A commitment decision by a top high school recruit can be world-changing for both team and player alike. A transcendent college basketball talent, even if he only stays for one year, can take a team from a treacherous fight for relevancy to national championship contender. For an athlete, a decision of where to play and who to be coached by can mean very different routes of development and style of play, which is sure to show itself when they take their game to the professional ranks.
Prior to a rule change in 2005, top talent was faced with a decision between playing college basketball or declaring for the NBA draft directly out of high school. The stars that took the latter option and entered the draft while bypassing college makes for a very interesting hypothetical question for college basketball fanatics like myself: If these players did attend university, where would they be? I decided to investigate for myself and theorize where some of the stars of today’s NBA would have attended university had they decided to take that path.
Hometown: Los Angeles, California
Amir Johnson, mostly a shot blocker and rebounder at the NBA level, was drafted 56th overall by Detroit, and his fairly limited offensive skillset throughout his career could lend to the narrative that a year of college development would have served him well. An easy choice would be his hometown UCLA squad, where he would play alongside Arron Afflalo, Darren Collison, Luc Mbah a Moute, and Ryan Hollins. However, I think Johnson would have gone to a different hometown program with more opportunity for minutes, and rebounded Nick Young’s missed threes at the University of Southern California.
Hometown: Jackson, Mississippi
Before Golden State nabbed Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, they utilized Monta Ellis in the sharpshooter role. A run and gun offensive player in the truest sense, Ellis’ style of play makes it hard to imagine him playing for a lot of the top coaches in college basketball who preach a slower, more methodical way of attacking — and, well, defense. Hometown schools Ole Miss and Mississippi state might have an edge here, but I think Ellis would have looked perfect going to play for coach Rick Barnes at the University of Texas, where he would have formed an electric backcourt with Daniel Gibson while dropping dimes to LaMarcus Aldridge and P.J. Tucker down low.
Hometown: Freehold Borough, New Jersey
Oh, what could have been. J.R. Smith in college basketball was perhaps a level of awesome we were not prepared for as fans and the basketball gods were therefore forced to withhold him from the highest amateur level in the land. I certainly played around with the idea of Swish staying in the northeast and attending Georgetown, following in the footsteps of fellow volume shooter Allen Iverson. However, even though that 2004 Hoyas team boasted Roy Hibbert and Jeff Green, they didn’t have the success that would have drawn a contested shot-making prodigy of Smith’s magnitude. Instead, I imagine him as a University of Connecticut Husky, playing alongside Charlie Villanueva and trading fadeaway jump shots with Rudy Gay.
Hometown: Atlanta, Georgia
Considering he went #1 overall and has had a great NBA career, I don’t think anyone is saying Dwight Howard made the wrong choice in declaring for the draft. The consensus best player available, Howard would have had the opportunity to play for any school in the country, perhaps going for the allure of the Duke Blue Devils or Kansas Jayhawks, or looking to play alongside an elite point guard like Rajon Rondo at Kentucky or Chris Paul at Wake Forest. However, after returning to his hometown Atlanta Hawks in free agency, he showed he is the type of guy to stay close to home and play for the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, where he would have benefited from playing with an elite backcourt of Will Bynum and Jarrett Jack. This would be a great fit for Howard, assuming they would have a jersey that fit tight enough for Howard’s specifications.
Hometown: Lake Wales, Florida
Considering the immediate impact Stoudemire had on the NBA as an 18-year-old, it’s safe to say he would have been the predominant big man in college hoops had he gone to a D1 program. His athleticism would have looked great in the middle of Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone at Syracuse, and if he had joined his home state Florida Gators he could might have been able to form the most juxtaposed front court of all time with future Spurs sharpshooter, Matt Bonner. However, after watching him play next to Steve Nash for so many beautiful years in Phoenix, I think it’s fair to say he’ll realize he needs to play next to a top-notch point guard to reach his full potential. That means Point Guard University, otherwise known as the University of Arizona Wildcats. If he went to Tucson, he would have played with extremely talented point guard Salim Stoudamire, and the Stoudemire-Stoudamire pick and roll would wreak havoc on opposing defenses with broadcasters trying to differentiate the similar-sounding surnames. The Wildcats roster also included Andre Iguodala, Luke Walton, and Channing Frye, so it isn’t far fetched to say Amar’e would be drawn to being a Wildcat.
