While he’s spent this season scoring 20 or more points for 31 straight games and setting a single-season franchise record for the Knicks, there was a time when Carmelo Anthony was the center of the New York State basketball universe. As a freshman at Syracuse during the 2002-2003 season, Melo was the premier diaper dandy in the nation, earning NCAA Freshman of the Year honors while also being named Second-Team All-American. Anthony led the Orangemen to the Big Dance, and continued his dominant play all the way up to the Final Four, where he dropped 33 points on Texas in the semis. In the championship game against Kansas, Melo had 20 points and 10 rebounds, leading Syracuse to its first ever NCAA title, winning the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award, and capping off what some call the greatest season for a freshman in college hoops history.
The same year Melo led Syracuse to a National Championship, a guard from Marquette nicknamed “Flash” did everything in his power to prove there was more than one superstar in the 2003 tournament. Dwyane Wade had established himself as one of the best players in the nation during his junior season, being named First-Team All-American and leading the Golden Eagles to a Conference USA Championship. In an Elite Eight matchup against Kentucky, the top ranked team in the field, Wade delivered one of the greatest performances ever in the tournament, recording only the fourth triple-double (29 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists) in March Madness history. The win secured Marquette a berth in the Final Four, its first trip since winning the national title in 1979. The team lost to Kansas in the semis, but Wade’s performance propelled his NBA stock in what became one of the greatest drafts in league history (Anthony, Wade, LeBron James, Chris Bosh).
While his one-and-done college career has since been marred by a grading/recruiting controversy (which ended up vacating Memphis’ 07-08 season) no one can deny the impact Derrick Rose had on the NCAA during his freshman year with the Tigers. Leading the team to a 33-1 record in the regular season, Rose was looking like the next coming of Carmelo Anthony heading into the 2008 Big Dance–a freshman capable of taking his team all the way. Rose was impressive throughout the tournament, edging out current NBA starting point guards like D.J. Augustin of Texas in the Elite Eight, and Darren Collison of UCLA in the Final Four semis. Despite averaging an incredible 20.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 6 assists in the tournament, Rose missed a crucial free throw in the final seconds of the title game against Kansas (more on that later) and Memphis went on to lose. Rose quickly declared for the NBA Draft, and went first overall to the Chicago Bulls.