When I decided to go to the University of Oregon for graduate school in 2005 I was like, “Those hippies are going to be bummed when I remind them of the UC basketball team beating down the No. 5 Ducks in 2002.” (There were also feelings of, “Goddang UC givin’ me an English degree that ain’t worth nuthin’…”)
But before I could even get out there and wear my Jason Maxiell jersey on Oregon’s lovely campus (those dudes have about 1,284 bike racks, for reals), Bob Huggins had been let go and my confidence in UC’s 2007 National Championship plans (the pending recruiting class was going to be ridiculous) were shattered. Even worse, this scary guy named Ivan Johnson backed out of his commitment to UC, and guess what school he went to? Freakin Oregon.
Now, Ivan Johnson was never that great of a player for the Ducks. Head Coach Ernie Kent was always yanking him out of the game for playing streetball and trying to hurt people with his 6-foot-8, 260-pound body. But that’s what I liked to see. It just didn’t look the same when my dudes were wearing green and yellow.
I watched from friends’ apartments and my own shoddy, furniture-less pad as the last of Huggins’ recruits did their best during the school’s first year in the Big East. Andy Kennedy was cool, and Eric Hicks and James White jammed on people and made me feel good about myself. Freshman guard Devan Downey looked like a legit Division I player despite being 5-foot-9. But Armein Kirkland tore his skinny ACL midseason and Gerry McNamara made a running fru-fru shot in the Big East Tournament and ruined UC’s season. All the tough guys graduated and Downey transferred to South Carolina (he’s currently averaging 20 points per game and is one of two guys in the running for SEC Player of the Year).
Let me say, for the record, that Mick Cronin is doing a pretty damn good job rebuilding a Big East program that was left with one scholarship player three years ago. I do not mean to diminish what Cronin has done or will do by listing the following players that would have probably played at UC together for the 2006-07 season. Though choosing Cronin over Kennedy probably cost the program Downey, Cronin’s success and Kennedy’s recent frat boy-esque behavior prove that it was probably a good choice.
Nevertheless, Bob Huggin’s 2006-07 UC basketball team would probably consisted of the following:
Sophomore point guard Devan Downey — 20.1 points per game this year, current SEC Player of the Year candidate
Freshman power forward Michael Beasley — 26.2 ppg in 2007, second overall pick in 2007 NBA draft
Freshman point guard O.J. Mayo — 20.7 ppg in 2007, third overall pick in 2007 NBA draft
Freshman small forward Bill Walker — 16.1 ppg in 2007, second-round pick (47 overall) in 2007 NBA draft
Huggins got Beasley and Walker to go to a place called Manhattan, Kansas to play basketball for him. Mayo might have still gone to Southern California for his one year of college ball, but he was rumored to be pretty interested in winning the whole thing right quick in Cincinnati before he went pro (He and Walker were teammates at North College Hill High School). Who knows what other badasses Huggs might have brought in to compliment this group, but it’s safe to assume the Bearcats would have been a Top-10 preseason team with these guys alone.
It will be a while before Cronin’s ’Cats will have this kind of talent, though all signs point toward UC becoming a player in the Big East sooner than later. But dang if I wouldn’t have been able to talk mass shit in Oregon during my second year in school if this squad had come together. I might have been left off the school magazine production team that year (Sorry, Flux, I don’t care that rural bees dying is a sign of impending ecological disaster), but come March I would have fake jammed on so many stop signs in that hippie town. No one would have been able to stop me.