Naismith to Wooden: The 50 Most Influential People In College Basketball History
There have been countless greats in world of college basketball, but only a select few have influenced the game for generations.
Either through innovations of coaching, spectacular playing, or just sheer guts and determination, the 50 people that make up this list have shaped the game of college basketball on both the men's and women's sides for years to come.
Note: This is not a ranking. This is a compilation of 50 of the most influential people involved in the game.
It is hard to have a list of the most influential people in college basketball history without the guy who created the game.
Dr. Naismith probably didn't think his simple game of less than 15 rules and a peach basket would blossom into the game it is today. Yet it has and without his innovation, the people on this list may have had to find something else to do.
Before Adolph Rupp, the Bluegrass State wasn't synonymous with basketball.
However, after Rupp's tenure was through, Kentucky was one of the most dominant programs in the basketball world.
His success helped establish a blue-blood program and one of the most crazed fan bases in all of college basketball.
In the early part of the 20th century, New York City was a mecca for college basketball.
At the center of the success was City College of New York. CCNY was a highly successful program, having been the only team in college history to win both the NCAA and NIT Tournaments in the same season.
That was before New York District Attorney Frank Hogan rocked the university, city, and college basketball by arresting seven CCNY player's for point shaving and gambling.
The scandal crushed CCNY to the core and the university, and some feel college basketball in New York was never the same again.
Delany has not only been the commissioner of one of the biggest conferences in college athletics, but he has also been on the forefront of expanding the NCAA tournament.
The tournament, which expanded just last April, was being considered for a major expansion to nearly 100 teams before setting only a small increase.
Delany was at the forefront of the talks and even supported greater expansion which he has said he feels will essentially be inevitable.
Love him, hate him or loathe him, Dickie V has certainly left an undeniable mark on college basketball.
While not a highly successful coach, Vitale brought his knowledge of college basketball, as well as his enthusiasm for the game, to the broadcast booth.
He has changed the way the games are viewed and has also been highly involved in the Jimmy V Foundation to help raise money for cancer research.
Michigan's Fab Five
It is hard to argue that there was ever more of a celebrated or influential recruiting class than Michigan's Fab Five.
The quintet of Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson brought to Michigan a load of talent. They also brought sweeping changes to the look of college basketball.
Programs that now recruit and start freshman regularly can give some credit to Steve Fisher for showing it could be done and be successful.
The Fab Five also added baggy shorts and mostly black shoes to the every day fashion sense of college basketball. They were good and edgy and everyone wanted to be like them or at least dress like them.
The Gray Fox was widely known in the South and in North Carolina for helping put not only the Wolf Pack on the national radar, but also North Carolina basketball.
Case helped feed many of the traditional Tobacco Road rivalries by establishing tournaments and winning his fair share.
He created trends like cutting the nets down after big wins and, of course, he brought the first national championship to NC State.
Lew Alcindor/Kareem Abdul-Jabar
During his time in college, there was no player bigger, both literally and figuratively, than Lew Alcindor.
Before he changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to honor his Muslim faith, Alcindor was the name in college basketball.
While playing for legendary coach John Wooden, Alcindor became one of the most dominant figures. The NCAA even banned the slam dunk from 1967-1976 due in large part to his use of the shot.
Before anyone probably used the term "Princeton Offense," legendary Princeton basketball coach Pete Carril most likely just called it his offense.
The concept of using less athletic players in a slower tempo game with backdoor cuts and effective uses of pick and rolls and screens wasn't unheard of, but Carril's teams made the offense a thing of beauty.
Long before the commercials, the shoes and the famed silhouette of him flying high, Michael Jordan was just another college kid.
Well, he was more than that, yet few probably saw him becoming the icon that he has become.
Attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Jordan established himself as a hardworking, high-flying skilled guard. While playing for the Tar Heels, he helped the team win a national title before taking his game to the NBA.
To this day the answer to the question of who was the only person to hold Jordan under 20 points can be found in his former college coach, Dean Smith.
While he may not have been the greatest basketball coach, though he did win a national title, Jim Valvano will always be remembered for his passion for the game and his love of life.
After leaving the game after violations surfaced, Valvano found a home at ESPN and in broadcasting. Unfortunately the energy and knowledge he brought to the game as an analyst was cut short due to his battle with cancer.
