With the emergence of undrafted rookie point guard Ish Smith, it got me to thinking about other players who appeared, it seemed, out of thin air to impact the Rockets and there have been quite a few. Hell, I even wrote about how good Rudy T was at cultivating players sprung from obscurity a while back.
Not all of the players on the list were complete unknowns. One played for a big time college program. One had several years in the NBA as a fill-in guy. But, the one thing they have in common is the Rockets pulled them from the proverbial scrap heap to become solid players for them.
No doubt there are players who were before my time and I could have missed one, which is why this is “Five Rockets Who Came Out of Nowhere” instead of the “The Best Five Rockets Who Came Out of Nowhere.” Enjoy.
Chucky Brown went from being a part-time player (and even sometime starter) for teams like Cleveland to being the starting power forward on a championship team. Brown even gained the attention of Charles Barkley, who laughed him off in their series against the Suns (which was ironic considering he was part of the trade package that brought Barkley to Houston). Brown emerged late in the year as the starter for the Rockets after they traded Otis Thorpe for Clyde Drexler in a season which ended with Houston’s second straight championship. The following season, he started 82 games and had his best year in the league. While he did get some playing time in the NBA before playing in Houston, the Rockets found him toiling away in the CBA. Brown’s career was resurrected during that title and he went on to play in parts of six more seasons in the NBA — none as important as his first with the Rockets.
The year after the Rockets second title run, they signed little known free agent guard Eldridge Recasner. Prior to joining the Rockets, he had spent time in Europe and the CBA before getting a 10-day contract sniff with the Nuggets. During the 1995-96 season, Recasner played in 63 games with Houston including 27 starts. He averaged nearly 7 points and shot 42% from beyond the arc including a career high six threes against Seattle (in the same game, he had 11 rebounds). Recasner went on to play four more full seasons in the NBA, including the 1997-98 season with Atlanta where he averaged 9 points off the bench.
The man, the fro, the legend, Moochie Norris went from CBA also-ran to an important back up point guard and fan favorite with the Houston Rockets for more than four seasons. Who could forget that 28-point, 6-rebound performance in that triple overtime thriller against the Indiana Pacers? He was never better than the 2001-02 season when he started 26 games and averaged 8 points and just under 5 assists. He even got his own fro-tastic bobble head AND a celebri-duck complete with hair net.
It’s tough to say where or when the Chuck Wagon’s career will ultimately end, but there is no denying Chuck Hayes has had a solid career in his five years with the Rockets. He went undrafted out of powerhouse Kentucky, where he was a first team all-defensive player. Despite his lack of height, he has filled in at both center and power forward and proven to be a formidable defensive specialist. Every year it seems as if he’ll fade right back into obscurity, but he keeps coming back and getting playing time.
Ah, the much-maligned Matt Maloney. I cannot think of a single player that appeared out of thin air to become such an integral part of a contending basketball team only to disappear nearly as quickly after. Maloney was the Ivy League Player of the Year (a dubious distinction) his senior year at Penn, but went undrafted and ended up in the CBA. The Rockets scooped him up a year later and, in his first season in 1996-97, he started all 82 games, averaging nearly 10-points per. More importantly, he ran the show for a team that included three Hall of Famers that made it all the way to the Conference Finals before falling to Utah. He played a total of five full seasons in the league (all of them, it seemed, paid for by the Rockets despite playing in Houston just three years), but none better than his first. And to think, that was the year we passed on Tim Hardaway to sign Brent Price, whose injury gave Maloney the opportunity. Yowza.