Superteams: How LeBron, Kobe and others would have jolted college basketball

We'll never know how LeBron James and Kobe Bryant might have fared in college basketball. We don't even really know where they would have attended college -- though both have offered (somewhat conflicting) information on the subject over the years.

What we can do is dream, and as long as we're here visiting fantasyland, we can also dream about the stars of yesterday playing four years of college basketball ... and all their would-be teammates staying for four years, too.

Below we take a look at some of the mythical superteams that could have existed if everything had worked out exactly right.

(Disclaimer: This is a theoretical exercise. We know scholarship limits and ball-sharing realities would have likely prevented all of these guys from playing together, even if mathematically possible. This is also not meant to be a ranking or a comprehensive list of would-be superteams -- the rise of one-and-done players over the past decade makes picking a recent superteam at Duke or Kentucky especially problematic -- just some we thought would be fun to consider.)

2006-07 Ohio State Buckeyes

Key players:

  • LeBron James (would have been a senior in the 2006-07 season)

  • Greg Oden (was a freshman in 2006-07)

  • Mike Conley (was a freshman in 2006-07)

  • Daequan Cook (was a freshman in 2006-07)

  • Ron Lewis (was a senior in 2006-07)

  • Othello Hunter (was a junior in 2006-07)

Actual 2006-07 Buckeyes: 35-4, lost to Florida in national championship game

Why they would have dominated: In his fourth NBA season with Cleveland (when he would have been a senior in college), James averaged 27 points while shooting 51 percent on his 2s. And, of course, he was doing that against the best players in the world. If you project what James could have done at that same point in his career against college players, it's fairly ridiculous. Ohio State would have won the national title. Heck, as long as we're being hypothetical, the Buckeyes might have given that season's James-less Cavaliers a run for their money.

Why it didn't happen: Akron native James suggested as recently as last month that he may have gone to Ohio State if it had come to that. Of course, it never did come to that because, well, he was LeBron James. Anyway, Thad Matta didn't have enough spots on the floor for the talent at his disposal without James. In addition to the NBA-bound standouts Oden, Conley, Cook and Hunter, Matta had an entire shelf of great college players like Lewis, Jamar Butler, Ivan Harris and David Lighty. Who knows, maybe a senior-year James in Columbus would have shooed some of the younger talent away to commit elsewhere. If not, the Buckeyes surely would have been a sight to see. -- John Gasaway

1996-97 North Carolina Tar Heels

Key players:

  • Kobe Bryant (would have been a freshman in the 1996-97 season)

  • Jerry Stackhouse (would have been a senior in 1996-97)

  • Rasheed Wallace (would have been a senior in 1996-97)

  • Jeff McInnis (would have been a senior in 1996-97)

  • Vince Carter (was a sophomore on the 1996-97 team)

  • Antawn Jamison (was a sophomore on the 1996-97 team)

  • Shammond Williams (was a junior on the 1996-97 team)

Actual 2006-07 Tar Heels: 34-4, lost to Arizona in Final Four

Why they would have dominated: The real 1997 Tar Heels were just fine on their own, earning a 1-seed before falling to Arizona in the Final Four. But the what-if 1997 Tar Heels would have been one of the best teams of all time. Carter and Jamison -- as well as Ed Cota and Shammond Williams -- were on the 1997 team, and McInnis left with one year of eligibility remaining in 1996. Stackhouse and Wallace could have stuck around until '97, too. So that's four All-Americans, two more NBA players and one of the most prolific passers in college basketball history. And that's before we get to Bryant, who could have played at North Carolina or Duke. A fictional starting five of Kobe, Stackhouse, Carter, Jamison and Wallace is arguably unparalleled in the annals of college basketball.

Why it didn't happen: First, would Kobe have actually gone to North Carolina? He said in 2007 that "there's no maybe about" whether he would have gone to Duke. Then in 2013, he told Jimmy Kimmel,"I love [Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, but] the truth has to come out," adding that he wanted to play against Carter every day in practice. But in 2017, Bryant took to Twitter to say he would have gone to Duke and that Dean Smith "stopped recruiting" Bryant because he assumed he was going pro. Smith was right: Bryant went straight to the NBA draft and was drafted 13th in 1996. And that's before we even get into the fact that Stackhouse, Wallace and McInnis all left college early. -- Jeff Borzello

1998-99 Duke Blue Devils

Key players:

  • Kobe Bryant (would have been a junior in the 1998-99 season)

