Welcome to the latest installment of “Where Are They Now?” For the final time in February, Sheridan Hoops tracks down the stars of yesteryear and brings news of their current whereabouts to the masses.
From McDonalds All-Americans to NBA scoring machines, this edition has it all.
Whether they were your favorites to watch or least favorites to go against, these players have been forever imprinted in your mind. Unfortunately, there’s a chance that you’ve lost their location along the way.
Fortunately for you, we at Sheridan Hoops are tracking them down, one by one.
1. Jonathan Bender
Every year, the top prep stars in the nation come together to play in the McDonald’s All-American Game. Past MVPs of the showcase include LeBron James, Shaquille O’Neal, Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, Kevin Garnett and Chris Webber.
In 1999, the MVP of the All-American Game was Jonathan Bender, a 7’0″ combo forward with supreme athleticism and limitless length. As one could only expect, Bender became such a hot commodity that he opted to pass up on the college ranks and head to the pros.
Later that summer, the Toronto Raptors selected Bender with the fifth overall selection in the 1999 NBA Draft. They immediately traded him to the Indiana Pacers for All-Star big man Antonio Davis.
And so a generation had begun.
Bender became the first High School draftee in NBA history to score in double-figures during his debut. Unfortunately, head coach Larry Bird rarely offered Bender the opportunity to follow that performance up—his second season wasn’t much better.
Come the third year of his career, however, Bender began to display flashes of brilliance. Still on a minutes cap, the 7’0″ wing took any opportunity he could to prove worthy of more minutes.
That included a stellar 18 point and 10 rebound performance against All-Star and eventual Defensive Player of the Year Ron Artest and the Chicago Bulls.
Unfortunately, we were never able to witness Bender’s true potential. From 2002 to 2006, serious injuries struck time and time again, thus limiting the 7’0″ skill man to minimal playing opportunities.
In that time, Bender missed an average of 63 games per season. It’s hard to get your All-Star caliber talent off of the ground when your body isn’t cooperating.
Tragically, Bender retired in February of 2006 after citing a medical condition in his knees. Donnie Walsh, the man who traded for Bender on draft night, granted the forward a second chance with the New York Knicks—the team for whom Walsh was then President of Basketball Operations.
Bender played 25 games for the Knicks during the 2009-10 season. During his return, however, he suffered a broken left ring finger and eventually retired once again.
So where is he now?
Bender is doing well for himself in the business world, bridging his talents in basketball into his current work. He runs a non-profit organization known as The Jonathan Bender Foundation, which provides kids with the opportunity to succeed after high school.
Bender is also the host of The Courtside CEO, a weekly radio show, and consistently meets with young athletes to help guide them through their careers. In other words, Bender has his hand in a little bit of everything as a basketball entrepreneur.
As one current scout told me, “We all thought Bender was going to be a superstar.” It turns out that life after basketball has been just as rewarding.
2. Marqus Blakely
You could make a case that Marqus Blakely is the greatest player in the history of America East basketball. If not, you’d be hard-pressed to argue against the belief that Blakely is the best in Vermont’s rich basketball history.
He was a two-time America East Player of the Year, three-time America East Defensive Player of the Year, a three-time first team All-Conference selection and a three-time All-Conference Defensive Team selection.
If that’s not enough, he was the 2010 America East Tournament MVP.
So what is it that made Marqus Blakely such a dynamic player? To put it simply, there wasn’t much that he couldn’t do.
From a statistical standpoint, Blakely made his leap to collegiate stardom by averaging 19.0 points, 11.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 2.7 blocks and 2.0 steals in 2008. These were the type of numbers which Blakely posted throughout his career, as he finished with 44 double-doubles.
That includes a streak of 10 consecutive double-doubles in January and February of 2009. Blakely averaged 20.7 points and 15.4 rebounds during that stretch—no, that’s not a typo.
To cap off his college career, Blakely led Vermont in every major statistical category as a senior—points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals. For what it’s worth, Blakely also won the 2010 State Farm College Basketball Slam Dunk Contest. For footage of that event, click here—you won’t be disappointed.
After going undrafted in 2010, Blakely began to make a living in the D-League. From 2010 to 2012, Blakely made four stints with three different teams and posted career averages of 15.0 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.0 block per game.
As all of this was transpiring, we witnessed an evolving low-post presence and an improving mid-range game right before our eyes. In turn, Blakely signed to play with the Houston Rockets, but he was cut.
Blakely opted to go overseas, signing on with B-Meg Llamados of the Philippine Basketball League. Blakely had success in the Asian area, continuing to establish his status as a dominant interior force.
This led to Blakely attempting to sign with Telekom Baskets Bonn of the Basketball Bundesliga in Germany, but the contract fell through after Blakely failed a medical test. After working to fix those wrongs, Blakely signed on with Neckar Riesen Ludwigsburg in Germany.
Scouts currently view Blakely as a quality interior player. Despite standing at just 6’5″, Blakely is physical down low and adjusting to the European style of play quite well. As for his NBA future, Blakely nearly played for the Los Angeles Clippers in 2012-13. Never say never for a player with as powerful a presence as Blakely.
3. Brian Butch
If you’re a fan of Big Ten basketball, there’s no way you could’ve forgotten Brian Butch. And if you are not a Wisconsin fan, you’ve probably been trying to clear your memory of all the times he took your favorite team down.
Lord knows he did it to everyone in the Big Ten.
Butch was one of the most highly-acclaimed recruits coming out of high school. He was a McDonalds All-American, a two-time Wisconsin Player of the Year and was named Mr. Basketball in Wisconsin during the 2002-03 season.
Butch never posted mesmerizing season statistics, but he was among the most highly-praised players in the nation. He worked hard in the paint, spread the floor with his shooting and had an undeniable knack for coming up with the big play during the waning moments of a game.
That’s exactly why the 6’11″ big man was a consensus All-Big Ten first team selection during his senior season. It’s also why Wisconsin managed to win the Big Ten regular season and tournament titles, thus leading to a Sweet 16 appearance.
As far as college careers go, you can’t buy as much respect as Butch earned amongst coaches and peers.
After leaving Wisconsin, however, Butch surprisingly went undrafted. This led to relatively brief stints in China, Greece and Germany, with the latter providing Butch with more of an opportunity to hone his skills.
Since returning to the U.S., Butch has opted to remain in the D-League. It’s there that Butch has become a force to be reckoned with in every sense of the word—such was evident as he was named as the 2010 D-League All-Star Game MVP.
In 2012-13, Butch is averaging 12.6 points and 11.0 rebounds per game. He continues to display the same range that made him lethal at Wisconsin, and has developed into a powerful force down low.
For one final note, Butch currently has a league-high 15 double-doubles for the Bakersfield Jam.