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 career prematurely, "T-Mac" became an NBA All-Star and household name over the years.

    T-Mac committed to the Kentucky Wildcats before entering the 1997 NBA draft.

    Therefore, as a freshman Wildcat he would have likely been a sixth man for a team that was filled with future NBA talent. UK, in reality, won the 1998 NCAA championship.

    So instead I will focus on the 1998-99 season.

    Most may argue T-Mac would have been a one-and-done player either way. However, I think the appeal of winning another championship this time as a starter keeps him in college one more season.

    Out of the nine losses the Wildcats had, I think with some extra scoring and defense on the roster several of those losses would not have happened. T-Mac does not make this an undefeated team. What he does, if at his best, is take control of games when needed.

    I also think T-Mac would be the difference in the two regular season losses against Tennessee. By winning both games, UK wins the SEC East instead of the Volunteers. They may also win the SEC tournament as well (which actually happened).

    At best, I see UK moving up to a two seed in the 1999 NCAA tournament. In my scenario they end up as a two seed in the West region with UCONN as opposed to a three seed in the Midwest Region.

    The Wildcats with T-Mac, in my opinion, could have defeated Gonzaga. So the Zags rise would be halted until the next tournament. UK would have enough experience to knock off top seed UCONN as well.

    With UCONN out of the picture, I think Duke defeats UK in the championship game.

Al Harrington: Seton Hall or Georgia Tech 1998-2001

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    If Moses Malone, Darryl Dawkins, Bill Willoughby and Kevin Garnett all go to college, there are several players who could have filled the void of being the first successful NBA prep-to-pro player.

    Al Harrington is not one of those players. Granted he was a McDonald's All-American and four-time All-State selection. Nevertheless, if you look at where he was picked in the 1998 NBA draft then you know NBA teams did not necessarily think he was ready.

    Therefore, Harrington should have gone to college.

    My belief is he would have chosen to stay home and play for Seton Hall, which would have somewhat improved them as a team. I see the Pirates becoming a 20 or 20 plus win team in both 1998 and 1999 as opposed to twice finishing with a 15-15 record.

    If he stays until his junior season, Harrington has the opportunity to play with what was the No. 2 recruiting class in the nation. The class consisted of Eddie Griffin, Andre Barrett and Marcus Toney-El.

    I think head coach Tommy Amaker could alter the starting lineup by sliding Al Harrington over to small forward, while letting Eddie Griffin man the power forward position.

    If Harrington, Griffin, Darius Lane, Andre Barrett and Samuel Dalembert are on the court together you have A LOT of scoring and defense to watch out for.  Bring Ty Shine and Marcus Toney-El off the bench and I think Seton Hall is a better team in 2000-01.

    In fact, I think they could have been quite competitive in the Big East.

    They end up either as a NCAA tournament on-the-bubble team who either barely gets in or comes extremely close but ends up in the NIT instead.

Rashard Lewis: Kansas or Florida State 1998-2001

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    The University of Houston was rumored to be a front runner for Rashard Lewis until they fired head coach, Alvin Brooks. As a result, he reportedly dropped them from consideration.

    I see him eventually choosing to be Paul Pierce's replacement at Kansas.

    I also do not see much changing with the Jayhawks during Lewis first season. However, the 1999-2000 Jayhawk team is a different story.

    Nick Collison, Drew Gooden, Kenny Gregory and Jeff Boschee were the team's leading scorers. However, they had more weapons than that.  Eric Chenowith proved he could lead the team during the previous season. Kirk Hinrich did not break out until his sophomore season, but could have probably played well given more playing time. Luke Axtell was a decent role player as well.

    Adding Rashard Lewis to this bunch brings all the pieces together. Granted the Big 12 was indeed tough during that season, heck even Iowa State was a great team. Still, I think they could have done better than a 24-10 record.

    KU seems like it should have been a two or three seed in the 2000 NCAA tournament with or without Lewis on the roster. They stand a stronger chance at an Final Four or championship appearance, however, with Lewis.

    Since the team basically remained intact the following season, Lewis could be convinced to stay one more season and attempt another championship run. The Jayhawks likely win the Big 12 during the 2000-01 season as well.

Jonathan Bender, Travis Outlaw, and Monta Ellis: Mississippi State

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    Had Jonathan Bender, Travis Outlaw and Monta Ellis chose college over the NBA, Mississippi head men's basketball coach Rick Stansbury's face would look similar to this.

