Ranking the 10 Best 4-Year College Basketball Careers in History
As Tim Duncan vies for another NBA championship, it’s a great time to celebrate the rare breed for which he’s become the shining symbol: superstar college basketball players who stay in school for four years. Between today’s one-and-done stars and the pre-1973 ban on freshman eligibility, the number of truly great players with four college seasons on their resumes is shockingly small.
Duncan was one of the best of that group, developing from a defensive specialist into a No. 1 overall draft pick in his time at Wake Forest. Even his record-setting career, though, can’t lift him to the top of a list that includes some of the most gifted players and greatest champions of the last four decades.
Read on for more on Duncan’s time with the Demon Deacons and his place among the ten greatest four-year icons in history, ranked with an eye to both individual stats and team accomplishments.
10. J.J. Redick, Duke (2002-06)
There’s more to basketball than shooting, but don’t tell that to J.J. Redick. The best pure shooter in collegiate history holds the Division I record for three-pointers made (457) and ranks fourth all-time with a career free-throw percentage of .912.
Redick’s long-range marksmanship helped him shatter the Duke career record with 2,769 points. He never won a national championship, but he was a key contributor on the Blue Devils’ 2004 Final Four squad.
9. Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina (2005-09)
There are more glamorous records than the Division I mark for free throws made in a career, but none that could be more fitting for Tyler Hansbrough.
The player known as Psycho T swarmed his way to that record with unceasing energy and heart, while posting some other pretty remarkable achievements in the process.
Hansbrough’s 2,872 career points and 1,219 rebounds are both school records for a Tar Heel. The 6’9”, 250-lb power forward led UNC to back-to-back Final Fours as a junior and senior, winning the Naismith Award in the latter season.
He capped his sensational career with a 2009 national title run in which no NCAA tournament foe came within a dozen points of the Tar Heels.
8. Tim Duncan, Wake Forest (1993-97)
In college as in his magnificent NBA career, Tim Duncan was a model of reliability. The 6’11” center recorded an NCAA-record 87 double-doubles in 128 games wearing a Demon Deacons uniform.
Duncan’s career mark of 1,570 rebounds stands as the second-highest total among players in the era of freshman eligibility, and his 481 blocks are fourth-most all-time.
His best postseason finish came as a junior, when he led Wake to the Elite Eight before falling to eventual champion Kentucky in a game in which Duncan accounted for 16 of his team’s 32 rebounds.
7. Ralph Sampson, Virginia (1979-83)
As a freshman, Ralph Sampson averaged 14.9 points and 11.2 rebounds per game, and that was just the warm-up act.
For the next three years, the 7’4” Cavalier became just the second player to win three Naismith Awards and the only one to take home the Wooden Award twice.
Sampson’s 83 career double-doubles are the third-most in history, and he ranks fifth in the four year-career era with 1,511 rebounds.
His perpetually top-ranked teams never won a national title, but he did lead Virginia to one Final Four (losing to James Worthy and North Carolina in 1982).
6. Lionel Simmons, La Salle (1986-90)
La Salle has made the NCAA tournament field 12 times in school history, and three of those teams featured Lionel Simmons.
The versatile 6’7” forward grabbed Naismith Award recognition for a senior season in which he averaged 26.5 points and 11.1 rebounds per game—neither of those were career highs.
Simmons stands as the third-leading scorer in NCAA history with 3,217 career points. The L-Train was nearly as remarkable for his rebounding prowess. His 1,429 career boards are the seventh-best mark among players in the freshman-eligibility era.
5. David Robinson, Navy (1983-87)
David Robinson played a mere 13.3 minutes a game as a freshman, and he still ranks in the top 25 all-time in career points scored. The Admiral parlayed his 7’1” frame and feathery shooting touch into 2,669 career points and 1,314 rebounds.
Robinson still holds the Division I record for blocks in a season (207 as a junior, in the first year the stat became official).
He personally participated in half of Navy’s eight all-time NCAA tournament victories, including a massive upset of Pearl Washington and Syracuse during 1986’s stunning Elite Eight run by the Midshipmen.
4. Christian Laettner, Duke (1988-92)
One of the greatest winners in college hoops history, Christian Laettner is the only player ever to start for four Final Four teams in his career.
His own legendary clutch heroics—highlighted by the iconic shot that sent Duke to the 1992 national semis—had a lot to do with the Blue Devils’ postseason success.
Laettner led a pair of national title squads as a junior and senior, winning Naismith honors in the latter campaign.
He finished with 2,460 points and 1,149 rebounds (third in Duke history in both categories) and even ranks fifth on the school’s charts with 243 steals.
3. Patrick Ewing, Georgetown (1981-85)
Few recruits have ever carried the hype that Patrick Ewing did, and fewer still have so richly deserved it. Ewing took over a Hoya program with four previous NCAA tournament wins and carried it to three Final Fours in four years.
The hero of the 1984 national champs was a game-changing defender who missed out on blocked shots as an official stat by just a year.
Of course, Ewing made his mark on the record books in other ways, finishing his career with 2,184 points and 1,316 boards. The latter figure still stands as the best in the history of Georgetown’s center-rich program.
2. Bobby Hurley, Duke (1989-93)
There’s never been a more successful collegiate point guard than Bobby Hurley. In four seasons as a starter, Hurley took the Blue Devils to three Final Fours and two national championships.
The 6’0” New Jersey native never averaged under 7.4 assists per game for a season, finishing with a Division I-record 1,076 assists in his career.
He wasn’t exactly a liability in other areas of his game, either, scoring as many as 17 points per contest (as a senior, after high-scoring Christian Laettner graduated) and grabbing 1.4 steals a night for his career.
1. Danny Manning, Kansas (1984-88)
Plenty of other four-year college stars have won national championships, but none have done it with so little help as Danny Manning.
His sixth-seeded Jayhawks are tied for the second-lowest seed ever to cut down the nets, stunning top-seeded Oklahoma in the 1988 title game.
Manning, who finished with 31 points and 18 boards in that contest, is also one of the most accomplished individual players in collegiate history.
His 2,951 points are the ninth-most in Division I all-time, and he also holds the KU record with 1,187 rebounds.