Ranking the 20 Most Dominant College Basketball Players in History
While there are many college basketball players who would be considered "great" or "outstanding," dominant players are more rare.
In fact, this past college hoops season was a good example of how there were many excellent players, but not a truly dominant player in the mix.
Dominance is more than just a review of simple statistics. While a player's numbers are definitely a part of the equation, other factors such as team success and national award recognition also help determine how dominant a player really is.
The following is a list of the 20 most dominant college basketball players of all time.
Note: Player career statistics are provided by Sports-reference.com
20. Bernard King (Tennessee Volunteers)
Points: 25.8 per game
Rebounds: 13.2 per game
Assists: 2.1 per game
Bernard King was one of the most prolific scorers in Tennessee and SEC men’s basketball history.
Ben Eagle of SI.com reported that King, as a freshman, “tallied 26.4 ppg, 12.3 rpg and shared the SEC Player of the Year honors with Kentucky's Kevin Grevey.” He was an All-American in his three seasons and a three-time SEC Player of the Year (1974-77).
Mike Strange of GoVolsextra.com mentioned that King “was the only Vol who averaged double figures in both points and rebounds for his career.” The 6'7" forward scored 30 or more points 26 times.
19. David Robinson (Navy Midshipmen)
Points: 21 per game
Rebounds: 10.3 per game
David Robinson is easily the best player in Naval Academy history.
He was a two time consensus All American and, as a senior, won both the 2007 Naismith and Wooden Awards.
The Admiral was a shot-blocking maniac. He is the only player in NCAA history to block more than 200 shots (207) in a season (1985-86). Wikipedia’s shot block leaders page states that Robinson is one of four players who led the nation in blocked shots in two separate seasons(1985-86 and 1986-87).
18. Adrian Dantley (Notre Dame Fighting Irish)
Points: 25.8 per game
Rebounds: 9.8 per game
Assists: 1.6 per game
The fact that Adrian Dantley was only 6’5” did not stop him from terrorizing Notre Dame's opponents down low. He averaged at least 10 rebounds per game in two of his three seasons in South Bend.
As a freshman, Dantley played a crucial role in stopping UCLA’s 88-game winning streak, and he put up 30.4 points per game as a sophomore.
AD was a consensus first-team All-American in 1974–75 and 1975–76, and he finished his ND career as the school’s No. 2 scorer with 2,223 points.
17. Tom Gola (LaSalle Explorers)
Points: 27.5 per game
Rebounds: 19.1 per game
Assists: 1.9 per game
Tom Gola may be the least-known player on this list, but that does not mean that he did not just absolutely take over games back in the day in Philly.
The 6’6” 205-pound wing set the NCAA record for career rebounds (2,201) that still stands today. He rung up 2,402 points over his collegiate career and was selected as an All-American three times (1953-55)
As a junior, Gola led the Explorers to the 1954 NCAA championship, where he was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player. That same year, he was also named the Helms Foundation Player of the Year. As a senior, he came back to win the UPI Player of the Year award.
16. Ralph Sampson (Virginia Cavaliers)
Points: 16.9 per game
Rebounds: 11.4 per game
Ralph Sampson may not have completely rewritten the college basketball record books, but he still towered over his opponents (literally and figuratively) at Virginia.
The 7’4” 230-pound center was one of two players (along with UCLA’s Bill Walton) to win the Naismith Player of the Year award three times. He was also a consensus first-team All-American three times.
Even though UVA didn’t win an NCAA Tournament (or four) with Sampson on the court, the Cavaliers won the NIT (1980), went to the Final Four (1981) and made an Elite Eight appearance (1983).
15. Shaquille O'Neill (LSU Tigers)
Points: 21.6 per game
Rebounds: 13.5 per game
Shaquille O'Neal was one of the most freakishly athletic centers in NCAA history. Few post players of his size could run and jump like Shaq could. O’Neal used his superior physical gifts to have his way against his collegiate opponents.