    Bender, Outlaw and Ellis were tremendous talents coming out of high school. Outlaw and Ellis would have potentially played on the same team.

    Bender, on the other hand, would have played as a freshman on a team that featured Tang Hamilton and Derrick Zimmerman. Mississippi State finished with a 14-16 record during the 1999-2000 season. That record improves by at best 5-8 wins with Bender (barring any injury to him).

    Perhaps with a better seeding in SEC tournament, the Bulldogs advance to the semifinals or championship game of the tourney. Either way they still earn a berth in the NCAA tournament.

    Jonathan Bender was probably already considering the NBA after a stellar senior season (23.1 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks) at Picayune High School in Mississippi. But he was convinced when he scored 31 points in the McDonald's High School All-American game, breaking Michael Jordan's record.

    Therefore, I see him staying with the Bulldogs only one season; two if his freshman season does not go well or he wants to try and help them win conference and NCAA championships.

    Travis Outlaw was the 23rd pick in the 2003 NBA draft. There was so much talent in this particular draft I'm not sure why Outlaw did not just wait a year or two to enter.

    Here is why that would have been a good decision: if Mississippi State has the same 26-4 team they had in 2003-04, adding Outlaw to that bunch probably makes them undefeated until the SEC tournament. They likely lose in the championship game if Kentucky is the opponent. However, the Bulldogs would still hold claim to the SEC regular season championship.

    Mississippi State, by virtue of a 27-1 record, earns the top seed in the St. Louis Region (which went to Kentucky in reality). Depending on how far the team goes and how well Outlaw does, his draft stock improves. This would allow Outlaw to move up into the 6-15 pick range.

    If Outlaw somehow stayed until his junior season and Monta Ellis stuck with his commitment to the Bulldogs in 2005, you are looking at another dangerous Mississippi State team.

    The actual roster featured Jamont Gordon, Charles Rhodes, Jamall Edmonson, Dietric Slater, Walter Sharpe and Reginald Delk. Put Outlaw and Ellis on this roster and Coach Stansbury has a championship-caliber team.

    Honestly, I believe every opponent would have struggled to beat this team at their best. They likely win either the SEC West, SEC tournament or both. They also advance far in the 2006 NCAA tournament.

    Without Outlaw on this team, Ellis still could have helped lead the Bulldogs to a better record and an NCAA or NIT tournament appearance.

Darius Miles: St. John's 2000-2001

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    St. John's 2000 recruiting class would have consisted of Darius Miles, Omar Cook, Willie Shaw, Kyle Cuffe, Abe Keita and Mohamed Diakite. The addition of Miles could have made the Red Storm a better team than what they actually were in 2000-01. However, it would have not mattered.

    Miles is one of those cases where I would agree that jumping from high school to the pros was a great decision. 

    Abe Keita confessed to receiving $300 a month all four seasons from a member of the St. John's coaching staff. As a result, whatever potential accolades the Red Storm achieved with Miles during the 2000-01 season (Miles likely enters the 2001 NBA draft, so the other seasons affected by punishment do not apply to him) would have been forfeited.

    That is why playing for Mike Jarvis at St. John's would have been a bad decision. Still college could have worked out if Miles had signed with the right type of school.

DeShawn Stevenson: Kansas 2000-2003

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    DeShawn Stevenson, whether he wanted to or not, was going to choose to enroll at Kansas over the NBA. It was reportedly what his mother wanted. Not many players go against their parent(s) wishes.

    Stevenson averaged 30.4 points, 9.7 rebounds and 6.2 assists a game his senior year at Washington Union High School. Then Kansas Jayhawks head coach Roy Williams called him the "most gifted recruit ever".

    Stevenson choose the Jayhawks over UCLA, UCONN, Kentucky and Fresno State. Had he chose to stay home and play with UCLA, Stevenson would have played on a team that featured Earl Watson, Matt Barnes, Jason Kapono and Dan Gadzuric. Possibly Tyson Chandler as well if he stuck to his commitment in 2001.

    The Jayhawks achieved the following without Stevenson: a Sweet 16 appearance, NCAA Final Four appearance and a runner-up finish in the 2003 NCAA tournament championship game.

    Those teams had Drew Gooden, Jeff Boschee, Nick Collison, Kirk Hinrich, Wayne Simien and Aaron Miles leading the way.

    Those teams could have also had the added production of Stevenson and Rashard Lewis (for reasons I explained earlier). I see Korleone Young (if he signs) already gone by this point.

