If LeBron James believes he will belong among the Mount Rushmore of NBA greats when his career ends, who among the current Arizona Wildcats can say the same thing about their place within the traditionally strong program?
Fantastic-four combinations have made the news recently with the 50th anniversary last week of Beatlemania invading the United States and James telling NBA TV's Steve Smith this week that he will go down as one of the top four players in the league's history.
The Arizona Wildcats are ranked No. 2 and their leading scorer, junior guard Nick Johnson, is an All-American candidate and Pac-12 Player of the Year possibility. Johnson could go down as one of the all-time Arizona greats if he completes his four-year career.
He ranks No. 41 on Arizona's career scoring chart with 1,097 points. If he continues his pace of 12 points a game through next year, Johnson could accumulate more than 1,700 points. That would put him potentially among the top 10 scorers in Arizona history.
Steve Kerr, who belongs as part of Arizona's Mount Rushmore, ranks as the 19th-leading career scorer with 1,445 points.
Can Johnson become more worthy than Steve Kerr? Damon Stoudamire? Jason Gardner? Much depends on how far Johnson can lead the Arizona Wildcats this season and potentially next. If Arizona goes to the Final Four and wins a title with Johnson, Sean Miller's leader deserves to have his face chiseled into that proverbial mountain signifying Arizona's greats.
The Wildcats' Mount Rushmore of basketball includes three obvious choices with the last one a very difficult choice.
Here are the no-brainers:
Tucson-bred, Elliott can have a mountain of his own with his popularity in the city. He is Arizona's career scoring leader with 2,555 points, a total that topped Lew Alcindor's Pac-12 (before it was the Pac-12) record at the time. He was a consensus two-time All-American and winner of the John Wooden Award as a senior in 1988-89.
Elliott was a complete player, ranking No. 9 on Arizona's career rebounding list, No. 3 in three-point shooting and No. 1 in field goals made and free throws made.
Arizona's career leader in three-point shooting percentage (57.3) is the epitome of courage and becoming a success when nobody except Lute Olson gave him a chance when Kerr came out of high school.
The three-point line revolutionized the game and Kerr was at the forefront of its impact. Kerr overcame the scouting reports of being too slow and not strong enough to handle the rigors of college basketball. He also persevered after the assassination of his father in 1984 by terrorists in Beirut, Lebanon, and a potential career-ending knee injury in 1986.
"Big Bird", as he was called, is not related to Sean Elliott, but he had a similar impact on the Arizona program before the Wildcats joined the Pac-10 in 1978. He is only one of 107 players in the history of college basketball to achieve at least 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in a career. Bob Elliott, who played at Arizona from 1973-77, was the Wildcats' career scoring leader with 2,131 points before Sean Elliott eclipsed the mark. He achieved an Arizona-record 25 rebounds against ASU in 1974.
And now, the hard part. Stoudamire, Gardner, Miles Simon, Mike Bibby, Jason Terry and Richard Jefferson each deserve consideration as the fourth face on the mountain. Out of that group, based on their overall contribution to the program, the competition narrows to Stoudamire and Gardner.
My pick: Gardner.
Gardner is not only Arizona's No. 3 career scorer behind the Elliotts (1,984 points from 1999 to 2003) but he also is known as the program's Iron Man. He holds the Arizona record in starts with 135 (missing only one game) and minutes played (4,825). His playing time is remarkably 326 minutes more than the No. 2 player on the list, Sean Elliott.
Gardner is also the only Wildcat to rank in the top five in career scoring, steals and assists. Gardner, Sean Elliott and Stoudamire are the only three-time All-Pac-12 selections in Arizona history.
For Nick Johnson to crack the Mount Rushmore of Arizona basketball—Bob Elliott, Sean Elliott, Steve Kerr and Jason Gardner—he will have to stay through his senior season, win Pac-12 Player of the Year and take the Wildcats to the Final Four.
That's how difficult it is to get chiseled into that mountain.
Please read Javier Morales' blog at AllSportsTucson.com