College Basketball: The Best Player Ever on Each Major CBB Team
So I realize now that by writing this article I am basically revealing my subjective list of what I consider major college basketball programs.
Does that mean it is exactly right? Of course not. After all, I only included power conference teams and your list of major teams may be completely different than mine.
So with that out of the way, here is a list of the best collegiate players of all time on each major college basketball team. Remember, NBA production was not considered. Basically, that means that Michael Jordan didn't automatically get the nod for North Carolina.
Feel free to debate any of the selections (teams or players) in the comments.
North Carolina: Tyler Hansbrough
Look, my NBA allegiances lie with the Chicago Bulls. A big part of me wanted to pick Michael Jordan here just because it’s Michael Jordan.
Well, the best player in the history of North Carolina basketball is actually Tyler Hansbrough.
Yes, it’s true. The same Hansbrough that collects dust on the end of the Indiana Pacers' bench for most of the game was a more accomplished collegiate player than the best player of all time.
In his stellar four-year career, Hansbrough was a unanimous selection for the ACC All-Conference team four times, was an All-American all four years, was the ACC Freshman of the Year, was named the 2008 ACC Player of the Year and won the National Player of the Year (both Wooden and Naismith Awards).
He was a national champion, is the ACC’s all-time leading scorer and even has the NCAA record for made free throws in a career.
So maybe Hansbrough hasn’t gone on to dominate in the NBA, but he certainly did in college.
Duke: Christian Laettner
Ah, yes. The poster child for Duke-haters everywhere just so happens to be the best player to ever don the school’s uniform.
While Christian Laettner was a great regular season player, he almost always saved his best for the NCAA tournament. And it takes a truly special player to play at his best when the lights are brightest.
As much as they may want to forget, Kentucky fans can probably back me up when it comes to Laettner’s ability in the clutch.
Laettner was the critical cog in Duke’s first two NCAA titles and is actually the only player to start in the Final Four in each of his four collegiate years.
He was a two-time All-American, the 1992 ACC Player of the Year and the 1992 National Player of the Year. He also holds a number of all-time NCAA tournament records, including points, games and made free throws.
Laettner never really replicated his collegiate success at the professional level, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t Duke’s best player ever.
Kansas: Danny Manning
Of every team on this list, this may have been the closest race. It basically comes down to a matter of opinion. Do you prefer a more accomplished career or a player who was better at his peak?
I personally lean toward the career in this case, which is why I gave the nod to Danny Manning over Wilt Chamberlain.
Chamberlain holds the all-time Kansas records for per game points (29.9) and rebounds (18.9) in a season and even scored 52 points in his debut.
But Manning was a three-time Big Eight Player of the Year, was a two-time All-American and won the Naismith and Wooden Awards. He also led the Jayhawks to an NCAA title (Wilt went to a title game but lost).
However, what ultimately puts Manning over the top is his status as Kansas’ all-time leading scorer and rebounder. He even holds the record for total points in a season.
It’s alright, Wilt. Rumor has it you hold some impressive records in other areas.
Syracuse: Carmelo Anthony
I am perfectly aware this makes me somewhat of a hypocrite, considering what I just said in the previous slide about overall careers versus players at their peak.
But the reason Carmelo Anthony is my top all-time player in the history of Syracuse basketball is because the school only has one national championship. Without Carmelo, that number would almost certainly be zero.
Anthony dominated during his only season for the Orange, averaging 22.2 points per contest and 10 rebounds per game. He even averaged 1.6 steals and .9 blocks a game (the Knicks may be wondering where that defensive effort went).
Of course, since Anthony was only in school for one year, there have been better overall careers in Syracuse history (Sherman Douglas comes to mind). However, Anthony’s role in bringing the school its only championship is too much to overlook.
Connecticut: Emeka Okafor
Yes, there have been better offensive players than Emeka Okafor to wear a Connecticut Huskies uniform, but there has never been a better overall talent on both ends of the floor.
The Huskies’ big man was a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, a National Player of the Year, a consensus All-American and the 2004 NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
More importantly, he was the dominant force on one of UConn’s national title teams and turned his successful collegiate career into a No. 2 selection in the NBA Draft.
