Or pick a future star -- say, Robert Parish, Louis Dunbar, Larry Wright, Calvin Natt, Joe Dumars, Rick Robey, Orlando Woolridge -- and put them at LSU in the 1970s.
Or Karl Malone delivering as the Tigers' "Mailman" in the 1980s. Or P.J. Brown, like Malone another Louisiana Tech big man who lasted for 15-plus years in the NBA, going there.
Think they might all have helped LSU's program?
And today -- this morning -- envision Robert Williams playing for LSU in the NCAA Tournament instead of for Texas A&M.
Think the Tigers -- just like all the other men's basketball teams in Louisiana -- would have been shut out of the NCAA Tournament (for the second year a row)?
We can no more rewrite history than LSU could get those guys in school.
But the point is, "what could have been," as suggested a couple of weeks by Dale Brown -- mastermind of the LSU men's program for 25 years.
Dale, as most anyone who has been around him for, say, 10 seconds, can spin some tales (pick a subject), and among those are his adventures in recruiting over three decades in college basketball.
He was reacting to our recent blog piece about Parish's statistics at Centenary finally being officially recognized by the NCAA, and in that piece, we mentioned that while Brown recruited Robert for LSU and happily would have welcomed his 7-foot presence, Robert did not qualify academically.
By Parish's senior year in high school, LSU had just integrated its basketball program. Among the talent Dale inherited when he became the Tigers' head coach in the spring of 1972 was Collis Temple Jr., a 6-foot-8 forward recruited out of Kentwood, Louisiana, in 1970 by Press Maravich and his staff. He was the color barrier breaker in LSU's program.
|Houston coach Guy Lewis with his two big stars|
from Louisiana in 1966-68 -- Elvin Hayes and
Don Chaney. Imagine if they had played at LSU
instead of Houston.
He could not, of course. In early 1964, Hayes' senior year in high school, LSU was not yet recruiting African-American players.
He was a still-developing 6-9 forward who averaged 35 points a game and led his Eula D. Britton High School team in Rayville, Louisiana -- 22 miles east of Monroe -- to a state championship in the all-black athletic association (LIALO).
Was he the best player in the state? Little question. In his team's state-title game, he had 45 points and 20 rebounds.
But the bulk of the publicity, the white guy considered the state's best prospect, was 6-4 forward Bobby Lane of Isadore Newman High (New Orleans), the do-it-all leader of two consecutive LHSAA (the all-white organization) Class A state championship teams.
(Oh, LSU didn't get Lane, either. He chose to attend and play at Davidson, N.C., College.)
Here is the Dale Brown version of Hayes' "what could have been" story.In Hayes' fabulous college career at the University of Houston (late 1965 to March 1968), he was the nation's best college player not named Lou Alcindor. A 16-year NBA career followed and included 27,313 points, 16,279 rebounds, one NBA championship, two other Finals appearances and 12 All-Star Games in a row.
Several years later, he made it to LSU.
By now, he operated a company that cleaned campus dormitories and he had come to LSU seeking a service contract. He visited with Coach Brown, and that night attended the LSU basketball banquet.
"He told me it was the first time he'd ever been on the LSU campus," Dale recalled. "And then he got very emotional about LSU. He said that when he was in high school, he really wanted to go to school there and wrote a letter to the LSU coaches. Never heard back from them."
LSU was a football school always. It did have a couple of basketball highlights -- a pre-NCAA Tournament national championship in 1935 (Sparky Wade's team) and, led by Bob Pettit (from Baton Rouge, and a future NBA all-timer), SEC championships in 1953 and '54, and an NCAA Final Four in '53.
Jay McCreary, an Indiana Hoosier through and through, was near the end of a less-than-mediocre eight years as LSU head coach when Willis Reed and Elvin Hayes came along.
McCreary ignored Hayes. University of Houston coach Guy Lewis did not.
It was Lewis and assistant Harvey Pate who recruited Hayes and another Louisiana black-school star, guard Don Chaney -- from Baton Rouge no less (McKinley High) -- and signed them on the same day to integrate the Houston program.
(Lewis and Pate would bring their talent search back to Louisiana, most notably for guard Poo Welch from LaGrange-Lake Charles in 1969 (after two years in junior college), Dunbar -- best player other than Parish many of us saw in high school -- out of Webster High-Minden in 1971, and "outlaw" Benny Anders from Bernice in 1981.)
