When I look back over my lifetime and the many years of NCAA basketball I’ve seen come and go, there are so many outstanding teams who have walked away at season’s end with the big-prize — a national championship trophy.
So many times however, while watching these young baby-faced amateur athletes work together with their teammates and coaches to achieve something in which so many attempt but so few are able to accomplish, we do not realize that more times than not we are watching a “special” individual player, sometimes a couple of them, who have yet to become the household names in our fabulous world of hoops that they soon will be.
This doesn’t mean that we haven’t seen our share of teams who have won the whole ball of wax without that “star” or player(s) who went on to prove great professional players — because we absolutely have. From Joe Beasman Hall’s Kentucky squad in 1978 to Jim Valvano’s NC State Wolfpack team in 1983 to Rollie Massimino’s Villanova Wildcats in 1985 –- we’ve seen super teams come together without the presence of a “star” and walk away with the trophy. From Bob Knight’s Indiana Hoosiers club in 1987 to UCLA in ’95 to Michigan State in 2000 and Maryland in 2002 — there are those squads who manage to beat the teams with future NBA All-Stars and Hall of Famers that are littered throughout college basketball’s long and illustrious history.
It’s my opinion that more NCAA championships are won by teams with a player or two — three on rare occasion — who are pros merely disguised as amateurs for a brief period of time. And I don’t mean players who are simply drafted or enjoy a cup of coffee in the NBA or a few years overseas. I’m talking big-time, long-time, soon-to-be NBA players. I’m saying that these are young men who are much better players than most of the rest of the competition — difference-makers.
|KEEP ON EYE ON THESE GUYS …|
|Here are the young players who might just be so good that they make their very solid teammates much better than they otherwise would or possibly could be. The Fantastic 15 for 2013 — those players I believe someday may become household names in the world of basketball and who may just lead their teams to a national championship in 2012-2013.|
|Tim Hardaway Jr.||Michigan|
|Gary Harris||Michigan State|
|Shane Larkin||Miami (Fla.)|
|Otto Porter Jr.||Georgetown|
|Glenn Robinson III||Michigan|
|Marcus Smart||Oklahoma State|
Here are the young players that I believe are so good, that they make their already very solid teammates much better than they otherwise would or possibly could be. The Fantastic 15 for 2013 — those players I believe someday may become household names in the world of basketball and who may just lead their teams — and possibly yours — to a national championship in 2012-2013.
When UCLA was winning multiple championships in the late 60s and early 70s under The Wizard of Westwood, the late great John Wooden, yes, the players on those teams were outstanding — BUT on those Bruins teams the long and lanky kid from Power Memorial High in New York City named Lew Alcindor, while beyond terrific, was not yet a Hall of Famer. Big Lew had certainly not become Kareem-Abdul Jabbar. Alcindor was an amateur NCAA basketball student-athlete.
Soon thereafter to the Bruin program came a big floppy red-headed youngster from Southern California named Bill Walton. He, too, was a new and different kind of player than any had seen come along in basketball. He was so skilled, so tough and so talented. But the young kid from San Diego was not yet the NBA All-Star and world champion he would later become with the Portland Trail Blazers. Bill Walton, in 1972 and 1973 was not yet “The Big Red Head” which everyone in the world of sports would begin referring to him as years later.
In 1974, we saw a young junior out of Shelby, N.C. by the name of David Thompson (my very first basketball hero) lead coach Norm Sloan and his NC State Wolfpack to the first national basketball title in the school’s history. This was years before DT became “DT” and still a few years from most people knowing him as “Skywalker.”
Michigan State’s Earvin Johnson in 1979 was on his way to revolutionizing the point guard position and certainly possessed a magician’s handle and passing ability, but had not quite yet become “Magic.” Johnson was very far from becoming the icon and inspiration to millions he would later become over his remarkable lifetime. Young Erv Johnson, a super-soph, would lead Jud Heathcote’s Spartans to the promised land that season, but not before beating another future legend by the name of Larry Bird and Bird’s upstart Indiana State Sycamores.
