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Around the NBA: What If They Stayed In School?

Before the 2006 draft the League and the Players Association agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement (this is not a post on the upcoming CBA, don’t worry), and part of the agreement stated that high school players could no longer be drafted.  They must wait at least until 1 year after their high school class graduation and they need to be 19 years old.

Let’s play a hypothetical and say that they changed the rule, forcing players to stay 4 years in college.  (It would be a terrible rule, in fact I don’t like the restriction of keeping high school players out as it is now, but that’s another article all together.)

The 2011 NCAA tournament brackets were announced yesterday, and I’m sure it will be an entertaining few weeks with upsets, great performances, and memorable moments.  But can you imagine what it would it be like had players not been allowed to leave school early for the NBA?  Here is a quick look at all the teams that saw players skip out for pro ball.  (Something tells me the seeding would be different and there would drastic changes to the 68 team field.)


Florida State – Soloman Alabi, Ryan Reid

Georgia Tech – Derrick Favors, Gani Lawal

North Carolina – Ed Davis

North Carolina State – J.J. Hickson

Virginia – Sylven Landesberg

Wake Forest – James Johnson, Jeff Teague, Al-Farouq Aminu

Big 10:

Indiana – Eric Gordon

Michigan – Manny Harris

Ohio State – Kosta Koufos, B.J. Mullens, Evan Turner

Big 12:

Baylor – Ekpe Udoh

Iowa State – Craig Brackins

Kansas – Cole Aldrich, Xavier Henry

Kansas State – Michael Beasley, Bill Walker

Oklahoma – Blake Griffin, Tiny Gallon, Willie Warren

Oklahoma State – James Anderson

Texas – Avery Bradley

Big East:

Cincinnati – Lance Stephenson

DePaul – Dar Tucker

Georgetown – Greg Monroe

Louisville – Samardo Samuels

Pittsburgh – DeJuan Blair

South Florida – Dominique Jones

Syracuse – Donta Greene, Jonny Flynn, Wesley Johnson

West Virginia – Devin Ebanks


Arizona – Jerryd Bayliss

Arizona State – James Harden

UCLA – Kevin Love, Jrue Holiday

USC – O.J. Mayo, DeMar DeRozan, Davon Jefferson


Florida – Nick Calathes

Kentucky – John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson, Eric Bledsoe, Daniel Orton

LSU – Anthony Randolph

Ole Miss – Terrico White


Memphis – Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, Elliot Williams

Gonzaga – Austin Daye

St. Mary’s – Patty Mills

Butler – Gordon Hayward

Xavier – Jordan Crawford

Fresno State – Paul George

Nevada – Luke Babbitt, Armon Johnson

New Mexico – Darington Hobson

UTEP – Derrick Caracter

VCU – Larry Sanders

Marshall – Hassan Whiteside

That is a total of 65 players who still would have been eligible for college basketball this season.  The talent is just off the charts.  This year’s All-American teams have yet to be announced, but this is how they could have looked…

Keefe’s Hypothetical 2011 All-American Team

1st Team

Derrick Rose, Memphis

Kevin Love, UCLA

Blake Griffin, Oklahoma

Eric Gordon, Indiana

John Wall, Kentucky

2nd Team

Michael Beasley, Kansas State

O.J. Mayo, USC

DeMarcus Cousins, Kentucky

DeJuan Blair, Pitt

Jerryd Bayliss, Arizona

3rd Team

Jonny Flynn, Syracuse

James Harden, Arizona State

DeMar DeRozan, USC

Tyreke Evans, Memphis

J.J. Hickson, North Carolina State

(Compare that list to this year’s likely All-Americans: Jimmer Fredette, BYU; Nolan Smith, Duke; Derrick Williams, Arizona; JaJuan Johnson, Purdue; Jared Sullinger, Ohio State; Kemba Walker, UConn… Do any of those guys crack the list?)

Conference Player of the Year:

ACC: J.J. Hickson, N.C. State

Atlantic 10: Jordon Crawford, Xavier

Big 10: Eric Gordon, Indiana

Big 12: Blake Griffin, Oklahoma

Big East: DeJuan Blair, Pitt

Conf. USA: Derrick Rose, Memphis

Horizon: Gordon Hayward, Butler

Mountain West: Jimmer Fredette, BYU

PAC-10: Kevin Love, UCLA

SEC: John Wall, Kentucky

WAC: Paul George, Fresno St.

West Coast: Austin Daye, Gonzaga

By my count 11/12 of the best conferences in the country would have had different player of the year had they all been forced to stay.

