College Basketball Nation: Stanley Johnson

The College Football Playoff begins today.

So let’s play the “What if?” game.

What if these players had picked football? Would they be playing on ESPN today? The following is a list of college basketball players who could be -- should be? -- playing football. They chose basketball, but it doesn’t take a genius to recognize that they have the athleticism and makeup to transition to the gridiron.

Agree? Disagree? Tell us on Twitter by using #Top10Thursday.

1. Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky

Willie Cauley-SteinMark Zerof/USA TODAY Sports
Hey, Nick Saban. Any interest in a 7-foot wide receiver who caught 57 passes for 1,140 yards as a senior in high school? Oh, Cauley-Stein also scored 14 touchdowns (in the first nine games) of his 2011 campaign at Northwest High School in Olathe, Kansas. Would you like a guy like that at Bama, Coach?

2. Ryan Spangler, Oklahoma

Ryan SpanglerMark D. Smith/USA TODAY Sports
He’s a key piece for an Oklahoma team that could win the Big 12. But the 6-foot-8, 231-pound forward used to be a stud quarterback in Oklahoma, where prep stats don’t come easy. He led Bridge Creek High School (Bridge Creek, Oklahoma) to the playoffs and threw for nearly 7,000 yards and 71 touchdowns over three seasons.

3. Shaq Goodwin, Memphis

Shaq GoodwinJoe Murphy/Getty Images
Goodwin thought about playing two sports in college. The 6-foot-9, 228-pound former wide receiver drew interest from powerhouse programs, such as Florida and Georgia, that were willing to let him play football and basketball. Goodwin, who reportedly ran a 4.6 40-yard dash in high school, might one day star in his other sport.

4. JayVaughn Pinkston, Villanova

JayVaughn Pinkston AP Images/Icon Sportswire
Multiple college basketball players have made the transition to professional football. The 6-foot-7, 235-pound Pinkston is built for that switch, if he wants to pursue it. He’s a rugged athlete with the strength and agility to excel on the football field.

5. Marvin Singleton, Northern Iowa

SingletonDavid Purdy/Getty Images
Throughout a stellar prep career in Minnesota, folks asked Singleton one question: Why are you here and not over there on the football field? But Singleton remained loyal to the hardwood. Today, the 6-foot-6, 237-pound senior is a solid forward on a ranked Northern Iowa team ... instead of a tight end with the Chicago Bears.

6. Cliff Alexander, Kansas

Cliff AlexanderAP Photo/Orlin Wagner
Alexander grew up in Chicago. Someone in that city allowed Alexander, now 6-foot-8, 240 pounds, to play football with the other kids. He didn’t play organized basketball until eighth grade. What did he do before that? Hurt anyone and everyone who tried to stop him on the football field, I’m sure. You know what you do if a kid like Alexander shows up to your Pee Wee League? You pull your kid off the team. That’s what you do. Ain’t worth it.

7. Mo Alie-Cox, VCU

Mo Alie-CoxGeoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports
Alie-Cox chose basketball. It was a good choice. He’s a critical piece in Shaka Smart’s rotation. But imagine if the 6-foot-6, 250-pound forward had picked football. Where would he be today? He’s a force in the paint. He’s tough to defend because he’s so strong. And he looks like a guy who could do damage for the Rams. In St. Louis.

8. Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin

Nigel HayesAP Photo/Andy Manis
Last season, Hayes’ father was asked about his son’s football future. He joked about the idea. But not with a “no way, never” tone. It was more like “you have no idea.” Hayes’ brother, Kenny, was the No. 9 prospect in the state of Ohio (2011) per RecruitingNation, and he signed with Ohio State. So it wouldn’t be crazy for new Badgers football coach Paul Chryst to approach his buddy, Bo Ryan, and ask to borrow Wisconsin’s 6-foot-7, 250-pound forward next fall. “Just for a few months, Bo. ... I mean, where’s your school pride?”

9. Stanley Johnson, Arizona

Stanley JohnsonIcon Sportswire/AP Images
Johnson played football, but he grew tired of the sport as a freshman in high school. But football never left him.

“When I was younger, it was weird because I’d play football games,” Johnson told ESPN.com, “and then go play basketball and run everybody over.” Oh.

10. Joshua Smith, Georgetown

Joshua Smith AP Photo/Kathy Willens
His brother played for Washington. And he’s 6-foot-10, 350 pounds. What else do you need to know?
Editor’s note: During the next five weeks, we will reveal the top 50 coaches in college basketball, as decided by our ESPN Forecast panel. Today we unveil No. 11: Arizona’s Sean Miller. On Monday, we release No. 10.

With the foundation that Arizona’s Sean Miller has established, he’s poised to become one of the “next” coaching icons in college basketball.

[+] EnlargeSean Miller
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesSean Miller doesn't quite rank No. 2 in our list of the top 50 coaches in college basketball, but the Arizona coach could climb higher than No. 11 soon.
Florida coach Billy Donovan said there’s no need to wait for the Krzyzewskis and Boeheims of the world to retire. He believes Miller belongs in the conversation of elite college basketball coaches "right now."

“Certainly you can look at a lot of coaches and their longevity,” said Donovan, who has Miller on his coaching staff for the USA Basketball’s Under-18 National team this summer. “But if you look at what Sean has done ..."