    A starting five of Boschee, Stevenson, Lewis, Gooden and Collison during the 2000-01 season and a starting five of Boschee, Stevenson, Simien, Gooden and Collison during the 2001-02 season makes the Jayhawks a potential championship or runner-up type of team.

    I can boldly state that without a doubt they still make it to the 2003 championship game and come out victorious.

    The only reason this did not happen is because Stevenson was ruled ineligible after the Educational Testing Service noticed a problem with his SAT scores and red-flagged it. Stevenson took the test a second time and received well below the NCAA minimum of 820.

    Therefore, he entered the 2000 NBA draft.

Tyson Chandler: UCLA 2001-2002

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    Tyson Chandler, like Moses Malone, Darryl Dawkins and Kevin Garnett, possessed the size and skill coming out of high school that NBA team owners want on their team.

    Even if Malone, Dawkins and Garnett had been convinced to enroll in college, Chandler still would have jumped to the NBA. So it would not have mattered if he stuck to his verbal commitment to Steve Lavin and UCLA. He would have likely left after one season anyway. A potentially good season nonetheless.

    UCLA finished with a 21-12 record (11-7 record in the Pac-10) and an appearance in the Sweet 16.

    I think a starting five of Cedric Bozeman, Jason Kapono, Matt Barnes, Dan Gadzuric and Tyson Chandler with a decent enough bench slightly changes their season.

    A Pac-10 regular season or conference championship becomes a stronger possibility. There would not have been an NCAA championship game appearance. An Elite Eight or Final Four appearance seems better. It depends mostly on which region they ended up playing in.

    Chandler seems like the type who got caught up in his rising fame. He earned accolades from Parade Magazine and USA Today

    Chandler won a state championship as a senior at Dominguez High School. He averaged 26 points, 15 boards and eight blocks a game.

    His decision to enter into the 2001 NBA draft was far from a bad decision. If there was any time to enter, it was 2001. Six of the top ten picks were big men. Five of those picks were either a high school player or a one-and-done player.

    The 2001 draft was simply low on talent. So in that regard, Chandler was pretty smart to enter.

Kendrick Perkins and Amar'e Stoudemire: Memphis

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    I am far from ever being a fan of John Calipari, but the man knows how to recruit and land the talent he desires.

    The 2002-03 Memphis Tigers would have featured Amar'e Stoudemire, Rodney Carney, Antonio Burks, and Earl Barron. Without Stoudemire, the Tigers finished 23-7 overall and 13-3 in Conference USA. They also earned a 7th seed in the NCAA tournament and lost in the first round to Arizona State.

    With Stoudemire, I think they go undefeated in conference play and win the C-USA regular season championship AND the C-USA tournament.

    That means the losses to South Florida, Southern Mississippi, St. Louis and Louisville are wiped from the history books. I think the regular season loss to Austin Peay can be erased as well, but we keep the lost to Missouri. So that makes Memphis 30-1 heading into the 2003 NCAA tournament, which earns them either a one or two seed.

    Having Stoudemire as an extra option in the front court could have also helped take pressure off Earl Barron and allowed NBA scouts to truly evaluate his ability.

    Can you also imagine the possibility of Kwame Brown entering the 2002 NBA draft and replacing Stoudemire as the Phoenix Suns selection with the 9th pick? Steve Nash can work wonders for the career of an NBA big man.

    The 2003-04 Memphis Tigers would have featured Stoudemire (if he does not enter the 2003 NBA draft), Kendrick Perkins, Rodney Carney, Antonio Burks and Sean Banks (the 2004 C-USA Freshman of the Year).

    These five guys plus a supporting cast of Jeremy Hunt, Anthony Rice and Duane Erwin would have led to another undefeated record in the C-USA and a repeat as conference champions. I also think they make it to at least the Elite Eight or Final Four.

    Stoudemire and Perkins enter the 2004 draft after the season.

    If Dwight Howard goes to college, I predict the Orlando Magic takes Emeka Okafor and Stoudemire goes 2nd to the Los Angeles Clippers (if they do not trade the pick as they did in reality). Perkins, on the other hand, goes to the Atlanta Hawks with the 6th pick.

Lebron James: Ohio State 2003-04

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    Lebron James did not commit to any school before entering in the 2003 NBA draft. I think, however, Ohio State would have been his choice.

