The NCAA Tournament brings out the best in players and teams. It’s the stage where legends are born. Some of the top March Madness players in history have become NBA superstars. 

Finding the best March Madness bets takes work, but there are ways to make it easier. Finding the next NCAA tournament icon ready to shine on the biggest stage could be as easy as watching the upcoming tournament.

Some of the March Madness legends reached the top in their freshman year. Others led magical Cinderella runs, but they all had one thing in common. They were at their best when it mattered the most.

Stephen Curry

Stephen Curry has firmly cemented his place in NBA lore as a critical piece of the Golden State Warriors dynasty. However, he wasn’t always the most recognizable face in basketball. Nevertheless, Curry was an outstanding player on an excellent team.

But his college team did not belong to any of the major conferences. Curry led Davidson to back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances taking down powerhouse programs like Georgetown and Wisconsin. Then, Davidson’s 2008 Cinderella run took them to the Elite Eight.

Curry unleashed his power during Davidson’s 2008 tournament, scoring over 30 points in his first four games to become the fourth player to accomplish the feat. In addition, he was the first player named tournament MVP, with his team falling just short of the Final Four.

Patrick Ewing

Patrick Ewing made his mark on the NBA as the face of the New York Knicks. Ewing was a dominant force in the NBA during the late 80s and 90s. But it was the NCAA tournament that started Ewing’s undisputable basketball legacy.

Ewing became a force for Georgetown in his freshman year. He was in the starting lineup that would make the Final Four in 1982, 1984, and 1985. Ewing’s exploits landed him the Most Outstanding Player award in 1984 as the Hoyas took home the national title. He would also become the number one overall pick in the 1985 NBA draft.

Larry Bird

NBA legend Larry Bird won three NBA titles with the Boston Celtics. Bird was so dominant in his prime that fellow NBA legend Michael Jordan has called him the greatest player in league history. That’s a far cry from Bird’s modest beginnings with Indiana State.

In 1979, Indiana State’s story was punctuated by a 33-0 record that landed the school in the finals. Bird led his team by scoring 29 points per game, with 14.8 rebounds and six assists. Bird became the prototype for players that would forever change the game.

Indiana State met the powerhouse Michigan State Spartans, losing 75-64 in the final. It was the end of a magical run but the beginning of an extraordinary NBA career.

Magic Johnson

Magic Johnson delivered many times for his beloved NBA franchise, the Los Angeles Lakers. He is arguably the team’s most recognizable face. He led the Lakers to five championships among nine NBA Finals appearances in the 1980s.

But it was his NCAA tournament exploits that paved the way for this professional glory. As a freshman, Magic helped Michigan State reach the Elite Eight in 1978. Then, in 1979, he led the Spartans on a historic run culminating in a showdown with Indiana State.

Magic Johnson took home the Outstanding Player award as he put Larry Bird’s NCAA title hopes to rest.

Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan needs no introduction. His NBA resume is stacked with accolades, and he is arguably the best NBA player of all time. Before NBA glory, Jordan stood out at North Carolina. As a freshman, he nailed the title-clinching shot against Patrick Ewing’s Georgetown Hoyas in 1982. 

But, curiously enough, Jordan did not win the Outstanding Player award. Instead, future Lakers Hall-of-Famer James Worthy took home the hardware. Jordan led North Carolina to consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, averaging 20 points per game in 1983 and 19.6 in 1984. 

The Tar Heels were 88-13 in Jordan’s three seasons, and he would become the most famous number-two overall pick in NBA Draft history.

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