If you don't think hoop dreams are fickle, consider the story of Randy Livingston.
He was maybe the best high school player Louisiana had ever produced, a future NBA lottery pick.
Louisiana State Coach Dale Brown almost ordered a ring-fitting when he signed the point guard from New Orleans' Newman High.
But last Friday, with the Tigers looking up from last place in the Southeastern Conference, having already lost star guard Ronnie Henderson to knee surgery, Brown watched glumly as Livingston announced he was leaving school to devote himself to the rehabilitation of his oft-injured right knee.
"Although I've persevered and attempted wholeheartedly to rehab and rejoin my teammates on the court, my efforts have seemingly been in vain," Livingston said in a statement.
On July 4, 1993, the summer before he arrived at LSU, he blew out his knee in a pickup game in Michigan and underwent reconstructive surgery.
He redshirted his freshman year, returned in 1994 and, even on a gimpy leg, was leading the nation in assists (10 per game) when he broke his right kneecap against Arkansas in late January.
There have been three surgeries since, the latest in September, but the knee has never been the same. Other nagging injuries plagued him this season, leading to Friday's decision.
Livingston didn't drop out because he's a bad student. To the contrary, he's ahead of graduation schedule. He left so he could move to Birmingham, Ala., to rehab with famed orthopedist James Andrews.
Livingston says he will re-enroll at LSU in the fall. What kind of player he returns as, no one can be sure.
But no one can doubt what he was.
"I thought he was a sure shot for NBA stardom," said Arkansas Coach Nolan Richardson, who saw Livingston in high school. "I'm not talking about going to play in the NBA, I'm talking about NBA stardom."
You didn't have to tell Brown, who has been in a funk for weeks about the wham-bam losses of Henderson and Livingston. Brown's funk didn't figure to improve after junior guard Deuce Ford, LSU's top remaining scorer, left a game against Mississippi State Wednesday night because of an apparent sprained right knee.
For Brown, who failed to win national championships with Chris Jackson, Stanley Roberts and Shaquille O'Neal in his lineups, Livingston maybe offered Brown his last, best chance.
Brown is 60, in his 24th season at Baton Rouge, in the second year of a four-year contract and probably headed for his third consecutive losing season after a stretch of 10 NCAA tournament appearances in a row and 17 non-losing seasons.
Recently, Laker Vice President Jerry West called to console Brown, whose team began the week 11-13 overall and 3-9 in the SEC.
West told Brown he lost two NBA lottery picks in Henderson and Livingston.
"He said 'Let me give you an example: What would we have done without Magic and Kareem?' " Brown said. "We're trying to put both him and Ronnie out of our minds."
Good luck. Brown says there's a slight chance Henderson could be back in time for the SEC tournament, LSU's only chance of reaching postseason play.
Brown can only wonder about what might have been with Livingston.
"Let me give you the best analogy," Brown said. "We lost to Magic Johnson's [Michigan State] team that won the national championship. They would have not gone anywhere without Magic. Kansas, with an average team, wins a national championship with Danny Manning. We lost in the Final Four to Indiana and Isiah Thomas. Without him, they go nowhere. Indiana State had four mediocre players and one superstar, Larry Bird. Georgetown would not have won the national championship without Patrick Ewing."
"He [Livingston] was a superstar of the highest quality," Brown said. "He is the best point guard overall that I've ever seen in high school."
DEAD LAST? DEAD WRONG
Iowa State, picked to finish last in the Big Eight preseason media poll, is turning corn country on its ear.
Coach Tim Floyd's Cyclones have become one of this year's top feel-good stories.
Iowa State began the week at 18-6 and ranked 22nd by the Associated Press, a minor miracle considering what was lost from last year's 23-11 team.
Understand what Floyd was up against: The five holdovers from last year combined for 65 points. Floyd brought in nine new players and replaced four of his five starters.
"We had no expectations at all," Floyd said. "We had fears going into season it could be a nightmare."
Eleven of his 14 players are juniors, led by transfer Dedric Willoughby, the conference's second-leading scorer at 20 points per game.
What about the experience factor?
"It's vastly overrated," Floyd said, "because we've had none this year."
Mere months after being picked to finish last in Dick Vitale's College Basketball Yearbook--"Ohhhh, baby, I blew this one!"--Iowa State is now almost certain to get an NCAA tournament bid.
"I hope the experts are right about us being in," Floyd said.
Heck, when have they ever been wrong?