was the better NBA player, but Tripucka's scoring prowess is hard to ignore.
Honorable Mention: Tom Hawkins
Hawkins played 10 years through the 1960s, mostly in Los Angeles, averaging 8.7 points and 6.5 rebounds.
Shooting Guard: Austin Carr
Because of his astounding college career — his 34.6 career scoring average is second in NCAA history to LSU’s Maravich — Carr’s NBA career in comparison is considered disappointing.
However, the No. 1 pick in the 1971 NBA Draft had a nine-year run with the Cleveland Cavaliers that was disrupted by five surgeries, never allowing him to fulfill his immense talents.
Still, he was an NBA All-Star in 1974 with a 21.9 scoring average, began to lead the once hapless franchise into the playoffs by 1975 and beyond, and finished with more than 10,000 career points. His jersey has been retired at Cleveland, where he is known as “Mr. Cavalier.”
Honorable Mention: Matt Carroll & Bill Hanzlik
Both lasted 10 seasons in the NBA, and Hanzlik was selected to the 1980 Summer Olympics team that boycotted the Games in the Soviet Union.
Hanzlik had 109 career starts in the NBA and averaged 7.2 points per game in his career. Carroll averaged 6.6 points in his career, highlighted by a 12.1 average in 2006-07 at Charlotte in 2006-07.
Point Guard: John Paxson
Notre Dame is renowned for producing efficient, productive workmanlike point guards in the college game, but seldom do they prosper in the NBA, if they make it all.
Paxson was easily the most prominent during his 11-year career, highlighted by starting next to Michael Jordan from 1985-86 through the early 1990s with the Chicago Bulls. He averaged only 7.2 points during his career, but Paxson played on three straight championship teams from 1991-93 and produced clutch playoff performances when Jordan was the target of opposing defenses.
Paxson was an NBA Finals record 8-for-8 from the floor in the championship-clinching victory at Los Angeles in 1991, and his three-point basket with 3.9 seconds left lifted the 1993 Bulls to a 99-98 conquest at Phoenix in Game 6 for a third straight title.
Honorable Mention: Chris Quinn
It was a testament to his soundness and moxie that he played six years in the NBA. Twenty-five of his 26 career starts came in year 2 at Miami in 2007-08 when he averaged 7.8 points and 3.0 assists per game.