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Last Hurrah for Class of 99

November 18, 2002 Columns No Comments

Last Hurrah

by Jed Tai

On March 24, 1999, a select group of the nation’s top high school players gathered at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa for the premier showcase of U.S. prep basketball talent – the McDonald’s All-American game. After two-plus hours of spectacular passing, shooting, and dunking, the West defeated the East, 141-128, in a contest that set an all-time record for combined points scored.

All of the 21 players on the prestigious squad that year would go their separate ways after the game. While one bypassed school for the riches of the NBA, the rest headed to college. Naturally, expectations were high for each one of these players at their programs of choice, and all of them met these with varying degrees of success. Some would shine right away and stay in school only briefly. Others would hang around long enough to garner All-American honors before going pro. Four years later, some others are still in school as a rare breed – the senior McDonald’s All-American. Some are completing solid – if not spectacular – collegiate careers. Others will still be trying to live up to their high school reputations.

Here are the former McDonald’s All-Americans looking to finish out their college careers with a bang:

LaVell Blanchard, Michigan

LaVell Blanchard will end his career in Ann Arbor as one of the school’s all-time leaders in several statistical categories. However, his legacy will unfortunately partly be remembered as a player who never appeared in an NCAA Tournament. A lot was expected out of Blanchard when he entered as a freshman; he was a do-everything type of player who many felt would bring Michigan back to national prominence. Unfortunately, it has not worked out that way. Although Blanchard has shown brilliance and has put up terrific individual numbers, they have not translated into wins for the team. However, it has been a sign of loyalty on Blanchard’s part, as he has not bailed on the squad by jumping to the pros when he had the chance. And going into his senior year, even without the hope of playing the post-season due to sanctions, Blanchard will try to get Michigan back on the winning track as they build towards their post-probation future.

Keith Bogans, Kentucky

Like Blanchard, Keith Bogans will likely end his career high on his school’s all-time charts in number of stat lists. However, unlike Blanchard, Bogans has been a part of winning teams. One of UK’s top offensive threats ever since he stepped foot on campus, Bogans followed up a good freshman season with an All-SEC worthy sophomore campaign. A physical guard who could not only overpower opponents on the drive, but also sink the outside shot, Bogans was the team’s top scorer, over even more heralded teammate Tayshaun Prince. But perhaps the numbers blinded Bogans, who decided that he would try to enter the NBA Draft. Already short for an NBA shooting guard to begin with, Bogans didn’t help his cause with dismal pre-draft camp performances. Reluctantly, Bogans went back to school and it showed his junior year as all his numbers dropped. But all was not lost as he had a solid NCAA Tournament, and hopes that will build into a good senior season as he will be looked upon not just for his scoring, for his leadership as well.

Nick Collison, Kansas

One player who hasn’t been alone in the spotlight but has continued to do the job his entire career has been Nick Collison. Basically outshone his entire career by teammates/classmates Drew Gooden and Kirk Hinrich, Collison has not complained, but rather been Roy Williams’ rock in the paint with his consistent play. Entering college, the Iowa native was immediately compared to former KU great – and Iowa native – Raef LaFrentz. While Collison hasn’t quite put up the same numbers that LaFrentz did, he has more than been a key player for the Jayhawks and has done something LaFrentz never did – play on a Final Four team. Collison has improved his game each and every year, and has further honed his skills by playing international basketball – on Team USA with collegians on the Young Men’s Championship Team in 2001 and with pros on the World Championships Team in 2002. KU fans aren’t sweating the loss of Drew Gooden too much as they know they’ll still have Collison, who will no doubt step up to the task – perhaps enough to finally earn the spotlight for himself.

Brian Cook, Illinois

Ask coaches and players around the Big 10 who has had the most raw talent in the league the past few years, and the name you may hear most often is Brian Cook. Blessed with great size and skill, the 6’10” Cook’s all-around game has brought about comparisons to one of the all-time greats in college hoops, Danny Manning. However at the same stages of their careers, Cook – unlike Manning – has not been a dominating force, but rather a supporting cast member. Instead of taking charge himself, he has deferred to the likes of Frank Williams and Cory Bradford. But with those players gone and the Illini now a younger squad, there are no more excuses. It’s now Cook’s turn to shine – and U of I coaches and fans cannot wait to see it happen. In fact, it could be argued that the Illini’s fortunes will weigh heavily on if Cook can become an aggressive leader. The tools are all certainly there. It will be up to Cook if he will be up to the challenge and use them in his final season.

