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Lucas: What Could Have Been Teams

Not sure if Adam Lucas reads THF but his article today serves as a nice follow-up to yesterday's discussion of possible teams. Lucas takes it a bit further by talking about all the teams that could have been if any number of Tar Heels had not gone to the NBA early.

The what-could've-been 1996 squad ranks with the potential 1983, 1985, 1999 and 2006 teams as the five of the most enticing teams that almost were in the post-1980 era. Forget scholarship limits, forget battles for playing time. Part of the appeal of the upcoming NBA alumni game on Sept. 4 in Chapel Hill is the chance to see some of those teams finally brought together on the Smith Center court.

1999's squad would have given Ed Cota another year with Carter and Jamison and put Cota's career assist record (with 1,030, he's a staggering 262 ahead of second-place Kenny Smith) even further into the stratosphere. The 2006 team would have been absurdly loaded, with returnees Raymond Felton, Rashad McCants, Marvin Williams and Sean May added to freshmen Tyler Hansbrough, Danny Green, Bobby Frasor and Marcus Ginyard.

The 1983 team would have added James Worthy to a team that already included Michael Jordan and Sam Perkins, while the 1985 Tar Heels could have added Jordan to a group that won the ACC regular season and reached the NCAA regional final.

"That '85 team would have been without Sam, but we could've added Michael to Brad Daugherty, Joe Wolf and those guys," says Roy Williams, who was an assistant coach on both the '83 and '85 teams. "I think '85 with Michael might have been a little better team than '83 with James."

But for pure athleticism, it's hard to imagine that any pseudo-Tar Heel team could handle the 1996 team. McInnis led the actual '96 Tar Heels in scoring with 16.5 points per game. Add his buddies Stackhouse and Wallace, of course, and the scoring pressure on the point guard would've decreased, leaving him free to feed Carolina's twin post presences or simply lob the ball to the wings. It would have meant decreased playing time for Williams, Okulaja and Dante Calabria, but it's hard to imagine a more formidable starting five.

So many possibilities, so little time.  The 1983 team would have had a legitimate shot at repeating if James Worthy had returned however they also lost PG Jimmy Black to graduation.  Black was instrumental on the 1982 team in that Derrick Phelps sort of way.  The 1985 team with Michael Jordan coming back would have been a lot like the 2009 team which won a ridiculous number of games versus very few losses yet fell short of the big prize.  Jordan, with his reputation of being a competitor, would have been on a mission to take care of business his senior season.  Probably the two least talked about versions of WCHB teams are 1999 and 2006.  Had Vince Carter and Antawn Jamison come back for another run in 1999 it would have been highly entertaining.  Granted they would be missing Shammond Williams' shooting but they also would be without Mahktar Ndyiae which has to be considered a bonus. Needless to say there probably would not have been any Weber St upset in the NCAA Tournament.  2006 offers an intriguing dilemma.  As much as we would have loved to have seen Raymond Felton, Rashad McCants, Sean May and Marvin Williams come back, had they done that, we probably would have missed out on Tyler Hansbrough being the legend of a player he became.  Yes, Hansbrough would have been a key part of that team but probably would have come off the bench, had his minutes and production limited to the point he would have looked like a very good player with a bright future.  In other words, Hansbrough probably does not break the UNC and ACC scoring records nor does he become this four year superstar.  In that respect you look back on the the possibilities for the 2006 team and are just as happy those guys went to the NBA as you might have been had they returned. The 2006 team may have had a 1994 feel about them.  In 1994 UNC returned a lot of key players but not the heart and soul in George Lynch.  The same would have been true in 2006 with three seniors, Jawad Williams, Jackie Manuel and Melvin Scott leaving and taking with them some of the leadership that turned that team into a champion.

Of course the fact UNC ended up with the 2009 title led by Tyler Hansbrough also takes the edge of the "what could have been" feeling in 2006. In all of the past cases, UNC did not win a title so we like to imagine the possibilities believing it would have garnered another banner.  That is the case in 1983, 1985 and certainly 1996 as well as 1999.  Because the freshman who came in with the 2006 season ended up winning a title, we are less inclined to worry too much about how that team would have done if the four NBA Draft entrants had returned. In the end we can toss these ideas around but speaking for myself, I think the journey we have enjoyed as Tar Heel fans is still plenty satisfying as it might have been otherwise.