With no video available from his senior season with the 1987-88 Oklahoma State Cowboys to this day, John Starks‘ collegian career still stays pretty enigmatic. More than three decades later, retired NBA scout Al Menendez, who served as a Director of player personnel for the Indiana Pacers since 1988, recalls that Starks had tried out for the Pacers following his senior collegian season!
“He was a complete unknown; he didn’t make a name for himself at all in college. He was a complete sleeper.”Al Menendez
Just before Menendez was about to take his trip west with the primary aim of seeing the 1988 US Olympic team in Colorado Springs, he received a call from Starks’ Cincinnati-based agent Ron Grinker. The agent, who also represented the University of Kansas star, forward Danny Manning, tried to persuade Menendez to alter his planned schedule and first pay a visit to Stillwater, Oklahoma. There he would witness his client skills at the All-Star game between the Oklahoma State alumni and that year’s team.
Grinker’s 22-year old client, shooting guard John Starks, traveled a lot in his college career. After enrolling at Rogers State College in 1984, Starks transferred to Northern Oklahoma College. After being expelled from Northern Oklahoma, Starks enrolled Tulsa Junior College in 1986, and then bounced to Oklahoma Junior College, before settling at Oklahoma State University for his senior season.
In his only season for Cowboys, Starks starred alongside another future NBA player, forward Richard Dumas. Appearing in 30 games for 14-16 squad, Starks averaged 15.7ppg, 4.7rpg, and 4.6apg.
Starks agent even made a room reservation for Menendez. But heady as always, Menendez stuck to his priority when going to the Olympic trials, set in Colorado Springs, home of USA Basketball. Menendez then decided to consult his superior, longtime President of basketball operations, Donnie Walsh. Menendez made it clear:
“I had to stay in the Olympic trials. There’s was too many kids there that were going to be drafted. I couldn’t leave.”Al Menendez
However, Walsh showed interest in what Starks’ agent eventually said to Menendez. Menendez proposed to Walsh that they should at least bring Starks for a tryout. And they ultimately did.
“So, we did, we brought him for a tryout. First practice, he broke his ankle, we don’t see anything. We let him go, forgot all about him. Next thing, I know he is playing for the Knicks and is doing a good job.”Al Menendez
After failing to make a 1988-89 Pacers team as Reggie Miller substitute, Starks eventually signed a free-agent deal with the Golden State Warriors. However, the Warriors released him, and he went on to CBA, where he starred for 1989-90 Cedar Rapids Silver Bullets. In the fall of 1990, the New York Knicks picked up the player who shined in the CBA and gave him another chance to find a permanent home in the NBA. Starks became an All-Star in 1994.
The rest is history. The fierce battles between Knicks’ John Starks and Pacers’ Reggie Miller were undoubtedly crucial triggers of the legendary 1990s Knicks vs. Pacers rivalry. If Starks had joined the Pacers, and Miller, NBA history would today be much more different.