  • Elton Brand (was a sophomore in 1998-99)

  • Shane Battier (was a sophomore in 1998-99)

  • Trajan Langdon (was a senior in 1998-99)

  • Corey Maggette (was a freshman in 1998-99)

  • William Avery (was a sophomore in 1998-99)

Actual 1998-99 Blue Devils: 37-2, lost to UConn in national championship game

Why they would have dominated: If Bryant had gone to college, played for Duke and stayed for three years to join the greatest team in NCAA history that failed to win a national title (my apologies, 1990-91 UNLV), the 37-2 Blue Devils would have been unstoppable and likely staged an undefeated season that ended with Krzyzewski's third national championship. Bryant's presence would have solved two challenges that cost the Blue Devils in the national title game against UConn: Coach K would have put the ball in his hands instead of Langdon's (he committed two late turnovers), and Bryant would have also guarded Rip Hamilton, who torched Duke that night. They averaged 91.8 PPG that season and might have topped 100 PPG with Bryant on the roster.

Why it didn't happen: As mentioned, Bryant tweeted that he would have picked Duke if he'd decided to go to college. But he was just too talented, mature and driven to go the college route. It was the right decision for Bryant, but he would've left Duke with a ring if he'd taken his talents to Durham. -- Myron Medcalf

1997-98 Kentucky Wildcats

Key players:

  • Tracy McGrady (would have been a freshman in 1997-98)

  • Antoine Walker (would have been a senior in 1997-98)

  • Ron Mercer (would have been a junior in 1997-98)

  • Nazr Mohammed (was a junior in 1997-98)

  • Jamaal Magloire (was a sophomore in 1997-98)

  • Jeff Sheppard (was a senior in 1997-98)

  • Scott Padgett (was a junior in 1997-98)

  • Wayne Turner (was a junior in 1997-98)

Actual 1997-98 Wildcats:35-4, won national championship

Why they would have dominated: They did anyway! Even without another year of Walker and Mercer, picture a Kentucky rotation with an 18-year-old McGrady on the wing, Turner at the point, Sheppard and Padgett as the perimeter threats and Mohammed in the paint. Even without McGrady, the Wildcats led the NCAA in 2-point defense in 1997-98. With him, this would have been a deeper and even more wildly talented lineup.

Why it didn't happen: There was no missing McGrady's talent in high school, and the NBA promptly jumped on the versatile and tenacious 6-foot-8 scorer by making him the ninth pick in the 1997 draft. But McGrady has said on more than one occasion that he would have chosen Kentucky if he'd played college ball. As it happens, his "lost" freshman season would have lined up with what was a national championship run by the Wildcats in Tubby Smith's first season at the helm. This was the 35-4 Kentucky team that avenged the Christian Laettner shot, at least partially, with a wild come-from-behind win over top-seed Duke in the Elite Eight. Who knows, with T-Mac, the Wildcats may have had a shot at running the table and going undefeated. -- John Gasaway

1996-97 Michigan Wolverines

Key players:

  • Kevin Garnett (would have been a sophomore in the 1996-97 season)

  • Robert "Tractor" Traylor (was a sophomore in 1996-97)

  • Tariq Abdul-Wahad (would have been a junior in 1996-97)

  • Maceo Baston (was a junior in 1996-97)

  • Maurice Taylor (was a junior in 1996-97)

  • Louis Bullock (was a sophomore in 1996-97)

Actual 1996-97 Wolverines: 24-11, won 1997 NIT title

Why they would have dominated: In Garnett's second season in the NBA, he averaged 17.0 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.1 blocks -- it's hard to imagine what numbers he could have put up in Ann Arbor. A frontcourt of Garnett, Traylor and Taylor would have been overwhelming for most opponents. Traylor, Taylor and Baston played in the NBA, and all three averaged double figures that season. Bullock would have provided the perimeter production. Garnett would have enrolled just two years after Juwan Howard, Jalen Rose and Chris Webber left town -- giving the Wolverines one of the best stretches of talent the Big Ten has seen.

