What If High School Stars Went to College: Re-Writing Basketball History

Bleacher ReportContributor IIIMarch 1, 2012

What If High School Stars Went to College: Re-Writing Basketball History

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    We are getting close to another year of March Madness.

    The NCAA tournament is always filled with classic games, unforgettable plays, Cinderella teams and so on.

    I often wonder what college basketball history, (NBA history too, for that matter), would be like if former and current prep-to-pro NBA stars went to college. Certain teams were a player or two away from having a totally different season.

    Although the age limit has been tweaked, the 1971 Spencer Haywood v. National Basketball Association court case made all of this early jumping to the NBA possible.

    What could have been if Moses Malone stuck to his commitment and enrolled at the University of Maryland, choosing college over the ABA in the process? Would anybody else have done it if he did not?

    Malone's decision had it's strongest effect over 20 years later, but it did immediately influence the lives of two players a year after his successful jump to the professional ranks. Then, Kevin Garnett became the leader of the prep-to-pro movement.

    So looking at college basketball from an "in a perfect world" scenario without eligibility and injuries, these are teams who's history as well NCAA tournament history that could have changed with players who skipped college.


Moses Malone: Maryland 1974-1976

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    Had Moses Malone joined the Maryland Terrapins instead of the Utah Stars in 1974, Malone would have played on teams that included John Lucas, Mo Howard, Steve Sheppard, Brad Davis, Lawrence Boston and Albert King.

    Coach Lefty Driesell and his Terps lost to the Louisville Cardinals in the NCAA Elite Eight during what would have been Malone's freshman season. With him on the roster, this becomes a different game and college basketball history potentially changes with a Maryland victory.

    Louisville was led by Junior Bridgeman, Allen Murphy, Phil Bond and Wesley Cox. So there is also a chance that the Cardinals still come away with the victory, but the 96-82 final result changes in a closer game.

    In reality, Maryland went on without qualifying for postseason tournaments from 1976-1978.

    With Malone on the team, Maryland makes the postseason in at least two of those seasons, especially during the 1975-76 season. The Terps lost several close games, and finished with a 22-6 record.

    What happened in the ACC tournament, however, was the most historical aspect of that season. The Virginia Cavaliers won the ACC championship as a 6th seed in the conference tournament and earned a berth in the NCAA tournament. Both were school firsts.

    Virginia achieved this by first upsetting Maryland (a team that had beat them twice in the regular season) in the semifinals and North Carolina in the championship game.

    The Terps were a pretty good team without Malone, but having him during this particular season would have been the difference. Several things could have happened. First, Maryland wins the ACC regular season championship, and earns the top seed in the ACC tournament. Therefore they do not play Virginia, (if the Cavs still upset North Carolina State), unless they defeat North Carolina in the semifinals and advance to the championship game.

    Second, North Carolina still wins the ACC regular season championship. Maryland, remaining as the two seed, defeats both Virginia and North Carolina to win the ACC tournament. Virginia as a result has to wait until 1981 to achieve their first ACC championship and NCAA tournament berth.

Darryl "Hershey" Dawkins: Kentucky 1975-1979

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    Darryl Dawkins is the first of several guys on this list that did not actually commit or sign a letter of intent with a school.

    According to an article by the St. Petersburg Times I came across, the Florida native would have chosen Kentucky over Florida and Florida State. How true that is, I am not 100 percent sure. Dawkins did, however, have the Wildcats on his short list of schools he was interested in.

    Kentucky at the time was coached by Joe B. Hall, a former player and protege of legendary basketball coach, Adolph Rupp.  

    The Wildcats lost six seniors after a 1974-1975 season that concluded with a lost in the NCAA tournament championship game against John Wooden and the UCLA Bruins. Among those seniors were Kevin Grevey, Jimmy Conner, Mike Flynn, Bob Guyette, G.J. Smith and Jerry Hale.

    Their combined 56.5 points and 22.1 rebounds a game were to be replaced by Dawkins, Bill Willoughby (the next man on this list), Bob Fowler, Pat Foschi, Dwayne Casey, and Joey Holland.

    Dawkins and Willoughby instead ended up choosing the NBA, while Foschi transferred after one season to the University of Minnesota.

    Dawkins genuinely seemed to desire to play college basketball, but cited family financial hardship as his reason for joining the 1975 NBA draft. The successful transition of Moses Malone from high school to the pros may have also played a major role in his decision.

    If Malone goes to Maryland, Reginald Harding becomes the only example of how a high school to pros transition would turn out. We all know, or should know, how bad Harding's career turned out.

    Thus, Dawkins is faced with the decision of becoming the first player to jump directly from high school to the NBA. Eventually, in my opinion, he decides to delay the NBA and go to college.

    What happens to Kentucky basketball history as a result is detailed more in the next slide.

Bill Willoughby: Kentucky 1975-1979

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    Bill Willoughby is well-known for two reasons. He was one of the three original basketball players to jump directly from high school to the NBA. He was also the first and only person to block, as pictured, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's famous "skyhook".

    Willoughby signed a letter of intent to play for the Kentucky Wildcats, but his desire was to play for the North Carolina Tar Heels.

    It was Bob White, Willoughby's coach at Dwight Morrow High in Engelwood, N.J., who convinced him to sign with the Wildcats.

    When NBA owners began expressing heavy interest in high school talent due to Moses Malone's success, White convinced Willoughby and his family to apply for the 1975 NBA draft. The rest is history.

    Kentucky, unlike Maryland, ended up being highly successful without their star high school signee, Willoughby, and potential signee, Darryl Dawkins. They won the 1976 NIT championship and a NCAA championship two years later.

