The NCAA Tournament gets underway in Indiana on Thursday night to decide college basketball’s national champion. Over the years, many future NBA stars have shined during March Madness. But there have also been many college athletes that eventually went pro in other sports who doubled as basketball players and got a shot to play in the NCAA Tournament.
Here’s a look at some of the biggest non-NBA athletes who made the most of their time playing basketball in college.
Indianapolis Colts tight end Mo Alie-Cox might actually be more famous for his career on the basketball court. Alie-Cox was a four-year standout at VCU and appeared in 142 games. He is the school’s all-time leader in career shooting percentage (57.4 percent) and second in career blocks (255). Alie-Cox competed in four NCAA Tournaments from 2013 to 2017 and the Rams won at least one tournament game in three of his four seasons.
Antonio Gates was one of the first NFL players to have played college basketball before fully transitioning to a football career. Gates played basketball at Kent State, and he was actually very good. During his four-year collegiate career at Kent State and Eastern Michigan, Gates put together averages of 16.5 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 2.9 assists. In the 2002 NCAA Tournament, Gates helped lead the No. 10-seeded Golden Flashes to the Elite Eight. They defeated three of the top seeds in their region in Alabama, Oklahoma State and Pittsburgh.
Tony Gonzalez blossomed into a Hall of Fame tight end with the Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons during his 17-year NFL career. However, Gonzalez was actually a two-sport star at the University of California. He averaged 6.4 points and 4.8 rebounds in three seasons with the Golden Bears. In his junior year, Gonzalez was part of a California team that reached the Sweet 16 of the 1997 NCAA Tournament.
Jimmy Graham, who has put together a very impressive NFL career, spent his fair share of time on the hardwood while he was at Miami (Fla.). The big-bodied tight end appeared in 120 games for the Hurricanes and played for the school during their NCAA Tournament appearance in his junior season. Graham scored nine points and secured seven rebounds in Miami’s 2008 opening-round win over St. Mary’s. Miami got eliminated by Texas in the second round.
Before Kenny Lofton won four Gold Gloves in Major League Baseball, he earned a scholarship to Arizona for basketball. Lofton was the backup point guard to Steve Kerr during Arizona’s Final Four run in the 1988 NCAA Tournament — you can see the NBA champion and six-time MLB All-Star next to each other in this team photo. He is one of just two athletes to play in both a Final Four and a World Series.
Former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb is known for his talent on the gridiron, but he also played basketball while at Syracuse. McNabb was actually a member of Syracuse’s 1996 NCAA Tournament team that made it to the national title game before ultimately losing to Kentucky. The six-time Pro Bowler was a reserve that averaged 2.1 points in his two years playing basketball at the collegiate level.
Before being an All-Pro wide receiver in the NFL, Terrell Owens briefly took his talents to the hardwood while attending the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga. Owens played for the Mocs in the 1995 NCAA Tournament and averaged 1.3 points that season. Chattanooga ended up losing to No. 2 seed Connecticut in the opening round of the tournament.
Known as one of the most dangerous pass rushers of the past 25 years in the NFL, Julius Peppers doubled as a two-sport athlete at North Carolina. Peppers averaged 5.7 points in two seasons playing basketball in Chapel Hill and appeared in the NCAA Tournament in each of those two seasons. The nine-time Pro Bowler was a part of the 1999-2000 team that made a run to the Final Four and was a reserve after walking on to the basketball team. During the 2000-01 season, Peppers scored 21 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in a second-round loss to Penn State in the 2001 NCAA Tournament.
Antwaan Randle-El was a dual-threat quarterback at Indiana and ended up having a strong career as a wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He also had a brief basketball career playing for legendary head coach Bob Knight. During the 1998-99 season, Randle-El played for the Hoosiers basketball team once the football season wrapped up and averaged 1.5 points. Randle-El appeared in the 1999 NCAA Tournament for the No. 6 seed Indiana, who lost to St. John’s in the second round.
Charlie Ward was a two-sport star at Florida State, where he played quarterback and point guard. Despite having a great deal of success on the gridiron, including a Heisman Trophy and national championship, Ward eventually transitioned to basketball and was drafted by the New York Knicks. While at Florida State, Ward appeared in the NCAA Tournament in three of his four seasons. Ward played for the Seminoles in the 1993 NCAA Tournament in which Florida State made it to the Southeast Regional final before losing to Kentucky. In addition, Ward’s 1992 Florida State team made it to the Sweet 16. During his college basketball career, Ward averaged 8.1 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 3.1 rebounds.
Before becoming a Hall of Fame power-hitting outfielder, Dave Winfield starred on the hardwood at Minnesota. In two seasons with the Golden Gophers, he put together averages of 9 points and 5.8 rebounds and helped Minnesota win the Big Ten Championship in 1972. Winfield appeared in the 1972 NCAA Tournament for a Minnesota team that lost in the regional semifinals.