In the dog-eat-dog world of recruiting, second place is as good as never being a part of the game at all. The road to a successful team usually begins and ends with the signing of the most talented prospects that are wooed by the siren song you sing during the recruiting process.
Considering that the Men's Basketball season is over, it's time for the armchair quarterbacks (er, point guards) to start picking apart the season that was and postulate on the 'what if' scenarios that go through the mind of the obsessed fan.
As I gorged myself on tournament basketball these past two weekends, I saw some names that rattled around in my head due to that strange sense of familiarity you get when you know that you've read or heard it before. As I started to Google some of these names, it came back to me; at one point or another, they were K-State recruits. Not only were they recruited by KSU, but they went so far as to take a visit to Manhattan and the campus. However, unlike the good hearted warriors that suited up for the 'Cats this year, these young men decided to pursue their college careers elsewhere.
Some of the names may mean nothing to you, and some may make you go, "Ah!" There are a couple of names that are sure to make you go, "Damn...if we only would have signed that guy!" Regardless, I thought it would be interesting to present them to you and let you ponder "what if" as I have.
I decided to go back to 2004 to try and retrieve names that may be relevant to you. I used that as my cutoff date because any player that signed in 2004 "could" have competed this year had they used a redshirt year sometime in the last five years. Anything beyond that would have had to have some sort of crazy circumstance to compete this past season.
I've decided to sort these players by year to put them in perspective. I've only dug up one player from 2004 since only one of those players was active this past season, but the name might surprise you...
Name: Chamberlain "Champ" Oguchi
School Selected: Oregon (Finished career at Illinois State)
Awards: Missouri Valley "Newcomer of the Year" (2009), Missouri Valley Second-team All-Conference (2009)
Summary: This is a name that became relevant to K-State fans very recently. Well, less than a week ago to be exact. "Champ" Oguchi is the ISU player that caused the 'Cats fits during their first round NIT game last Wednesday. Oguchi torched KSU for twenty-three points on 5-10 shooting from beyond the arc. On the season, Oguchi averaged 15.2 points and 5.4 rebounds per game en route to Second-team All-Conference honors. Prior to his two years at Illinois State (one was a redshirt), Oguchi spent three seasons at Oregon.
Impact: High - Kansas State needed a consistent scoring threat from the outside, and a guy with Oguchi's size that can shoot nearly 40% from three would have helped immensely.
Name: Marcus Walker
School Selected: Nebraska (Transferred to Colorado State)
Awards: Mountain West Third-Team All-Conference (2009)
Summary: Some folks may remember Marcus Walker because of his flashes of ability during his Freshman season at Nebraska. However, when Barry Collier left NU, Walker ended up transferring to Indian Hills Community College in Ottumnwa, IA. After his lone season in Junior College, he transferred to Colorado State where he became a standout performer for the Rams. He averaged 17.1 ppg during his two seasons in Ft. Collins.
Impact: Medium - I don't think Walker would have been much better than Pullen or Clemente, but he was a decent scorer that probably could have provided some depth from the bench.
Name: Stefhon Hannah
School Selected: Missouri
Awards: Big 12 "Newcomer of the Year" (2007), Big 12 Third-Team All-Conference (2007),
Summary: The legend. Any K-State fan that closely followed recruiting during Bob Huggins' first recruiting class knows the name "Stefhon Hannah", and to this day, his name elicits mixed feelings amongst the fan base (even our own editors). Sources claimed that Hannah signed and faxed a letter of intent to play for Huggins, but his mother wouldn't sign it as she wanted him to play for Mike Anderson. Hannah himself later refuted this by saying that he signed LOI's to both schools and ultimately sent one to the school of his choice. Regardless, he had the K-State coaching staff anticipating an LOI that never appeared. For that, he drew the ire of KSU fans everywhere.
To make matters worse, Stefhon could ball. During his Junior season, Hannah was the Big 12's "Newcomer of the Year" and an All-Conference selection. He could have seriously contributed to a team that was in desperate need of an exceptional point guard.