Before he passed away, he helped established the Jimmy V Foundation which includes a week of college basketball dedicated every year to honor his fight and memory.
When he became the head basketball coach at Duke in 1980, many couldn't even pronounce his name, and some still can't. Even fewer dreamed he would have the type of career he has had.
Duke was a regional power in the mid 1900s but had only experienced minor success in the 1970s, certainly nothing on par with what the Blue Devils are known for now.
As it stands now, Krzyzewski will become the winningest coach in Division I men's basketball history and is on pace to top 1,000 wins within the next five years.
Much like the man who became his rival, Mike Krzyzewski, Dean Smith took over a proud program that had fallen on some hard times.
And like his rival, Smith turned North Carolina around and established it again as one of the great programs in the nation.
He won two national titles and became the winningest coach in Division I college basketball before being bested by Bob Knight.
He was a master innovator. Perhaps one of his most famous creations was an offense best known for the lack of offense: the Four Corners.
Before Pitino became famous for his 15 seconds of infamy and his failed NBA stint, he was beloved in the state of Kentucky for resurrecting the heavily-sanctioned Wildcats program.
Pitino was an up-and-coming coach when he took over in Lexington and would still be loved there had he not taken the job at rival Louisville upon his return to college.
Known for his up-tempo offense and his strong dislike for any shot one foot or less inside the three-point arch, Pitino's influence was certainly the strongest in the 1990s.
Yow was truly one of the great coaches, if not in the category of wins, certainly in the category of inspiration.
Her ability to inspire young women on and off the court found her a home for life at NC State and her valiant fight against cancer helped inspired countless more.
She was truly one of the greats not just for the women's game, but for the game itself.
Arguably the greatest coach in women's basketball history, Summitt has won more than 1,000 games and countless championships.
Her ability to establish Tennessee as the dominant force in the women's game helped garner interest in coaching the men.
However, she remained true to herself and her players and continues to be an ambassador for the women's game.
Lieberman was one of the greatest players in women's basketball history.
From 1976 to 1980, Lieberman played at Old Dominion University and helped lead the team to two consecutive AIAW national titles and won the Wade Trophy, given to the best women's player, twice.
Her exploits helped her earn the nickname "Lady Magic" as a nod to Ervin "Magic" Johnson.
Haskins will forever be remembered for being the first coach to win a national title with a starting lineup of mostly African American players.
Not only did he do it at tiny Texas Western, he did it against Adolph Rupp's Kentucky Wildcats. While he wasn't the first to have black players, his fearless approach at starting them in a time when racial tensions were high changed the college game forever.
While the General is as well known for his temper as the number of wins he has, he remains the all-time winningest coach in Division I men's basketball.
Before the controversy that led to his dismissal from Indiana, Knight enjoyed great success including three national titles, one of which was an undefeated team, the last to do so.
Knight now is an analyst and broadcaster of ESPN where his knowledge of the game often overshadows which ever drab and boring color man he works with.
Before the late NCAA president became president of that organization, he was the president of Indiana University.
There he made a name for himself for firing legendary coach Bobby Knight for behavior deemed detrimental to the university and its students.
The feud between Brand and Knight drew headlines and may have helped raise his name recognition when he was named president of the NCAA.
While president, he made it a point to clean up college athletics.
To dismiss what Geno Auriemma has done at UConn would be to overlook one of the greatest accomplishments in basketball history.
Auriemma has established himself as one of the premier coaches in the game, not just women's. His team's current win streak has been paralleled by none and aside from John Wooden's UCLA squad, no one is close.
Not all influential people are necessarily that way for a good reason. Sonny Vaccaro might just fall in that category.
The former sports marketing executive is known for working with stars like Michael Jordan. He established the ABCD camp that featured some of the brightest high school stars.
His involvement with high schoolers drew the ire of the NCAA and some college coaches as they felt he helped influence the direction of many players.
While Wooden may have coached in a different age when there was much less parity, there is no denying the 10 national titles.
That number speaks for itself and will never be matched.
Still Wooden was as classy as they came and his ability to teach the fundamentals of the game and attract the talent has been the model of many of the great coaches who have coached since.
It takes someone special to coach talented young men, but it takes another kind of special to coach talented kids from challenging backgrounds.
