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Where Would Prep-to-Pros Stars Have Gone to College?

Where were prep-to-pros legends planning on attending college had they not gone straight to the NBA?

Joel Brigham

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This summer, Thon Maker became the first player since Gerald Green in 2005 to skip directly from high school to the first round of the NBA Draft. However, these days players like Maker are literally exceptions to the rule rather than the commonplace occurrence they were for about 10 years, kicking off with Kevin Garnett in 1995 and wrapping up with Green and Andrew Bynum in 2005.

It was sort of an odd time in NBA history, when this explosion of prep-to-pros hopefuls took their stab at the big leagues. Some landed in a major way and will ride their early success straight to the Hall of Fame, while others fell flatter than plywood. Either way, it was a fascinating era for the league that we probably will never see again, and we’ll also never get to know what certain NBA stars would have done had they actually chosen to attend college. Carmelo Anthony won a title at Syracuse in his lone year. Would LeBron James or Kobe Bryant have done the same?

The following is a look at where many of the biggest high school NBA stars would have gone to college had they chosen that route for themselves. Some of their hypothetical selections are pretty surprising, and they definitely would have changed the course of NCAA history:

Kevin Garnett, University of Michigan or University of Maryland (1995)

While there were a handful of players who skipped college before Garnett, his success definitely set off the movement in the late ‘90s and early aughts that saw so many other young players do the same in hopes of replicating his early achievements. Interestingly, though, Garnett’s head coach at Farragut Academy didn’t seem to believe at the time that Garnett was planning on attending college. “He is not thinking of going pro,” he said in 1995. “He wants to prove that those saying he can’t make it academically are wrong. Going pro would be more a cop-out than anything.”

Unfortunately, Garnett was unable to earn the minimum qualifying ACT score to play college ball, which forced him into his NBA path, but what if he had played college ball? Where might he have gone?

According to Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck, who assembled a really nice oral history of Garnett, Sonny Vaccaro believed he was headed to Michigan.

“He may or may not admit to this, but he was going to go to Michigan,” he said. “The Fab Five guys, that whole era, Juwan Howard being from Chicago—I would’ve bet a million dollars that’s what he was going to do.”

That 1995-96 Michigan team wasn’t a stunner, but Garnett might have changed that. He would’ve been on the same team as Maceo Baston, Maurice Taylor and Tractor Traylor.

Years later, Garnett said he actually was planning on pulling a shocker to play under Gary Williams at the University of Maryland, which would have put him on the same team as ‘90s college stud Laron Profit.

Kobe Bryant, Duke University or the University of North Carolina (1996)

For years, the story about Bryant has been that had he gone to college, he would have played under Mike Krzyzewski at Duke. That would have been a Trajan Langdon/Roshown McLeod team, and it would have made for quite a daunting group of Blue Devils. However, in a later interview with Jimmy Kimmel, Bryant revealed that his real intentions were to play for that other really good college basketball team in North Carolina.

“I love Coach K,” Bryant said. “But the truth has to come out.” He then revealed that he would have rather played for those mid-90s Tar Heels squads that also featured Vince Carter and Antawn Jamison, which actually makes a ton of sense. That could have been one of the better college teams of all-time, which lends at least some credence to Bryant’s claims that UNC really would have been his choice.

Jermaine O’Neal, University of South Carolina (1996)

There’s no mystery to O’Neal’s potential college decision, as the former McDonald’s All-American had already committed to the University of South Carolina as he was leaving high school in 1996. Considering how little he played his first year as a member of the Portland Trail Blazers, going Gamecock for a year or two might have been a better option for him.

Even without O’Neal, South Carolina won the SEC championship that season and actually was named a 2-seed in the 1997 Final Four tournament. Coppin State pulled off the tourney’s most shocking upset in the first round that year, however, which is something that may not have happened had O’Neal taken a different route to the NBA.

Tracy McGrady, University of Kentucky (1997)

Over and over again, McGrady has said he’d have gone to Kentucky had he attended college in the late ‘90s, which would have been pretty incredible considering that 1997-98 UK Wildcats won the NCAA championship even without T-Mac’s help.

