College Basketball Power Rankings: The 25 Greatest Players in Big 12 History
Despite operating in the long shadow of Big 12 football, Big 12 basketball has established an impressive tradition of its own. Recent stars like Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin have made big splashes in the NBA, but the Big 12’s basketball bloodlines run quite a bit farther back.
From contemporary greats like Durant to old-time stars like Wilt Chamberlain and Bob Boozer, Big 12 fans have been lucky enough to watch some of basketball’s biggest talents. But which players make the cut as the conference’s all-time best?
For purposes of this list, all players from the former Big 8 were considered, but players like Texas’ LaSalle Thompson (who played in the old SWC) were not. The two newly-departed Big 12 schools, Colorado and Nebraska, were also included.
With that in mind, read on for a look at the 25 greatest players the Big 12 has ever produced.
25. Steve Stipanovich, Missouri
Steve Stipanovich is best known for leading Missouri to the biggest single win in program history, an upset of No. 1 Virginia and three-time national Player of the Year Ralph Sampson.
The 6'11" center was no slouch in his other games either, averaging 18.4 points and 8.8 boards a game as a senior.
Drafted No. 2 overall in 1983, Stipanovich never lived up to expectations in the NBA because his knees gave out. He played just five years for the Pacers, averaging 13.5 points and 8.3 boards a game in his best season.
24. LaMarcus Aldridge, Texas
After an unremarkable freshman season, LaMarcus Aldridge erupted as a sophomore at Texas. The 6’11” forward averaged 15 points and 9.2 rebounds a game while leading the Longhorns to the Elite Eight.
Acquired by Portland in a draft-night trade with the Bulls, Aldridge has played his entire career to date as a Trail Blazer.
He earned third-team All-NBA recognition last season, perhaps making up for being snubbed as an All-Star despite career highs of 21.8 points and 8.8 rebounds a game.
23. Jamaal Tinsley, Iowa State
Although he helped Iowa State reach its first Elite Eight in over half a century, Jamaal Tinsley is more noteworthy for his individual accomplishments in Ames. In his two seasons, he averaged 6.3 assists and 2.6 steals per game, both Cyclones records by significant margins.
In the NBA, the situation would reverse itself as Tinsley proved a solid but unspectacular PG who was most memorable for keying the Pacers’ first NBA Finals appearance in franchise history in 2004.
22. Bryant Reeves, Oklahoma State
As big and as good as any player in Oklahoma State history, Bryant Reeves averaged 21.5 points and 9.5 boards a game in his All-America senior season. The 7’0”, 275-lb "Big Country" carried the Cowboys to their first Final Four since the Eisenhower administration in 1994-95.
Although the ungainly Reeves was the butt to plenty of jokes in his career, he was actually a respectable NBA center at his best. He topped out in his second season with averages of 16.2 points and 8.1 rebounds per game for the then-Vancouver Grizzlies.
21. Raef LaFrentz, Kansas
One of the most dominant individual players in Kansas’ storied history, Raef LaFrentz is the third-leading scorer and second-leading rebounder all time for the Jayhawks.
Remarkably, even though he came out on the winning side 123 times in 140 college games, his teams never made a Final Four.
An unusual mix of inside and outside skills as a pro, LaFrentz finished in the top 10 in blocks three times in his 10 NBA seasons, while also hitting more than 36 percent of his 1,315 career three-point attempts.
He put up his best numbers for the Nuggets, who had drafted him at No. 3 overall.
20. T.J. Ford, Texas
One of college basketball’s best passers in any conference, T.J. Ford led the nation as a freshman with 8.3 assists per game. In just two seasons in Austin, Ford climbed to second on the school’s all-time assist chart with 527 for his career.
Ford, who came back from a career-threatening spinal cord injury suffered as a rookie, has never developed the scoring ability to be a star at the NBA level.
Even so, he’s averaged as many as 7.9 assists per game, and proved a valuable reserve in Indiana’s deep backcourt in 2010-11.
19. Jo Jo White, Kansas
Twice an All-American at Kansas, Jo Jo White doesn’t show up much in the Jayhawks’ record books for the simple reason that reliable assist stats aren’t available from his playing career.
The 6’3” combo guard—who averaged nearly five assists a game in the NBA—did finish with 1,286 points as a Jayhawk despite recurring battles with injuries.
White would go on to make seven consecutive All-Star teams as a Celtic. He won Finals MVP honors in 1976 while earning the second of his two championship rings with Boston.
18. Michael Beasley, Kansas State
One of the most overpowering freshmen in college basketball history, Michael Beasley stunned the Big 12 in his lone season at Kansas State. The 6’9” forward averaged 26.2 points and 12.4 rebounds a game while recording 27 double-doubles in 33 games for the Wildcats.
