Tourney talk: Hardwood to helmets 

March, 23, 2009
With the NCAA hoops tournament in high gear, I thought it'd be a good time to look at things through a football prism. And since there have been a few examples of basketball players who ended up as football guys, here are the 10 guys in the NCAA tourney who I'd like to see give football a try:

1. James Johnson, Wake Forest: Johnson has three things that would intrigue every NFL scout : a great frame (6-foot-9, 245 pounds), explosiveness (a 41-inch vertical) and toughness (21-0 in kickboxing competitions). Johnson is the son of a sixth-degree black bet and won world championships at age 17 and 18. Given his flexibility and explosiveness, I think Johnson would make for an intriguing defensive end prospect.

2. Charles Little, Dayton: One of the best leapers in college basketball, the 6-6, 247-pound Little posses a 43-inch vertical. He is exactly the kind of raw, dynamic prospect that some NFL GM could be interested in developing into a legit tight end, like Antonio Gates did. In fact, Little's probably more explosive an athlete than Gates was. Of course, that doesn't mean he possess the same great hand-eye coordination.

3. Greg Paulus, Duke: Could Paulus have really been Notre Dame's quarterback had he opted to go that route? Maybe, although I'm a bit skeptical. He was the 2004 Gatorade National Football player of the year, but he left many observers disappointed when he struggled against other elite high school players at the US Army All-American Game. Playing up in the Syracuse area, he completed 66 percent of his passes and threw for 43 touchdowns while playing against less than stellar competition. With his playing time dwindling for Duke basketball, there's been some speculation he might give football another try. As I wrote the other day, it doesn't appear that Duke would be the best spot for him to try and play QB since the Blue Devils already have a QB they really like in Thaddeus Lewis.

4. Sherron Collins, Kansas: A bulldog of a lead guard, Collins has been one of the stars of the first two rounds of the tourney, but he probably would be a major asset to Mark Mangino's football team as a wide receiver. Collins, a quick 5-11, 200-pound Chicago product, was actually a star wide receiver/free safety on the Crane Tech Prep football team and once broke the Chicago Public League record with 250 receiving yards against Carver as a sophomore. However, Bill Self's gain is QB Todd Reesing's loss.

5. Byron Eaton, Oklahoma State: The guts of this year's OSU team, Eaton was a terrific QB in high school in Dallas. In high school, he had 121 carries for 789 yards and 12 touchdowns. At 5-11, 210, I doubt that he has the ideal size to run Mike Gundy's offense, besides OSU needs more help on defense. Eaton has the moxie to fit right in as a linebacker. As my colleague Brian Bennett reported, Eaton's football career almost became a reality. He "seriously considered quitting basketball and walking on to the Cowboys football team. He never talked with football head coach Mike Gundy about it, but he said several football assistant coaches told him the' would reserve a spot and a jersey with his name on it."

6. Chris Kramer, Purdue: One of the toughest defenders in college football, Kramer, a former Big Ten Defensive player of the year award winner, has impressive football credentials. Before coming to Purdue, he threw for 1,336 yards passing yards and ran for 997 more as the quarterback for his high school football team. At 6-3, 205, he has the size to develop into a safety.

7. Kevin Payton, Minnesota: Since the Gophers missed out on local star Michael Floyd, Payton might be able to take some heat off standout WR Eric Decker. Payton sure would pass the eyeball test at 6-5, 215 -- and speed isn't a concern. He was the Minnesota state 400-meter track champion, finished second in the 200 and was on the second-place 4x400 relay team. Can he catch the ball, run routes or have the toughness to concentrate when a defender is bearing down on him? Who knows?

8. Venoy Overton, Washington: The peskiest defender on the West Coast, Overton quickly emerges as the guy rivals teams most hate to see. Overton not only is tenacious. but he also has the quick feet and acceleration to give people fits. At 5-11, 185, his size isn't bad and he does have long arms, which would be a plus at the cornerback position.

9. Toney Douglas, Florida State: The star of the Seminoles basketball team has bloodlines on his side. His brother, Harry, plays receiver for the Atlanta Falcons, and it's no stretch to think that his 6-2, 200-pound brother doesn't have the receiving skills to help Christian Ponder out.

10. Ethan Anderson, Siena: At 6-8, 260, you'd think this guy who be an ideal offensive tackle prospect. Anderson is a terrific all-around athlete, having lettered four times in high school in tennis, twice in football and once each in soccer and golf in high school.

Just missed the cut: Freddy Coleman, North Dakota State; Jonny Flynn, Syracuse; Pierre Henderson-Niles, Memphis; Jeff Adrien, UConn; Kemba Walker, UConn; Amir Johnson, Radford; Ty Lawson, North Carolina; Derek Mercer, American; Jeremy Pargo, Gonzaga; Blake Griffin, Oklahoma; Paul Harris, Syracuse; Arinze Onuaku, Syracuse; DeJuan Blair, Pitt and Lucas O'Rear, Northern Iowa.


• Blake Bell is the 6-6 junior QB that appears to be the next reason why a lot of college recruiters will be flocking to Wichita, Kan. There had been speculation that Bell's recruitment will be orchestrated through Brian Butler's Potential Players group. Not so. I spoke with Alan Schuckman, Bell's high school coach at Bishop Carroll, on Sunday.

Bell, who the coach says is a legit 6-6, 215, has attended Butler's combines and also is friendly with Bryce Brown. Turns out, Bell and Brown, the touted RB, have known each other since playing youth basketball together. However, Bell's family and his high school coach will handle the QB's recruitment. "He'll make his decision before the season starts," Schuckman said, adding that while some schools are trying to force Bell's hand, the QB has some time because many schools have targeted him as their top guy. "I'm sure it's gonna get uglier when he gets down to the last five. I'm just trying to keep it sane."

Last season, Bell's first year playing QB with the varsity, he threw for 2,871 yards, 34 touchdowns and eight INTs. Schuckman raves about Bell, saying that he not only has the ability to make all of the throws, he's also not one dimensional. And because he's only played one year of varsity football at QB, "he's just starting to hit it," the coach said, pointing out that Bell excelled as a wideout during his sophomore year. Bell plays about 90 percent from the shotgun, but he also gets some work from under center -- so he will be versed in also knowing how to take his drops.

Bell is expecting to visit around a dozen schools over the next few months.

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