If you don't believe me, as yourself one question: Would you have liked to have seen Michael Beasley, Bill Walker, and Stefhon Hannah on the floor at the same time?
Yes, you would have.
Regardless, to follow up his exceptional Junior year, Hannah got himself into a bar fight near the end of his Senior year that essentially ended his career and the Tigers chances of making an NCAA Tournament run. Kansas State fans wondered what may have happened had Hannah faxed that LOI to KSU. Maybe, in the end, he did too.
Impact: High - in the past two seasons, KSU was in desperate need of an exceptional point guard who could score and distribute. Hannah fit the bill for both. While he probably wouldn't have played in '08-'09, you wonder if added successes incurred by the Wildcats due to his presence on the team may have helped this year's team by providing additional NCAA Tournament experiences (2007) and a deeper run in 2008.
2007 (The Year That Could Have Been):
Name: Tyrel Reed
School Selected: Kansas
Summary: There isn't too much to say here. Reed, so far, has proven to be a lesser guard than the one chosen to replace him, Jacob Pullen. On this year's team, Reed would have given the 'Cats a fairly reliable three point threat from the perimeter, but it's not really possible for anyone to say that he's a better guard than anyone that we have on the roster.
Name: Kristof Ongenaet
School Selected: Syracuse
Summary: I only assume that the coaches recruited this guy because his name would have looked funny on the back of a jersey. He barely amounted to squat over the past two years for Syracuse.
Impact: Very Low - He may have been better than a walk-on, but that's about it.
Name: Victor Dubovitsky
School Selected: Kansas State...but opted for pro ball in Russia
Awards: Beet rations?
Summary: Dubovitsky is kind of a forgotten entity in K-State basketball recruiting. A couple of years ago, Billy Gillespie convinced Dubovitsky that College Station would be a good place to spend his final two years of college. However, when Billy Clyde decided to take the Kentucky job, Victor decided that it was time to reopen his recruitment. Kansas State stepped in to fill the void for the sharp shooting Russian big man, but at the last minute, he opted not to attend KSU and pursue professional ball in Russia.
Honestly, I couldn't dig much up on the kid. Mainly because I can't speak Russian. However, it sounds like he was loaned to some other team. Maybe it was for bread? Or a goat?
Impact: Medium - Let's face it; KSU could have used a 6'7" forward that could bomb a three-point shot on a consistent basis. He may not have brought the multi-dimensonal attributes that Sutton does from the wing, but he may have provided more of a scoring spark. Regardless, this one has always been a big 'what if' due to the fact that he had received some attention from good programs, and he was a standout player on an always exceptional Chipola J.C. squad.
Name: Marshall Moses
School Selected: Oklahoma State
Summary: Moses hasn't gotten a lot of attention prior this season as he's mostly been a role player in his first two years, but he blossomed this conference season. In his last ten games, he had six double doubles, and since the conference opener against Texas A&M, he scored in double figures nine times. He's proven to be a strong inside presence for the Pokes, and he picked up solid minutes accordingly as the season went on.
Impact: Medium - He wouldn't have been a world beater, but he most likely would have been the second or third best post man for Kansas State had he been on the roster. So, he would have had a positive impact...especially since he still has two years to play.
Now, I'm warning all of you right now...prepare to be sick...
Name: Marcus Thornton
School Selected: LSU
Awards: SEC "Player of the Year" (2009), SEC First-team All-Conference (2009), Wooden Award Finalist (2009), SEC Second-team All-Conference (2008)
Summary: Do you think KSU could have used a 6'4" shooting guard who scored in double digits in all but four games he played this year and averaged 21.1 ppg with 47.2% FG? Yeah, I do.
Impact: Very High - I'm not going to over-analyze this one too much. We needed consistent scoring from the perimeter, and any time you have a major conference POY on your squad, it's a good thing.
