A scoring and rebounding machine at Marquette, Kojis averaged 12.2 points and 5.6 boards in 12 NBA seasons, making two All-Star Games. His top single-season scoring average was 22.5, but he played most of his career with lousy teams.
State high schools haven't exactly flooded the NBA with talent over the last 70 years, but Wisconsin has produced a few all-stars, 20-point scorers and NBA champions.
For much of the time since the NBA took its current form, however, there was one conspicuous absence from the list of the top 10 NBA players from the state: Anyone from a Madison high school.
Indeed, until former Madison Memorial star and current Milwaukee Bucks starting guard Wesley Matthews came along, Madison high schools had produced no NBA players of consequence. And Matthews, in his 11th NBA season after going undrafted out of Marquette, is climbing the state's top-10 list year by year.
Prior to Matthews hitting it big, Madison was no factor in supplying the NBA with players. Central's Joe Franklin (1968) and La Follette's Gary Anderson (1974) and Rick Olson (1986) were drafted by NBA teams after playing at the University of Wisconsin, Franklin and Anderson in the fifth round and Olson in the seventh. None made an NBA roster, however.
West's Reece Gaines offered hope as a first-round draft pick in 2003 after a stellar career at Louisville, but he played just three seasons in the league, scoring 123 points in 71 games. Memorial's Vander Blue went undrafted after leaving Marquette in 2013, then played in 10 games over three NBA seasons, scoring 30 points.
And that's it for Madison preps. The rest of the state's top 10 NBA players hail from elsewhere, elsewhere meaning the Milwaukee area.
What follows is a subjective top-10 list of state players with the best NBA careers:
10. Don Kojis, 6-5, Milwaukee Notre Dame, Class of 1959
9. Jim Chones, 6-11, Racine St. Catherine's, 1969
In 10 seasons, including two in the ABA, Chones had 9,821 points for a 12.5 average, with a high-water mark of 15.8. He joined Johnson, Brown and Butler as NBA champions from state high schools when he started at power forward for the Los Angeles Lakers in 1980.
8. Devin Harris, 6-3, Wauwatosa East, 2001
The dependable point guard played 15 seasons, averaging 10.8 points and 3.9 assists per game. He scored 10,597 points and tallied 21.3 per game in his best season. Harris made one All-Star team.
7. Wesley Matthews, 6-5, Madison Memorial, 2005
Matthews claimed a starting role as a rookie and has 10,366 points in 11 seasons. Of all the undrafted players in NBA history, only David Wesley (11,842) and John Starks (10,829) have scored more points than Matthews and his 13.2 career average is No. 1. Matthews is a reliable 3-point shooter, an elite defender and has a high basketball IQ, which this season allowed him to fit in seamlessly with the Bucks, who had the NBA's best record when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the season. A title would immediately push Matthews several spots up the list.
6. Nick Van Exel, 6-1, Kenosha St. Joseph, 1989
A scoring point guard during his 13 NBA seasons, Van Exel rolled up 12,658 points for a 14.4 average, with a season-best of 18.4. He averaged double figures in every season except his last one and made one All-Star team.
5. Caron Butler, 6-7, Racine Park, 1998
Butler was in detention centers as a youth and finished at a prep school but was all-state as a junior at Park. A top-notch wing scorer and defender during 14 NBA seasons, Butler scored 12,430 points, was twice named an All-Star and won a title with Dallas in 2011, though a knee injury kept him out of the playoffs. He averaged 20.8 points in his best season and 14.1 overall.
4. John Johnson, 6-7, Milwaukee Messmer, 1966
Johnson led Cleveland in scoring his first two NBA seasons but ultimately made his mark as a smooth all-around player who could shoot, pass and defend. A small forward, he scored 11,200 points and made two All-Star Games in 12 seasons, averaging 12.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game. Playing with Brown, a boyhood friend, Johnson was a starter on Seattle's 1979 NBA champion.
3. Terry Porter, 6-3, Milwaukee South, 1981
For a player of humble beginnings (he played at UW-Stevens Point), Porter had the longest NBA career (17 years) of any state player. A point guard, he scored 15,586 points for a 12.2 average, with a season-best of 18.2. He also averaged 5.6 assists per game. A two-time All-Star, the rock-solid Porter played in 124 playoff games and averaged 14.7 points in those. His Portland teams twice lost in the NBA Finals.
2. Fred Brown, 6-3, Milwaukee Lincoln, 1967
"Downtown" Freddie Brown played his entire 13-year career with Seattle, most often as a sixth man who came off the bench firing from deep. He scored 14,018 points for a 14.6 average, with a best season of 23.1 per game. He made one All-Star Game and was a key contributor on the Sonics' 1979 NBA championship team.
1. Latrell Sprewell, 6-4, Milwaukee Washington, 1988
He's a lightning rod for criticism, especially after he was suspended for choking Golden State coach P.J. Carlesimo, but Sprewell was a terrific all-around talent. He averaged 18.3 points, 4.1 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.4 steals per game over 13 seasons. Of players from Wisconsin, he had the highest career scoring average, the most career points (16,712), the highest single-season scoring average (24.2), the most seasons averaging 20 points (four), the most seasons averaging double figures (13) and the most All-Star Game appearances (four).
Contact Tom Oates at firstname.lastname@example.org.