The NBA enacted a one-and-done rule in 2005, forcing players to be at least one year removed from their senior year of high school before entering the draft. If past stars were forced to abide by that rule, where would they have played college ball and what would their impact have been? We examine.
Kevin Garnett (Michigan)
“The Big Ticket” was said to be picking between Michigan and Maryland back in 1996 before he decided to enter the NBA draft due to poor test scores and a skyrocketing draft stock. If he had gotten the test scores to get into Michigan, it’s easy to imagine a return to the “Fab Five” days of black socks, baggy shorts and tons of trash talk.
Led by Louis Bullock and Robert “Tractor” Traylor, the 1997 Wolverines won the NIT title. Now imagine them with Garnett in the middle. While the NCAA tournament was chalked full of NBA talent at the time, it’s easy to picture UM winning the Big Ten instead of Minnesota and going all the way to the Final Four in place of the Gophers.
Kobe Bryant (Duke)
Bryant fulfilled his dream of playing for Coach K when the two won a gold medal at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Bryant told GoDuke.com that it was a long time coming. If he had gone to college, he definitely would have done so in Durham. We couldn’t say it better than Bryant did himself while at the Olympics.
“There’s no maybe about it,” Bryant told GoDuke.com. “Every time I turn on the TV and see Cameron Indoor Stadium, see everybody in Krzyzewskiville and see the Crazies jumping up in down with the intensity and the building almost shaking, I wonder what it would have been like to play there with Corey (Maggette) and Elton (Brand) and all those guys.”
If Bryant would have been on the 1996-97 squad instead of being picked in the ’96 draft, he would have joined a team led by Trajan Langdon and Jeff Capel that fell in the second round to Providence and God Shammgod. With “Black Mamba,” we picture the Blue Devils going all the way to the Elite Eight where they would have been knocked off by eventual national champion Arizona.
If Bryant had stayed until ’99 to play with Maggette? Well, let’s just say Duke wouldn’t have fallen four points short of a national title to UConn.
Jermaine O’Neal (North Carolina)
A highly recruited McDonald’s All-American out of Columbia, South Carolina, O’Neal was the apple of the ACC’s collective eye. He fared well against Tim Thomas – considered the top prospect in the nation – at the 1995 ABCD Camp, and his star rose even further. O’Neal then averaged 22.0 points, 12 rebounds and 5.0 blocks during his senior year in high school and was named South Carolina’s Mr. Basketball. He was recruited by UNC, Clemson and hometown South Carolina as well as Kentucky.
The uber-talented, 6-foot-11 O’Neal had a decision to make, and he chose the NBA. Multiple reports said that he had poor SAT scores, which discouraged him from college entrance. Despite trepidation about making the leap right out of high school, he did so in emulation of Garnett, a fellow South Carolina high school star.
But if O’Neal had gone to campus, we see him Carolina blue. It would have been hard to stay away from a Tar Heels team that featured Vince Carter and Antawn Jamison. UNC went to the Final Four in 1997 in what would have been O’Neal’s freshman season, where they shockingly lost to a Utah team without Keith Van Horn. If Carter, Jamison and O’Neal had team up, not even the ’97 Arizona team featuring Mike Bibby could have stopped Carolina’s March to a national title.
Tracy McGrady (Kentucky)
Imagine McGrady playing at Rupp Arena as a freshman in the 1997-98 season? Tubby Smith’s group might have won the national title. Wait a minute … it already did, but that’s where McGrady said he would have gone if he hadn’t skipped college to enter the 1997 NBA draft. It was a good decision for McGrady, who became a seven-time NBA All-Star and two-time scoring champion. However, McGrady said he “regrets” not getting a chance to participate in March Madness with the Wildcats, according to mlive.com.
“If I was going to go to college, I was going to go to Kentucky,” he told the website in March. “So that’s the team I root for throughout this time of the season.”
Kentucky’s 35-4 record that season – thanks to future NBA players Nazr Mohammed and Jamaal Magloire – would have been even better if he had gone to Lexington. Who knows? The Cats might have even gone undefeated.
Amar’e Stoudemire (Memphis)
In a 2002 interview, before he had played an NBA game, Stoudemire told the Phoenix Suns’ website that he would have taken his talents to Memphis to play for coach John Calipari. He said the Tigers “would have had a good recruiting class there.” Yeah, Stoudemire would have made it so. He instead averaged 13.5 points and 8.8 rebounds while starting all 82 games for the Suns en route to the 2002-03 Rookie of the Year, an award he won over Caron Butler and Yao Ming.
It was Calipari’s second year at Memphis, which he led to the NIT title in his first campaign. In 2002-03, the Tigers went 23-7 but lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament to Arizona State. Center Chris Massie led the team in scoring, and freshman forward Rodney Carney was a big contributor. Add Stoudemire to that frontline and the Tigers would have been a behemoth in March and likely made the Sweet Sixteen.
LeBron James (Ohio State)
By now, it’s clear that the relationship between LeBron and the fans of Ohio is irrevocably damaged. But LeBron makes it clear that he’s still a fan of Ohio State, which he picked to win the 2011 national title. Apparently, the feeling is mutual – or at least, it was. Ohio State gave LeBron a framed Buckeyes jersey prior to a 2009 preseason game that was held at OSU’s arena for his generosity in supporting the school’s athletics. OSU was the first school to wear LeBron James apparel. James also is the go-to guy for the press whenever it needs a comment about something going on in Buckeye land.
The 2003-04 Buckeyes finished just 14-16 but with the King in the mix, who knows how good they could have been? It seems like an automatic that James would have propelled Buckeyes to the NCAA tournament but once there, he probably would have been a no-show for the final 12 minutes of the team’s first round game. Burn!
Dwight Howard (North Carolina)
Howard could end up being the last top overall pick to go directly from high school to the NBA. He was selected No. 1 in 2004 out of Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy. He would have had all the SEC and ACC schools hounding him.
Superman says he would have taken his cape to Chapel Hill to play for the North Carolina Tar Heels. He said so himself in 2009 on his website, dwighthoward.com. He wrote a blog post prior to the 2009 national championship game between Michigan State and UNC. And which team would he be rooting for?
“If I had gone to college, it would have been Carolina,” he wrote. “So go Heels tonight.”
If Howard were a freshman for the 2004-05 season, he would have joined a squad featuring Raymond Felton, Rashad McCants and Sean May that won the national title and went 33-4. If you added Howard to that mix, the ’05 squad could have gone down as one of the greatest teams in college basketball history next to 1973 UCLA, 1976 Indiana and 1996 Kentucky.
Monta Ellis (Mississippi State)
Ellis is known for being a soft-spoken, down-home Mississippi boy. But when he was on the court in high school, he took no prisoners. Ellis once scored 72 points in a game while playing for Lanier High School. According to some reports, he had committed to Mississippi State, but that’s unconfirmed. He instead decided to enter the 2005 NBA draft, in which he was selected in the second round by the Golden State Warriors.
Needless to say, Ellis would have been a godsend for the 2005-06 Bulldogs, who finished the season at 15-15. Coach Rick Stansbury would have ridden one of the best scorers in the NBA right now to shatter the record books and reach the Big Dance, although it’s hard to imagine them advancing very far