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The best players who were almost Arizona Wildcats

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Oh, what could have been...

arizona-wildcats-stephen-jackson-brandon-jennings-savage-halladay-kopech-withey-tabor-ferguson Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

The Arizona Wildcats have reeled in some elite athletes over the years, but they could have had even more had a few things gone a little differently.

Here is a list of some big names that were once committed to Arizona but never played for the school. Let us know in the comment section if we missed any.

Terrance Ferguson

A McDonald’s All-American, Ferguson was supposed to be part of Arizona’s famed 2016 recruiting class that included Kobi Simmons, Rawle Alkins, and Lauri Markkanen, but he opted to forgo college and play professionally in Australia instead.

After one season in the Land Down Under, Ferguson was selected in the first round by the Oklahoma City Thunder, where he is currently emerging as a serviceable 3-and-D starter.

This season, the 21-year-old averaged 6.9 points per game while shooting 37 percent from 3.

Roy Halladay

A first-ballot Hall of Famer, Halladay was committed to Arizona out of high school, but signed with the Toronto Blue Jays after they selected him with the 17th overall pick in the 1995 MLB Draft.

Spending time with both the Blue Jays and Philadelphia Phillies, Halladay posted a 3.38 career ERA in over 2,700 innings of work and won two Cy Young Awards. He died in a plane crash in November of 2017. He was 40 years old.

Stephen Jackson

A McDonald’s All-American, Jackson was committed to Arizona in 1996 but was declared academically ineligible, causing him to go to junior college for a semester.

A few months after Arizona won the 1997 national championship—a team Jackson would have been a part of—he was selected in the second round of the NBA Draft by the Phoenix Suns.

Though he did not debut until 2000, Jackson played in the NBA for 14 seasons, averaging 15.1 points per game over his career. He won an NBA championship with the San Antonio Spurs in 2003.

Brandon Jennings

The No. 1 player in the 2008 class, Jennings was committed to Arizona but signed for $2 million in Italy before declaring for the NBA Draft the following year.

Who knows how Jennings would have fared in college, but it probably would have gone very well. He averaged 15.5 points and 5.7 assists per game in his rookie season with the Milwaukee Bucks, who selected him with the 10th pick in the 2010 draft.

Michael Kopech

The flamethrowing right-hander was committed to Arizona, but was selected by the Boston Red Sox in the first round of the 2014 MLB Draft and wound up signing with the club for $1.4 million.

Currently one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, the 23-year-old Kopech has logged 395.2 career innings in the minors, posting a 3.05 ERA and a whopping 514 strikeouts.

Now in the White Sox organization, Kopech was a key piece in Boston’s acquisition of star left-hander Chris Sale.

Kopech appeared in four MLB games in 2018, but is out for the 2019 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

TJ Leaf

A McDonald’s All-American, Leaf decommitted from Arizona and ended up at rival UCLA, where he averaged a team-high 16.3 points and 8.2 rebounds per game in 2016-17, earning a spot on the All-Pac-12 First Team.

The stretch forward went on to be a first-round draft pick by the Indiana Pacers, though he has only averaged 3.4 points and 1.9 rebounds in 111 career games in his NBA career.

Leaf’s decommitment paved the way for the Wildcats to sign Lauri Markkanen, a trade Arizona will take 10 times out of 10.

Greg Maddux*

One of the best pitchers in the modern era, Maddux was a second-round MLB Draft pick in 1984 and decided to sign with the Chicago Cubs instead of attending the University of Arizona.

Maddux went on to be an eight-time All-Star, four-time Cy Young Award winner, and an 18-time Gold Glover winner. The crafty right-hander, who was able to locate and change speeds as well as anyone, is eighth in MLB history in career wins (355) and finished with a 3.16 career ERA in 23 seasons. He is the only pitcher in MLB history to win 15 or more games in 17 straight seasons.

Tom Savage

The 2011 season was a forgettable one for Arizona’s football team, the two most notable things being Mike Stoops’ midseason firing and an in-game brawl with UCLA the following Thursday—that may or may not have been instigated by a streaking student dressed as a ref. It was also the final year of Nick Foles’ tremendous career with the Wildcats.

But he wasn’t the only future NFL quarterback on the roster.

Savage sat out 2011 after transferring from Rutgers, where he played for two seasons. He was hoping to succeed Foles in Tucson, but that plan changed after Rich Rodriguez and his spread offense replaced Stoops’ more pro-style approach, and less than nine months after transferring in he was on his way out again.

He ended up at Pitt, where after sitting out another season he threw for 2,958 yards and 21 touchdowns. That somehow tricked the Houston Texans into taking him in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft, and in four years with Houston he started nine games but won just twice.

Jalen ‘Teez’ Tabor

While never making the Rose Bowl is still No. 1, not far behind on the list of things Arizona football has never done is sign a 5-star recruit. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t close a few times, particularly during the Rich Rod era.

In fact, Tabor (who went by Jalen back then) was in line to be that first 5-star signee when he committed to the Wildcats on Jan. 2, 2014 during the Under Armour All-American Game on national TV. It was a huge moment in program history, and as yours truly put it, signified Arizona had “joined the ranks of big-boy college football.”

Well, for a week, at least.

Seven days later, Tabor had flipped to Florida. He ended up intercepting nine passes (returning three for TDs) in three seasons with the Gators before getting drafted in the second round by the Detroit Lions in 2017.

Arizona would go through a similar heartbreak less than seven months later when 5-star quarterback Shea Patterson, who had been committed since Dec. 2012, flipped to Ole Miss (no thanks to the Rebels hiring a family member to the football staff).

Jeff Withey

The big man enrolled at Arizona, but decided to transfer to Kansas after UA coach Lute Olson abruptly retired prior to the 2008-09 season.

Withey went on to be the two-time Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, a consensus Second-Team All-American, and first-team All Big-12 with the Jayhawks. The 7-footer set a Big 12 record for blocked shots and swatted 31 shots in the 2012 NCAA Tournament, breaking Joakim Noah’s all-time record.

Withey was a second-round pick by the Portland Trail Blazers in the 2013 draft and served as a backup in the NBA for five seasons before heading overseas.

*this section was added after several readers pointed it out to us