The 7’1” post player was a two-time All-American (1990-91; 1991-92), a two-time SEC Player of the Year(’91 and ’92) and the 1991 Adolph Rupp (National Player of the Year) trophy winner.
Shaq was a super-scary shot blocker, throwing back nearly 300 shots in his sophomore and junior seasons alone. In each of those two years, the big fella averaged at least five blocks per game.
14. Waymon Tisdale (Oklahoma Sooners)
Points: 25.6 per game
Rebounds: 10.1 per game
To say that Wayman Tisdale was “the Man” during his playing days (1982-85) at University of Oklahoma is no exaggeration. The 6’9” 240-pound forward took charge of the Big Eight and beyond from the beginning of his collegiate career.
Tisdale’s Wikipedia page describes his supremacy. He “was a three-time Big Eight Conference Player of the Year and the first player in collegiate history to be named a first-team All American by the Associated Press in his freshman, sophomore, and junior seasons.”
Unfortunately, four years ago, Tisdale lost his battle with bone cancer. At the memorial service, Sooner teammate, Stacey King shared his thoughts:
Wayman was one of the biggest reasons why I chose Oklahoma. I wanted to be part of something special, and it made logical sense to go to OU, because I wanted to pattern my game after him. I wanted to be like him. People used to talk about 'Be like Mike [Jordan],' but I wanted to be like Wayman. We've lost a special person. I don't think there will ever be another Wayman Tisdale.
13. Wes Unseld (Louisville Cardinals)
Points: 20.6 per game
Rebounds: 18.9 per game
Even though Wes Unseld only stood 6’7”, he ruled the paint during his reign at Louisville (1965-68). Inch-for-inch, Unseld was one of the best rebounders in NCAA history. He led the Missouri Valley Conference in rebounding during each of his three varsity years, never averaging less than an eye-popping 18 boards per game.
Unseld was a consensus All-American selection during his junior and senior seasons. This was no small honor since he played in what could be considered as one of the golden eras of college basketball.
As a senior, he shared this national recognition with none other than Elvin Hayes, Pete Maravich and Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar). Talk about the gold standard for what every other All-American class should be judged against.
Note: Unseld's segment of the video begins at 3:40.
12. Austin Carr (Notre Dame Fighting Irish)
Points: 34.6 per game
Rebounds: 7.3 per game
Few perimeter players, past or present, could take over a game like Austin Carr. He was an incredibly gifted scorer who could score points in truck loads.
Carr is still Notre Dame’s all-time leading scorer with 2,560 points. His Wikipedia page outlines just a handful of the 6’4” shooting guard's exploits:
Carr holds NCAA tournament records for most points in one game (61 vs. Ohio in 1970), most field goals in one game (25), and most field goals attempted in one game (44). His record scoring average of 50 points per game in seven NCAA playoff games may never be broken.
In spite of averaging 38.1 PPG as a junior and 38 PPG as a senior, Carr did not win an NCAA scoring title. That’s what happens when you play at the same time as Pistol Pete Maravich.
11. Danny Manning (Kansas Jayhawks)
Points: 20.1 per game
Rebounds: 8.1 per game
Assists: 2.3 per game
Danny Manning is the perfect example of a player whose “understated” stats do not tell the whole story of his flourishing collegiate career.
Manning left Lawrence as the University of Kansas' and the Big 8 Conference’s top scorer of all time (2,951 points). He was a two-time All American and a three-time Big Eight Player of the Year. He was named the 1988 Naismith and Wooden awards winner.
The multi-talented 6’10” forward carried the Jayhawks to the 1986 Final Four and led KU to the 1988 National Championship, where he was selected as the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
Many players have scored more points and pulled down more rebounds, but few have had the success that Manning achieved.