    OSU has not won a championship in basketball since 1960. A collaboration between the once labeled "Ohio Golden Boy" and the Buckeyes may have brought them one; similar to what James tried to do as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

    When James went to the NBA, Ivan Harris became Jim O'Brien's key signee of 2003. 

    Signing Harris AND James would have gave OSU a top recruiting class, but it might have been the top overall class if the other star Ohio recruits, Brandon Foust and Drew Lavender, signed as well.  

    You end up with the starting line-up of Tony Stockman (led OSU in points during the 2003-04 season), JJ Sullinger, Lebron James, Terence Dials and Velimer Radinovic. Brandon Fuss-Cheatham, Brandon Foust, Drew Lavender and Ivan Harris would be key contributors off the bench.

    Sullinger, James and Dials would be the "big three" of this group.

    If everybody plays their part and Lebron James' media distractions (we all know there would have been many) do not cause the team to lose focus, this is hands down the 2004 NCAA National Champions.

Sebastian Telfair, Amir Johnson and James Lang: Louisville

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    During the 2003-04 season, Louisville only had three players over 6"7. Those players were Kendall Dartez, Otis George and Nouha Diakite. Only Dartez and George received significant minutes per game. So the Cardinals needed size.

    James Lang at 6"10 fit the mold, but had actually decommitted from UL. However, he was reportedly still considering them. He was likely advised to keep his options open since Lang had committed early. Hometown school UAB was rumored to have tried to convince him to stay in Alabama. Kentucky was after his services as well. Nevertheless, I think he still ends up with the Cardinals.

    Fransico Garcia, Luke Whitehead, Taquan Dean and Larry O'Bannon provided most of the UL scoring during the 2003-04 season. All they needed, in addition to size, was a skilled big man who possessed what Lang had.

    If Lang plays similar to how he did in high school, the Cardinals become a dangerous team. Their seeding in the 2004 NCAA tournament changes, and as a result they advance (barring an upset) to the Sweet 16 or Elite Eight. Or with favorable matchups they could have went further.

    Sebastian Telfair would have joined the team in 2004. Taquan Dean was the starting point guard. Therefore Telfair spends his first two seasons as the primary backup or possibly at shooting guard. 

    The starting lineup likely is Dean, James Lang, Larry O'Bannon, Francisco Garcia, and Ellis Myles. The bench consists of Telfair, Juan Palacios, Otis George and Brandon Jenkins.

    If this is the Louisville Cardinals rotation headed into the 2005 NCAA tournament, this is either the eventual champions or runner-up.  Or they become discussed as a team that did not live up to their potential. Rick Pitino would have the right mix of scoring, size and experience to achieve a championship.

    James Lang enters the 2005 NBA draft. Sebastian Telfair remains in hopes to increase his draft stock.

    Amir Johnson, in my scenario, joins the team and replaces Lang. However, in real life UL head coach Rick Pitino was unsure if Johnson was still enrolling there.

    "Well, I haven't heard too much from Amir Johnson. All the other guys are calling me constantly and I don't hear too much from him. So, I don't know about that one," Pitino said.


    But continuing with the "what if he does not enter the draft" argument, Johnson becomes either an immediate starter or key contributer off the bench. David Padgett is likely a solid starter at the center position. So Johnson competes with Juan Palacios for minutes at the power forward position.

    I think Coach Pitino goes with a starting lineup of Taquan Dean, Sebastian Telfair, Terrence Williams, Juan Palacios and David Padgett as well as Amir Johnson and Brandon Jenkins being the first off the bench.

    Telfair and Johnson add some scoring help that Louisville was missing during the 2005-06 season, which would allow the team to win more games. It also gives the Cardinals an appearance in the NCAA Tournament instead of the NIT. However, they would still sorely be in need of more offensive weapons and not go far in the tourney.

Earl "J.R" Smith Jr. : North Carolina 2004-2007

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    The 2004-05 North Carolina Tar Heels team technically did not need J.R Smith. After all, they were loaded with talent and became the 2005 NCAA champions.

    One thing I am sure of is this: Smith would have been a spark plug off the bench. Perhaps he also takes away minutes from a player who was a key contributor during that season. Anything is possible.

    Roy Williams ended up losing seven players from the 2004 championship team (only three were seniors). That is why I think Smith would have stayed for his sophomore season.

    The 2005-06 UNC team finished 23-8 and made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament where they fell victim to George Mason's Cinderella run to the Final Four.

