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Kobe Bryant and the Letter He Received From Dean Smith

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Here is an interesting tidbit from a New York Post article on Kobe Bryant about his decision to enter the NBA directly from high school.

Bryant estimates receiving well over 500 scholarship offers. Some were from colleges in places he never knew existed whose courses and schedules are completed online. Each day during a break, he would glide into Lower Marion H.S. coach Gregg Downer’s office and pick up the latest batch of recruitment letters.

One jutted out above the rest. It was from Dean Smith, not a form letter from the University of North Carolina, mind you, but a hand-written message from the aristocrat coach.

"I couldn’t wait to read it, but I didn’t want to do it with people looking over my shoulder," recounted a roused Bryant . "So I opened it quietly during English class while the teacher was talking."

Smith said he had heard how well Kobe had played against UNC’s Jerry Stackhouse (third pick of ’95 draft, by the 76ers) and knew it was all but certain he would turn pro when he graduated.

"However, by any chance, if you change your mind, I want you to know I’m holding a scholarship for you."

Does Bryant still have the letter?

"Are you kidding, bro! Of course, I still have it! It’s from Dean bleepin’ Smith!"

One of the discussions that takes place on the message boards is speculation about where players who went directly from high school to the NBA would have gone had they attended college. Predictably, almost every big name player was a "lock" to UNC. In the case of Kobe Bryant he has made statements at different junctures about going to UNC or Duke depending on when he was asked. This letter and Bryant's treatment of it points to the possibility the Laker star may have given UNC a serious look had he opted for college instead of the NBA. This is also another glimpse of Dean Smith who opted for the personal touch of a handwritten letter which clearly made an impact on Bryant.

And since we are here, let's take a little walk down the "what could have been" road. Let's say Bryant does decide to attend UNC to play for Dean Smith and shows up as a freshman for the 1996-97 season. For the sake of argument, let's say Bryant decides to stay in school two years meaning the starting lineup for the 1998 Tar Heels would have been Ed Cota, Shammond Williams, Kobe Bryant, Vince Carter and Antawn Jamison.

Yes it is a complete fantasy but an interesting one to entertain nonetheless.