It’s March of 1997 and the 6’7″ 260 lbs Danny Fortson just capped off his junior year as a Bearcat. Coming off a tough 67-66 loss to Iowa State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Fortson led the way for the Bearcats against the Cyclones posting a team high 16 points in that second round game. He had his eye on bigger things though, Fortson would soon declare for the NBA Draft forgoing his senior year in Clifton.
Three years earlier the Philadelphia native was heavily recruited by Michigan and UMass before committing to the UC Bearcats. He came to Clifton a tough 240 pound scorer and left a 260 pound tenacious force.
The game against Iowa State wasn’t a fluke. Fortson averaged 21.3/9.1/1.1 a game that season. The two-time Conference-USA Player of the Year capped off an impressive career by being named a first team All-American by the Associated Press, Basketball Times, Basketball Weekly, National Association of Basketball Coaches and the Basketball Writers Association.
Forston put in work from the jump at Cincinnati. As a freshman he averaged just over 15 points and 7.6 rebounds a game. He took his game up a notch as a sophomore averaging 20.1 and 9.6 a game. Fortson left Cincinnati with 1,881 points in three seasons, behind only Oscar Robertson. Fortson’s career scoring average was 18.8, that ranks fourth in Bearcats history. He ranks sixth in field goals, third in field goal percentage (56.5), and second in both free throws made (571) and free throws attempted (769).
Great players show up in big games. In Cincinnati there’s hardly a bigger game than the Skyline Chili Crosstown Shootout. His sophomore year the Bearcats forward put up 40 points and 17 rebounds leading the Bearcats over the Muskies 99-90.
That same season the Bearcats would peak at #3 in the AP poll and march to the Elite Eight before dropping one to Mississippi State 73-63.
The man made the cover of two Sports Illustrated magazines.
Today, only Oscar Robertson (2,973 points), Sean Kilpatrick (2,145), Steve Logan (1,985) and Deonta Vaughn (1,885) are ahead of Fortson on the all-time scoring list. Oscar is the only other player in the top 5 to play for only 3 years.
Former Bearcats head coach Bob Huggins was quoted as saying this about Fortson,
“Danny wasn’t much of jumper but he had the heart and an incredible desire to be great. The things Danny did to prepare himself were better than anyone I ever had… He ended up being a great (college) player and a great pro because he put the time in.”– Bob Huggins in an interview with Bluegoldnews.com
Fortson would be inducted into the University of Cincinnati James P. Kelly Athletics Hall Of Fame in 2015 and the Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame in 2016.
Now, flashback to March of 1997 when he declared for the NBA Draft. In 3 months he’d go #10 overall in the NBA Draft to the Milwaukee Bucks. He’d go on to play in the NBA for 10 seasons with Denver, Boston, Golden State, Dallas and Seattle before retiring in 2007.
Did things change for Fortson one he played at the highest level? He didn’t miss a beat. In three seasons with Golden State he averaged a double-double. In the ’98-’99 season he finished fourth in the NBA averaging 11.6 rebounds a game. The three guys ahead of him were Chris Webber, Charles Barkley, and Dikembe Mutombo.