Chaney wasn't afraid to take a chance on a kid and gave many kids second and third chances by instilling discipline and strong principals.
That may have been overshadowed late in his career by his use of "goons." Still, what Chaney did for the majority of his career was inspiring.
When you list the top 10, or even five, players in college basketball history, it is impossible not to include David Thompson among them.
His jumping ability alone was something to marvel at, but he was more than a jumper. His athleticism was unequaled during his playing career. He was Michael Jordan before Michael Jordan.
Unfortunately drugs and injuries ended his playing career but not before he established himself as one of the greatest college players ever. Just imagine if he had been allowed to dunk.
When you think Georgetown basketball, it is hard not to picture Big John Thompson.
With his seemingly swinging door of great post players, Thompson's Georgetown squads became a powerhouse in the 1980s.
Speaking of Georgetown's great big men, none may have been better than Patrick Ewing.
One of the most prized recruits to come play for the Hoyas, he was on most nights a man among boys and that dominance in the post led to an outstanding NBA career.
Ever wonder who came up with the term "Final Four?"
Well it was Ed Chay, a writer for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, who in 1975 referred to Al McGuire's Marquette squad in an article as a team that was among the final four.
It was later capitalized as it became synonymous with the NCAA Tournament's semifinals.
While winning more than 800 games is an impressive feat, doing it all at one school is even more so.
Jim Boeheim has been a lifer at Syracuse and the Orange are lucky to have him. Known for his brutal zone defense, Boeheim has even influenced his fellow coaches.
His friend and fellow coach Mike Krzyzewski, known for his extreme loyalty to man-to-man defense, has a zone defense in his playbook called Orange as a nod to Boeheim. I'd say he has had just a little influence.
You name it and Pete Newell has probably done it as far as basketball goes.
He has won a national title, he has coached an Olympic team and he has influenced the game like many on this list.
Many may know him for his consulting and camp work. He created a big man camp that has helped such greats as Shaquille O'Neal and Bill Walton.
The famed journalist and writer has made a name for himself mostly with his books documenting some of the great or not-so-great moments in college basketball history.
Feinstein isn't afraid to tackle a legend or two. His book A Season on the Brink, took a look at Indiana University and coach Bob Knight.
When your coach was the man who invented the sport, you are bound to have a little insight into the origins and be able to establish your own mark.
Phog Allen did that at Kansas, becoming one of the greatest coaches to ever coach in college basketball.
He was so successful that he not only got a statue at the arena where the Jayhawks currently play, but the arena itself is named after Allen.
Hank Iba is a legendary coach with a resume to back up all the accolades he has received.
He won national titles, he was elected to the Hall of Fame and he is the only coach in USA basketball history to win two gold medals.
Iba is revered at Oklahoma State University where a seat is reserved in his honor at the Gallagher-Iba Arena.
Meyers was a standout basketball player and a groundbreaking one at that.
Meyers was the first female athlete to be awarded a full athletic scholarship and the honor was well deserved.
She became the first member of an Olympic team as a high school student and the only woman to ever sign a contract with an NBA team.
As one of the first female scholarship athletes at the University of Virginia, Ackerman excelled on the basketball court, but college prepared her to lead.
She went on to become the first president of the WNBA and successfully led the league for eight years before stepping down.
By helping establish and maintain a professional women's league, the state of women's college basketball has only improved over that time.
In a sport seemingly dominated by one of two people, VanDerveer has been the third wheel, but in a good way.
With the balance of power in women's hoops falling primarily on the East Coast, VanDerveer has helped keep the West Coast in the mix at Stanford.
She has won two national titles and been to eight Final Fours.
A former US Senator may seem like an odd choice for one of the most influential people in college basketball history, but then you have to know the history behind Birch Bayh.
The senator from Indiana grew up in basketball country and knew how important it was to both men and women. Bayh came to be know as the father of Title IX, the groundbreaking legislation that increased the opportunities through funding and scholarship for female athletes across the nation.
Without his contributions, the women's game may not have ended up being as successful as it currently is.
Hard to exclude one if not the greatest women's basketball player ever.
Cooper won titles at every level and helped the USC Trojans to back-to-back titles in 1983 and 1984. Her impact was wide reaching in women's sports and her hard work and determination has influenced countless athletes to pursue their dreams.