    Had the duo enrolled at Kentucky, however, the Wildcats 1976 NIT championship is replaced with an appearance in the NCAA tournament. The Wildcats also win a NCAA championship the following season instead of actual champ Marquette. A bold statement, I know.

    It was stated (refer to the article on the Dawkins slide) that Dawkins would have been moved from center to the power forward position if he came to Kentucky. That is why there is uncertainty if Dawkins actually picks the Wildcats.

    Another question is, who would have been the starter between Willoughby, who also played power forward, and Dawkins? How would playing time have been split? 

    Either way, with four talented big men on the roster (Rick Robey and Danny Hall being the others) Kentucky would have possessed one of the most dominate frontcourts in college basketball history. 

Kevin Garnett: Depaul 1995-1997

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    Ronnie Fields, a teammate of Garnett's at Farragut Academy High School and McDonalds All-American, had planned to attend Depaul. Since Fields was a junior, the plan seemingly was for Kevin Garnett to enroll at Depaul in 1995. The talented duo, who had become close friends, would re-form a year later.

    Their head coach, William Nelson, was quoted as saying, "He (Garnett) is not thinking of going pro... He wants to prove that those saying he can't make it academically are wrong. Going pro would be more cop-out than anything."

    Unfortunately, Garnett did not achieve a qualifying ACT score that would have allowed college enrollment. So technically the NBA was not chosen over college, he simply saw no other option.

    If Garnett does in fact receive a qualifying score from the start and enrolls at Depaul in the fall of 1995, he would have been an immediate starter for the Blue Demons. Kevin Garnett was such a high-caliber talent, he could have single-handedly changed their fate. His freshman season at Depaul would have showcased that.

    By his sophomore season, the Blue Demons could have attracted other talented players to join Garnett.

    If this happens, several other things are certain: Depaul's 11-18 and 3-23 records in the 1995-96 and 1996-97 seasons, respectively, would not be in the history books. Joey Meyer would have remained as head coach a little longer. Depaul basketball would also hold several Conference USA champions.

    Corey Maggette (Duke), Frank Williams (Illinois), Michael Robinson (Purdue), Melvin Ely (Fresno State) and Marcus Griffin (Illinois) stand out as highly recruited in-state talent that signed with other Universities during what have been Garnett's tenure at Depaul.

    Of course Garnett's desire was likely to play again with Fields. Tragically, Fields was involved in a car accident that ended his basketball career. So in that regard, Garnett might have chosen to either enter the 1996 NBA draft or play one to two more seasons for Depaul in honor of Fields.

    The duo together plus a decent supporting cast would have made Depaul a scary team.

Kobe Bryant: Duke 1996-1999

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    Kobe Bryant recently said there is no maybe, he would have enrolled at Duke University after graduating from Lower Merion High School.

    Bryant had a B average and scored a 1080 on the SAT, which ensured he would qualify for college.

    It is guaranteed that a lot of teams recruiting Kobe probably knew, or suspected, his favoring of Duke. To them, that would be like the rich getting richer, because the Blue Devils without a doubt would have dominated college basketball and added more championships with Bryant.

    The 1997-98 and '98-99 Duke Blue Devils basketball teams were already great. With Bryant, there was no stopping them. The 1996-97 edition would have been pretty good as well.

    Therefore, other schools had to do everything possible to prevent Mike Krzyzewski from landing another high-caliber talent.

    While I do think the allure of playing in the NBA early was too tempting for Bryant, the deciding reason may have had something to do with his father, Joe.

    Check out this quote from Bryant during a 1996 interview: "People say that I was under pressure. The real person who was under pressure was my father... He was catching it from every angle."

    That "pressure" Bryant referred to may have come from a combination of Joe's alma mater, La Salle, working heavily to convince their assistant coach at the time to make sure his son would don an Explorers uniform; as well as job offers and loads of money being directly thrown at the Bryant family.

    La Salle and head coach Speedy Morris needed a recruit of Bryant's caliber to not only help bring the basketball program back to prominence, but to draw other top recruits. The Explorers had not witnessed a winning team since the 1992-93 season. After finishing with a 6-24 record in 1996, things could only get worst.

    That is probably why the relationship between Morris and Joe Bryant had grown sour. In fact, Joe resigned a week after his son announced the NBA decision.

    Whether Kobe was ready or not, jumping to the NBA provided a solution that made everybody, except perhaps Krzyzewski, happy.

Jermaine O'Neal: South Carolina, Clemson or Kentucky 1996-1997

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    Imagine this. A South Carolina Gamecocks basketball team with BJ McKie, Melvin Watson, Larry Davis and Jermaine O'Neal.

    A Clemson Tigers basketball team with Greg Buckner, Terrell McIntyre, and Jermaine O'Neal.

    Lastly, a Kentucky Wildcats basketball team with Scott Padgett, Ron Mercer, Nazr Mohammed, Jeff Sheppard, Jamaal Magloire, Derek Anderson and Jermaine O'Neal.

    Between the three scenarios, I see O'Neal ultimately choosing to stay home and play one season for South Carolina.

    He would have been a part of the team that won the SEC East in 1997 and were upset by 15th seed Coppin State in the NCAA tournament. I think with O'Neal, losses to teams like UNC-Asheville, Charleston Southern and Georgia may not happen. The SEC tournament loss to Georgia, on the other hand, may indeed still happen. As a result, the Gamecocks would head into the NCAA tournament 27-4 instead of 24-7.

    Although I predict Kentucky still winning the SEC tournament, the Gamecocks would have likely received the top seed that the Wildcats earned in the NCAA tournament. So the upset by Coppin State may still exist, but South Carolina would not have been the victim.  

Tracy McGrady: Kentucky 1997-1999

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    Despite a serious knee injury that nearly ended his ca