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Sons Of Naismith: What If They Didn’t Go Straight To The NBA?

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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.

Amir Johnson

Hometown: Los Angeles, California
Class: 2005

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.

Monta Ellis

Hometown: Jackson, Mississippi
Class: 2005

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.

J.R. Smith

Hometown: Freehold Borough, New Jersey
Class: 2004

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.

Dwight Howard

Hometown: Atlanta, Georgia
Class: 2004

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.

Amare Stoudemire

Hometown: Lake Wales, Florida
Class: 2002

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.

LeBron James

Hometown: Akron, Ohio
Class: 2003

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.

Eric hails from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. His blend of sports and comedy has landed his words on ESPN, Bleacher Report, CBS Sports, and others. He loves zone defences, the extra pass, and a 30 second shot clock. Eric scribes a column called Sons of Naismith, looking at NCAA basketball from a Canadian perspective.

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Ride The Wave

Back in October the sky was the limit. LeBron had decided to move to LA and join the Lakers. Things were good then.

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Back in October the sky was the limit. LeBron had decided to move to LA and join the Lakers, drawing in a decent support team and a lot of talk that the West was looking incredibly dominant next to a “weaker” East. Things were good then.

Five months later and things couldn’t be farther from that idylistic picture. The East thrived without the King and GMs put together some of the most noteworthy teams in a while. And the Lakers? The Lakers currently sit in the 11th spot of the Western Conference with very little hope of making it to the playoffs. They’re a team that is constantly attacked for their lack of chemistry, skill, and effort. For the first time in a long time, LA became synonymous with “hopeless”.

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The answer is unfortunately, yes. It’s always going to be this way, and there is no fighting the current, but there is beauty in riding the wave. Embracing that moment when the wave comes crashing down on you is important, because it’s always going to happen, but your attitude will always be remembered. LeBron rides high, and keeps things in the positive light for the media, but he’s got to realize that they are writing his story, and he doesn’t have to play into their’s. Ride the wave, and take the loss in stride with all the great that has come with it, but take the loss because your part of a team that is.

The wave has crashed down, but the current will bring another.

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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.

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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.

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