10. Jerry West (West Virginia Mountaineers)
Points: 24.8 per game
Rebounds: 13.3 per game
Assists: 2.8 per game
Lots of people know that Jerry West is the silhouette of the NBA logo. Not as many fans know that he was remarkable when he played for the Mountaineers from 1957-1960. He was a two-time All American selection (1959 and 1960). In those same years, he was also named the Southern Conference’s Player of the Year.
West was known for his prolific scoring (2,309 points in three varsity seasons), but what was equally impressive was the fact that he pulled down 1,240 boards as a 6’2” wing.
West has the unique distinction of being one of the few college players who was selected as the NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player (for 1959), without his team winning the national championship. It’s hard to imagine that happening any more.
9. Larry Bird (Indiana State Sycamores)
Points: 30.3 per game
Rebounds: 13.3 per game
Assists: 4.6 per game
Larry Bird may have been one of the least “gifted" athletes on this list, but that did not stop him from outshining almost every other collegiate player during his three years (1976-79) at Indiana State.
Bird was an uncompromising competitor who willed the Sycamores into the national spotlight. His ability to score from all over the court was astonishing. Bird’s Wikipedia page states that “after his three seasons at Indiana State, he left as the fifth-highest scorer in NCAA history” (now No. 13).
Bird was selected as a consensus All-American in both 1978 and 1979. He won virtually every national player of the year award in 1979 and was named as the Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year in 1978 and 1979.
“Larry Legend” single-handedly lifted Indiana State to the peak of the college basketball world. He led ISU to the 1979 national championship game, only to fall to the Michigan State Spartans.
8. Magic Johnson (Michigan State Spartans)
Points: 17.1 per game
Rebounds: 7.6 per game
Assists: 7.9 per game
There has never been a player quite like Magic Johnson. His combination of size and unreal point guard skills transformed the idea of how things could get done in college hoops.
Johnson could have been a much more high-volume scorer, but decided to put facilitating the Spartans offense ahead of putting points on the board himself. Because of his all-everything skill set, Johnson took Michigan State University on a two-year ride that included a trip to the Elite Eight as a freshman, and winning the National Championship in 1979.
When Michigan State won it all, Johnson was won the Final Four Most Outstanding Player award.
MLive.com’s Diamond Leung reported that Johnson was named an NCAA top-15 All-Time March Madness player. The other players to make the top 15 were Bird, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Bradley, Patrick Ewing, Grant Hill, Michael Jordan, Christian Laettner, Jerry Lucas, Danny Manning, Hakeem Olajuwon, Oscar Robertson, Bill Russell, Bill Walton and Jerry West.
7. Elvin Hayes (Houston Cougars)
Points: 31 per game
Rebounds: 17.2 per game
Very few opponents were able to hold down Elvin Hayes. If he wasn’t scoring points for the Cougars, he was grabbing rebounds at both ends of the court. An average night for Hayes was a career night for most players. While he had fantastic sophomore and junior seasons, Hayes went absolutely berserk as a senior. The Big E averaged an insane 36.8 points and 18.9 rebounds per game.
Hayes was involved in what may have been the most epic battles in college basketball history with UCLA’s Lew Alcindor. His Wikipedia page details one in particular:
On January 20, 1968, the Big E and the Houston Cougars faced Lew and the UCLA Bruins in the first-ever nationally televised regular season college basketball game. In front of a record 52,693 fans at the Houston Astrodome, Hayes scored 39 points and had 15 rebounds while limiting Alcindor to just 15 points as Houston beat UCLA 71–69 to snap the Bruins' 47-game winning streak in what has been called the "Game of the Century".
Hayes was a two time consensus All-American and won multiple player of the year awards in his senior season.
Note: Hayes' segment begins at 0:15.
6. Pete Maravich (LSU Tigers)
Points: 44.2 per game
Rebounds: 6.5 per game
Pete Maravich is the NCAA all-time leading scorer, and it isn’t even close.
Pistol Pete scored 3,667 points in a mere 83 games. Portland State’s Freeman Williams scored 418 fewer points in 23 extra games. Wow! He could hit shots from every angle and every distance imaginable. No shot was off limits, every opening was potential field goal attempt.
