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Finley, Griffith put Badgers back on NBA map 20 years ago

As we anticipate the greatest day in Wisconsin's NBA draft history, why not look back to the first time two Badgers were selected in the same draft?

Michael Finley as a rookie in 1996.
Michael Finley as a rookie in 1996.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

For all the success Bo Ryan had enjoyed at Wisconsin up until 2014, there were two big knocks on his program. One, he didn't win big in the NCAA tournament. Two, he didn't send high draft picks to the pros.

Devin Harris, drafted No. 5 in 2004, was supposedly the exception that proved the rule about Ryan's ability to handle high-end talent and UW's Elite Eight run the following season without Harris was the "fluke" that mocked all of Bo's earlier-round exits.

Then the Badgers sent those stereotyped notions about tournament success packing with back-to-back Final Fours. Two stars from those squads are aiming for a market correction in Thursday's NBA draft as well.

Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker are both slotted as late-lottery to mid-first round picks. It is an exciting time for the Wisconsin men's basketball program, which has never had two players drafted in the first round in the same year before, let alone the lottery.

But it isn't the first time two Badgers have been drafted in the same year in the modern era. That honor belongs to another supremely talented forward-center duo, Michael Finley and Rashard Griffith, who were both selected 20 years ago this week in 1995. Finley and Griffith ushered in the golden age of Wisconsin hoops by returning to the NCAA tournament in 1994 behind head coach Stu Jackson and notching the Badgers' first tourney win since 1941.

Finley was drafted by Phoenix with the No. 24 pick after a rough final season under his third head coach in four years. The Maywood, Ill., native had averaged over 20 points per game for three straight seasons, but his low shooting percentage as a senior scared some teams away. Things obviously worked out well for Finley, though. He earned more than $100 million over his career and earned his elusive championship with San Antonio in 2007. That was enough to retire in 2010 and start producing Hollywood films. I'm sure that's a career both Kaminsky and Dekker wouldn't mind modeling.

One of the true ironmen at the turn of the century, Finley played in 461 of a possible 460 games over his first five seasons. That's right -- when Finley was traded in the middle of his second season from Phoenix to Dallas, he played one extra game. He also led the league in minutes played three times in four seasons to get the moribund Mavericks franchise back to the playoffs.

Unfortunately, Finely's legacy lives on mostly through YouTube for his infamous Slam Dunk Contest cartwheel dunk attempt, but in his day Finley was a fantastic two-way player and one of the original athletes signed to the Jordan Brand. A two-time All-Star and Team USA member, Finley peaked in the 1999-2000 season when he averaged 22.6 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 1.3 steals per game while shooting .401/.457/.820.

Fourteen selections after Finley, his mammoth teammate Griffith was drafted at No. 38 in 1995 by the Milwaukee Bucks. Seemingly a great fit, Griffith participated in summer camp with the Bucks but then-coach Mike Dunleavy had doubts about the big man contributing right away. One of the most heralded high school stars of the 1990s, Griffith had only played two season for the Badgers. At times, he looked absolutely dominant in college, but his stock had fallen in pre-draft workouts and he was still raw in NBA terms.

So Griffith signed an deal to play overseas to get some seasoning, with the expectation that he'd return to play in the NBA very soon. It just never happened.

After an MVP season early in Turkey, Griffith became content with the success and the paychecks he found around Europe. With the help of Manu Ginobili, he captured the 2001 European League championship with Kinder Bologna in Italy. Orlando even traded for Griffith's rights in 2002 on draft day, but he never played a minute in an NBA game.

Griffith retired from the Romanian leagues in 2010, but not before collecting a ton of cash in his own right. For a few years, Griffith was one of the highest-paid big men overseas, garnering accolades and million-dollar salaries in the Turkish leagues. In a great account of Griffith's career arc, he explained to Adam Doster in 2012 that money was the reason why he never returned to the States to play basketball.

As Dekker explained this week on his media tour, money is not a big concern for this year's duo. He and Kaminsky have become well-known faces over the past two seasons and are assured first-round, guaranteed contracts.

The question now is fit. Each player has impressed enough teams in pre-draft workout tours to be confident about what they bring to the table. While certain landing spots might be better than others, Badger fans can just relax and revel in the growing tradition that Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker will be adding to on Thursday night.

And with Milwaukee-area products Kevon Looney and J.P. Tokoto also eligible to be drafted, there's no doubt it will be a great night for the state overall.


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