Rags-to-riches stories, we love them in sports.
For all the high school basketball players we recognize early on as future superstars, we can’t forget the others whom no one expected to enjoy NBA fortunes.
The development of prospects comes at different times, often from the least-expected places. When you consider where these players are now, their humble basketball beginnings are a big part of their individual stories.
First, there must be some criteria when ranking five of the best rags-to-riches stories in recent memory.
There is plenty to consider, including the combination of NBA impact and how improbable of an NBA future the player had in high school.
Some rules: No NBA first-rounders allowed. Each player had to have played multiple years or signed at least one multiyear contract with guaranteed money. There are no NBA cups-of-coffee players allowed.
This list includes a pair of players from the Class of 2014 in Illinois — Stagg’s Max Strus and West Chicago’s John Konchar — who weren’t ranked anywhere near the top of a class that included Jahlil Okafor, Cliff Alexander and Tyler Ulis.
We get started with what is arguably the biggest rags-to-riches story on the list: Lockport’s Richaun Holmes. From where Holmes came from as a player and prospect to where he is now stands out above any other current player’s road to the NBA.
Richaun Holmes, Lockport
Road to the NBA: In a span of 10 years, Holmes, who graduated from Lockport in 2011, has gone from a player without a Division I scholarship — and little college interest, period — to an NBA player signing a $46 million contract.
Holmes was an afterthought coming out of high school. In an absolutely loaded class that featured Anthony Davis at the top, Holmes was the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s 87th ranked player in the Class of 2011 — and that was after he was ranked outside the top 100 entering his senior year.
The players ranked in the 80s? Those are Division III prospects.
Holmes was a terrific student with a 29 ACT but was relegated to the junior-college route. He didn’t even sign with a Division I junior college. Instead, he became a star at Division II JC Moraine Valley, where he averaged 19.3 points, 9.3 rebounds and 5.3 blocks.
He then signed with Bowling Green and became the only player in program history with 1,000 points, 600 rebounds and 200 blocks, and he accomplished that feat in just three seasons.
The 76ers took Holmes in the second round with the 37th pick in the 2015 draft.
NBA career: Since being drafted in the second round, where so many NBA dreams still don’t materialize, Holmes has carved out quite a career. The 27-year-old put up his biggest numbers last season with the Kings, averaging 14.2 points and 8.3 rebounds as a full-time starter. He spent three years in Philadelphia and one with Phoenix before finding a fit and home in Sacramento.
In six NBA seasons, he has averaged 9.5 points and 8.3 rebounds. But this season, he’s clearly off to the best start of his career, averaging 14.1 points and 11 rebounds, shooting nearly 70% from the field.
Current contract: Holmes just signed a four-year deal for just over $46 million with the Kings. That dwarfs the $15 million he made in his first six years in the NBA.
Robert Covington, Proviso West
(Portland Trail Blazers)
Road to the NBA: After a solid senior season at Proviso West, where he averaged 18 points and 11 rebounds, Covington was still a well-kept secret in 2009. He was the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s 20th-ranked prospect, yet he flew under the radar and signed with Tennessee State.
Covington was an immediate star in the Ohio Valley Conference. He blossomed early and finished his career as Tennessee State’s seventh all-time leading scorer (1,749 points) and rebounder (876).
NBA career: After going undrafted in 2013, Covington played on the Rockets’ Summer League team and ultimately signed a multiyear contract. The 6-8 forward spent the majority of that first season in the NBA Developmental League but was waived by the Rockets. He then signed a four-year contract with the 76ers.
Now Covington is an NBA veteran who has been a double-figure scorer throughout his eight-year career. His career averages are 12.1 points and 5.9 rebounds, and he has been a legit three-point shooting threat (1,062 career three-pointers).
This season, Covington is averaging 6.8 points and 4.8 rebounds and still is a threat from three-point range.
Current contract: Although he has been moved in trades, Covington is in the final year of a four-year contract worth just under $47 million. He already has made more than $53 million in his career.
Alfonzo McKinnie, Marshall
Road to the NBA: This is a long and incredible road to the NBA, one that no one could have imagined, even during his college years.
The little-known McKinnie was scooped up by Eastern Illinois after a relatively quiet high school career, which started at Curie and ended playing as a senior at Marshall.
After two seasons at EIU, where he averaged 10.2 points and seven rebounds as a sophomore, he transferred to Wisconsin-Green Bay.
While at UW-Green Bay, McKinnie suffered injuries and setbacks, twice tearing his meniscus. He played just nine games as a redshirt junior and then averaged an underwhelming eight points in 21 minutes as a senior. McKinnie finished his college career averaging 7.2 points.