Adding him to a team that already featured future NBA players like Tayshaun Prince and Jamaal Magloire would have made for some high ratings, but consider this: Dirk Nowitzki, who was drafted in 1998, also made an official college visit to Kentucky at a time when McGrady already could have actually been there. Scott Padgett and Tubby Smith made such a strong impression on Nowitzki that he still roots for the Wildcats even though he never went there.

The bottom line here is that there could have been a version of the 1998-99 University of Kentucky team that featured both McGrady and Nowitzki (and, of course, Scott Padgett). That would have made for even better television!

Amar’e Stoudemire, University of Memphis (2002)

Coming out of high school, Stoudemire had plans to team up with other future NBA players Dajuan Wagner and Qyntel Woods at the University of Memphis to compete for a national championship. Wagner was already at the school, while Woods was considering transferring from a community college, and the three of them would have made for quite a super team that also would have included other future NBA players Rodney Carney and Earl Barron.

It didn’t work out that way, as Stoudemire, Wagner and Woods all ended up declaring for the 2002 NBA Draft and were selected in the first round, but it would have made for a rather impressive Memphis team that, by the way, still hasn’t won a national championship.

LeBron James, Ohio State University (2003)

Honestly, if an alien from outer space dropped directly into the Ohio State campus right now, they would have more than enough evidence to support the fact that LeBron James did actually attend school there. When the university’s new basketball practice facilities opened in 2013, James was inexplicably given a locker with his name and number located in the team’s locker room. He also stops by to hang out with the basketball team once in a while, and those players very often can be found wearing his gear. The man never went to that school, but still acts like an esteemed alum.

Of course, were he not a man of superhuman ability, he probably would have gone there – even though in 2003 the Buckeyes had not made the NCAA Tournament in a decade. James obviously would have changed that, no matter who else was on those teams, and it’s very likely he would have turned recruiting around for the school pretty quickly too. Alas, he’ll just have to settle for being the single greatest prep-to-pros star in the history of basketball.

Dwight Howard, University of North Carolina (2004)

Not that eventual national champion UNC needed Howard in 2004-05, but adding the future No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 NBA Draft certainly wouldn’t have hurt what was already an extremely loaded Tar Heels crew. Raymond Felton, Sean May, Rashad McCants and Marvin Williams were part of that team, and had Howard committed to UNC as he claims, they would have been even more legendary.

Howard reportedly considered Duke very seriously at the time, as top prospects have been doing for decades, but between those two powerhouses Howard has said UNC would have won out.

There also have been rumors over the years of serious interest in Georgia Tech, a team that would have allowed Howard to play baseball. Had he been on that particular team, he would have joined forces with Jarrett Jack and Will Bynum.

Al Jefferson, University of Arkansas (2004)

Despite being the No. 4 high school prospect in the country back in 2004, Jefferson wasn’t originally considered a no-brainer prep-to-pros leaper when draft experts started doing their mocks that year. But a lot of that likely came as a result of his playing in a small school down south that simply didn’t garner him the amount of attention as Howard, Shaun Livingston or Sebastian Telfair.

Had Jefferson decided to attend college, he would have joined Ronnie Brewer as a member of the Razorbacks. He would have made them a considerably better team for the year or two that Jefferson remained on the squad.

***

There were, of course, many other high school kids who skipped college for the glitz and glamour of the NBA’s big stage. Rashard Lewis was reportedly all set to attend Kansas University. Andrew Bynum could have joined Rudy Gay, Marcus Williams and Hilton Armstrong at UConn. Tyson Chandler would’ve attended UCLA, Darius Miles would have gone to DePaul and J.R. Smith would have been a Tar Heel.

Any of these decisions could have changed the course of NCAA and NBA history, but instead the ink is dry on the stories of these guys’ careers. The last of the old prep-to-pros crew is very close to entering their career twilights, so soon it probably won’t matter much that they skipped college.

But what if Jahlil Okafor had skipped college? Does Duke still win their title in 2015? What about Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist potentially skipping their year at Kentucky in 2011-12?

NBA hypotheticals are fun, especially in the offseason, because there’s just no telling how things may have changed. That won’t stop us from wondering though.

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New Orleans Pelicans and Cliff Alexander Agree To Deal

Michael Scotto

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The New Orleans Pelicans and free agent forward Cliff Alexander have agreed to a one-year, non-guaranteed deal, a league source told Basketball Insiders.

The addition of Alexander will give New Orleans 20 players heading into training camp.

