Chris Herren's story and its impact on the Nuggets

Chris Herren’s battle with substance abuse has been well-documented lately. Books like Fall River Dreams and Basketball Junkies, and ESPN’s documentary Unguarded discussed the impact drugs had on his life on and off the basketball court.

Herren grew up in Fall Rivers, Mass. and started his college career at Boston College, where he was dismissed after a season. His career was resurrected in Fresno State where he had the most success in his college career. During his sophomore and junior seasons he averaged 17.5 and 15.6 points, while  also handing out nearly five assists a contest. But once again his battle with drugs kicked in and he failed a drug test an was sent to rehab. After his junior year two of his teammates made themselves eligible for the NBA Draft. 

  • Tremaine Fowlkes averaged 13.9 points and 11.3 rebounds during his junior season – his first and final season at Fresno State and was drafted by the Denver Nuggets with the 54th pick in the 1998 NBA Draft. With the next pick the Nuggets selected Ryan Bowen. Fowlkes never made the Nuggets final roster and only lasted four seasons in the NBA where he played a combined 103 games.
  • Rafer ‘Skip 2 My Lou’ Alston was Herren’s sidekick in the Bulldogs backcourt also made himself eligible for the NBA Draft, but went undrafted in the 1998 Draft. He wasn’t given a chance to play in the NBA until 1999 when the Milwaukee Bucks, who were coached by George Karl at the time. While Alston was talented enough to hold a roster spot with the Bucks, he frustrated Karl with streetball antics. Much like JR Smith, Karl would bench Alston for his antics and throw him under the bus with the media. Karl referred to Alston as, ‘one of the worst, bench garbage players I’ve ever been associated with.’

At Fresno State, Herren’s stats worked to improve his all-around game and despite only averaging 11.5 points he set a career best by averaging 7.2 assists a game and one of favorite target was freshman big man Melvin Ely. Ely averaged more than 11 points and six rebounds a contest.

  • Ely went on to be a 2-time WAC player of the year and was drafted with the 12th pick (five picks after the Nuggets selected Nene) by the Los Angeles Clippers. Ely never lived up to the hype out of college and bounced around the NBA, playing for five different teams. He last played for the Nuggets last season and averaged 2.3 points and 2.5 rebounds a contest.

Herren’s draft stock took a hit due to his substance-abuse and he dropped out of the first round and was drafted by the Denver Nuggets with the 33rd pick.

In Basketball Junkies, Herren talked about how Dan Issel, who was the Nuggets coach at the time, went for a ride with him during his workouts with Denver before the draft. He said Issel asked him about his drug issues and was a straight shooter with Herren.

In the fall when Herren returned to Denver, the Nuggets as a team made it a point to look after the rookie point guard. There was to be no drinking and the likes of George McCloud, Antonio McDyess and Roy Rogers all kept an eye on him. Chauncey Billups gave him some suits and Popeye Jones took him shopping.

Even Nick Van Exel and Issel tried to make the star from Fresno State comfortable. Both looked after him and offered him support. Van Exel taught him the rules of the game, the separation from the locker room and the front office and the star-treatment in the NBA.

Herren would get an uptick in minutes and be the Nuggets full-time backup point guard after Billups went down with a dislocated shoulder and was soon traded along with Ron Mercer and Johnny Taylor for Chris Gatling and Tariq Abdul-Wahad.

Herren played 45 games with the Nuggets and averaged more than 13 minutes, 3 points an 2 assists.

Despite a solid rookie season, Herren was dealt to the Boston Celtics with longtime Nuggets guard Bryant Stith for Calbert Cheaney and Robert Pack.

That ended Stith’s eight year stint with the Nuggets and he lasted two more seasons before retiring. Cheaney would play two seasons with the Nuggets, before getting signing with the Golden State Warriors. Pack only played with the Nuggets one more season, it was the fourth with the team.

Herren on the other hand played only one more season in the NBA, before drugs once again got the best of him.

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Tags: Antonio Mc Boston Celtics Bryant Stith Calbert Cheaney Chauncey Billups Chris Gatling Chris Herren Dan Issel Denver Nuggets George McCloud Golden State Golden State Warriors James Posey Johnny Taylor JR Smith Los Angeles Clippers Melvin Ely Nick Van Exel Popeye Jones Rafer Alston Robert Pack Ron Mercer Roy Rogers Ryan Bowen Tariq Abdul-Wahad Tremaine Fowlkes

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