Jason Gardner, Arizona

It very nearly didn’t come to this point for Jason Gardner. After a fantastic freshman campaign – named national freshman of the year – and a sophomore year where he helped lead Arizona to the NCAA Finals, Gardner had reached a crossroads. Most of his teammates moved on to the NBA, and Gardner desperately wanted to as well. But after a poor pre-draft camp performance and receiving endless advice to go back to school, Gardner’s stubbornness finally subsided and he reluctantly returned to Tucson. While he was deeply disappointed at the time, in retrospect it couldn’t have been a better decision. Gardner took on the reins of a young team, developing into a true leader and helping the youthful Wildcats become a better team than anyone could have imagined. Now as a senior, he’ll captain a squad that is considered by many to be the favorite to win it all. Individually, his stock couldn’t be higher either. If he had left as a sophomore, he might have only been a footnote. Now after a great senior season, he’ll be remembered as one of Arizona’s all-time greats.

Jason Kapono, UCLA

Another player who wouldn’t be here today if he followed through with his pro aspirations is Jason Kapono. He’s had his chances to leave early for the NBA the past three seasons – he even declared for the draft after his freshman campaign but eventually withdrew. Instead of jumping to the pros, Kapono has returned to school each and every year. Because of this, when he finishes his UCLA career, he will rank third all-time in scoring behind only Don MacLean and Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar). Kapono has been a starter – and a star – at UCLA from day one. He came out of high school with the reputation as a shooter, and has more than lived up to that during his career. He has led the Bruins in scoring all three years he has been in Westwood, and his outstanding play helped him earn a spot on the gold medal-winning Team USA Young Men’s Championship Team in 2001. Because of his deadeye shooting ability and natural feel for the game, Kapono probably could have been a first round draft pick anytime he wanted to leave. Instead, he has stuck with school, and returns to UCLA for one final go-around, where an All-American year would certainly not be surprising.

Brett Nelson, Florida

Brett Nelson was hailed as the next Jerry West when he came to Gainesville. Naturally, that has been something simply impossible to live up to. It’s been a series of ups and downs for Nelson at Florida. As a freshman, he displayed immense potential and flair and was a key part of a team that reached the NCAA Tournament Finals. As a sophomore, he took his game up another level and became an all-conference performer. But his junior season, his role seemed to change. Instead of leading the team from the point and setting things up for others, Nelson started gunning away. In fact, by the end of the season you could argue that he was no longer playing at the point. Nelson almost left school for the NBA Draft after the year but eventually decided to come back. As a senior, fans are hoping that Nelson recaptures the form he showed in his first two seasons; a flashy, creative playmaker who could dominate games from the point. It will be key for the Gators as they have the talent to challenge for the SEC – and national – title.

Casey Sanders, Duke

Although he was a McDonald’s All-American, most knew that Casey Sanders would be a work in progress when he set foot on campus at Duke University. Unfortunately, nobody knew that three years later he’d still be a project. While his once-skinny body has physically matured, Sanders’ proficiency on the court has been spotty as best during his three-year career. After a freshman year that saw him watching and learning from the bench, it looked as if he had turned the corner late in his sophomore year. After Carlos Boozer went down with an injury, Sanders stepped into the starting lineup and delivered for Coach K and the Blue Devils, particularly on the defensive end. There was talk that Sanders had arrived. But as a junior, instead of starting, Sanders returned to the bench. Now as a senior, Sanders will have to fight off some talented freshmen for playing time up front. Although it seems clear that he’ll never be a star for Duke, everyone hopes that the hard-working Sanders can put it all together his final year to at least become a contributor defensively off the bench or as a spot starter.

Marvin Stone, Louisville

Marvin Stone’s collegiate career wasn’t supposed to last this long. A prep star who was not only physically built but also skilled, many were talking as if Stone could head directly to the NBA out of high school. But Stone chose to go to college at Kentucky, but many felt he would use it only as a short pit stop – dominating the paint along the way – before heading to the pros. Unfortunately, it has not turned out way for Stone. In Lexington, Stone not only never showed much dominance – he had a hard time getting into the starting lineup. By mid-year his junior season and a career full of struggles on and off the court, both Stone and Kentucky decided it was best that they part ways. Stone transferred to bitter rival Louisville for one last chance. If there’s someone who can bring out the talent that many once saw in Stone, it may be Rick Pitino. Stone will become eligible after the fall semester at Louisville, and will likely see immediate action in the middle. If he lives anywhere near half the billing he had out of high school, Stone’s presence will go a long ways towards Louisville’s challenge of returning to the NCAA tournament.

