Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Top Ten Pro Careers of CAA Athletes

In the spring of 2004 I was working at a client when I checked the MLB draft results in the middle of the day.  A power pitcher with #1 talent was taken second overall by the Detroit Tigers.  Seven years and almost 100 career wins later, Justin Verlander has established himself as a dominant veteran who arguably has his best days ahead of him. 

Verlander's success got me thinking of which former Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) athletes have had the best careers in professional sports.  In this post I'll provide my top ten professional athletes who attended/graduated from CAA schools.  (Verlander played only three seasons at ODU before leaving for the Majors a year early, thus the "attended" qualification.)  There are a few ground rules to establish first.

  • This list includes athletes whose institutions were part of the CAA at the time of their collegiate careers.  Athletes who would have been considered for this list but can't because they weren't CAA athletes include Wayne Chrebet (Hofstra), Gerald Henderson (Virginia Commonwealth), Speedy Claxton (Hofstra), Rich Gannon (Delaware), Dave Meggett (Towson), Charles Haley and Gary Clark (James Madison).  Their schools were not technically in the CAA while they were in college.
  • For football players, we'll consider individuals going back to the days that CAA Football was operating as A-10 football.  The Atlantic 10 Conference was the home of what became CAA Football from 1997-2005; at 2005 the CAA Football conference was established.
  • I am not counting the WNBA has a professional league.  Old Dominion had its share of successful women's basketball players but I can't bring myself to consider the league in this analysis.
  • This post examines only the professional portion of the athletes' careers, not their collegiate accomplishments.  If we considered collegiate careers, Marina DiGiacomo would be on the list.  When her field hockey career at ODU was over, she had an NCAA record 414 points (167 goals, 80 assists), four CAA Tournament MVPs, two First Team All-American honors and one NCAA national title.  She was the most dominant field hockey player in the NCAA, but what about her pro career?  Exactly.
Three players whose professional careers surprisingly did not take off were George Evans (George Mason), Brett Blizzard (UNC Wilmington) and Tim Hummel (Old Dominion).  Evans got invited to a Knicks camp after graduation but he didn't play in the NBA.  That guy dominated the CAA for his final three years.  Similarly, Blizzard was a standout guard from Day One under Jerry Wainwright's system for the Seahawks; how he never got a shot at the NBA is beyond me.  Tim Hummel was an All-American shortstop for the Monarchs drafted in the second round of the MLB draft by the White Sox.  He played parts of two seasons with the Reds but never caught on. 

George Evans was the best CAA player in the late '90's, but an NBA career never materialized. (Photo credited to AP.)

Before we get to the top ten, let's take a look at some individuals whose careers are a bit premature to make this list now, but we shouldn't be surprised if they're on this list in a decade.

  • Arthur Moats, James Madison.  On top of being a linebacker for my beloved Buffalo Bills, Moats delivered the hit that ended Brett Favre's 297 consecutive games streak (321 including playoffs).  Woohoo!

Don't cross the Moats! (Photo credited to AP)

  • Charles Jenkins (Hofstra), Eric Maynor (VCU) and Gary Neal.  These three young guards are proof that the NBA is starting to take notice of the talent level in the CAA.  Jenkins was just drafted, Maynor's played two NBA seasons and Neal has one under his belt along with a few seasons overseas. 
  • Derek Cox, William and Mary.  Cox was a high draft pick of the Jaguars two years ago and has eight INT's in 30 career games.  He gets bonus points for sharing the name "Cox" with Dr. Perry Cox of "Scrubs."
  • Matt Szczur, Villanova.  Fans of FCS football know Szczur's name but he chose to pursue a career in baseball professionally.  Drafted by the Chicago Cubs a year ago, he had been invited to NFL workouts.  He's a do-everything type of athlete.
And now, on to our top ten list.

10. Sean Casey, RichmondCasey batted .302, slugged .447 and had an OPS above .800 in his career.  The former Spider enjoyed the most successful part of his career with the Reds between 1998-2005.  Overall he was elected to three All-Star games and is now a well-regarded analyst for the MLB Network.

9. John Rollins, Virginia Commonwealth.  The best golfer the CAA produced, he's accumulated three career PGA tour wins with the latest coming in 2009.  To date in 2011 he is ranked #62 in the PGA and has finished in the top five in two of his last three tournament events.  Still in his mid-30's, he's got time to rack up more victories.