To get a better sense of Okafor’s overall influence, look at his numbers in the 2003-04 season. He led the NCAA in total rebounds, he led the Big East in rebounds per game, he led the NCAA in total field goals, he led the Big East in field goal percentage, he led the NCAA in total blocks and was even sixth in the Big East in points per game.
Not a bad season.
The fact that his other years nearly mirrored the production of that incredible season is enough to place him on top of Connecticut’s all-time list.
Georgetown: Patrick Ewing
Perhaps the only person more important to the Georgetown basketball program than Patrick Ewing is John Thompson.
Thompson was the coach and Ewing was the star player on the school’s only national championship team (1983-84), and each helped establish the tradition that has seen Georgetown climb the ranks of the all-time best programs.
In fact, Ewing led the Hoyas to the national title game three times in his four seasons. He is Georgetown’s all-time leader in blocked shots and rebounds and is second in school history in total points scored.
He was so sought after following his outstanding collegiate career, that there are still conspiracy theories surrounding the hometown New York Knicks winning the No. 1 pick in the following NBA Draft.
Ewing was a three-time consensus All-American, won multiple National Player of the Year Awards and was named the NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
He is the clear choice among an impressive list of Georgetown greats.
Cincinnati: Oscar Robertson
If Kansas’ Danny Manning versus Wilt Chamberlain was the closest race, then this was probably the easiest selection.
Yes, Cincinnati has an impressive list of great players, including Naismith Player of the Year Kenyon Martin, but the Bearcats have never had someone as great as Oscar Robertson (how many teams have?).
Robertson put up video game-like numbers in his collegiate career. He averaged about 34 points and better than 15 rebounds (he was a point guard remember) per game as a Bearcat and is still the only NBA player to average a triple-double over a whole season (I know, doesn’t count here).
He was a consensus All-American every season as a Bearcat and won multiple National Player of the Year Awards.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about Robertson’s collegiate career is that the Bearcats didn’t win a national title with him on the roster but did win the championship in their first two seasons after Robertson left for the NBA.
Louisville: Darrell Griffith
Darrell Griffith could top the list of Louisville basketball players based solely on the strength of his nickname, “Dr. Dunkenstein.”
But he was also the Cardinals’ best player on the floor. Griffith is Louisville’s all-time leading scorer and was the instrumental piece on the school’s first ever national championship team.
He also won multiple National Player of the Year Awards, including the Wooden Award, in the same season the Cardinals took home the title. Moreover, Griffith is the only Cardinal to score more than 700 points in one season and holds the school record of 825.
Perhaps the most satisfying part of Griffith’s career for Louisville fans is that he elected to play for the Cardinals instead of the in-state Kentucky Wildcats after he was named Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball as a high school player.
Ohio State: Jerry Lucas
John Havlicek had a better NBA career (and a tremendous college career as well), but there was never a better Buckeye than Jerry Lucas.
In fact, if one was asked to make an all-time college basketball starting lineup, an argument could be made that Lucas would start at the power forward position.
Lucas was the best player on Ohio State’s lone national championship team. He averaged 24.3 points and an astounding 17.2 rebounds per contest, while shooting at a highly-efficient 62 percent clip from the field.
Furthermore, Lucas was a consensus All-American every season he was in Columbus, won multiple National Player of the Year Awards and was named the NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player in the season the Buckeyes won the national title.
There have been few players in the history of college basketball that can match Lucas’ career. None of them played for Ohio State.
Michigan: Glen Rice
Glen Rice narrowly edges the lesser known Cazzie Russell as the best basketball player in the history of the Michigan Wolverines.
Just as Carmelo Anthony is the primary reason Syracuse has one national championship banner instead of zero, Rice was the critical piece for Michigan’s lone national title winner.
That’s right. Despite the media hype surrounding the Fab Five, it was actually Rice that brought home that one national championship.
Rice scored an incredible 184 points in the 1989 NCAA tournament, an all-time postseason record, and carried the Wolverines to the apex of the sport. But the tournament performance was no fluke. He averaged better than 25 points and six rebounds per game during the regular season that year.