There are two members of the 1999 McDonald’s All-American squad who have more than one year of eligibility left:

Majestic Mapp, Virginia

If there’s one player with a hard-luck story in this group, it’s easily Majestic Mapp. In fact, it’s outright sad the tough time Mapp has had in his collegiate career. It started off well. Entering Virginia as a freshman, the future of Peter Gillen’s first UVa recruit seemed very bright. Mapp was a solid contributor off the bench and it looked as if his role would increase as a sophomore. But in the summer of 2000, Mapp tore the ACL in his right knee and underwent surgery, missing the 2000-01 season. It was expected that he would return in 2001-02, but more knee surgery forced him to miss a second consecutive year. Mapp continues to rehabilitate his knee, but recently suffered another setback that could delay his return even more. Given the hardship he’s suffered through, there’s no doubt that Mapp will get as much mercy from the NCAA to finish out his career. But despite all the problems, Mapp has remained steadfast, and his attitude has earned the respect of his teammates, who named him one of this year’s tri-captains of the team. He may never be a shining star again, but when he simply steps on the floor again, it will be a testament to his dedication and perseverance.

Damien Wilkins, Georgia

Another player from the Class of 1999 that won’t be a senior this year is Damien Wilkins. The son of former NBA player Gerald Wilkins, Damien will only be a junior this season due to sitting out a season after transferring to Georgia after his first two seasons at North Carolina State. Expectations are high for Wilkins at Georgia – but then again, they’ve always been high since high school. Ranked amongst the top recruits in the nation by most out of high school, Wilkins was viewed as a messiah of sorts as a freshman at NC State. He would have a solid first season for the Wolfpack, earning All-ACC Freshman Team honors. A second season in Raleigh would produce another solid, yet unspectacular season, but disagreements between the Wilkins family and the NC State coaching staff led to Damien declaring for the NBA Draft, later withdrawing and leaving the school. He transferred to Uncle Dominique’s alma mater, and has been working out at several positions for Georgia. Jim Harrick had great luck with transfers in the Hayes twins last year, and it’s expected that Wilkins will also be able to fit right in and contribute right away.

The other members of the 1999 McDonald’s All-American team and how they have fared in the NBA (listed in alphabetical order with the year they left school):

Jonathan Bender, HS to NBA (1999)
College: None. Went Pro after setting McD’s game scoring record
Pro/NBA: Still trying to crack the starting lineup with the Pacers

Carlos Boozer, Duke (2002)
College: 3 year starter and main post presence for Blue Devils
Pro/NBA: Fell to 2nd round, but made team and is off the bench for the Cavs

Mike Dunleavy, Duke (2002)
College: Star of 2001 NCAA Finals; surprised many by leaving early
Pro/NBA: Fighting for PT and struggling with his shot with the Warriors

Joseph Forte, North Carolina (2001)
College: All-American as a soph at UNC
Pro/NBA: With Sonics after a trade from Boston; trying to convert to PG

Donnell Harvey, Florida (2000)
College: Exhibited plenty of raw talent; surprise early entrant
Pro/NBA: Still developing with Denver; started career with Dallas

Casey Jacobsen, Stanford (2002)
College: Led team in scoring all three years; All-American
Pro/NBA: First round pick is waiting his turn for playing time

DeMarr Johnson, Cincinnati (2000)
College: Solid single season; one and done
Pro/NBA: Inconsistent career; likely out all year after a car wreck

Jason Richardson, Michigan State (2001)
College: All-American as a soph; key reserve on 2000 title team
Pro/NBA: Won 2002 Slam Dunk Contest; starring for the Warriors

Kenny Satterfield, Cincinnati (2001)
College: Star combo guard for two seasons
Pro/NBA: Competing for the starting PG slot with the Nuggets

Jason Williams, Duke (2002)
College: Superstar; College Player of the Year in 2002
Pro/NBA: No. 2 overall pick of the 2002 draft; starting at PG for Da Bulls


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