McKinnie went undrafted in the 2015 draft. With options limited, the 6-7 forward headed overseas to join a semipro team in Luxembourg’s second division that played in middle school gymnasiums. He then signed with a Mexican team, Rayos de Hermosillo, in 2016.
McKinnie then paid for his own tryout with the Windy City Bulls. He made the team and in the 2016-17 season became a G League All-Star.
NBA career: The Raptors gave McKinnie a shot in 2017. He floated between the Raptors and the franchise’s G League affiliate. He did appear in 14 NBA games in his debut season but played sparingly.
After being cut by the Raptors, McKinnie signed with the Warriors. Following an impressive Summer League, McKinnie grabbed the final roster spot that season for the two-time defending NBA champions. He ultimately became a key member of the second team, playing in 72 games and averaging 14 minutes.
McKinnie was instrumental in the Warriors’ playoff run that ultimately ended with a 2019 NBA Finals loss to the Raptors.
The Cavaliers eventually signed McKinnie to a multiyear contract. He played 40 games for the Cavaliers in the 2019-20 season, averaging 15 minutes in 40 games, before being traded to the Lakers. He played in 39 games for the Lakers last season.
McKinnie’s career NBA numbers: four points and 2.4 rebounds a game.
Current contract: After his two-year contract ended last season, McKinnie’s total NBA earnings have topped $6 million over four seasons. He’s now playing for Capitanes de Ciudad de Mexico, a pro team based in Mexico City that is a member of the NBA G League.
John Konchar, West Chicago
Road to the NBA: The 6-5 Konchar was an absolute unknown entering his senior year of high school — at least to any college coaches or basketball fans outside the western suburbs. Then he put up monster numbers as a senior.
Konchar did it all, averaging 28.9 points, 14.1 rebounds and 4.1 assists while still not receiving the fanfare he deserved. He finished as the school’s all-time leading scorer and had a 47-point, 24-rebound game against Bartlett.
Konchar’s options were Division II Lewis and Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne.
He went the Division I route, redshirted as a freshman and then continued posting eye-popping numbers during his four-year career.
Konchar became the only player in NCAA Division I since 1992-93 with two seasons of 450 points, 200 rebounds, 150 assists and 60 steals. In four seasons at IPFW, Konchar’s all-around numbers were staggering: 2,065 points, 1,150 rebounds, 554 assists and 272 steals.
NBA career: Despite the massive numbers in college, Konchar was not considered a bona fide NBA prospect. He went undrafted in the 2019 draft. After starting his first season in the G League, Konchar latched on with the Grizzlies on a two-way deal. He certainly made the most of the opportunity.
Konchar played in 19 games as a rookie, and then last season he averaged 13 minutes in 43 games while averaging 4.3 points, ultimately signing an extension with the Grizzlies. He’s playing 14 minutes a game this season, averaging 2.8 points and three rebounds.
Current contract: Konchar signed a multiyear deal with the Grizzlies a year ago, a contract that pays him $9 million through the 2023-24 season.
Max Strus, Stagg
Road to the NBA: The road Strus has traveled from the preps to the pros has been about as unconventional as they come.
The 6-6 Strus was a late-blooming high school player who grew nine inches between his sophomore and senior years. He had a solid high school career but was just starting to blossom as a player when his senior year ended at Stagg.
The recruitment of Strus was slow, particularly at the Division I level. He ultimately signed at Division II Lewis, where older brother Marty Strus had played. Strus was an instant-impact player as a freshman and burst onto the national Division II scene as a star his sophomore year, scoring 52 points in a game and averaging 20.2 points, 8.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists.
Strus transferred to DePaul after his sophomore year. As a senior, he averaged 20.1 points and 5.9 rebounds, and he finished his two-year Blue Demons career with 1,226 points.
NBA career: After going undrafted in the 2019 draft, Strus landed a spot on the Celtics’ Summer League team. It was productive, and he signed a two-way deal with the Celtics but was cut before the start of the season.
Strus signed with the Bulls and saw his first NBA action in the 2019-20 season, appearing in two games.
While playing in a G League game that season for the Windy City Bulls, Strus tore his ACL.
He signed a training camp contract with the Heat, and last season, he played in 39 games, averaging 13 minutes and 6.1 points. This season, his minutes are up to 18 a game. Strus is averaging 5.6 points and shooting 35 percent from the three-point line.
Current contract: Strus signed a two-year contract in August for $3.5 million.