Unfortunately for Beasley, he wasn’t as NBA-ready as his numbers appeared. He spent two lackluster years with the Heat before starting to come into his own last season with 19.2 points a game for the Timberwolves.
17. Nick Collison, Kansas
Kansas has had plenty of players with more raw athleticism than Nick Collison, but very few who could compare with his astonishing production in a Jayhawk uniform.
Collison finished his career in Lawrence with the second-most points (2,097), third-most rebounds (1,143) and third-most blocks (243) in school history.
A career reserve who has played his entire career with the Oklahoma City franchise, Collison’s performance in this spring’s playoffs for the Thunder was a fine example of the hard work (and lack of scoring) that have characterized his time as a pro.
16. Scott Wedman, Colorado
A sharp-shooting 6’7” swingman, Scott Wedman was twice an All-Big 8 selection at Colorado. He graduated as both the third-leading scorer and third-leading rebounder in Buffaloes history.
In the NBA, Wedman joined Tiny Archibald on the then-Kansas City Kings, where his scoring punch would complement Archibald's well enough to earn him an All-Star selection.
Though he spent most of his time on the bench in two championship seasons with the Celtics, Wedman earned a place in Boston lore by scoring 26 points in 23 minutes in a playoff win over the Lakers.
Image from coloradosports.org
15. Bob Boozer, Kansas State
When Bob Boozer finished his Kansas State career, he had set a school record for points and was second all-time in rebounds (he now stands fourth in both categories).
After graduation, he postponed his pro career by a season so that he could maintain his Olympic eligibility, allowing him to win gold with the legendary 1960 U.S. team featuring Jerry West and Oscar Robertson.
In the NBA, Boozer (no relation to current Bull Carlos) was a solid PF for several teams, earning an All-Star selection with Chicago in 1968. For his 11 NBA seasons, he averaged 14.8 points and 8.1 rebounds per game while never playing fewer than 77 games in a year.
14. Bill Bridges, Kansas
At just 6’6”, Bill Bridges was one of the best pure rebounders at any level of basketball.
As a Jayhawk, Bridges’ 1,081 career boards are fourth on the school’s all-time list, and he holds three of the top five single-season rebounding averages (trailing only Wilt Chamberlain’s two seasons).
Bridges kept right on rebounding as a pro, averaging as many boards per game (11.9) as points in his 13 seasons. He made three All-Star teams as a Hawk, in the only three seasons in which he scored more than 13 points a game.
13. Blake Griffin, Oklahoma
Blake Griffin may not have accumulated quite as many YouTube-worthy dunks with Oklahoma as he has with the Clippers, but he was an unstoppable force in a Sooners uniform.
Griffin averaged 22.7 points and 14.4 rebounds in his Naismith and Wooden Award-winning sophomore year, carrying the Sooners to a spot in the Elite Eight.
The overwhelming choice for Rookie of the Year last season, Griffin appears to have recovered entirely from the knee surgery that cost him all of 2009-10.
12. Jeff Hornacek, Iowa State
The best player in Iowa State history (with apologies to the beloved Fred Hoiberg), Jeff Hornacek holds the school records for assists and steals. His 665 career assists set a record for the entire Big 8 conference when he graduated in 1986.
In the NBA, Hornacek (who had never averaged more than 13.7 points a game as a Cyclone) switched to shooting guard and became a valuable scorer.
He put up as many as 20.1 points per game (in his lone All-Star season as a Sun), but he’ll be best remembered for his days with the Jazz. In Utah alongside John Stockton, Hornacek helped the team win back-to-back Western Conference titles in 1997-98.
11. Alvan Adams, Oklahoma
Though his teams didn’t win as many games as those of other great college centers, Alvan Adams could hardly be blamed for it after posting career averages of 23.4 points and 12.8 rebounds a game.
Adams currently stands third in OU history in rebounds and eighth in points, but graduated with the school records in both categories.
As a Sun, Adams became one of the all-time great passers at the center position, averaging 4.1 assists per game for his career. He played 13 seasons in Phoenix, making the All-Star team in 1976.
10. Rolando Blackman, Kansas State
A three-time Big 8 Defensive Player of the Year, Rolando Blackman made his share of noise on the offensive end as well. The 6’6” shooting guard scored 1,844 career points (second-most in K-State history) while leading the Wildcats to the 1981 Elite Eight.
Blackman played almost his entire pro career as a Maverick, making four All-Star appearances and averaging 18 points a game over his 13 NBA seasons.
9. Mitch Richmond, Kansas State
A great pure scorer at any level, Mitch Richmond put up 1,327 points in just two seasons in Manhattan, leading the Wildcats to the Elite Eight as a sophomore. His 20.7 points per game for his career is fourth-best all time at Kansas State.
