In the following article, I will attempt to look at the top 10 players to ever ply their trade on the Southern Conference basketball hardwood.
In the nation's fifth-oldest conference, there have been many unforgettable moments and performances provided by this top-10 list, and narrowing to just 10 players was not an easy undertaking. This will be the first of a two-part article in which I take a look at the top 10 players in league history. The first installment will include the top four players of all-time.
1. Frank Selvy (Furman, 1951-54)
Feb. 13, 1954 will live in college basketball lore as one of the truly great accomplishments on the hardwood, as Furman University senior forward Frank Selvy scored 100 points in a 149-95 win over in-state rival Newberry College. His 100th point came as a result of a jumper just inside the mid-court stripe as time expired in front of better than 4,000 fans packed at Greenville, South Carolina's Textile Hall, lifting the Furman University basketball program as well as himself into college basketball fame.
The Corbin, Ky. native helped rescue a fledgeling Furman basketball program that had gone just 3-20 in th 1950-51 season, with Selvy leading Furman's junior varsity or "freshman team" to an undefeated mark. The Corbin Comet, as he later became known, rescued the Furman varsity team in the 1951-52 season, averaging 24.6 PPG to lead the nation as a sophomore, helping the Paladins forge a remarkable turnaround with an 18-6 season-ending mark.
As a junior, Selvy averaged 29.5 PPG, and in his senior season, he became the first college basketball in history to finish a campaign, averaging better than 40 points per game (41.7 PPG) and scoring more than 1,000 points in a season (1,209). That's insane!
Upon being drafted into the National Basketball Association as the No. 1 pick of the Baltimore Bullets in 1954, Selvy left Furman holding 24 national college basketball records and had scored 50 or more points eight times in his Paladin career. He enjoyed a 10-year career in the NBA, enjoying a stint in Milwaukee before retiring as a Los Angeles Lakers in 1964.
2. Jerry West (West Virginia, 1956-59)
Jerry West led maybe the greatest team in Southern Conference history and the only one to ever reach the national title game in junior season of 1958-59. West and the Mountaineers would come up just short in the title game, as California topped the Mountaineers in heartbreaking fashion in the title game with a 71-70 win.
The small forward managed to garner Most Outstanding Player honors of the final, however, as he scored 28 points and grabbed 11 boards in the title game.
West finished his illustrious career with 2,309 points and 1,240 rebounds. He averaged 24.8 points per game and 13.3 rebounds in just three seasons with the varsity team. He garnered the SoCon's Player of the Year Award in all three seasons as a Mountaineer.
West would go on to enjoy a Hall-of-Fame 14-year (1960-74) NBA career with the Los Angeles Lakers, playing alongside Selvy. At the time of his retirement after the 1973-74 season, he was the Lakers' all-time leading scorer. His versatility as both a perimeter shooter and a force in the paint and on the boards would eventually lead to West becoming a Hall-of-Fame inductee.
His propensity for being able to knock down the big shot during crunch time of a ball game earned him the nickname "Mr. Clutch," and his silhouette is the current official logo of the National Basketball Association.
3. Stephen Curry (Davidson 2006-09)
Curry, son of former NBA sharpshooter and local "Queen City" legend Del Curry, and his Davidson Wildcats captivated the college basketball nation in the 2008 NCAA Basketball Tournament, putting the proud program back among the Division I elite on the hardwood with a run all the way to the Elite Eight.
The super sophomore was an assassin for the Wildcats, as the long-range threat helped the Wildcats take down Gonzaga (82-76), Georgetown (74-70) and Wisconsin (73-56) before losing to eventual national champion Kansas (59-57) in the Elite Eight. He was Southern Conference Player of the Year in each of his three seasons in a Davidson uniform.
Curry would finish his Davidson career after three seasons, opting to leave a year early for the NBA Draft. In just three seasons, Curry became the school's all-time leading scorer (2,635), and upon his graduation, his 414 triples ranked him 25th in NCAA Division I history in three-pointers made.
He was a consensus All-American in his sophomore and junior seasons, garnering second-team honors as a sophomore and first-team accolades as a senior. In his final season at Davidson in 2008-09, he led the nation in scoring (28.6).
The 2009 NBA Draft saw Curry become the school's second first-round selection, as he was selected seventh overall by the Golden State Warriors, where he is in his third season with the team.