    JR Smith is a proven scorer. So he would have fit in nicely with Tyler Hansbrough, David Noel and Reyshawn Terry who led the Tar Heels in scoring that season. However, I do not think this team gets past the Sweet 16 in the 2006 NCAA tournament unless they get a couple of favorable matchups or the team gets hot and goes on a run. They simply lost too much talent from the previous season.

    I think a talented 2006 recruiting class featuring Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington, and Brandan Wright is enough to convince Smith to return for one more season. Without Smith, the 2006-07 team was good enough to earn a spot in the Elite Eight. With Smith, I think they have the extra spark to get back to the championship game.

Shaun Livingston: Duke 2004-2005

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    The 2003-04 Duke Blue Devils were two points away from being in the 2004 NCAA championship game. So you would think Luol Deng returns for his sophomore season, but he cashed in on his breakout season and entered the 2004 NBA draft.

    If Deng returns and Shaun Livingston joins the team to replace Chris Duhon who graduated, Mike Krzyzewski is looking a championship-caliber team. What Krzyzewski is also faced with is two straight one-and-done players if Livingston had enrolled at Duke. 

    Elton Brand, Corey Maggette and William Avery left Duke before graduating just a few years earlier. I am positive losing Deng AND Livingston early and back-to-back would not have looked good for Krzyzewski's reputation as a coach. The recent early departure of Kyrie Irving has surely brought unwanted questions about whether or not Duke is becoming a one-and-done school.

    Back to the topic, if Livingston starts his freshman season at Duke, it would not have been at point guard. Krzyzewski would have likely used Livingston's 6'7" height at a different position. Most likely shooting guard or small forward.

    Therefore you end up with two possible starting lineups. Daniel Ewing, J.J Redick, Shaun Livingston, Sheldon Williams and Shavlik Randolph or Daniel Ewing, J.J Redick, Lee Melchionni, Sheldon Williams and Shavlik Randolph.

    The 2004-05 team without Livingston finished 27-6 and lost in the Sweet 16.

    Prior to his horrific knee injury while playing with the Los Angeles Clippers, Livingston showed signs of developing into a decent player. I think playing for Krzyzewski would have helped him reach that potential sooner rather than later.

    We would have saw that during his freshman season at Duke. There are certain games he could have made a difference in. I think, however, Duke would not go far in the 2005 NCAA tourney. But their fate in the 2006 tourney would change if Livingston had been a part of that team.

Dwight Howard: Georgia Tech or North Carolina 2004-2005

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    Former Georgia Tech men's head basketball coach Paul Hewitt and current GT baseball coach Danny Hall are left to wonder how their respective seasons may have changed if Dwight Howard had been a student-athlete at their school.

    Dwight Sr. stated GT would have let his son, who was also a star pitcher at Southwest Christian, play both basketball and baseball.

    If any team needed Dwight Howard it was the Yellow Jackets.

    Luke Schenscher, Jarrett Jack, B.J. Elder, Will Bynum and Isma'il Muhammad were good enough to lead GT to a 2004 NCAA championship appearance and a second round appearance in the 2005 tourney.

    Just imagine if they had Howard during the 2004-05 season. They would have without a doubt had a better record and maybe are winners of the ACC. With a better seeding in the tournament, the possibilities of what could have occurred are endless.

    Considering all the talent GT lost after the '05 season, I see Howard entering the 2005 NBA draft where he goes to Milwaukee with the first pick or Atlanta, who works out a block buster trade with the Bucks to gain the rights to Howard.

    I am sure North Carolina baseball coach Mike Fox would have welcomed Dwight Jr. to pitch for his team as well. If he enrolled at UNC, we already know he would have become a part of the team that won the 2005 NCAA championship.

    The lineup with Howard includes him and Tyler Hansbrough at center and power forward, respectively. Reyshawn Terry, David Noel and Danny Green are the other starters. I think J.R Smith could be convinced to stick to his UNC commitment if Howard had committed as well. In that regard, he would replace Green in the lineup.

    It gets interesting thinking about a possible repeat during the 2005-06 season. Maybe even a "three-peat" the next season. Howard has enough talent and potential that would have allowed him to stay all four seasons and still become a top five NBA draft pick. But I think as a Tar Heel, he would leave after his junior season.

Al Jefferson: Arkansas 2004-2005

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    Ronnie Brewer, Jonathon Modica and Olu Famutimi were the stars of Arkansas men's basketball team heading into the 2004-05 season.