Why it didn't happen: At the time, most had Garnett pegged to end up at either Michigan or Maryland had he played in college. He told Student Sports Magazine in 1995 that he "was going to shock 'em all" and pick Maryland, but the Chicago product said in 2018 that he would have gone to Michigan because of Webber. Either way, Garnett never played in college. There were rumors that his test scores weren't high enough, but a 1997 Sports Illustrated story said otherwise. Garnett ended up being the first player in 20 years to be drafted out of high school. -- Jeff Borzello

1974-75 Indiana Hoosiers

Key players:

  • Larry Bird (would have been a freshman in the 1974-75 season; was on campus for 1 month at IU before quitting school)

  • Steve Green (was a senior in 1974-75)

  • Scott May (was a junior in 1974-75)

  • Kent Benson (was a sophomore in 1974-75)

  • Quinn Buckner (was a junior in 1974-75)

  • Bob Wilkerson (was a junior in 1974-75)

  • Tom Abernethy (was a junior in 1974-75)

Actual 1974-75 Hoosiers:31-1, lost to Kentucky in NCAA regional final

Why they would have dominated: The 1974-75 Indiana team didn't need much help, proven by an average margin of victory of 22.1 points, but the addition of one of the best players to ever touch a basketball could have made a great team a legendary squad. As a freshman at Indiana State (1976-77), Bird averaged 32.8 PPG, 13.3 RPG, 4.4 APG and 2.8 SPG, remarkable numbers few players in collegiate history have duplicated. If you put the 6-8 star on that Indiana team, the Hoosiers would have probably avoided the loss to Kentucky in the Elite Eight, possibly sealed the first of two consecutive undefeated seasons and, with Bird likely set to return for the 1976-77 campaign, the Hoosiers might have equaled or surpassed UCLA's record of 88 consecutive wins (Jan. 19, 1971 to Jan. 19, 1974) and vied for the "greatest college team in NCAA history" title.

Why it didn't happen: The dream died because Bird just wasn't ready to make the leap from French Lick, Indiana, a small town in the basketball-hungry state, to the massive Indiana University campus in Bloomington. Bird wasn't quite sure of the path he wanted to take, which is why he spent some time as a sanitation worker after dropping out of junior college following his departure from Indiana. "People naturally think it was trouble between [Bob] Knight and me, but it wasn't," Bird once told "The school was just too big. I was a homesick kid who was lost and broke."

Bird only lasted a month in Bloomington after deciding he didn't fit with the campus or the culture. In spite of the disappointing tourney loss, Indiana didn't really need him. Knight's Hoosiers won their first 31 games that season before losing in the Elite Eight, and then captured the program's third title (and first under Knight) the following season. With five future NBA players on the 1974-75 roster, Bird (who averaged 30.3 PPG over three years at Indiana State) would have made this one of the greatest teams in NCAA history. -- Myron Medcalf

1974-75 Maryland Terrapins

Key players:

  • Moses Malone (would have been a freshman in the 1974-75 season)

  • John Lucas (was a junior in 1974-75)

  • Brad Davis (was a freshman in 1974-75)

  • Maurice Howard (was a junior in 1974-75)

  • Owen Brown (was a senior in 1974-75)

  • Steve Sheppard (was a sophomore in 1974-75)

Actual 1974-75 Terrapins: 24-5, lost to Louisville in Elite Eight

Why they would have dominated: At a time when the top high school basketball accolade was to be named a Parade All-American, Lefty Driesell could claim five of them: Lucas, Brown, Howard, Davis and Chris Patton. Lucas, in particular, was a scorer ahead of his time, combining volume (averaging 20 points) with high efficiency (hitting 55% of his shots at a listed height of 6-3). Adding Malone to that mix would have made for what can only be called an embarrassment of riches.

Why it didn't happen: In high school, Malone was labeled "a pro talent" by one scout, and Driesell won a ferocious recruiting battle to sign the phenom. Before he played a minute for Maryland, however, Malone bolted for the Utah Stars of the American Basketball Association. No high school player had ever gone directly into professional basketball before, and Driesell was stunned. "I think they're taking advantage of Moses," the coach said. But Malone, who came from economically challenged circumstances, saw zero point in continuing to play for free. He was right: Malone was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2001, his first year of eligibility. -- John Gasaway

2003-04 Memphis Tigers

Key players:

  • Amar'e Stoudemire (would have been a sophomore in the 2003-04 season)

  • Kendrick Perkins (would have been a freshman in 2003-04)

  • Dajuan Wagner (would have been a junior in 2003-04)

  • Qyntel Woods (would have been a sophomore in 2003-04)

  • Antonio Burks (was a senior in 2003-04)

  • Rodney Carney (was a sophomore in 2003-04)

Actual 2003-04 Tigers: 22-8, lost to Oklahoma State in NCAA second round

Why they would have dominated: Outside of the battle between Stoudemire and Burks to wear the No. 1 jersey, this team would have been overwhelmingly talented. Stoudemire was the No. 1 prospect in the 2002 high school class -- yes, ahead of Carmelo Anthony -- and Perkins was a top-five prospect in 2003; those two would have formed a dominant inside duo. Wagner averaged 21.2 points in his lone college season, and Carney ended up being a four-year starter for the Tigers. Burks could have been the facilitator, with Woods as the mega-talented sixth man. John Calipari has had some talented teams; this might have been the best of the bunch.

