Commentary

Decade's best players and coaches

Updated: December 31, 2009, 5:44 PM ET
By Staff | ESPN.com

As we close out the decade, ESPN.com's writers and contributors rank and take a look back at the top players and coaches of the last 10 years (1999-2000 through 2008-09) …

[+] EnlargeBill Self
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesBill Self won a national title at Kansas, but his success at Tulsa and Illinois shouldn't be forgotten.

Top Coaches

1. Roy Williams (Kansas, UNC)

2. Tom Izzo (Michigan State)

3. Billy Donovan (Florida)

4. Bill Self (Tulsa, Illinois, Kansas)

5. Mike Krzyzewski (Duke)

Others receiving votes: Mark Few, Jim Calhoun, John Calipari, Ben Howland

Making the case

Jay Bilas: Roy Williams reached the title game at two different schools in the decade and was in the Final Four five times. Self took over for Williams at KU and promptly accomplished what his predecessor did not by winning a national title. Self has won five straight Big 12 titles and went a decade without reaching 10 losses in a season. Krzyzewski was the most consistent winner in the regular season, winning a title in 2001 and reaching the Final Four in 2004. He spent more time at No. 1 than any other coach this decade. Izzo guided four teams to the Final Four, and no player who suited up for him failed to play in a Final Four during his career. And Donovan reached three Final Fours, winning back-to-back titles.

Pat Forde: Ol' Roy was very good in the '90s but has upgraded to great in this decade. Nobody has combined the major elements of coaching -- recruiting, teaching, game strategy -- as well as Williams has over the last 10 years at Kansas and North Carolina.

Fran Fraschilla: When Roy Williams left Kansas to go home to North Carolina, he left a top-5 team behind in order to rebuild the Tar Heels. In short order, he won two national championships and has restored Carolina to its place at the top of the college basketball world. While he inherited a very talented group of players that eventually won the 2005 national championship, he relentlessly recruited the team that eventually won his second title in 2009 in Detroit. He ended up coaching five teams into the Final Four this decade.

Doug Gottlieb: It's got to be Roy and his two titles. His teams enforce their will on you and make you play fast. He's got two titles, but his best coaching job might have been in 2006, when he won 23 games and finished 12-4 in the ACC after losing essentially his entire 2005 national title team. Izzo is a "coach's coach" whose contributions to the profession spread far and wide. As for Self, don't forget his 32-win Tulsa team that made it all the way to the Elite Eight in 2000. And don't forget the kind of Illinois team he left for Bruce Weber. While the recent lack of Final Fours may hurt Coach K's ranking, he was a Shaun Livingston away from never leaving the uber-elite. Besides, when seven ACC tourney titles and two Final Fours equates to a down decade, that shows you how good he's been. Coming in at No. 5 on my list is Mark Few, whose ability to maintain Gonzaga's unique role in the college game as the little school that could has been remarkable.

Andy Katz: I would include Jim Calhoun and Ben Howland in my top 5. UConn went to two Final Fours in the decade, winning one title. Calhoun consistently had the Huskies, save one season, as a threat to win the rugged Big East. He battled multiple bouts of cancer and other ailments and still showed up ready to fight for a deep run in March. UCLA may be having a down season, but the previous years under Howland shouldn't be marginalized. He went to three straight Final Fours with the Bruins. And although he didn't win a title, he still returned the school to the national picture. He won more than 71 percent of his games and made five Sweet 16 appearances with Pittsburgh and UCLA. Pitt took a chance on tabbing the Northern Arizona coach for the job, and it paid off to the point that Howland's successor, Jamie Dixon, has the Panthers as a regular near the top of the Big East standings.

Best playing careers

1. Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina (2005-09)

T2. Emeka Okafor, Connecticut (2001-04)

T2. J.J. Redick, Duke (2002-06)

T4. Jameer Nelson, Saint Joseph's (2000-04)

T4. Jason Williams, Duke (1999-2002)

Others receiving votes: Stephen Curry, Davidson; Juan Dixon, Maryland; Adam Morrison, Gonzaga; Jamaal Tinsley, Iowa State; Joakim Noah, Florida; David West, Xavier; Kevin Durant, Texas

Making the case

[+] EnlargeTyler Hansbrough
Nelson Chenault/US PresswireOur ESPN.com panelists selected Tyler Hansbrough as their unanimous choice for player of the decade honors.

Jay Bilas: Tyler Hansbrough was the most decorated and productive player of the decade. He was a four-time first-team All-American and is the ACC's all-time leader in scoring and rebounding. Williams was the 2002 national player of the year, and few had as many great moments and memorable games. Okafor was the most dominant defender of the decade, leading his team to the 2004 title. Dixon was an amazing story and one of the toughest kids to play college basketball in the last 25 years. And Nelson was the best player from a non-BCS school this decade. His career was simply magnificent from start to finish, and if the young man were at UCLA or North Carolina, we would have put up a statue of him by now.

Pat Forde: Hansbrough was the driving force in a great four-year run for North Carolina. Curry lifted his team the farthest of any individual player -- barely ahead of Nelson. Okafor was the most dominant defensive player. And Williams was the most dominant Dukie. There should also be a place on this list for Joakim Noah, but whom do you kick out?