Hometown: Akron, Ohio
Considering it was a foregone conclusion LeBron would be headed right to the Association out of high school, we never had much of a chance to think about what college recruitment for LeBron would have looked like. He has spoken about his admiration for Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, so playing alongside Luol Deng and J.J. Redick could have been in the cards. Michigan State was an amazing team at the time, and it’s very easy to imagine LeBron and coach Tom Izzo connecting over a mutual love of basketball and football. He could have teamed up with the player of the year, Jameer Nelson, at Saint Joseph’s, where future teammate Delonte West also played. Unfortunately for these other schools, LeBron’s love of hometown Ohio State has been well documented, and he could have seen this as an opportunity to turn his home school around, as the Buckeyes were a meddling 7-9 in the Big Ten conference play the year before he was drafted. And Jim Tressel’s squad wouldn’t have offered any stars for LeBron to join. However, as we all know, LeBron loves his hometown and he loves a challenge, so I have to think he would have gone to Ohio State.
Sons Of Naismith is a column on NCAA Basketball from a Canadian perspective.
Year 15 | A Mini Documentary
Something Out of Nothing
It’s March 2016, and I’m driving with Alan Shane Lewis to Montreal to meet with Marc Griffin and Phil Boileau. We’re meeting to speak about this exciting new idea I pitched to them. We were tired of spinning the wheels on our own individual internet shows, and I told them that it was time we stopped waiting for a network and became the network.
We spoke that weekend about creating a community of content creators that all loved ball and came together to make unique content with unique voices – voices we felt were never heard in the mainstream. This community was the base of Press and we’d continue to push forward from that spot. We spoke about some amazing show ideas, article ideas, social media plan. It was truly an exciting time, and still one of the best weekends of my life.
Two years later and that group is a lot smaller, and that idea is Press Basketball.
It caught fire at the beginning and we had people joining our bright shiny new plaything left, right, and center. It was exciting, but now I kind of realize that a lot of it was just that we were that “bright shiny new thing”.
We ended up with a lot of Press Basketball “members” but when I stepped back and looked at what was happening… it wasn’t what I’d imagined. The fire burned out. The idea was gone. We had just become another thing trying to stay alive, waiting for some deus ex machina to show up with money and make everything okay.
I’ve gone through most of my life making something out of nothing. It’s never easy, but when it happens it’s always worth it… ALWAYS. Press made me feel alive at a point. It was literally all I could think about, and while it still is on my mind, it doesn’t make me feel alive. This hurts more than I can ever explain.
Changes are coming my friends. We’re not laying down and dying, and if we do it’s not going to be like this.
The core of Press will be setting fire to a lot over the next few weeks and I personally can’t wait for this to start. From the ashes something new will rise (I watched a lot of XMEN growing up).
Stay tuned, because it’s not over.
Lonzo Ball: The New Face of the Lakers
Lonzo Ball is the new face of the Los Angeles Lakers franchise. The new savior. The Big Baller Brand is now here to stay and LaVar Ball’s family’s future is set. But is that enough?
Lonzo Ball is a great kid and athlete who knows his talent will take him to another level. The major question mark that remains is whether or not he will take the Lakers there as well. He has the platform and skillset to do so, but with that comes the added pressure from the city and league to basically become part of the next version of Kobe and Shaq. It’s too strainful for a young kid—a rookie—to achieve.
Magic Johnson, the recently named President of Basketball of Operations for the Lakers, is taking an aggressive approach to get this team back into playoff contention his first year in. One of his first moves was sending D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov to the Brooklyn Nets for Brook Lopez and the 27th overall pick. Brook Lopez is definitely an upgrade at center, but has a couple of years already under his belt.
