The Mountain Times

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Green Mountain hoop dreams

The NBA Playoffs are still going, and I'm still thinking about basketball. Did you know that there's only one state in the country in which not a single NBA player, from any point in the league's history, was born? Can you guess which state it is?

It's Vermont - pretty sad, I know. Of course, there are a few other states that haven't been particularly lucky with basketball talent either: Maine has produced just one NBA baller, Jeff Turner of Bangor, and New Hampshire has only Matt Bonner of Concord to its name. Two pasty PF/Cs whose career rebounding averages both hover a little over three: in 20 years, New Englanders won't remember which one was which.

So basically this whole region is just terrible at basketball, which is a little odd when you remember that basketball was invented in New England.

Jeff Turner did play for a decade with the Nets and the Magic, while Matt Bonner won an NBA title in 2007, led the league in three-point percentage last season, and may win another championship with the Spurs this year. He recently made headlines when a Texas middle-schooler shaved an incredibly lifelike image of him into his head and got suspended because his teacher deemed the haircut a classroom distraction.

Another unfun fact: there's only one state in the country that has not had one of its high school graduates go on to the NBA, and that state, too, is Vermont. Here Vermont lags even further behind Maine (whose eight future stars, including Caron Butler and Brad Miller, all went to the same private boarding school) and New Hampshire (Bonner stayed local, and nine other prospects joined him); Hawaii comes closest to matching Vermont's failure, but Hilo's Red Rocha was one of the NBA's first All-Stars.

OK, one last bit of trivia: there are, I believe, two states in the country that have never had a future NBA player graduate from one of their colleges or universities, and these two states are Alaska and (surprise!) Vermont. I'm not completely certain of this, because it's tough to verify who graduated from South Dakota State and who merely attended, but the truth is that, if not for some guy named Ken Keller (who, according to some sources, went to the University of Vermont for one year in the early 1940s before transferring to St. John's and then embarking on a 28-game pro career during the NBA's inaugural season), Vermont wouldn't have a single NBA player among its college attendees, to say nothing of its graduates.

For the record, I'm defining "NBA player" as someone who has played in a regular-season NBA game; if you were merely drafted or merely played in the preseason, you don't count. This rules out UVM's Larry Killick, Bob Jake, and (perhaps most heartbreakingly) Marqus Blakely, who managed to receive paychecks from the Houston Rockets for eight months without ever checking into a non-exhibition contest and now toils in the D-League. The absence of post-collegiate success from UVM's basketball program is kind of shocking, actually, because the Catamounts are in fact totally respectable on the hardwood: five March Madness berths, all in the past ten years, and two victories in the tournament. This is a golden age for Vermont basketball, and maybe it's only a matter of time before a superstar emerges.

Still, why is Vermont's hoops history so poor? The most obvious reason is that Vermont is tiny - only Wyoming has a smaller population. Yet Wyoming has managed to birth six NBA players. The District of Columbia has a smaller population than Vermont, too, and it's produced 66. So maybe the important thing to think about is how rural Vermont is: its largest city is smaller than any other state's largest city, and basketball - which requires so much less space than baseball or football, let alone skiing - has always been primarily an urban game. It can be no coincidence that the three states that have generated the most NBA talent (California, New York, and Illinois) also contain three of America's largest cities.

But that's not to say that basketball isn't a part of Vermont life. Anyone who's owned a television in Rutland County can attest to the fact that, at pretty much any time of day or night, you can turn on PEGTV and watch a bunch of local kids playing hoops in a school gym. It just happens that, so far, none of these kids has made it to the NBA. And I guess that's not exactly a big deal: from Andrea Mead Lawrence to John LeClair, Vermont has its own fine athletic tradition - mostly on the snow and ice.

If, however, any of you young ballers out there happen to be reading this, get outside and practice your jumper and keep that elbow in!

Tagged: Gen Y