On top of his ridiculous ability to fill it up, Maravich was also a magician with the ball. He could thread the needle with trick passes and pull off breathtaking ball handling feats.
Maravich was a three time consensus All-American and a three time SEC Player of the Year. In his senior season, Maravich was selected as the 1970 Naismith College Player of the Year.
5. Bill Walton (UCLA Bruins)
Points: 20.3 per game
Rebounds: 15.7 per game
Bill Walton was unconventional, unusual and amazing. Though other players on this list put up bigger numbers, Walton absolutely knew how to pile up the W’s.
The Bruins were undefeated national champions in Walton’s sophomore and junior seasons. In the 1973 NCAA championship game, he delivered one of the most dominating performances, shooting 21 of 22 from the field and scoring 44 points.
Walton is one of the most awarded college basketball players of all time. He was named the Final Four Most Outstanding Player twice. He was selected as a consensus All American three times. He won the Naismith National Player of the Year three times.
4. Wilt Chamberlain (Kansas Jayhawks)
Points: 29.9 per game
Rebounds: 18.3 per game
Wilt Chamberlain was one of the most matchless athletes among college basketball big men of all time. He combined elite level mobility with amazing vertical leaping to terrorize opponents.
Chamberlain’s Wikipedia page details the dominance that began in his first varsity game at KU, where he scored 52 points and grabbed 31 rebounds.
He was named a consensus All American in both his years playing varsity ball in Lawrence.
Even though KU didn’t win the 1957 NCAA championship, Chamberlain was still selected as the Final Four Most Outstanding Player.
3. Bill Russell (San Francisco Dons)
Points: 20.7 per game
Rebounds: 20.3 per game
Most basketball fans know Bill Russell from his distinctive Hall of Fame career with the Boston Celtics. Before he started winning multiple NBA Championships, Russell led the University of San Francisco to back-to-back NCAA Championships (1955 and 1956).
How many players can you name, besides Russell, that averaged over 20 points and 20 rebounds per game for their entire college career? Those are some insane career numbers. As good as Russell was in scoring and rebounding, he may have been a better on-ball defender and shot-blocker In In the years that the Dons won it all, Russell was selected as a consensus first team All American..
2. Oscar Robertson (Cincinnati Bearcats)
Points: 33.8 per game
Rebounds: 15.2 per game
Assists: 4.8 per game
Can you think of another college basketball player who had more mind-blowing career averages than Oscar Robertson? I’ll wait. Robertson’s scoring prowess was emphasized by the fact that he won the national scoring title in all three of his varsity seasons at Cincy.
The Big O was so much more than just a big time scorer. His 15.2 rebounds per game average is extraordinary. Even his 4.8 assists per game average was unbelievable, when you consider everything else he contributed on a game-by-game basis.
Robertson was a three time Sporting News College Player of the Year and a three time consensus All-American (1958-1960). He led the Bearcats to two Final Four appearances. Just about the only accomplishment that eluded him was an NCAA Championship.
1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (formerly Lew Alcindor; UCLA Bruins)
Points: 26.4 per game
Rebounds: 15.5 per game
The most dominating college basketball player of all time was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (formerly Lew Alcindor).
Abdul-Jabbar was the perfect blend of superior athletic ability, finely-honed hoops skills and unselfish team-first attitude. If he would have been more greedy about individual statistics, there is no guarantee that UCLA would have had the same team success that they achieved in his three years of varsity ball in Westwood.
Abdul-Jabbar made a clean sweep of just about every possible award or accolade. He led the Bruins to three NCAA championships (1967, 1968 and 1969). In those three championships, he averaged 30.3 points and was named the Final Four Most Outstanding Player.
He was a three-time first team All American and he won the Oscar Robertson National Player of the Year twice (1967 and 1968) and was the first Naismith award winner.
Abdul-Jabbar would have undoubtedly been just as dominant in any era of college basketball.
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