Miller took over at Arizona in the 2009-10 season after the transition to find Lute Olson’s successor was anything but seamless. Kevin O’Neill -- the one-time coach-in-waiting – took over on an interim basis but was fired after one season. Russ Pennell then took over during the 2008-09 season but he was not retained.

The situation Miller inherited caused Miller to focus on building “a player’s program.” His philosophy evolved from an unwritten plan to developing solid relationships with past, current and future players into the Wildcats’ definitive mantra.

Donovan said Miller has already turned around what was “a very, very difficult situation.”

“Coming from the Midwest -- and he’s a Pittsburgh guy -- and then going out West and having to establish recruiting ties and have people find out who he is and what he’s about, I think Sean is an elite coach right now,” Donovan said. “He’s done a terrific job.”

Miller's last four recruiting classes have all been ranked in the top 10 nationally. The 2014 class, highlighted by Stanley Johnson -- the No. 7 prospect in the ESPN 100, was ranked No. 7.

Success on the court has followed for Miller. The Wildcats claimed their second Pac-12 title under Miller this past season. They also returned to No. 1 in the Associated Press poll for the first time since the 2002-03 season.

Miller has reached the Elite Eight twice in his five seasons at Arizona. including last season as a No. 1 seed before suffering an agonizing 64-63 overtime loss to Wisconsin. Naturally, the next step for Miller is to make a Final Four and bring a national championship back to Tucson, Arizona, and the Wildcats return a team that will again be among the preseason favorites. But Donovan said Miller doesn’t need that for validation.

“I’ve mentioned this to Sean sometimes, a lot of times people identify success in terms of getting to a Final Four,” Donovan said. “And then if a guy gets to the Final Four a bunch of times and doesn’t get to the championship game they talk about that. And then if a guy gets to the national championship game but doesn’t win they talk about that.”

Donovan, who led the Gators to back-to-back titles in 2006 and 2007, said sometimes “society tries to paint what success looks like,” and that winning a national championship “doesn’t really define you as a coach.”

“What defines you as a coach, in my opinion, is how your players talk about you and what kind of impact you make,” Donovan said. “At the end of the day every year there is only going to be one team standing. That’s it. And more often than not you’re not going to be that team.”

One of Donovan’s first interactions with Miller came back in 1986 when he was a senior guard at Providence and Miller was a high school senior making an official visit to the school.

Assigned to be Miller’s host, Donovan joked he knows why Miller ended up committing to Pittsburgh.

“According to him, when he saw how hard we worked and how hard we practiced, I think he was a little concerned with how he’d handle it,” Donovan said.

Miller’s got a firm grip on things now, which makes him a coach to keep an eye on for the future.

3-point shot: LSU hires Musselman

June, 19, 2014
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Andy Katz discusses LSU's hire of Eric Musselman, Arizona signee Stanley Johnson, and Elfrid Payton's rise.

3-point shot: Under-18 buzz

June, 16, 2014
6/16/14
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In today's 3-point shot, Andy Katz reports about the four players who are looking like the stars on the U-18 team for Team USA, Myles Turner's potential impact at Texas and a 2016 prospect who is turning heads.

3-point shot: Major replacements

May, 16, 2014
5/16/14
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In today's 3-point shot, Andy Katz reports on how three key players from the 2013-14 season -- Aaron Craft, Shabazz Napier and Aaron Gordon -- believe they'll be replaced.

Class of 2014's best defenders 

May, 7, 2014
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In high school basketball, the best players usually concentrate on their offense because that’s how their teams win games. But there are several prospects who have the potential to be elite defenders. Let’s examine the five best defenders among the incoming freshmen and one from the Class of 2015.

1. Justise Winslow, Duke
Winslow has a college-ready body and mindset that will help him influence the game with his defensive prowess. His defensive versatility might be the best among the entire freshman class as the 6-foot-6 forward can defend point guards through power forwards. The athletic Winslow can be a factor in full-court pressure or trapping situations as well as in a straight-up man-to-man denial defense locking up, the opposing team's best offensive threat. What makes him a special defender is that he is always thinking about where he should be next on the floor. Winslow will be extremely important for Duke next season.

Scout's take: Stanley Johnson to Arizona 

November, 15, 2013
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Why he committed: Stanley Johnson (Santa Ana, Calif./Mater Dei) has developed a close relationship with Sean Miller and the Arizona staff through the years. He has been to the campus a few times and it was always thought amongst the scouting community that the Wildcats would be there in the end.


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Class rankings analysis: Nov. 6 

November, 6, 2013
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We are one week away from the national signing period for men’s basketball. Seven of the top 17 recruits in the country are still on the board. Here's the latest on some schools rising and falling in the ESPN class rankings:


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Class rankings analysis: Oct. 30 

October, 30, 2013
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As we come down to the wire for basketball's early signing period in November, many of the best players in the nation have finished their visits and are ready to make their decisions. Here’s a look at how some of the recruiting classes are shaping up as we get closer to the signing period:

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Class rankings analysis: Oct. 9 

October, 9, 2013
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In the latest edition of the 2014 recruiting class rankings, UNLV moves in, while last year's title-game participants, Michigan and Louisville, move up. Here's a look at the latest moves and trends in the rankings:

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RecruitingNation: Stanley Johnson interview

August, 7, 2013
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Stanley Johnson, the nation’s No. 12 player, discusses his five official visits -- and two planned unofficial visits -- with Dave Telep and recaps his busy summer, capped by 17 points and 11 boards in the adidas Nations finale.

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