January 11, 2004

Yinka Dare: 1972-2004. Friday was a sad day for longtime Nets fans as their 1994 first-round draft pick Yinka Dare passed away at the age of 32, the result of a heart attack. Keith and I have fond memories of watching Yinka play Rutgers in the Atlantic 10 tournament back when he was at George Washington University. He was the 1993 tournament rookie of the year, and the 7-foot Yinka was a man among boys.

He would soon become a bust among busts, as he left school early and was drafted #14 in the first round by the Nets, perhaps the worst draft pick of a team which has had quite a few bad ones. He would play four seasons with the Nets, averaging a miniscule 2.1 points and 2.6 rebounds over the course of 110 games. He perhaps became best known outside of New Jersey for his complete inability to get an assist, going the entire 1995-96 season without one. It's not that centers are supposed to be big assist guys, but usually they grab a few rebounds and kick the ball out to the perimeter, picking some up almost by accident; Dikembe Mutombo, for example, has 22 so far this season. By comparison, when Dare finally registered an assist it was a Sportscenter highlight.

But it was hard to get too angry with Yinka. First of all, there was that name, so fun to say (the last name is pronounced "dah-ray"), even when talking about how dumb the Nets were for drafting him. Hell, this was the mid-90's Nets; if it wasn't Yinka they'd have just taken some other bust project. Plus, Yinka always seemed pretty happy to be out there, smiling as though any actual points he scored were just a bonus, and I guess they might have been for a guy discovered sitting on a bench in Nigeria, then was brought to America and given millions of dollars for being tall. Following his NBA career he did return to play for the Nigerian team in the 1998 World Championships, picking up 24 rebounds and 21 points in three games. He also had five assists in those three games, surpassing his career NBA total, so perhaps he had not yet reached his full potential when he was bounced from the league.

While I never really bought the occasional Yogi-like quote attributed to him (like him being asked about Beirut and responding with comments about the great home-run hitter, or believing Jayson Williams that the "C" on Christian Laettner's jersey stood for "Caucasian" instead of "Captain"), I was very happy to have had Yinka on my team. Hundreds of players have passed through the NBA unnoticed over my lifetime, pretty much all better than Yinka, but how many were still able to bring a smile to my face years after their careers ended? He will be missed.
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