March Madness offers us excitement in so many different ways. Nothing can top the buzzer beaters and Cinderella stories, but the heroics of unique individual talents can certainly come close. Buddy Hield has been the star of this tournament, dropping 117 points thus far en route to the Final Four.
Kobe Bryant happened to take in some of the Sweet Sixteen action from the stands on Thursday night — watching Hield and the Sooners down Texas A&M followed by Oregon’s win over Duke (the school Kobe would have attended had he went to college).
A light went off in my head. Surely Kobe wouldn’t change a thing about his career. But, man … it would have been fun watching him play in the NCAA Tournament.
So who are the greatest players we wish we could have seen perform on the March Madness stage most?
10. Klay Thompson
Washington State (2008-2011)
Unlike his fellow Splash Bro, Klay never got the chance to be the darling of the tournament. In just three seasons at Washington St. Thompson was able to become the school’s third all-time leading scorer, and eventually was a lottery pick by the Warriors. Everything is working out pretty nicely for Klay right about now, but it would have been exciting to see him get the chance to put that jump shot on display on the March Madness stage.
9. Damian Lillard
Weber State (2008-2012)
Obviously, Dame was severely under-recruited to say the least. But it’s shocking that in four years at Weber St. Lillard was unable to get his team into the big dance. He had two good chances but lost the conference championship game to Montana both times, losing an automatic bid. Talk about an upset alert had Lillard gotten in one year. Weber could have been a potential 16-seed too and Dame could have really challenged for the first ever upset of a 1-seed if he caught them off guard.
8. Dirk Nowitzki
Would Have Attended: Kentucky (1998-1999)
Dirk was drafted as a 20-year old out of Germany, but did consider college hoops. He went on a visit to Kentucky before eventually deciding on the NBA. The Wildcats were already stacked that season with Tayshaun Prince and Jamaal Magloire and wound up losing in the Elite Eight. He was young and raw, but tough to say a talent like Dirk doesn’t get that team into the Final Four.
7. Amare Stoudemire
Would Have Attended: Memphis (2002-2003)
Amare was set to play at Memphis under Coach Cal along with other freshman studs, Rodney Carney and Antonio Burks. Amare went on to win Rookie of the Year over Yao in the NBA, so it’s safe to assume he would have been a MONSTER in the college game. Memphis was a 7-seed in the 2003 tournament already, but had Stoudemire been there, his team could have challenged Carmelo’s eventual championship squad at ‘Cuse.
6. Tracy McGrady
Would Have Attended: Kentucky (1997-1998)
Well this one would have been fun. Kentucky had won the ’96 championship, was runner-up in ‘97 and then won again during the season T-Mac would have been a freshman anyway. Antoine Walker, Ron Mercer, Walter McCarty and Tony Delk had all left for the league after the first title, so the ’98 team didn’t have much strength on the wing. It won behind their strong four-man rotation of bigs — Nazr Mohammed, Jamaal Magloire, Michael Bradley and Scott Padgett. McGrady would have brought some obvious excitement to this team that was already elite. Would he have stayed? Would KY have won more titles with T-Mac and T-Prince?? Would Dirk have joined them the follow year??? I need to know!
5. Dwight Howard
Would Have Attended: UNC (2004-2005)
Dwight was never set on college and always planned on going to the NBA. Makes perfect sense, he was the top overall pick during a time when making the jump was at its peak. However, if he had to go to college for some reason, his choice was UNC. Good thing this didn’t happen because it would have been too unfair. The Tar Heels won the title anyway in 2005 with four other first-round picks on their roster — Ray Felton, Rashad McCants, Marvin Williams and Sean May. Add Dwight to that lineup and WOW. Maybe UNC goes undefeated for the title, which would have been fun since they took on Deron Williams’ undefeated Illinois team in the final.
4. Kevin Garnett
Would Have Attended: DePaul (1995-1996)
A number of schools are rumored to have been KG’s choice, but his plan was to go to DePaul along with Ronnie Fields (one of his high school teammates). We don’t actually know what Garnett wanted to do because he never academically qualified for college, so the NBA was his only choice. DePaul probably missed out more than any of these other schools because they weren’t even in the conversation during this time period. Had Garnett attended, not only would he have taken them to new heights, but surely would have attracted more talent. KG developed pretty quickly in the NBA, but he would have been a blast as a one-and-done during this time frame. It was rare, but Stephon Marbury and Shareef Abdur-Rahim both did it that season and were top-5 picks in 1996.
3. Yao Ming
College was never even an option for Yao. He was pressured to enter the 1999 NBA draft, but kept playing in China until 2002 before becoming the clear-cut top pick in that year’s draft. Yao won a championship in his final year with the Shanghai Sharks, averaging 38.9 points and 20.2 rebounds during the playoffs. Who knows where he would have played and what those numbers would have looked like in college, but I wouldn’t have minded finding out. Considering how talented Yao was when you take away his foot injuries, I have a hard time believing he couldn’t have led a team to an NCAA title at a young age.
2. Kobe Bryant
Would Have Attended: Duke (1996-1997)
Kobe actually admitted recently that UNC was on his mind with the chance to play with Vince Carter and Antawn Jamison, so I guess I should mention that option. However, Kobe has said for years that Duke was his choice so I’m sticking with that. Imagine the Carter vs. Bryant battles the UNC vs. Duke rivalry would have given us? The way Kobe plays under pressure I think we all would like to know what March Madness + Kobe would have looked like. Duke was a 2-seed in the ’97 field but bowed out early to Providence in the second-round… Something tells me Kobe wouldn’t have allowed that to happen.
1. LeBron James
Would Have Attended: Ohio St (2003-2004)
Obviously LeBron going to college was never in the cards. If he could have foregone his senior season in high school for the NBA he did have the abilities to play in the league as a 17-year old. But LBJ has made it clear that if the rules forced him to college it would have been his home state Buckeyes. LeBron had BY FAR the best rookie year of any of these guys. He had the NBA body, the NBA talent … everything. So this essentially would have been just placing an NBA All-Star into college hoops. Would he have been a little too unselfish at times? Sure, but LeBron isn’t Ben Simmons. James would have destroyed everyone in his path. Ohio St. had a losing record that season. Had LeBron gone there I’d be shocked if they weren’t National Champions.
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