Paolo Banchero only played one season of high school football in Seattle, Washington, but his old coach believes he could have been a top NFL draft pick if he stayed with the sport.
"I think he would have been a first-round draft choice. There's no doubt," former O'Dea High School head coach Monte Kohler told Sporting News' Stephen Noh. "... Even as a freshman, he was the best player on the football field, the best athlete."
Kohler has experience coaching NFL talent. Five of his former players made it to the NFL since Kohler began coaching at O'Dea in 1985, including Miami Dolphins running back Myles Gaskin and former Minnesota Vikings receiver Nate Burleson.
"Paolo was on that level, for sure," Kohler added.
As a 6-foot-8 and 215-pound freshman, Banchero split time under center with junior starting quarterback Emonte Scott and completed 15-of-36 attempts for 191 yards, three passing touchdowns and one interception in 10 games. It was Banchero's rushing ability that caught the eye of the O'Dea coaches.
"There were a few runs and throws he made as a freshman that was like, 'Wow, this is pretty amazing," Kohler, now the athletic director at O'Dea, said. "He took the ball, avoided the sack and took off running. He outran everyone on the field for a 30-yard touchdown," Kohler said. "I realized he was the fastest kid on the field. He had that extra gear."
Banchero's move to basketball
O'Dea won the Class 3A title that year over Rainier Beach, 38-11, but Banchero left the team to pursue his basketball passions full-time. Kohler and former teammate Owen Prentice tried to persuade Banchero to come back to the football team, but both knew he'd ultimately choose basketball.
"I knew it was inevitable," Kohler said. "... I tried to get him to come back out his senior year as a third-down quarterback. If he didn’t like what was out there, he could just take a knee so he wouldn't ever get hit. Because he could throw, he was a freak the way he threw the ball."
"I'd say it was very close. I wasn't sure which sport he would pick," Prentice said. "There were a few times we tried to convince him [to switch back to football]. He would brush it off and joke about it. We all understood that's the way he was going. ... I don't think choosing was super easy. I think he really liked playing football."
sometimes i wish i didn’t grow past 6’4🤦🏽♂️🤣 https://t.co/Hcc1WVcDmq
— Paolo Banchero🇮🇹 (@Pp_doesit) June 20, 2022
Banchero's basketball career soon brought him to Duke, where he averaged 17.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game during the Blue Devils' 32-7 season in coach Mike Krzyzewski's final season. Duke lost to North Carolina in the Final Four in April, where Banchero recorded a double-double with a team-high 20 points and 10 rebounds. He averaged 18.8 points, 7.6 rebounds and 3.4 assists in the 2022 NCAA tournament.
Now, Banchero is NBA-bound. Yahoo Sports' Krysten Peek mocked Banchero to the Houston Rockets with the No. 3 overall pick.
But Banchero's old football coach won't stop thinking about what his quarterback could have turned into as an NFL prospect.
"His mechanics, he'd be a professional quarterback. That's how good he was," Kohler said. "How he handled himself, how he moved in the pocket, his ability, there's no doubt about it. ... If Paolo had stayed in football, he would have been one of the top recruits in the country,"