THE SWEET SIXTEEN - #14 - SHAREEF ABDUR-RAHIM#14 - SHAREEF ABDUR-RAHIM - FORWARD (1996)
Lots of people would probably disqualify Shareef from this list since he played only one year at Cal before entering the NBA draft. We'd suggest those people a) consider the long and not-always-storied history of Cal basketball, and b) try to remember what Shareef's freshman season was really like.
He was a prized recruit, to be sure - a two-time Georgia Mr. Basketball at Joseph Wheeler HS in Marietta, he chose Cal in large part because of the large Muslim community in the Bay Area. Abdur-Rahim's father trained to be an Imam in Atlanta, and raised Shareef in a devout environment - to this day, his son remains deeply committed to his faith.
In 1994-5, Todd Bozeman's third team at Cal limped to the finish line, losing nine of their last eleven games. And then Shareef Abdur-Rahim took the floor at Harmon Gymnasium. In his first college game against Northern Arizona, Shareef scored 33 points and dominated the contest on both ends. He would go on to score more than thirty points three more times, and average 21.1 ppg for the season. He had tremendous range on his jumper for a 6'10" player, and was also unstoppable in the paint with quickness that has never been matched before or since at Berkeley. As proof of his all-around game, he led Cal with 52 steals.
The rest of the country seemed to agree. Abdur-Rahim was the first freshman to be named Pac-10 Player of the Year, and was a near-unanimous choice as National Freshman of the Year. He was a 2nd team All-America choice by Basketball Weekly and College Sports magazines, and a 3rd team AP and NABC choice.
Of course, it all ended too quickly. Iowa State smothered Shareef and his teammates in the first round of the NCAA tournament, and then Cal's phenom was gone to the NBA. The turmoil surrounding Cal's program didn't help, but let's face it - Shareef was ready, and he's proved it over a ten year career with mostly miserable teams (he's never played in the post-season).
How's this for a what-if: If the current rules governing college entry to the NBA were in force in 1996, Shareef would have returned to Berkeley (ed - this is a mistake; we were confusing the CFB rules with CBB) and our starting five would have been him, Tony Gonzalez/Al Grigsby, Yogi Stewart, Ed Gray and Prentice McGruder. And we might have won the whole damn thing, Ed Gray's broken foot notwithstanding.