Anthony was a great player coming out of high school, but like so many before him and like those that had already come and gone in the one-and-done era, it remained to be seen how good would he be in college.
Most of those kids didn't stay along to have their affects fully felt.
In Anthony's case it only took one year to get legendary coach Jim Boehiem his first national championship and show that a one-and-done player could help a team win it all.
Not many coaches are as lucky as Roy Williams has been. He has coached at two blue-blood power schools when many coaches don't get a shot at one.
He has been to Final Fours at both Kansas and North Carolina and coached some of the greats in those schools' histories.
He is in the Hall of Fame and managed to win two national titles in five years from 2005-2010.
You could put Calipari on this list for two different reasons
There is no denying his talent as a recruiter and his ability to draw that talent has helped land him one of the toughest but best jobs in the country.
Yet there is also no denying that he is the only coach to have more than one team's best season wiped off the record books, including Final Four appearances at both of those schools, due to NCAA violations.
While he has not been caught up in the wrong doing due to his "lack" of knowledge of the situations, his reputation is somewhat suspect.
Magic Johnson Vs. Larry Bird
Before these two met in the historic battle for the national championship, college basketball to the novice fan was nothing more than time spent between football and baseball season.
But Bird versus Johnson changed all of that. It pitted the little-known school from Indiana versus Michigan State with its flashy but very skilled guard.
The two were bitter rivals on the court and the rivalry continued until the next level, but their first meeting for the national championship was an event that changed the future of college basketball's popularity forever.
College basketball saw few players better and witnessed few losses more tragic than that of Len Bias.
The All-American standout at Maryland had everything. He was the second pick in the 1986 NBA Draft after his amazing college career.
It all came to an end when he died from complications from an overdose of cocaine. It was the first and last time Bias ever did drugs, making him one of the figures used in the sports world for not using drugs.
Wilt Chamberlain was as big as they came in the small town of Lawrence, Kansas back in the 1950s. When the town was still segregated, Chamberlain simply ignored the signs and went where he wanted.
When you were that big and that skilled at the one thing Kansas natives love, it perhaps isn't that shocking there weren't more problems.
What he did on the court was impressive too. He was virtually unstoppable and scored with finger rolls, fade-away jumpers, and, of course, his dunks.
Anyone who knows anything about college basketball knows that the life blood of a coach and a program is recruiting.
Bob Gibbons knows that too and has made a career at revolutionizing recruiting and making it into a big time, year-round industry.
An invite plus a good report or showing at a Gibbons camp can secure a prospect offers from some of the top programs in the nation and potentially help a coach keep his job at least one year longer.
Everyone knows the guy in the green shirt in the picture is John Wall, but who is that guy next to him?
If you said Brian Clifton you'd be correct, and if you know why he is on this list, you'd be even more correct.
Clifton represents the latest trend for some of the elite prospects: the handler. Sure entourages and handlers are nothing new but guys like Clifton, who can potentially influence the decision of top prospects, have to make some coaches and the ever-watchful NCAA nervous.
If women's basketball had its version of Michael Jordan, it would have been Cheryl Miller.
Arguably the greatest women's player ever, it is hard to say she wouldn't have beaten a good number of the men. She certainly and apparently beat her former NBA All-Star brother Reggie Miller plenty of times.
It is too bad that there wasn't a professional women's league around when Miller was done dominating the college game.
As hard as it is to average double figures in points for a career, just imagine how difficult it is to do it in two other categories at the same time.
Before the term triple-double was even coined, Robertson was making them a habit. He went on to set the NCAA all-time scoring mark, a mark eventually broken by Pete Maravich. Still, averaging more than 30 points per game for a career in college is just mind blowing.
Imagine if Bill Russell was in high school today. Do you think college coaches would have ignored him?
Well if you can believe it, they did back in the 1950s. That was before he got a scholarship and went on to star at the University of San Francisco.
There he helped lead the team to national championships in 1955 and 1956. UCLA coach John Wooden called Russell the greatest defensive player he had ever seen.
When you think about recruiting, it is hard not to recall the recruitment of Ralph Sampson. He was arguably the most highly sought-after player of his generation.
At 7'4" tall, it is hard to see why that would be. But unlike other modern big men who don't deliver on the hype, Sampson did.
He went on to become a three-time National Player of the Year winner while at Virginia.