As a pro, Richmond started off his career as Tim Hardaway’s backcourt mate with the Warriors, but really came into his own after being shipped to the Kings for Billy Owens.
In Sacramento, Richmond would make six consecutive All-Star teams, averaging at least 21.9 points a game in each of those six seasons.
8. Wayman Tisdale, Oklahoma
The leading scorer and rebounder in Sooners history, Wayman Tisdale became a legend as a college player. The three-time first-team All-American averaged 25.6 points and 10.1 rebounds a game for his Oklahoma career, taking the team to its first Elite Eight in nearly 40 years as a senior.
Tisdale was no star at the NBA level, but was a solid starter at PF for the Pacers and Kings. He was also an accomplished jazz bassist, a career he pursued more heavily after retiring as a player.
Tisdale died at just 44 years of age after a two-year battle with bone cancer.
7. Mookie Blaylock, Oklahoma
Despite playing only two seasons as a Sooner, Mookie Blaylock set the school’s career steals record (281) and finished fifth all time with 465 assists.
Even more impressive was the performance of the teams he played for: Blaylock led Oklahoma to its only appearance in the national championship game since 1947, losing to Danny Manning’s Kansas team.
In the NBA, Blaylock made six All-Defensive teams as a Hawk. He wasn’t exactly a liability on offense, either, averaging as many as 16.1 points and 9.7 assists over the course of his 13 pro seasons.
6. Chauncey Billups, Colorado
Though he played just two seasons at Colorado, Chauncey Billups left his mark with career averages of 18.5 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game. He also led the Buffaloes to their first NCAA tournament victory in three decades over Indiana in 1997.
After struggling to find his niche in the NBA, Billups finally landed in the right situation in Detroit, becoming one of the most renowned playoff performers of his generation while leading the Pistons to the 2004 title.
He’ll turn 35 later this month amid recurring speculation about whether the Knicks do or don’t plan to trade him (presuming of course that the 2011-12 season happens).
5. Clyde Lovellette, Kansas
A bona fide center in an era with very few of them, 6’9” Clyde Lovellette was a dominant presence who peaked as a senior with 28.4 points and 12.8 rebounds a game.
That season, Lovellette carried the Jayhawks to their first-ever national title, under legendary coach Phog Allen, in 1952.
Lovellette started his NBA career backing up George Mikan as a Laker, and ended it backing up Bill Russell as a Celtic, winning titles at both stops. In between, he built a Hall of Fame career of his own (primarily as a Hawk) with five seasons of 20-point, 10-rebound averages.
4. Paul Pierce, Kansas
It says a lot about Kansas basketball that Paul Pierce, one of the NBA’s most reliable scorers, is only in eighth place in career points as a Jayhawk. Still, his 1,768 points (a career average of 16.4 per game) highlight an outstanding three-year stay in Lawrence.
At age 33, Pierce is coming off his ninth All-Star appearance in 13 seasons as a Celtic. It remains to be seen whether his 2008 championship ring will be the only one in his presumptive Hall of Fame career.
3. Danny Manning, Kansas
He may not be the best player to come out of the Jayhawks’ program, but Danny Manning is almost certainly the most revered for his college performance.
The 6’10” forward earned his reputation with school records for points (an astounding 2,951) and rebounds (1,187), but most importantly with the sixth-seeded Jayhawks’ upset national title win over Oklahoma in 1988.
Drafted No. 1 overall by the Clippers, Manning proved unable to reverse that franchise’s perpetual ill fortune despite making two All-Star appearances for L.A.
Injuries hampered his pro career, but when healthy he was a valuable scorer (as many as 22,8 points a game) and an underrated defender.
2. Kevin Durant, Texas
Although Kevin Durant played just one season for Texas, he immediately became one of the best, and most beloved players in program history.
Durant averaged 25.8 points and 11.1 rebounds a game while winning both the Naismith and Wooden Awards (the first time a freshman had taken either prize).
Durant is coming off his second consecutive scoring title—and first conference finals trip—with the Thunder. At a mere 22 years of age, he should have many more such seasons ahead of him.
1. Wilt Chamberlain, Kansas
In just two seasons at Kansas, Wilt Chamberlain made an indelible mark on school, and basketball history.
He averaged 29.9 points and 18.3 rebounds per game as a Jayhawk, leading his team to the 1958 National Championship game (an epic triple-OT loss to North Carolina).
As for Chamberlain’s NBA career, little remains that hasn’t already been said.
After averaging 50 points per game for a full season, scoring 100 points in a game, and playing 1,205 career games without fouling out once, Chamberlain is more than deserving of his place as one of the greatest centers ever to play the game.