PRO TEAM: Newcastle Falcons
VITALS: 7'0", 250 lbs.
YEAR DRAFTED: 1997 by Boston (Round 2, Pick 55)
RIGHTS HELD BY: Boston
1997 was supposed to be the year the Celtics finally emerged from the depths of basketball hell they endured since the end of the original Big Three era. Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish carried the torch from John Havlicek and Dave Cowens. Havlicek and Cowens had carried it from Bill Russell. Bill Russell had carried it from Bob Cousy. They tragically failed in their first attempt to have an heir to the throne in 1986 when Len Bias overdosed. Ill fate befell the C's seven years later when the next big thing, Reggie Lewis, passed on from a heart defect. 1997 was supposed to be their next chance at the next great Celtic. That next great Celtic was supposed to be Tim Duncan.
Tim Duncan was as can't miss a prospect as you could want. The Celtics had two picks in the lottery giving them a 36% chance of landing the Wake Forest product. Everyone knows what happened from there as instead of #1, they ended up with picks #3 and #6. Duncan ended up in San Antonio and the franchise's history books were rewritten. The two Celtics draftees, Chauncey Billups and Ron Mercer, managed just 172 games in green and white. Billups and Mercer at least suited up for Boston. Ben Pepper never did.
For some unexplained reason, 1997 saw an unprecedented (and never since replicated) four big Australians drafted. Granted, only one was in the first round (Chris Anstey) but the feat put the Australian NBL on the map for international basketball prospects. Ben Pepper burst on the Australian basketball scene in 1996 with the Newcastle Falcons. He won two pieces of individual silverware in 1997 in the NBL's Most Improved Player and Sixth Man of the Year awards. His early success prompted him to make himself eligible for the '97 Draft. As the cliché goes, you can't teach height and at 7'0" he had plenty of it.
Unfortunately for Ben, there are plenty of tall people in the NBA and the Celtics chose not to offer him a contract. He returned to Australia and had a lengthy career for several teams throughout the continent and New Zealand. There isn't much I could find in terms of statistics from the NBL. Their record keeping is shoddy and that adjective is a kind one. There are bits and pieces and random news articles but nothing definitive to paint a picture of what type of player Pepper was when he was a prospect. His Wikipedia page was the largest source of information but barely any of it is cited. From what little I could gather, Pepper was an incredibly poor man's Ben Wallace. What I couldn't gather was whether or not this picture below was a team photo or a mug shot. Either way it is the last we'll probably ever see of Ben Pepper; unless the rights of this retired Aussie are traded for a future second round pick in June.
Thanks for reading the fifth edition of Draft Rights Retained right here on Bleeding Your Colors! I hope you enjoyed it and look forward to bringing you more wacky stories of players who the NBA has long since forgotten, but not their draft rights. Stay locked for a new profile each and every day until the list is exhausted. For more of me, check out my Twitter
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Image Credit: Booze Less Pepper (thedraftreview.com), Mug Shot Pepper (basketball.realgm.com)