Amar’e Stoudemire was a part of the prep-to-pro movement, as he was selected as the ninth overall pick by the Phoenix Suns in 2002 straight out of high school.
But what if Stoudemire had attended college? If Stoudemire was a prep player today, he would have been forced to attend one year of college before turning pro, but that wasn’t the case back then. Stoudemire was committed to Memphis before he declared for the draft, and he would have been the first of many superstar recruits for John Calipari. Stoudemire would have been a freshman in the 2002-03 season, one year after Memphis won the NIT.
The 2002-03 Tigers team was a talented bunch that returned to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1996. The Tigers went 23-7, including 13-3 in Conference USA play, and earned a No. 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Memphis was bounced in the first round of the tournament, though, as No. 10 seed Arizona State beat the Tigers 84-71.
If Stoudemire had attended Memphis, those fortunes would have been much different. Stoudemire would have created a dominant front line for the Tigers. Memphis had center Chris Massie, who averaged a double-double at 16.7 points and 10.8 rebounds per game, as well as a a a pair of talented forwards in Rodney Carney and John Grice. Grice averaged 11.5 points per game while Carney, a future first-round draft pick, averaged just under 10 points per game as a freshman. Memphis also had a 7-footer on their bench in Earl Barron who averaged 7.9 points per game and 5.5 rebounds per game.
If Stoudemire had been a member of that front line, it would have been one of the best in the country. Stoudemire would have been a dominant force in Conference USA play and would have helped Memphis earn a much better seed in the NCAA Tournament. Memphis was already good, as they beat the eventual national champion Syracuse in the regular season.
Memphis wasn’t just talented in the front court, though, as four guards averaged over eight points per game for the Tigers. Adding Stoudemire to the mix would have gotten a favorable seed in the NCAA Tournament and likely would have put them into the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that Memphis would have been a Final Four team, because that year’s Final Four was loaded. Memphis did beat Syracuse in the regular season, but that was in the opening game of the season. In the NCAA Tournament, I would take a Syracuse team led by Gerry McNamara and Carmelo Anthony over Memphis. I would also take the other three Final Four teams: Kansas, led by Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison, Texas, led by TJ Ford, and Marquette, led by Dwyane Wade, over Memphis.
Although the Final Four seems out of reach, reaching the Sweet 16 or Elite Eight would have been likely scenarios with Stoudemire on Memphis’ roster.