Kelly Oubre, Stanley Johnson and Fred Hoiberg weren't just in different places one year ago, but on different levels.
All three are currently part of teams battling for an Eastern Conference playoff spot. In 2015, the trio was involved with the madness of March as NCAA Tournament participants.
Though they graduated to the NBA, thoughts this week drifted back to dreams of cutting down the nets.
"It was beautiful," said Oubre, who ultimately experienced the one-and-done event as a one-and-done freshman with Kansas. "It was a great atmosphere. It's totally different. Just like the NBA playoffs I'm sure, everything is ramped up, more focused."
Unfortunately for the Wizards rookie, the beauty didn't last long. Kansas, second-seeded in the Midwest region, lost 78-65 in the round of 32 to Wichita State in Omaha. That prevented the Jayhawks from reaching the so-called Sweet 16.
"It wasn't that sweet, though," Oubre noted of the shorter-than-hoped experience.
Johnson, a fellow rookie with the Detroit Pistons, had a longer run, though perhaps with a more painful finish.
"It was a lot of fun last year, trying to dance," said the athletic forward and one of the leaders for Arizona last season. Also a No. 2 seed, the Wildcats advanced to the West Region final before losing to eventual national runner-up Wisconsin.
"We got to the Elite Eight. I could see the Final Four from there and you have to win one more game," Johnson said. "To have that taken from us in a couple of seconds was hard for us."
Johnson, the eighth pick in the 2015 Draft, believes he learned a lesson from the pain.
"If I could do it over again I would do it the same way," he said of his entire freshman season. "I think I learned a lot from the losses and the wins. You learn to respect the game a little more after losing a game like that."
At least the two players won a game in last year's tournament. Hoiberg's Iowa State team entered as the third seed in the South Region. Two hours after tipping off against No. 14 UAB, the Cyclones were blown out of the tournament. Fast forward a few months later and Hoiberg bolted Ames for Chicago. The attachment for the Bulls coach and his family clearly remain.
"I'm excited for the opportunity for those guys," Hoiberg said of the current Cyclones. The No. 4 seed in the Midwest is packed with players Hoiberg recruited and coached.
"Obviously, I have very close relationships with those players and hope they can go on a great run.
His family went to Denver where Iowa State opens the tournament against Iona with Purdue possibly lurking in the second round.
"If they do, if they get by these first two games, they'll be in Chicago for the Sweet 16 game, so really hoping that happens."
The idea of getting past a game or two doesn't apply on the NBA level where it's all about playing a best of seven series. The idea of lose and go home adds excitement, but let's just say Johnson is ready to try out the other format.
"I think the one-and-done thing is fugazi," said Johnson, using a slang word for fake. "I really do. I think if you give us seven shots at Wisconsin, I think we beat them probably in six games.
"But that's what makes college so fun, especially with not as many good players. Once you start playing a series, the better players start standing out."
Not surprisingly, all three picked their former schools to win it all this season. When never knows for sure with the often unpredictable tournament, though Oubre's Jayhawks enter as the overall No. 1 seed.
"Our team is flowing," the 20-year-old said of the experienced Jayhawks.
What Oubre experienced during his lone shot in the NCAA Tournament stuck with him.
"You can just feel the basketball vibe going around with everybody," he said. "It's a competitive spirit that's going around the college basketball world right now.
"I'm excited to see these games. Let the madness begin."
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