8. Justin Verlander, Old Dominion.  If his career path follows its current trajectory, he should finish higher on this list than eighth.  At 28 he's got four All-Star elections, two no-hitters and started Game 1 of the 2006 World Series for the Tigers.  A recent Sports Illustrated article documented how he's become the best pitcher in the game today.

At age 28, Verlander has 94 career victories.  He isn't slowing down. (Photo credited to Rick Osentoski, US Presswire)
 7. Joe Flacco, Delaware.  In his first three seasons as an NFL quarterback, Flacco has quarterbacked the Ravens to four playoff road wins, including a trip to the AFC Conference Championship game.  Flacco's primary target has been an aging Derrick Mason so he's been producing despite a top-notch WR.  The Ravens did acquire Anquan Bolden for last season but that's still two years with Mason and Todd Heap as your best receiving options.  Flacco has displayed a calmness uncommon among young QBs who came from an FCS program.  He won the 2008 Diet Pepsi Rookie of the Year Award.  It just doesn't get any better than that, unless you're dating a former Miss Universe like...

6. Juan Jose Barea, Northeastern. The Huskies didn't join the CAA until late in Barea's career, but we'll still claim him as our own.  He's on the shorter side of NBA guards but he's lightning quick, can get to the basket and finishes his shots at impossible angles.  The undrafted free agent signed with Dallas after graduation, and he's shown steady improvement over each of his five seasons.  He gained more national attention for helping the Mavericks win their first NBA title and can expect a big payday whenever the NBA lockout ends.  But let's be honest - he's even more of a winner off the court.

5. Brian Jordan, Richmond.  Jordan's baseball statistics are more than admirable, having batted .282 with 184 HRs/821 RBIs over 15 seasons.  But some may forget that he was a two-sport star, playing three seasons with the Atlanta Falcons at a high level.  The only other athlete to have attempted to do this successfully was Deion Sanders.  Jordan chose to focus on the sport that was healthier for his well being, and racked up a fantastic baseball career.  He may not have been as good as Neon Deion, but no other two-sport start was as good as Brian Jordan.

4. Marquest Colston, Hofstra.  The New Orleans Saints got a steal in the draft five years ago, obtaining Colston in the seventh and final round of the 2006 NFL draft.  In four of his first five seasons he's had at least 1,000 receiving yards while scoring 40 touchdowns over that span.  These statistics are more impressive when you consider how many other options Drew Brees has at his disposal.  If Colston can keep producing at this rate, he may reach even higher on this list as the most productive CAA football player.  No one has more catches in the first two seasons in the NFL than Colston, who had 168.  The player whose record he broke?  Fellow Hofstra alum Wayne Chrebet mentioned above.

3. Brian Westbrook, Villanova. Westbrook currently gets the nod over Colston because he's had a more complete career.  In fact we may not see many more seasons out of Westbrook, the perfect running back for Andy Reid's offense over the years.  He's gained more than 10K yards from scrimmage during his career, 1/3 of which is from receiving yards.  Think back to the Eagles' short-yardage offense; how many times did they actually run?  And yet Westbrook STILL obtained more than 10K yards from scrimmage?  Westbrook's career may be slowing down to a halt soon, but what a career it has been with two All-Pro selections and the 2001 Walter Payton Award.

2. Darren Sharper, William and Mary. Sharper was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the second round of the 1997 NFL draft.  As a rookie he played a significant role on the team that returned to the Super Bowl.  Eleven years later split between Green Bay and Minnesota, Sharper finally got a Super Bowl ring with Marques Colston on the 2009 New Orleans Saints.  There are questions on whether his health will prevent him from playing in 2011 and beyond, but the man has 63 INT's in his career, eleven of which were returned for touchdowns.  He was named an All-Pro twice and made five Pro Bowl appearances. 

Colston and Sharper denied Mrs. Hank Baskett a Super Bowl celebration party for her TV show.  Most of the world celebrated in unison.

1. David Robinson, Navy.  The Admiral is easily the best professional athlete to represent the CAA.  You can read all about his career statistics, NBA Championships, MVP, ROY, Defensive POY, and other awards here.  What's more important is that he served his country for two years as a civil engineering officer in at a naval base in Georgia.  I realize that the premise of this blog is about professional athletes, but sometimes we need to acknowledge that there are more important things than sports. 

So there you have it.  This isn't a list that needs to be generated every year so I don't know when I'll reconsider the list, but it's something to talk about until college football starts.  Whether you agree with me or not, you've got to admit that the Colonial Athletic Association has produced some quality professional athletes.

No comments:

Post a Comment