    With incoming freshman Darian Townes and Al Jefferson in control of the front court, Stan Heath could have had a team to watch out for in the SEC. In fact, I see them finishing 2nd in the SEC West with four or five more conference wins (they actually finished fourth in the SEC West, 6-10).

    If Kentucky still wins the SEC East, a similar situation would happens in this scenario as it did in the actual 2005 SEC tournament. Arkansas, like LSU who was the actual two seed in the SEC West, loses to the Wildcats.

    A 22-8 or 23-7 record earns the Razorbacks an at-large berth in the 2005 NCAA tournament. Al Jefferson likely enters the 2005 NBA draft after the season, where he becomes a top ten pick.

    Jefferson may be considered a guy Mississippi State men's basketball coach Rick Stansbury was happy to see become a prep-to-pro player. Losing recruits to the NBA is bad, but losing an elite in-state recruit to a fellow SEC school is worst. 

    I think a lot of schools recruiting Jefferson offered him whatever it took to sway his decision. Stan Heath likely took the fatherly "I want the best for you" approach. People may say I am reaching with that statement (probably a lot of things in this slideshow as a whole).

    Here is why I say that: Jefferson lost his father at an early age. His role models were Laura and Gladys Jefferson, Al's mother and grandmother. However, it is said nobody ever took over the void created by losing his father.

    Stan Heath, could have been that guy. He even has two sons of his own. I believe that is what would have led Jefferson to choosing Arkansas over other schools.

Gerald Green: Oklahoma State 2005-2006

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    After losing seven seniors from the previous season, Oklahoma State men's basketball team were in rebuilding mode during the 2005-06 season.

    Head coach Eddie Sutton brought in a highly-regarded recruiting class that featured three 5-star recruits: Gerald Green, Byron Eaton and Keith Brumbaugh as well as, four 4-star recruits: Roderick Flemings, Kenneth Cooper, Jamaal Brown and Terrel Harris. Torre Johnson and Mario Boggan were 3-stars.

    Gerald Green and Keith Brumbaugh, unfortunately, did not play for the Cowboys. Brumbaugh did actually enroll at OSU. However, problems with his ACT made him ineligible to play.

    Green took his talents to the NBA, but dropped to the 18th pick of the 2005 NBA draft. Most say he would have been drafted higher had Green not decided to only give individual workouts for teams with the first six picks prior to the draft.

    Interestingly enough, the two 3-stars, Johnson and Boggan, led the Cowboys in scoring during the 2005-06 season. However, the team struggled and finished 17-16, which was good enough to earn them a spot in the NIT.

    I think Sutton's off-the-court problems were actually what hurt such a talented team. At his best, Sutton could have taken them far. How far is anybody's guess.

    Gerald Green, if he lives up to his potential and hype, would have taken control of this team and help achieve a NCAA tournament at-large berth. There was enough support available to make it reality. Mario Boggan, JamesOn Curry and Torre Johnson proved they could score. Bryon Eaton could score as well if the ball was put in his hands.

    Green remains with the Cowboys only one season before going pro.

Martell Webster: Washington 2005-07

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    The Washington Huskies were Brandon Roy's team around the time Martell Webster would have enrolled. With Roy and Webster primarily playing at shooting guard, Webster would have had to come off the bench.

    I think Webster ultimately chose the NBA over college because the thought of playing in the role of sixth man at UW would perhaps hurt his rising draft stock. Basically he could either be a top-ten pick as a prep-to-pro player and gain a huge contract or he could go to college and possibly experience a draft-day slide in whichever one he decided to enter.

    Nevertheless, the Washington Huskies were a great team during the 2005-06 season. Their season concluded with an overtime loss to the UCONN Huskies in the NCAA tournament. One can only imagine if Webster could have made a difference in this game. Or what if UW would have not even played UCONN at all?

    Perhaps Webster provides something extra to the Huskies basketball team and they draw higher than a five seed and play in the Oakland or Minneapolis Regional instead of the Washington, D.C Regional.

    Lead scorers Brandon Roy, Bobby Jones and Jamaal Williams graduated after the 2006-07 season. Lorenzo Romar had a good team the following season, but lacked someone who could fill the void left by Roy. That player could have been Martell Webster.

    The starting lineup would be Webster, Justin Dentmon, Quincy Pondexter, Jon Brockman and Spencer Hawes. In this scenario, they would have enough firepower to win several games they lost that particular season.