Lopez will provide a much needed veteran presence with a great IQ for the game at his position. The only downfall is that a couple of years under his belt doesn’t really transfer to great experience, but simply wasted miles on his body. He isn’t as quick as he used to be and doesn’t even rank in the top 10 centers in the league. In fact, Bleacher Report had him last season at exactly 15 out of the top 30 centers in the NBA. While he is has improved by adding the three-point range to his arsenal, there is no doubt that he is nearly past his prime, and although he can still contribute on a nightly basis, who knows how much and what effect it will have with Lonzo Ball running the point.
Ball has great court vision that has been often compared to that of LeBron James. Combined with his passing skills, he is a true PG with tremendous upside in the backcourt. With that being said, he will only reach a certain extent. His full potential is years from being maximized and people are buying into it early on. In fact, the pressure for him to lift a sub .500 team to the playoffs for the first time in five years is daunting.
These are Lonzo Ball’s stats during his rookie—and only—year at UCLA:
- 14.6 Points
- 7.6 Assists
- 6.0 Rebounds
- 1.8 Steals
- 0.8 Blocks
- 55.1 FG%
- 41.2 3P%
He did a tremendous job maintaining that statline and even added a triple-double in the NBA Summer League, earning him the Summer League MVP.
Don’t get me wrong, Ball seems ready for the challenge and is definitely a one-of-a-kind talent mirroring that of Steve Nash and Jason Kidd, but he is not an All-Star or MVP—at least, not yet. These way-too-early predictions that he is the Lakers’ new savior are farfetched. He has yet to face the elite NBA offensive threats and superstars that have been at it for 10-plus years. Defensively speaking he will not be able to keep up. Not in his first year. He still needs NBA experience and a more rounded roster to be able to reach the playoffs.
He is off to a good start, but being named NBA Summer League MVP doesn’t necessarily mean a spectacular season is coming as some think it does. Especially if you consider the previous Summer League MVP winners.
|2012||Damian Lillard (co-MVPs)||PG||Portland Trail Blazers|
|Josh Selby (co-MVPs)||PG||Memphis Grizzlies|
|2013||Jonas Valančiūnas||C||Toronto Raptors|
|2014||Glen Rice Jr.||SG||Washington Wizards|
|2015||Kyle Anderson||SF||San Antonio Spurs|
|2016||Tyus Jones||PG||Minnesota Timberwolves|
|2017||Lonzo Ball||PG||Los Angeles Lakers|
With the exceptions of Damian Lillard in 2012 and Jonas Valanciunas in 2013, the past five Summer League MVP winners have gone on to produce very mediocre NBA careers. All I’m saying is, don’t read too much into NBA Summer League. It’s the pre-preseason that no one really watches or cares about.
The NBA season is nearing—exactly a month away—and my somewhat harsh criticism of Lonzo Ball isn’t too cruel. I am just not ready to jump on the Ball bandwagon following LaVar’s prophecies of his son being the Lakers prodigal son. He won’t be. Again, at least not yet. He needs to earn his spot and the transition will surprise him his first year in. It will hit him hard, but, despite my concerns, eventually Lonzo Ball will become a future NBA All-Star and a daring NBA point guard.
Not yet though, and until then all we can do is prepare for his official NBA debut. Until then, we can enjoy and bask in his newly released rap single paying tribute to his little brother LaMelo Ball.
If the NBA doesn’t end up being his calling in life, at least he has a back up career in mind.
Year 15 | A Mini Documentary
An Ode to the 2007-2008 Warriors
USA VS EVERYBODY | The Break | Episode 17
Trading Places | The Break | Episode 18
February Fouls | The Break | Episode 16
Christmas Day Showdowns | The Break | Episode 10
Western Conference Preview | The Break | Episode 1
Eastern Conference Preview | The Break | Episode 2
NBA & More Mailbag with Josh Howe — TWT 102
Memphis Grizzlies Season Preview with Keith Parish — TWT 101
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