Houston, riding Hayes' turnaround jumper and rebounding prowess, became a national powerhouse.
In the famous "Game of the Century" -- Jan. 20, 1968, before 52,693 paid at the Astrodome, the first nationally televised regular-season college basketball game -- Elvin and No. 2-ranked, 13-0 Houston stopped No. 1-ranked, 14-0 UCLA, winner of 47 consecutive games over 2 1/2 seasons. Hayes outscored the awesome Alcindor 39-15, outrebounded him 15-12, and made the winning two free throws in Houston's 71-69 victory.
(That season, Houston twice played Centenary, winning 118-81 in Houston and -- yikes -- 107-56 in Shreveport. Hayes scored 40 the first game, then 50 at Hirsch Youth Center.)
Houston went to two NCAA Final Four in a row (1967 and '68), and lost to UCLA in the semifinals both years. In '68, the revenge score was a rout, 101-69.
LSU didn't go anywhere from 1954 until Brown's program finally took hold in 1979 and became a postseason regular.
Let's backtrack to early 1964 as Hayes was finishing high school. Willis Reed was finishing that spring at Grambling College, about 20 1/2 miles directly south from his hometown of Bernice (which is 73 miles from Rayville).
Don't know if Willis ever thought about LSU. But what a sensational four-year career he had at Grambling.
|Willis Reed: a young star at Grambling College|
(no thoughts of LSU in the early 1960s).
Photo from Small College Basketball Hall
And, of course, he helped the Knicks to their first NBA championship in 1970, made the Basketball Hall of Fame, became a team executive ... and a legend.
LSU obviously never gave him a look. Not in 1960, at West Side High School in the Bernice suburb of Lillie (that is a joke; it's all very rural territory).
"You can't believe the number of black players who were not recruited before schools in Louisiana were integrated," Dale Brown said in suggesting this post.
Oh, yes, we can believe. Those of us who can name many of the great players Louisiana high school basketball has produced know.
And so, just a sampling from the 1950s through about 1970 when LSU -- and other state schools -- finally followed the basketball integration path first taken by Southwestern Louisiana and Louisiana Tech:
-- Bob "Lil' Abner" Hopkins, a lithe 6-8 center-forward from Jackson High in Jonesboro who scored 3,759 points (29.8 per game) for Grambling in 1952-56, then played four years in the NBA and was the Seattle Supersonics' head coach in 1977.
-- Bob "Butterbean" Love (Morehouse High in Bastrop, then Southern University 1961-65, a 6-8 small forward who for eight years was a scoring machine for the NBA's Chicago Bulls).
-- Lucious Jackson (also Morehouse High, then Pan American in Edinburgh, Texas, which he led to the 1962 NAIA national championship) and then as a bullish 6-9 power forward helped Wilt Chamberlain and the 1967 Philadelphia 76ers to the only NBA title not won by the Boston Celtics in an 11-year span.
-- Chaney, a guard, a defensive phenom who started for those Hayes-led Houston teams, then helped the Celtics win two NBA titles and was an NBA head coach for 12 of his 22 years in coaching.
-- Wilbert Frazier (Webster High in Minden, Grambling 1961-65), a 6-7 forward who had two pro seasons.
-- The players out of McCall High (Tallulah): guard Jimmy Jones (Grambling 1963-67, then a six-time all-star in the American Basketball Association) and three stars on Stephen F. Austin's NAIA power in the early 1970s -- guard James Silas, a top-flight ABA and NBA player for Dallas and San Antonio), forward Surrey Oliver and center George Johnson.
We could give you a long list of terrific players from Louisiana that LSU did recruit successfully, and a long list of good/great ones that LSU could not sign, who chose another Louisiana school perhaps closer to their homes or decided they wanted to play for an out-of-state school.
But if you have gotten this far, you have earned an ending. So we will return to Robert Williams and Texas A&M.
He is the Aggies' biggest star, a strong 6-10 forward who likely will be a high NBA Draft pick. He is that good, has that much potential.
Coming from Oil City, Louisiana (just north of Shreveport) and out of North Caddo High School, he might have been a natural for LSU.
No. Although LSU -- when Johnny Jones was head coach -- was very interested and recruited him, Williams apparently always preferred A&M.
So this NCAA Tournament, in fact today, might be the end of his college career. The Aggies face Providence in the first of the day's 16 first-round games. LSU faithful can watch Williams and think, "What could have been."
Elvin Hayes and Willis Reed probably will be watching, too.