UConn Basketball: The 10 Best Huskies of All Time
UConn basketball has taken off since the arrival of Jim Calhoun.
Since Calhoun became coach in 1986, Connecticut has won three national championships and has without a doubt emerged as one of the top 10 basketball programs of all time. Many lists have them at No. 7 behind traditional powers Kentucky, North Carolina, Duke, UCLA, Indiana and Kansas.
In the past couple decades, UConn has produced a large number of NBA players, many of whom have found success both in college and the pros.
However, UConn has seen talent throughout the years, even before Calhoun. This is a list of the 10 greatest Connecticut men's basketball players of all time.
A lot went into consideration for this list. An important factor for many on the list was their place in UConn immortality as Huskies of Honor, an elite group of men's and women's players who have been enshrined on the walls of Gampel Pavilion for everyone to see. Nine of the players on this list are members of that group. The player's role on the team, national recognition and the success of the team were also contributing factors. For instance, the non-member of the Huskies of Honor on this list is one of UConn's best scorers of all time and was a vital member of the 2004 national championship team.
There is certainly room for debate and I would love to hear any ideas that others have on the subject, but after much consideration, these are my picks for the 10 greatest Connecticut Huskies of all time.
- Tate George (1986-90)
- Tony Hanson (1973-77)
- Toby Kimball (1961-65)
- Corny Thompson (1978-82)
- Cliff Robinson (1985-89)
10. Art Quimby (1951-55)
Quimby was one of the few great Huskies in the days before Jim Calhoun came into the fold.
There were very few big men in the country as dominant as Quimby in the early 50s. The 6'5" center led the Huskies to four-straight Yankee Conference titles and led the nation in rebounds in 1954 and 55, also leading the nation in rebounding average in 1954.
An NCAA Tournament berth in 54 and the first ever NIT invitation for the Huskies in 1955 were two of the big highlights of his career in Storrs. He was drafted by the Rochester Royals in 1955, but went into the Army Reserve before becoming an educator. There was not enough money in professional basketball.
9. Walt Dropo (1942-47)
Not many pictures of UConn basketball players from the early 40s. Luckily, Dropo was an incredible athlete and had three chances to go pro.
The Moosup, Conn. native left Storrs as the school's all-time leading scorer in basketball, but also was a star in football and baseball. He was drafted in 1946 by the Chicago Bears of the NFL and in 1947 by the Providence Steamrollers of the Basketball Association of America.
He decided to join the Boston Red Sox of Major League Baseball on an amateur free-agent contract. He played in the majors for 12 years with the Red Sox, Detroit Tigers, Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Redleggers (now simply the Reds) and the Baltimore Orioles. He was an All-Star and named American League Rookie of the Year in 1950 for Boston.
While he chose baseball, he was UConn's first great basketball player. This earned him a spot on the wall at Gampel and a spot in this list.
8. Wes Bialosuknia (1964-67)
Bialosuknia holds both the single-season and career scoring average records at Connecticut and that is despite playing in an era without the three-point line.
The Poughkeepsie Popper, as he was known, was fifth in the nation in scoring during the 1966-67 season with 28 points per game. He is the only player to average at least 20 points in each season as a Husky. He is also second on the single-game record list with 50 points in one game, one behind Bill Corley's 51.
Bialosuknia played one pro season. He was drafted in 1967 by the St. Louis Hawks, but ended up playing in the ABA with the Oakland Oaks, by whom he was also drafted. He was second in three-point shooting percentage and tied the ABA record with nine-straight three-pointers during that season.
7. Donyell Marshall (1991-94)
Marshall is the first ever Husky to be named an All-American. He had a fantastic 25.1 points per game average (855 overall points) during the 1993-94 season.
That same season, he was the hands down choice for Big East Player of the Year, winning in unanimous fashion. UConn lost in the Sweet 16 in 1994 to Florida, and many agree that it was a few missed free throws by Marshall that made the difference.
That last point aside, Marshall had a career to remember at UConn. He went on to a solid NBA career with the Minnesota Timberwolves (who took him fourth overall in 1994), Golden State Warriors, Utah Jazz, Chicago Bulls, Toronto Raptors, Cleveland Cavaliers, Seattle Supersonics and Philadelphia 76ers. He is now an assistant at George Washington University.
6. Ben Gordon (2001-04)
Gordon is the only player on this list that is not a member of the Huskies of Honor.
Along with classmate Emeka Okafor, Gordon was a member of the most talented Connecticut team of all time. In his junior season, the 2003-04 season, the Huskies were a dominant force in college basketball, having very little trouble en route to winning the Big East and national championships.
In 2004, he set a then-Big East Tournament record with 81 points during their championship run. He was the Phoenix Region Most Outstanding Player in the NCAA Tournament and led the tournament in scoring with 127 points.
He is sixth on the all-time scoring list at UConn with 1,795 points and along with Okafor was a top-three pick in the NBA Draft going to Chicago. He went on to put himself second on the Bulls' all-time three-point scoring list behind Kirk Hinrich. In his rookie season, he was Sixth Man of the Year and Rookie of the Year. He is now a Piston and in the 2009-10 season, he scored the 10 millionth point in NBA history.