Alexander spent last season playing 40 combined games with the Erie Bayhawks and Long Island Nets in the G-League, where he averaged 15.8 points and 8.9 rebounds in 27.3 minutes per game. Alexander also shot 52 percent from the field and blocked one shot per game.

The 21-year-old forward was a McDonald’s All-American and won MVP of the Jordan Brand Classic in 2014 before attending Kansas University. Alexander played 28 games as a Jayhawk and averaged 7.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks in 17.6 minutes per game before declaring for the draft.

After going undrafted, Alexander played in eight games for Portland during the 2015-16 season and received a 10-day contract from the Brooklyn Nets in April.

For more information on the salary cap and roster situation for the New Orleans Pelicans, click here.

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Atlanta Hawks and John Jenkins Agree To Deal

Michael Scotto

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The Atlanta Hawks and free agent guard John Jenkins have agreed to a training camp deal, a league source told Basketball Insiders.

The addition of Jenkins will give Atlanta 20 players heading into training camp.

Jenkins drew interest from several other teams, including the Minnesota Timberwolves and Milwaukee Bucks.

The 26-year-old guard began his career in Atlanta after the Hawks selected him 23rd overall out of Vanderbilt in the 2012 draft. For his career, Jenkins has averaged 5.1 points in 12.8 minutes per game while shooting 45 percent from the field overall and 36 percent from beyond the arc.

For more information on Atlanta’s salary cap and roster situation, click here.

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Golden State Warriors 2017-18 Season Preview

The Golden State Warriors remain the cream of the NBA crop, even after several franchises went all in this offseason. Can anyone really beat the Warriors in a seven-game series? We look at the Warriors in this final NBA season preview.

Basketball Insiders

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After losing to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2015-16 NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors were highly favored to win the 2016-17 championship with the offseason addition of Kevin Durant. In the Warriors’ third straight Finals match up with Cavaliers, Golden State, with plenty of help from Durant, over-matched Cleveland in last season’s NBA Finals. This year, with Durant taking a pay cut, the team did a masterful job of bringing back just about all of the key players from last year’s championship run. Now the team is primed to wreak havoc on the league once again.

FIVE GUYS THINK…

It’s almost comical at this point how the best team in basketball keeps getting better.

After adding Kevin Durant last summer, and then completely decimating the entire NBA, including LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, all the Golden State Warriors did was go out and add two players in Omri Casspi and Nick Young who almost perfectly fit their brand of “you’re not out-shooting us” basketball.

The powers of the NBA all shuffled around their rosters this season in hopes of trying to assemble some type of “anti-Warriors” remedy, and when it’s all said and done, those moves will be all for naught. Expect Golden State to ride their legendary roster to another NBA title.

1st place – Pacific Division

– Dennis Chambers

What do you need me to say about the Warriors that you don’t already know? Two of the best five players in the league are on the roster, as well as arguably the top defensive player in the league and a cast of reserves that fit perfectly with the superstars running the show. Even JaVale McGee is shooting three pointers now. The Warriors are unstoppable and in some ways even better than the team that won a championship a few months ago. It’s going to be a long season for every other team in the league. They’re all playing for second place.

1st Place – Pacific Division

– Joel Brigham

The road to the NBA Finals obviously goes through Oakland, especially after the club managed to re-sign JaVale McGee, Zaza Pachulia, Andre Iguodala, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. Nick Young will give the team some additional firepower, but they probably don’t even need it.

So long as these guys stay healthy, they’ll probably find their way to their fourth consecutive NBA Finals, and with the Clippers having lost Chris Paul, the Warriors should have a relatively easy time winning the Pacific Division for the fourth straight year.

I’m usually longer-winded than that, but I’m not sure much else needs to be said about the Warriors.

1st place – Pacific Division

– Moke Hamilton

At this point, what’s really left to say? The Warriors had arguably the best basketball team ever assembled last season, and that was while dealing with minor role concerns and dealing with Kevin Durant’s midseason injury. Then they went out and improved this offseason, adding the likes of Omri Casspi and Nick Young as perfect end-of-roster pieces. Combine that with what most would expect will be even better fit and chemistry across the roster this season, and the Warriors stand head and shoulders above the rest of the league even with several squads making big power moves to try and bridge the gap. Anything but a third title in four years will fail to do justice to the incredible, historical talent on this roster.