Rice is Michigan’s all-time leading scorer and is the only Wolverine to rank in the top 25 in points, rebounding and assists.
While Russell may have been here if he played longer in Ann Arbor, Rice is the definitive best Wolverine of all time.
Indiana: Steve Alford
Was there ever a player more beloved by his school’s fanbase than Indiana’s Steve Alford?
Alford was the best player on the Hoosiers’ last national championship winning team (1986-87) and had one of the smoothest strokes in the history of college basketball. In fact, he shot an unheard of 53 percent from downtown during that championship year.
He also averaged about 20 points per game during his career. He was a consensus All-American multiple times and is the second-highest scorer in school history.
Additionally, Alford is second on Indiana’s all-time career steals list and is 10th in career assists.
Perhaps the craziest thing about Alford’s career is that Indiana Pacer fans were upset about the team’s decision to draft Reggie Miller instead of Alford. My guess is Pacer fans are glad their squad went the direction it did.
Michigan State: Magic Johnson
Magic Johnson is the best Michigan State player of all time as much for his overall importance to the program (and college basketball) as his incredible talent.
He led the school to its first ever national championship and really helped set the foundation for what has become one of the best programs in the entire country. He also helped (along with Larry Bird) bring the modern day March Madness idea to the public’s consciousness.
On the court, Magic averaged an incredible 17.1 points, 7.9 assists and 7.6 rebounds per contest during his tenure in East Lansing, foreshadowing his ability to stuff the stat sheet at the professional level in future years.
Heck, Johnson recorded more triple doubles in only two collegiate years than every other Michigan State player put together.
Unfortunately for Mateen Cleaves, who would probably be the best point guard in school history for almost any program, he didn’t quite have the dynamic impact that Johnson did at Michigan State.
Not that second best to basketball’s greatest ever point guard is something to be ashamed of.
UCLA: Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton
Yes, so I took the easy way out here. That’s what you get to do when you are in charge of a subjective list.
If anyone gets the privilege of having two players on this list, it’s the best program of all time (or at least the one with the most national championships) in UCLA. Feel free to let me know how you would distinguish between these two in the comments section.
Lew Alcindor, who later changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, won the inaugural Naismith Award, won three national championships, was a first-team All-American every year at UCLA, was awarded a number of National Player of the Year honors and was the NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player every season as well.
Oh, and he also holds an incredible amount of UCLA records, including points in a season, points per game and career field goals.
As for Bill Walton, he was the key piece of a UCLA team that went an astounding 60-0 over the course of two seasons, winning the national title both years. He was a three-time Naismith winner, a three-time first-team All-American and a two time NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player.
Walton is UCLA’s all-time leading rebounder (and averaged better than 15 per game), is second in field-goal percentage and third in career points per game.
Alcindor was certainly the better NBA player, but the case for best Bruin of all time isn’t as clear cut.
Arizona: Sean Elliott
Arizona’s basketball program has been to four Final Fours, but it was Sean Elliott that led the Wildcats to college basketball’s greatest stage for the first time.
Elliott is Arizona’s all-time leading scorer, was a two-time Pac 10 Player of the Year and was a consensus All-American multiple times.
There has been a lot of credit given to players who helped set the stage for these all-time great programs and future success in this article. Well, Elliott certainly fits that bill.
In addition to leading the Wildcats to the school’s first ever Final Four, he helped usher in an era that saw unprecedented success (including a national title) in Tucson.
Yes, Arizona has an impressive list of point guards, but the small forward/shooting guard Elliott is the best Wildcat of all time.
Kentucky: Dan Issel
Dan Issel may not be the most familiar name for younger readers, especially those that just jumped on the Kentucky bandwagon after John Calipari won the national title (kidding, kidding).
Dan Issel is the all-time scoring leader and rebounding leader in Kentucky Wildcats’ history. He averaged an impressive 25.8 points per game during his career in Lexington, spearheaded by a 34 point average in his final season.
He also averaged better than 13 rebounds a game in two of his three seasons and shot at an impressive 52 percent clip from the field.
Unfortunately for Issel, he never won a national title during his collegiate career. But he did just about everything else for the Big Blue.
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