His prolific scoring and key role in the 2004 championship are big reasons why he is the only non-Husky of Honor on this list.
5. Chris Smith (1988-92)
Smith was one of the first great players of the Calhoun era. After four years at UConn, he walked away as UConn's all-time leading scorer. He still holds that record and no Husky has scored as many points in conference play as he did (1,140).
His 2,145 points is a record that should stand for a while. Smith played four years and with things the way they are today, it seems unlikely that anyone will come close to that when most great players are making the jump to the NBA after two or three years.
During his career, he was a nominee for the Wooden Award, something not typical of a UConn player before that, and was also a first team All-Big East.
He won a bronze medal with the United States at the 1990 FIBA World Championship and played three years in the NBA before time in the CBA and Europe.
Smith will also be remembered for being part of that memorable 1989-90 team, the team that started to make the country take notice of the Huskies. That season was a turning point in UConn basketball.
4. Ray Allen (1993-96)
Ray Allen was the leader of the group that really put the Huskies on the map.
In his three seasons, he was twice an All-American, the first Connecticut player to ever do that. He led the team to two Sweet Sixteens and one Elite Eight, each time losing in heartbreaking fashion but showing that UConn was serious about its basketball.
When he left, Allen was the school's all-time leader in three-point shooting. While he is not anymore, he is now the king of the three in the NBA. He broke Reggie Miller's all-time record for three-pointers made with a long ranger against the Los Angeles Lakers this past season. Most UConn fans were watching that game most likely. It was the same night St. John's put a hurting on the Huskies 89-72 in New York.
Until very recently, he was the most popular Husky basketball alum by far.
3. Kemba Walker (2008-11)
I called it, sitting courtside at Walker's first start against Hartford in 2008, Kemba would become one of the greatest players in school history.
As a freshman, he had a great season, helping UConn to its third Final Four, though the team fell short in that 2009 tournament.
However, two seasons later, Walker had the greatest season in UConn history.
He shattered the single season points record with 965 (23.5 ppg). He was first team All-Big East and All-American and was without a doubt snubbed as National Player of the Year, which went to BYU's Jimmer Fredette. Kemba did however win the Cousy Award as the best point guard.
Walker led the team on the most improbable run in recent memory. Walker scored 130 points in the Big East Tournament, during which he led the Huskies to five wins in five days—four over Top 25 opponents—and a championship in the conference tournament as the 9-seed.
Then, Walker stormed through the NCAA Tournament, leading the Huskies to their third national championship, completing an improbable 11-game winning streak to win both the conference and the national championship.
The 2010-11 season alone would have Kemba on this list. He had a fantastic career at UConn and graduated in three years and will continue his bright future with the Charlotte Bobcats, but he will always be remembered for his UConn days.
2. Richard Hamilton (1996-99)
Rip was the star player on the first UConn team to win a national championship.
If Hamilton had played one more season, he would have surpassed Chris Smith for most all-time at Connecticut. Instead, he is currently second with 2,036 points, 109 behind Smith.
Hamilton had a great supporting cast around him with a lot of players returned from the Elite Eight team that fell to North Carolina in 1998. He was the main star on that team however.
Twice the Big East Player of the Year, a second team All-American in 1998 and first team in 1999, the Most Outstanding Player of the 1999 Final Four, and reaching second on the all-time scoring list despite only playing three seasons, Hamilton was a star and one of the best Huskies of all time.
Hamilton is by far one of the best and most successful players UConn has ever produced. He was a lottery pick by the Washington Wizards, but moved to the Detroit Pistons in 2002. Since then, he has been an All-Star three times and an NBA champion in 2004. He was the Pistons leading scorer during that 2003-04 season.
1. Emeka Okafor (2001-04)
In 2004, Okafor won the Big East championship, national championship, National Player of the Year, Final Four Most Outstanding and graduated as a finance major with a 3.8 GPA. Is that serious?
Okafor was a star through his three years at UConn and only left because he had completed his academic requirements and graduated with honors. I mean think about it, what player gets named the nation's best player, wins the national championship as the best player on his team and graduates from UConn's highly competitive School of Business with a 3.8 grade point average?
Few players have been as dominant in the paint as Okafor, who started UConn's years of dominance where they were the nation's leader in blocked shots every year for most of the past decade.
Okafor and Gordon played the lead roles that year and even Duke had a tough time stopping UConn during their Final Four match-up.
He was a feared presence, a great scorer, a great leader, an incredible role model and an amazing student. I can not get over how incredible an accomplishment it is to graduate the way he did while also dominating college basketball.
He was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2004 NBA Draft, one ahead of Ben Gordon. After graduating, he won the bronze at the Athens games in 2004 and has had a silently decent career with the Charlotte Bobcats and New Orleans Hornets.
Because of his accomplishments and being such a dominant player while also being a star in the classroom, Okafor is the best Husky of all time.
Obviously, some players could not make the list as it was only 10 players long. I know there are several omissions who could easily have been on this list. Who do you think the top 10 players of all time are?
I would love to hear your thoughts. Comment below and feel free to follow me on Twitter @TimFontenault and send me your thoughts there.