Fran Fraschilla: Hands down, it's Hansbrough. College basketball's only four-time All-American was a model of consistent excellence from the day he stepped on the court for the Tar Heels. After multiple attempts, he helped Roy Williams win his second national championship at UNC. And he finished his career as the ACC's all-time leading scorer, an incredible accomplishment, considering the league's great history.

Doug Gottlieb: Hansbrough is an obvious choice at No. 1, but I've got Jason (now Jay) Williams second. He was simply unguardable on a ball screen or in an iso. He could pass, too. And I've got J.J. Redick third. Stop hating on this kid. He could shoot it from anywhere, never missed a foul shot and endured being tortured on the road. As for Okafor, his timing on shot-blocking, his rebounding skills and his rapid improvement scoring inside made him an unstoppable force. Oh, and he's also brilliant.

Andy Katz: Hansbrough's numbers were hard to turn down. He also won a national title and went to two Final Fours. Redick became the all-time leading scorer in ACC history and was the ultimate game-changer with his 3s. Okafor won a title with UConn and was a defensive powerhouse. Nelson gave the Hawks a season that they'll never forget and put Saint Joe's at No. 1 for a time. That may never happen again. Curry put Davidson on his back and led the Wildcats to a memorable Elite Eight run in a three-game stretch that was one of the greatest in the last quarter-century.

Dana O'Neil: Three of my guys (Hansbrough, Okafor and Redick) did it with all the luxuries afforded the cream of the crop, while the other two (Nelson and Curry) put the identity of their universities on their shoulders and carried it. All five were special players statistically, but what Hansbrough was able to do -- live up to expectations and deliver a national title -- puts him above the pack.

Best individual seasons

1. Kevin Durant, Texas (2006-07)

2. Blake Griffin, Oklahoma (2008-09)

3. Carmelo Anthony, Syracuse (2002-03)

4. Dwyane Wade, Marquette (2002-03)

5. J.J. Redick, Duke (2005-06)

Others receiving votes: Michael Beasley, Kansas State (2007-08); Adam Morrison, Gonzaga (2005-06); Stephen Curry, Davidson (2007-08); Andrew Bogut, Utah (2004-05); Shane Battier, Duke (2000-01); David West, Xavier (2002-03); Deron Williams, Illinois (2004-05); T.J. Ford, Texas (2002-03); Jameer Nelson, Saint Joseph's (2003-04); Kevin Love, UCLA (2007-08); Drew Gooden, Kansas (2001-02)

Making the case

Jay Bilas: Wade leads my list. He led his team to its first Final Four since 1977 and did so in spectacular fashion. There was not a better story or a better kid in the decade, and few college players could match him. Redick had one of the best ACC seasons ever and was simply unstoppable on the offensive end. He threw a lot of daggers at defenses designed to stop him. Deron Williams was the ultimate warrior and winner and led his team to 37 wins and within an eyelash of the national championship. Durant and Beasley were incredible scorers and players, but neither led his team past the first weekend of the NCAA tournament.

[+] Enlarge Carmelo Anthony
AP Photo/Winslow TownsonCarmelo Anthony's freshman year was picked as the decade's top season by Dana O'Neil, Doug Gottlieb and Pat Forde.
Pat Forde: I put a lot of weight on two things: Did the player's team have a great season, and did the player have a great March? As dominant as Kevin Durant and Michael Beasley were, they didn't carry their teams to any memorable NCAA tournament run. The five guys on my list -- Anthony, Curry, Griffin, Wade and Love -- all backed up a great regular season with a great postseason.

Fran Fraschilla: I might have leaned toward Oklahoma's Blake Griffin if he had hadn't gotten hurt late in the season in a showdown at Texas. Instead, my best individual performance of the decade goes to the Longhorns' Kevin Durant, who was the only freshman ever to be named national player of the year. Durant ended up averaging almost 27 points and 11 rebounds a game. Some of his performances were breathtaking, including a 25-point first half at KU's Allen Fieldhouse.

Doug Gottlieb: Carmelo Anthony was as good as advertised, and he carried Syracuse to a national title in his one and only season. Good enough for me. He's No. 1 on my list. Jameer Nelson was a hell of a shooter, and his team did not lose a regular-season game in 2003-04, falling one jumper short of the Final Four. He was strong, fast and smart -- a deadly combo for opponents. Dwyane Wade was all of those things as well, and I've got his '02-03 season as third. Blake Griffin '09 and Kevin Durant '07 round out my top 5.

Andy Katz: Before the 2006-07 season, Texas coach Rick Barnes said at the Big 12 media day that he had the national player of the year. At the time, it seemed pretty wild. But he was right. Durant was something special and was an attraction every time he went on the court. He was a rare treat, winning the national player of the year award as a freshman and becoming the No. 2 pick in the NBA draft. I still am high on Nelson, though, and I put his senior season a close second. The numbers weren't as dominating as the others, but he changed Saint Joe's. Griffin, Redick and Beasley were all dominating in their own way, and all three cracked my top 5.