How about the competition for NCAA Player of the Year?  My pick is Rose, but it’s scary to think what kind of numbers Love and Griffin (all 3 were NBA All-Stars this year) would put up against college kids.

Also you see John Calipari’s finger prints all over this hypothetical.  Chances are Tyreke Evans wouldn’t have gone to Memphis if Derrick Rose was still there for three years.  I’m not going to try and guess where he would go, but that’s a big reason I got Evans all the way down at 3rd Team status.  Would Coach Cal leave that backcourt for Kentucky?

Three of the four 1 seeds in this year’s tournament (Ohio State, Kansas, and Pitt) all would have even deeper teams.  The #1 overall Buckeyes could add Evan Turner as well as big men Kosta Koufos and B.J. Mullens to their roster.  Kansas is stronger with Xavier Henry and Cole Aldrich, while Pitt is all the more dangerous with DeJuan Blair.  Interestingly, Duke seems to have gone back to the way they were pre Corey Maggette, William Avery, Elton Brand, Luol Deng, and don’t have as many 1 or 2 and done players as they once did.  Their best players (Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler) decided to return for their senior year after already winning a title.

Memphis, Kentucky, Syracuse, UCLA, USC, and Kansas State all would have likely battled for 1 seeds; I bet Duke ends up as a 4 or 5 this season.

Oklahoma, Wake Forest, Indiana, Arizona State, and Nevada would likely have all made the tournament this year instead of finishing outside the 68 team field.

Top 8 Seeds this year:

  1. Ohio State
  2. Kansas
  3. Pitt
  4. Duke
  5. Notre Dame
  6. North Carolina
  7. San Diego State
  8. Florida

Top 8 “What If” Seeds

  1. Memphis
  2. UCLA
  3. Oklahoma
  4. Kentucky
  5. Kansas
  6. USC
  7. Kansas State
  8. Ohio State

It’s difficult to really predict and understand what college basketball would look like with all these players still in the game.  Someone like O.J. Mayo, who has already gone from a starter to a reserve in the NBA and seen his points per game average drop each season in the league (18.5, 17.5, 11.8), could be a senior at Southern Cal this year.  I personally think if he was still there we’d be talking about a guy putting up 25+ points, 8 assists a game and it’d be must see TV when the Trojans face Kevin Love, Jrue Holiday and the UCLA Bruins.

Look at the jump Kemba Walker from UConn has made in 3 seasons.  He went from 8.9 points per game to 14.6, to 23.5 this year.  There were rumors swirling that he would go pro after his freshmen and sophomore seasons.  You think we’d know his name had he done that?  Imagine if some of these other players listed above, who left after their 1st or 2nd college season elected to stay, how many points per game would they average?

Again I’m not blaming anyone for leaving school, if you’re going to get drafted in the 1st round and make millions of dollars, no one can blame you.  My only point in comparing a player to Kemba Walker is you can see the jump they can make in school.  Is 30 points per game too much for Eric Gordon or Jerryd Bayliss?  35?

ESPN interviewed Walker, Jimmer Fredette, and Nolan Smith yesterday after the brackets were announced.  They were picked because they are 3 of if not the 3 best players in the country.  If everyone stayed in school are they in the Top 15? 20?  How tough a job would ESPN have had trying select just 3 players to talk to between Love, Rose, Griffin, Gordon, Mayo, Wall, Beasley etc.?

In the end it’s just a fun “What If” game that will never be/ should never be the reality in college basketball.  Enjoy the tournament this year like you do every March, but try not to drive yourself crazy envisioning Bill Walker and Michael Beasley in a Wildcats uniform when watching Kansas State play.   Or O.J. Mayo during USC’s games… or Kevin Love for UCLA… or Derrick Rose for Memphis… or John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins for Kentucky… or…

  • Batman

    Let me just say this: Beasley DESTROYED in college so him and Walker together = destruction
    Of course the Rose backcourt is amazing

  • Eric

    I watch mostly NBA but this is the worst year ever for College. Unless you watch NCAA all the time you would be hard press to name 10 college players outside your favorite team. I agree you should be able to go make a living when you can but it doesn't help college basketball at all. Who is the most marketable star in college basketball?

    • Tom W

      After his performance in the Big East tournament, Kemba Walker has to be the most marketable star. He's a lot of fun to watch.

  • Jeremy

    So when is the "what if HS players went to college" edition? or maybe even the "what if Dirk played college basketball in America before going to the NBA"?

  • Kevin

    I know I'm being a spoilsport, but isn't it worth mentioning that Derrick Rose would actually be ineligible?