Keith "Mister" Jennings (East Tennessee State, 1988-91)
Keith "Mister" Jennings was a diminutive point guard that led the East Tennessee State basketball program to its greatest heights in the early 1990's, even helping the former SoCon power to an Associated Press Top 10 ranking in 1992.
Jennings was simply one of the most electrifying players in Southern Conference history, and he led Alan LeForce's Bucs to three-straight Southern Conference crowns, though he was originally recruited to the Johnson City by Les Robinson, who left to become head coach at North Carolina State for the 1987-88 season.
At just 5'7", Jennings was not only a dynamic scorer, but went on to become one of the greatest passers in college basketball history. With just a flick of the wrist, Jennings tossed mid-court alley-oops to explosive leapers Rodney English and Calvin Talford with regularity and made the Bucs worth the price of admission for college hoops lovers.
Jennings went on to finish with 983 assists in his college career, which ranked second all-time upon his graduation in 1991 and still ranks fourth in NCAA Division I history. He was a two-time Southern Conference Player of the Year honoree.
Jennings won the Frances Pomeroy Award for the best player under six feet tall as a senior and was a consensus Associated Press Second Team All-America selection as senior. He was signed as a free agent by the Golden State Warriors in 1992, where he played three years alongside Chris Mullin and Tim Hardaway before retiring.
6. Frankie King (Western Carolina, 1993-95)
Though he only played two seasons at Western Carolina, Frankie King might have been the best player to ever don the Purple and Gold uniform of Western Carolina. The two-time Southern Conference Player of the Year was simply a sensational player during his career for the Catamounts, which saw him score 1,495 points during his two-year career as a Catamount.
King, a native of Baxley, GA., was a major college recruit coming out of high school, but most backed off King after he had some academic issues entering the recruitment process. Fortunately for Catamount and Southern Conference fans, former Catamount head coach Benny Dees never did.
King would play two years at Brunswick Community College before coming to Western Carolina as a junior in the 1993-94 season. During his two seasons at Brunswick CC, King showed why he was such a highly sought after player initially, as he averaged 22.0 PPG as a freshman and followed that up by averaging an astounding 31.2 PPG as a sophomore.
He arrived at Western Carolina in the fall of 1993, ready to take SoCon basketball by storm, becoming one of the best pure scorers in college basketball over the next two seasons. King was a sensational athlete, with great power and leaping ability, as well as possessing the ability to step out beyond the perimeter and connect on the outside shot.
One game in particular summed up what King could do against big-time competition at the Division I level of college basketball. In a Dec. 30 loss at Duke, King poured in 30 points against the Blue Devils in an 87-67 loss at Cameron Indoor Stadium. King also had a big game helped a Western Carolina team overachieve in the Southern Conference Tournament, helping the Catamounts to the semifinals before dropping a 93-89 decision to the Davidson Wildcats. King would record his final 40-point performance of the season, posting 40 points in 94-89 loss at East Tennessee State in early February.
In that SoCon Semifinal setback, King scored 41 points. He finished the campaign scoring 757 points, which ranks fourth in school history in single-season points.
King would lead the Catamounts to the brink of the school's first Southern Conference title in 1995, as Western Carolina finished second in the South Division that season, and would make it all the way to the Southern Conference Tournament title game.The Catamounts possessed one of the most dynamic backcourts in the modern era of the league, as King teamed with sophomore Anquell McCollum and the duo combined to average 44 points per game, with King averaging 26.9 of those points to lead college basketball.
In an early December game against Louisville, King put up another 41-point effort in a 108-76 loss. In the post-game press conference, former legendary Cardinals head coach Denny Crum said that there was no one on his team that could defend King one-on-one. King would lead the Catamounts to SoCon Tournament wins over Davidson (78-74) and Appalachian State (74-64), as the Catamounts advanced to the SoCon title game for the first time in school history.
The championship game pitted the upstart Catamounts against what had become the gold standard of Southern Conference basketball, in the Chattanooga Mocs coached by the legendary Mack McCarthy. After leading by as many as nine points in the second half, the Catamounts would eventually would eventually drop a 63-61 decision in heartbreaking decision. It would be the final act in a brilliant two-year career for King.
King would eventually be the second-round of the 1995 (37th pick) NBA Draft of the Los Angeles Lakers. Injuries would plague his career in Los Angeles, and he played only six games before being picked up by the Philadelphia 76ers in the 1996-97 season. King would eventually get cut by the Sixers and enjoyed a seven-year career in various stops in Europe, South America and the Middle East.