The NCAA Championship ended last night with Villanova dominating Michigan 79-62 and taking home the hardware for their second championship in three years. The tournament is one of my personal favorites when it comes to sporting events. It is where upsets happen regularly, legends can shine, and we get to see future NBA players competing for a trophy. As an NBA fan, seeing future young stars is one of my favorite parts of March Madness and this got me and some other writers at PSF thinking… What if Lebron had played in college? As many of you know, Lebron wasn’t the first NBA player to straight from high school to the NBA. There were many legends that came before him such as Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, and Moses Malone just to name a few. Lebron is the most interesting though, as he is arguably the greatest player of all time and had a great rookie season playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers after they drafted him first overall. In honor of March Madness, I want to look at what could have been if Lebron went to college.
In the class of 2003, Lebron was ranked first at his position as well as first nationally among all high school recruits. He had many offers all around the country from the best schools but he had high interest in 6 of them. Those schools include Duke, Florida, Kentucky, Louisville, North Carolina, and Ohio State. Which one would he have chosen? Lebron has said before that he would have gone to Ohio State and has even shown his support for their athletic teams, especially football. In an interview done by ESPN, Lebron mentions specifically that he would have wanted to be a part of March Madness and says that is something that he thinks he would have enjoyed.
In the 2003-2004 season, Ohio State had a very disappointing year as they went 14-16 overall and had a record of 6-10 in conference play. They finished 9th in the Big 10 conference standings and lost to Indiana 83-69 in the first round of the Big 10 tournament. They did not make the NCAA tournament that year either. It’s pretty clear that Lebron would have had his work cut out for him if he decided to stay in his home state and go play for the Buckeyes that year. Lebron had a great rookie season in the NBA as he was 1 of 4 players in the history of the league to average 20-5-5 (the others being Big O, MJ, and Tyreke Evans). With Lebron, the Cleveland Cavaliers won 18 more games than they did a season before without him. He clearly had value to add to a team and he potentially could have dragged this Ohio State team to the NCAA tournament. With the way Lebron played his rookie year, I have no doubt that Lebron would have dominated in college and it would have been fun to watch. On a team where he was far and away the best player, it would have been even more interesting to see what he could do.
Out of the 6 colleges Lebron showed high interest in, I think the best place for him to win an NCAA Championship would have been Duke. Duke had a great team that year lead by two young stars in J.J. Redick and Loul Deng who were both averaging 15 ppg. Duke had an overall record of 31-6 as well as a conference record of 13-3 which allowed them to finish first in the ACC conference standings. Duke played well in their conference tournament and the NCAA tournament but fell short in both. They lost in the ACC championship game to Maryland 95-87 and then went on to lose in the Final Four to #2 UConn by only 1 point. UConn would go on to win it all in the championship game against Georgia Tech. There is no way anyone could know for sure what could’ve been but, both of those games were extremely close and could have easily been won by the Blue Devils with a player like Lebron James on their team. A game changer like Lebron James, surrounded by great players, and a Hall of Fame coach in Mike Krzyzewski orchestrating it all seems like a pretty safe bet to win a title.