NCAA underachiever, NBA success story is The Dagger's countdown of players who didn't live up to expectations in college yet are currently flourishing in the NBA. For an explanation of the criteria used in compiling this list, check out our introductory entry. Today, we start off our list with No. 10: UCLA's Jrue Holiday.
Excuse UCLA fans if they're puzzled that Jrue Holiday started the final 51 games of his rookie season with the Philadelphia 76ers and emerged as a cornerstone of the team's backcourt for years to come.
Most Bruins remember Holiday as the highly decorated but underachieving player who helped accelerate their program's decline.
As the Gatorade National Player of the Year and centerpiece of the nation's top-ranked recruiting class in 2008, Holiday arrived at UCLA amid hope he would help make up for the loss of Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook, and lead the Bruins to a fourth straight Final Four. Instead, he struggled playing out of position at shooting guard alongside point guard Darren Collison, averaging a mere 8.5 points and 3.7 assists, and looking uncomfortable scoring in a half-court offense or shooting from the perimeter.
The most disappointing aspect of Holiday's freshman season was the way his production dwindled as the games became more critical. He scored in double figures just three times in his last 13 games, going 0-for-8 from the field against USC in a Pac-10 tournament loss and managing just four points in a humbling 89-69 loss to Villanova in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
The silver lining for UCLA would have been if Holiday returned to run the point guard in place of Collison as a sophomore, but the 6-foot-3 guard's NBA stock was still too high for that to be a wise decision. He slipped out of the lottery but was selected by Philadelphia at No. 17 in the first round, taking a few thinly veiled shots at UCLA on his way out the door.
"In college, it's all about defense," he told the Los Angeles Times before the draft. The NBA "seems like it's more fun. You can be you."
Holiday might be higher on this list if he had another year or two in the NBA to develop, but even as a 19-year-old rookie he made an impact. He replaced injured Lou Williams in the starting lineup midway through the season, putting up 11.9 points, 5.5 assists and 1.5 steals per game after the all-star break.
"We think Jrue's upside is huge," 76ers general manager Ed Stefanski said in a recent live chat on NBA.com. "He is the youngest player in the league, plus he has size and ball-handling skills, his shooting was better than advertised and he can use both hands around the basket. His size and strength will only improve as he gets older."
- Jrue Holiday