As the Sweet 16 boils down to the Elite Eight, I’d like to turn your attention to a man who turned his knack for striking while the iron’s hot into a decade-plus-long NBA career. It was during the tournament in 1999, when Wally Szczerbiak stormed onto the national scene. His Miami, Ohio RedHawks were the 10 seed, facing the heavily-favored, seventh seeded Washington Huskies.
In a 59-58 win over Washington, Szczerbiak scored a remarkable 43 points. He took 33 shots from the field–the rest of the Red Hawks attempted just 22 shots. He collected 12 boards and shot 5-12 from three-point land. The team advanced to the second round, where they took on the 2-seeded Utah Utes.
It was a showdown featuring Szczerbiak versus Utah’s future NBA sharpshooter Andre Miller. Miller did his best, scoring 20 points and grabbing six rebounds, but it was Miami of Ohio, behind Szczerbiak’s 24-point, 8-rebound effort, continuing their Cinderella run to the Sweet 16. Miami finally lost to Kentucky, but Wally Szczerbiak became a household name (once households learned how to pronounce it).
Wally went sixth overall to the Timberwolves in that year’s draft. His tourney foe Andre Miller went eighth. After an impressive rookie season, two more solid years followed for Szczerbiak, including his 2002 campaign–his best as a pro. He made his lone All-Star game appearance in 2002 for the T-Wolves. And that off-season, seeing what they had in Szczerbiak, Minnesota decided they NEEDED to keep Wally in the Twin Cities, so they gave him a 6-year, $63 million extension, the structure of which was heavily back-loaded.
Six years and several teams later, Szczerbiak was one of the richest bench players in the NBA and an annual member of the NBA’s All-Expiring-Contract team, the players of which are constantly on tour throughout the land, and whom are traded mid-season almost every year (See: Raef LaFrentz). He was somewhat famously involved in the trade that sent Ray Allen to the Celtics, as he moved to Seattle before their final season as the SuperSonics in 2007-08.
He now works in broadcasting, as a member of the MSG network post-game crew for Knicks games. In total, Szczerbiak played parts of twelve seasons in the NBA, and was a pretty good player (14.1 PPG). But he always carried the “ridiculously overpaid” moniker. I say he was simply one of the most opportunistic players the game has ever seen. It’s good work, as they say, if ya can get it.