    The only problem with this team would be the bench. So if they do qualify for the 2007 NCAA or NIT Tournament, UW would not go far.

Andrew Bynum: UCONN 2005-07

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    Jim Calhoun's 2005-06 UConn squad was loaded with talent. The roster featured big men like Josh Boone, Hilton Armstrong, Rudy Gay and Jeff Adrien. So it seemed pretty smart for Andrew Bynum to enter the 2005 NBA draft.

    I think with Bynum you could alter the starting lineup and rotation to satisfy everyone. Bynum and Hilton Armstrong could have split duties at center. Josh Boone and Jeff Adrien split duties at power forward. Rudy Gay focuses mainly on being a small forward, while occasionally sliding over to power forward when needed.  

    The talent UConn actually had could not avoid an upset by George Mason University in the 2006 NCAA tournament. Had Bynum been there George Mason probably still wins. UConn had the size and to most people the better talent. GMU had a smaller team size-wise. Yet they came in unafraid and felt they could win.

    What if, however, that game never happens? What if having Bynum on the team is the difference in both the Villanova loss in the regular season and the 2006 Big East Conference tournament?

    Perhaps UConn dominates Syracuse from the start in their conference tournament game, and the roles are reversed. The Orange become the ones who have to stage a comeback. Unlike UConn, I do not think they had the talent to pull it off. Gerry McNamara was good, but not good enough to help achieve that feat.

    If UConn wins the Big East conference championship, I think they overtake Duke as the overall top seed in the 2006 NCAA tournament.

    Where Bynum most benefits the team is the 2006-07 season. Coach Calhoun lost eight players from the previous season; among them Rudy Gay, Denham Brown, Marcus Williams, Hilton Armstrong and Josh Boone.

    So indeed they were basically starting over. I think Bynum, who has proven himself as a legit big man in the NBA, could have used this season to solidify how good of a player he truly is or is not. UConn needed a team leader with eight freshmen on the roster. Jeff Adrien became that guy. Bynum could have co-led those leadership efforts.

    The issue during the 2006-07 season was this: only three players emerged as their offensive weapons. The team as a whole did not seem to gel in the way Calhoun had hoped. Jerome Dyson was the only freshman who truly stepped up.

    I think with Bynum they could achieve a few more wins and reach the NIT tournament.

C.J Miles: Texas 2005-07

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    C.J Miles actually spent what would have been his freshman and sophomore season at Texas playing in the NBA Developmental League.

    While that likely means he was not NBA ready, it does not mean he would have struggled on the collegiate level. I think Miles has the potential and talent to add to the Longhorns during the 2005-2008 seasons.

    The 2005-06 season featured P.J. Tucker, LaMarcus Aldridge and Daniel Gibson as the team's star players. They made it all the way to the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament but lost in overtime to LSU.

    Texas also experienced blowout losses to Tennessee and Duke during the regular season. I do not think having Miles on the team changes that. He is not that good. I do think, however, he could have made a difference in the close conference losses to Oklahoma and Texas A&M. In that regard, the Longhorns win the Big 12 outright instead of tying with Kansas.

    The Big 12 tournament championship game could go either way. Kansas actually won it. So I will say that still happens.

    Texas was good enough to make it to the Final Four or championship game without Miles. What stopped them was a LSU defense that held the Longhorns to a 30.4 percent shooting performance and a stand-out performance by the Tigers' star Glenn "Big Baby" Davis. Even Miles could not prevent that from happening.

    The following season P.J Tucker, LaMarcus Aldridge and Daniel Gibson were gone to the NBA. Then entered Kevin Durant, Damion James and D.J Augustin. Plus we witness the rise of sophomore A.J. Abrams. Miles with this core is just as exciting as the last one.

    Durant, Augustin and Abrams provided the scoring and excitement for the Longhorns during 2006-07. Outside of them, Rick Barnes' did not have a true scoring threat. That is likely why they lost eight games in the regular season, including several games that went into overtime.

    If teams could key in on two of their three main offensive weapons and make the more defensive orientated guys step up, Texas was without a doubt going to lose. Durant could not do everything.

    This is why I like what Miles brings to the table. He becomes that fourth option teams have to watch out for. If Texas has him during the 2006-07 season, their amount of wins increases thus they receive higher than a 4th seed in the NCAA tournament.

    This team becomes a certain Final Four participant or the possible 2007 NCAA tournament champions.