In 1980, the guy I would go on to try and pattern my own personal game after, Darryl Griffith led, “Crum Denny – Crum Denny – Denny Crum Crum” and his Cardinals of Louisville to its first national championship. Griffith, a senior had only recently begun to be called, “Dr. Dunkenstein.”
Isiah Thomas in 1981 — for the aforementioned Bob Knight’s Indiana Hoosiers — had no idea of the group of Bad Boys who awaited him years later in Detroit, nor was anyone calling him “Zeke” as he put IU on his back that year and carried that group of Hoosiers to the school’s third national championship.
In 1982, freshman Mike Jordan wasn’t “Air”, Sam Perkins wasn’t “Big Smooth” and James Worthy had yet to become “Clever.” All three were college kids hanging on every word of coach and father-figure Dean Smith. Sure, it’s awfully easy to look back now and say, “Well OF COURSE Carolina won it all in ’83. They had TWO of the 50 greatest players to ever play the game (MJ and James) , a 15-year NBA-veteran (Sam), a No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft (James) and TWO Olympic gold-medal winners (MJ and Sam)!” Yep, hindsight blah blah blah. Heck, you might say, “Well of course they won it all – they had the best player to ever play the game.” … but I can tell you that in 1983 Michael was considered, by most experts, to be the third -– maybe FOURTH best player on that Tar Heels squad, behind Matt Doherty. Believe it.
Patrick Ewing was not yet “The Franchise” as he and his fellow Georgetown Hoyas took home the hardware in 1984. Danny Manning had not yet become “Easy D” when he and “The Miracles” won it all for Larry Brown and the Jayhawks in ’88. Larry Johnson was nowhere near “Grandmama” and three-time NCAA defensive POY Stacey Augmon not yet “Plastic Man” — as those two along with future 11-year NBA point guard Greg Anthony brought UNLV and Jerry Tarkanian a long-awaited national championship in 1990. Grant Hill and Christian Laettner were just a couple of happy go-lucky college student-athletes a year later in 1991 when they upset nearly that same group of Runnin’ Rebels to bring Duke and Coach K the first of Duke’s back-to-back championships in 1991 and 1992.
And so on and so forth.
In recent years the landscape of college basketball has changed quite a bit. We are lucky as fans if we get to see our “great” amateur basketball players play for more than a year at the NCAA level — two years is normally tops. But even that doesn’t change the fact that much of the time there is at least one player on the eventual NCAA champion who will proceed over the next few years to have an incredible NBA career, further validating exactly why for instance — the Syracuse Orange in 2003 (Carmelo Anthony). And something in my gut tells me that last year’s Kentucky Wildcats had at least a couple of guys on their squad who will prove to be long-time NBA pros (Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) while beating up on most all comers en route to bringing the school its eighth title.
Who are the players out there, during this 2012-2013 season who are actually far more as basketball players than currently meets the eye? Which youngster will prove to be the 2012-13 version of Glenn Robinson (Michigan ’89), Richard Hamilton (UConn ’99) or Jason Williams (Duke ’01)?
As I look around at the super players we have in the college basketball ranks this season I see some guys who will play this great game for another 10-15 years following their college basketball careers. I see some youngsters who I believe will prove to be MUCH better than they’ve been given credit for being even in this over-hyped sports world in which we currently live. But who are they?
I have a sneaking suspicion that we are currently watching a few players who will prove to be “future stars” and who just may be that missing piece or “X-factor”, if you will, for their coaches, teammates and fans this season. Guys who, along with just the right mix of teammates surrounding them, may just will their respective teams to that national title this year.
Rex Chapman played at Kentucky from 1986-88. He was a two-time All-SEC selection as well as an NABC All-American in 1988 before opting for the NBA Draft. He was the No. 1 choice — eighth overall — of Charlotte and played for the Hornets (1988-92), Washington Bullets (1992-95), Miami Heat (1995-96) and Phoenix Suns (1996-2000). Follow Rex on Twitter @rexchapman.