Name: DeJuan Blair
School Selected: Pitt
Awards: Big East "Co-Player of the Year" (2009), USBWA and Sporting News First-Team All-American (2009), Freshman All-American (2008)
Summary: This probably makes you as sick as it does me. DeJuan Blair visited Manhattan the same weekend as Michael Beasley, Marcus Thornton, and Fred Brown. Do you wonder what it would have been like to have both Michael and DeJuan on the blocks while Thornton chucked up threes? I sure do.
Impact: Insane - Picture Michael Beasley and DeJuan Blair on the blocks at the same time. We'd have a Final Four banner hanging in Bramlage right now.
Name: Montrell McDonald
School Selected: Arkansas
Summary: Not much to see here. The kid ended up getting suspended by Pelphrey, and it looks like he never finished the year.
Impact: None - I'm not going to over think this one either. Dude didn't finish one year of D1 ball. He would have been no good to us.
Name: Josh Crittle
School Selected: Oregon (God, quit taking our players already)
Summary: Crittle had a fairly uneventful Freshman year for a bad basketball team that happened to beat us.
Impact: None - He may end up being a decent player eventually, but I'd say guys like Curtis Kelly and Wally Judge will work out better in the long run.
Name: Mario Little
School Selected: Kansas
Summary: Little is kind of an interesting prospect. At times, he's shown flashes of significant ability. However, an early season injury has probably caused him to play down to a lower level than he's capable of.
Impact: Medium - I'm going to inflate the impact Little could have had because I believe that he most likely wouldn't have gotten injured at KSU (eh, why not assume that?), and he would have probably started over Sutton on the wing. Since we were lacking scoring down low, Little probably would have been given more opportunities to show his abilities at KSU since he wouldn't have had options like Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich in front of him.
So, as you can see, there have been a bevy of good (and average) players that have stepped on KSU's campus in the past few years. Some of these players had solid careers. A few of them flamed out. A couple of them became elite players. Regardless of what you think of them individually, imagine what this lineup would have looked like like in 2007/2008:
PG - Stefhon Hannah
SG - Marcus Thornton
SF - Bill Walker
PF - Michael Beasley
C - DeJuan Blair
That's a sick, sick lineup right there. Now imagine what this year's roster would have looked like had Bill and Mike left and Hannah graduated:
PG - Denis Clemente
SG - Marcus Thornton
SF - Dominique Sutton
PF - Darren Kent
C - DeJuan Blair
That lineup may not have the same amount of pop that the other one did, but that's still a lineup with two Wooden Award finalists, a Second-team All-Conference selection (Clemente), and two nasty defenders in Kent and Sutton. That would have been enough to keep this team in contention for a Big 12 title, and they most likely would still be playing in the NCAA tournament.
While this post may depress some who read it, I believe it brings up an important point. We really have no idea of the potential that some of these kids possess when they're being recruited by KSU, and if they show enough interest in the school to actually visit, you could have a chance to field a very special team. Look at that theoretical '07-'08 lineup and tell me that it doesn't give you chills thinking about what might have been?
With the rehiring of Bill Snyder, there's been a lot of talk about "coaching up" lightly recruited players in hopes of creating sustained success. However, when you go back and look at recruiting hits and misses (mainly misses), you see what kind of impact recruiting has on the makeup of any given team and program, and you quickly realize that recruiting ability is a critical component in the successes of an NCAA coaching tenure. Even though other schools may mock Frank Martin's high school coaching background, the fact that he has stepped up recruiting at KSU (like Huggins did in his short time here) is a big reason why folks are so excited. They understand that wins follow talent, and talent follows wins. If Martin is able to lay down a solid foundation with these highly recruited athletes, winning begets more winning, and our beloved Wildcats will continue to see more postseason appearances and national exposure.
My hope is that as we continue to see the growth in this program, more Marcus Thornton's and DeJuan Blair's choose to attend KSU after their visit as opposed to looking and committing elsewhere. As you can see, keeping them here could have lead to some good looking teams and levels of success not seen around these parts since a guy named Tex Winter coached here.
We can only hope that you get us there Frank. Godspeed.