1st Place – Pacific Division

– Ben Dowsett

The best team in the NBA went out and retained key players and signed Omri Casspi and Nick Young to round out the roster. As has been the case for several years now, the Warriors enter the upcoming season with the most overall talent, improved chemistry, good health and every ingredient necessary to win an NBA championship. Several other contenders pulled off some impressive moves to try and bridge the gap between themselves and the Warriors, but Golden State still holds the advantage against every other team in the league. So long as the Warriors are playing up to their potential, or anywhere near it, the other contenders are out of luck. Unless the Warriors face some serious injuries this upcoming season or some internal discord, we should expect them to win their third championship in four seasons.

1st Place – Pacific Division

– Jesse Blancarte

TOP OF THE LIST

Top Offensive Player: Stephen Curry/Kevin Durant

Don’t knock me for not clearly choosing a single player here. The individual excellence of both Stephen Curry and Durant cannot be stated enough. While Curry’s statistics did take a bit of a step back from the year prior, he still led the way for the Warriors last season. Last year, Curry led the team in points per game (by a slim margin), three-pointers made, assists and usage percentage. Keep in mind, Durant was excellent but Curry still commanded the offense for the most part. However, Durant was right on Curry’s heels and in the playoffs actually slightly surpassed Curry in points per game. In addition, Durant remains as tough to cover one-on-one as anyone in the league. Regardless, both players are unbelievable individual talents and would easily be the top offensive player on just about any other team.

Top Defensive Player: Draymond Green

For the foreseeable future, Draymond Green has this category on lockdown for the Warriors. Green uses a combination of length, strength, timing and sneaky athleticism to smother his opponents. Green’s versatility allows him to guard a range of positions in the post and switch to guard guards and forwards on the wing effectively as well. His versatility is the lynchpin of the Warrior’s vaunted death line up that uses Green at center and brings Iguodala off the bench to close games. Last year’s Defensive Player of the Year race came down to Green and Utah center Rudy Gobert. In the end, Green’s versatility as well as his ability to guard the rim effectively made him the top choice in voters’ minds. Expect Green to be in the running for Defensive Player of the Year this upcoming season as well.

Top Playmaker: Stephen Curry

When the Warriors added Durant to the roster, many wondered, even for a team as unselfish as the Warriors, how would Stephen Curry and Durant manage to share the ball? That question was answered when Curry took a step back and allowed Durant’s individual offensive brilliance to shine. Curry’s points per game dropped (30.1 to 25.3) as did his usage percentage (32.0 to 29.2). Curry’s individual excellence continued regardless as he remained the Warriors’ top distributor (followed closely by Draymond Green). In addition, Curry garners so much attention that his simple presence on the court creates more room for teammates to operate. Curry’s ability to pull up from virtually anywhere on the court and willingness to make the extra pass to teammates makes him a nightmare to cover and the Warriors’ top playmaker.

Top Clutch Player: Kevin Durant/Stephen Curry

Once again, you could give this award to either of the Warrior’s two best offensive players. Curry dominates most of the advanced statistics when breaking down clutch play, defined as the last minutes of a game within 5 point or less, per nba.com. However, based on Durant’s size, length and ability to get off a shot in isolation, he makes for an excellent clutch player in just about any situation. Either is an extraordinary option and their play in crunch time continues to be critical to their championship fortunes.

The Unheralded Player: Klay Thompson

Klay Thompson is a phenomenal talent who does a number of things well. He’s an unbelievable three-point shooter and defends elite point guards to alleviate the pressure on Curry. For a team with two elite offensive players, having Thompson as your third option on offense is just unfair to the rest of the league. Thompson lights up the league with his ability to hit outside shots without needing to dominate the ball. Don’t just count on Thompson to score as he takes pride in his defense and his ability to lockdown on defense.

Best New Addition: Omri Casspi

Overall, the Warriors have had an unbelievable stretch of luck when it comes to injuries, which will hopefully rub off on Omri Casspi this season. With his length, versatility and the ability to stretch the floor, he can slide into either forward spot. His addition strengthens the team’s ability to survive the grind of the regular season and lessen the minutes of the starters. Casspi fills a lot of needs for several teams that are looking to challenge the Warriors, so simply keeping him away from those teams is an added benefit to his signing.