Why it didn't happen: Stoudemire, Perkins and Woods went straight to the NBA. All three actually committed to the Tigers before opting for the NBA draft -- with Perkins' decision prompting Calipari to say, "He's going to stay in the draft without a guarantee that he'd be in the first round. Amazing. I'm not sure who is talking to these kids." Perkins ended up sneaking into the back end of the first round, selected 27th overall. Wagner left after one season with Memphis. -- Jeff Borzello

2005-06 North Carolina Tar Heels

Key players:

  • Dwight Howard (would have been a sophomore on the 2005-06 team)

  • Rashad McCants (would have been a senior in 2005-06)

  • Sean May (would have been a senior in 2005-06)

  • Raymond Felton (would have been a senior in 2005-06)

  • Marvin Williams (would have been a sophomore in 2005-06)

  • Tyler Hansbrough (was a freshman in 2005-06)

  • Danny Green (was a freshman in 2005-06)

Actual 2005-06 Tar Heels: 23-8, lost to George Mason in NCAA second round

Why they would have dominated: Roy Williams had four players drafted in the first 14 picks of the 2005 NBA draft, so let's add the No. 1 pick in 2004 to that group. Howard was the consensus No. 1 prospect in the 2004 high school class, and Williams' group that won the national title in 2005 was one of the most dominant teams of that decade. Combine those guys with two five-star prospects -- one who ended up being one of the most productive college players of all time (Hansbrough) and one a sharpshooting wing who has won two NBA titles (Green) -- and Williams might have had one of the greatest teams ever.

Why it didn't happen: Howard revealed in 2009 that he would have gone to North Carolina if he played in college, choosing the Tar Heels over the likes of Duke and Georgia Tech (the Yellow Jackets were in play because they would have let him play baseball, too), but the dominant big man went straight to the NBA out of high school. Interestingly enough, during Howard's NBA draft news conference, he mentioned enrolling at North Carolina for academic purposes as a part-time student. McCants, May, Felton and Marvin Williams all left Chapel Hill after the 2004-05 championship campaign. Roy Williams would have to wait patiently for his next title to come, which it did in 2009. -- Jeff Borzello

1965-66 UCLA Bruins

Key players:

  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Lew Alcindor; would have been a freshman on the 1965-66 team)

  • Lucius Allen (would have been a freshman in 1965-66)

  • Mike Warren (was a sophomore in 1965-66)

  • Kenny Washington (was a senior in 1965-66)

  • Mike Lynn (was a junior in 1965-66)

  • Freddie Goss (was a senior in 1965-66)

Actual 1965-66 Bruins: 18-8, missed NCAA tournament

Why they would have dominated: The 1965-66 UCLA Bruins were, arguably, the most disappointing team of the John Wooden era. They started the season as the No. 1 team in the country following back-to-back national titles but ended it without a postseason berth. With Abdul-Jabbar, perhaps the greatest player in the history of basketball, the Bruins would have had a young legend. He notably dominated the varsity squad (31 points, 21 rebounds) as the annual freshman-varsity game stamped the opening of Pauley Pavilion in 1965.

Abdul-Jabbar (26.4 PPG, 15.5 RPG, 64 percent mark from the field, three national titles, three-time consensus All-American during three years at UCLA) would have led the Bruins to another championship and extended a streak that might have comprised 10 consecutive national titles for UCLA from 1964 to 1973, while also altering history by ending the 1966 Texas Western team's magical run to the national championship that season.

Why it didn't happen: At the time, the NCAA had a rule that made freshmen ineligible; schools also fielded junior varsity squads during that era, too. The rules changed in 1972 when freshmen in both football and basketball were allowed to compete. The move had more to do with helping schools save money by eliminating junior varsity teams than opening the door for freshmen to play, but in UCLA's case, the rule meant that, as Abdul-Jabbar wrote on in 2012, "to begin the 1965-66 season, the Bruins varsity was No. 1 in the country but No. 2 on campus." -- Myron Medcalf
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