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Second only to Kobe?
LeBron James and Kobe Bryant faced off in a showdown for the ages, last night, with former Jayhawk, Darnell Jackson, having a pretty good seat at the end of the Cavs’ bench. I promise that won’t be my only link to KU in this blog, but bear with me. It’s not every day that you’re treated to a battle between the two best players in the world. Kobe (20 points, 12 assists, 6 rebounds) got the best of LeBron (23 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals) this time around and Jackson played one minute and did not record a stat. Wouldn’t it be great if these two met in the NBA Finals and we got to see them do battle for seven games?I’ve always been a Kobe fan. Loved him from Day 1, and have continued to root for him through all of his attitude issues and other, more documented, troubles. I haven’t always liked LeBron. I quickly grew tired of the Tim Tebow/Tyler Hansbrough-esque media attention LeBron received as a high schooler and wasn’t sold on his greatness during his first year or so in the NBA. Today, however, one word describes my thoughts about LeBron — Witness. It may be blasphemy, but I’m comfortable with the idea that someday, several years down the road, LeBron James might replace Michael Jordan as the best player the game has ever seen. We’ll save that for another blog or whatever it may be known as years from now. Here’s the irony about last night’s match-up. Both Bryant and James were the hands-down, undisputed No. 1 NBA prospects of their high school classes. But would you believe that the No. 2 can’t-miss NBA prospect in Bryant’s class actually played at KU? According to KUSports.com editor Jesse Newell, known in the past for his insane allegiance to the Jayhawks, one college hoops publication from back then actually named a former Kansas Jayhawk as the second best pro prospect of Kobe’s class. Any guesses? Paul Pierce, maybe? Wrong class. Kenny Gregory? Close, but the NBA scouts weren’t exactly drooling over KG the way the college coaches were. In the interest of not dragging this out any longer, I’ll give you the answer. Lester Earl. Earl, you may remember, started his college career at LSU before transfering to Kansas. Big Les arrived at KU with high hopes, and Jayhawk fans had even higher expectations. But it’s fair to say that Earl left his best basketball at the 1996 McDonald’s All-American Game, where he defeated Kobe, Tim Thomas and a host of others in the Slam Dunk Contest. Safe to say we didn’t see too many dunks like that from Earl while at KU. Wow!Injuries had a lot to do with Earl’s struggles at KU. He averaged just 5.1 points and 4.2 rebounds in 63 career games and missed more than half of his senior season (1999-2000) with a serious knee injury.Because of that, no one can know how great Earl could have been — in college or beyond. If nothing else, the extreme hype surrounding Lester Earl shows that these high school recruiting rankings should only be taken so far, especially when projecting NBA talent. It’s hard enough to predict which guys will pan out in college.