– James Blancarte

WHO WE LIKE

1. Steve Kerr

Steve Kerr continues to be the perfect coach for this team. He helps to keep the players focused on their individual roles within the larger team structure and has so far prevented major dissension and discord. Kerr took the team that Mark Jackson previously coached and helped to transform the team into champions. Credit is deserved for his part in successfully orchestrating the move of former All-Star Iguodala to a bench role and meshing Durant’s individual brilliance with the Warriors’ pre-existing, pass-happy offense. Kerr has missed significant time due to his botched spinal surgery, but if he can manage his health, count on Kerr to keep the Warriors a well-oiled machine.

2. Nick Young

Nick Young is a player that has had an up-and-down career. Credit Young for carving out a relatively successful career as a journeyman three-point shooting wing. Keeping Young focused and unlocking his full range of talents has been difficult for many organizations. The Warriors are up next and will give the 11th year pro an opportunity to do what he does best — knocking down three-pointers. As a career 37.6 percentage three-point shooter, Young will have a chance to get more open looks from distance than he has previously in his career. Like JaVale McGee, Young will also have a chance to transform his reputation if he proves to be a disciplined, effective contributor to a championship team.

3. Jordan Bell

What’s the perfect piece for a rebuilding team in need of young talent to build around? Jordan Bell, selected with the 38th pick in this year’s draft), is just that sort of player. The Warriors acquired the pick from the Chicago Bulls for cash consideration. The Bulls loss is the Warriors gain as hopes are high for the young talent from the University of Oregon. The Warriors will take their time with the 6-foot-9 forward and hope that he will build on and develop his defensive talents and one day be a reliable contributor for Golden State.

4. Shaun Livingston

Shaun Livingston is many years removed from the knee injury that nearly ended his professional career. While Livingston has played for nine teams in his career, he continues to be loyal to the Warriors, the team with which he has experienced the most success post-injury. Livingston continues to do whatever the team requires as he slides into either guard slot when needed and provides reliable production from the bench. Opposing backup point guards often get caught being posted up by the lengthy 6-foot-7 guard. Count Livingston as another essential cog who will do whatever it takes to help the Warriors win at all costs.

– James Blancarte

SALARY CAP 101

The Warriors are a major spender at $135.4 million in guaranteed salary, resulting in at least $32 million in luxury taxes. Golden State used its Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception to sign Nick Young at $5.2 million for a season. Having re-signed on one-year deals, Zaza Pachulia, David West and JaVale McGee can block any trades.

Before November, the Warriors need to decide on 2018-19 team options for Kevon Looney and Damian Jones. Next summer, Kevin Durant can opt out again but now the team has his Early Bird Rights and the ability to give him a raise in the $35 million range. The Warriors seem willing to pay for a winner but for how long as luxury taxes grow progressively as the team gradually becomes a repeat offender?

– Eric Pincus

STRENGTHS

This team continues to have everything you could want in a modern NBA team. An electric point guard who is nearly unstoppable, a 3-and-D wing with a killer three-point shot, an unstoppable one-on-one player who can score from anywhere, a dominant and flexible defensive forward who can play center and a defensive wing who is a great glue guy. That’s just the five players that are normally used to close out games. The rest of the roster has a number of key contributors ready to do whatever the team needs. Oh, and they also have a great coach to keep everyone on the same page. With all the pieces a team could want, expect the Warriors to again push a possible record-breaking pace in the regular season on their way to the playoffs and likely the Finals.

– James Blancarte

WEAKNESSES

The easiest answer here is none. Eventually the injury bug might hit the Warriors but for now they have everything they could want to continue their excellent play. Perhaps some players may lose a sense of urgency in the regular season after breaking records and dominating the last few seasons, though that seems unlikely. On paper, this team is not afflicted by any major weaknesses.

– James Blancarte

THE BURNING QUESTION

Can anyone stop the Warriors?

Other teams continue to make moves to get better. On September 23, the Oklahoma City Thunder traded agreed to terms on a deal to acquire Carmelo Anthony from the New York Knicks. With that move, count the Thunder, Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs, Boston Celtics and the Cavaliers as the biggest potential obstacles in the Warriors’ path to repeat. One of these teams may beat them, but the Warriors are the heavy favorites and the team most likely to win the championship next year.

– James Blancarte

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