WHO IS THE BEST COLLEGE HOOPS PLAYER OF THE PAST 25 YEARS?


ESPN is celebrating 25 years of college hoops with its Silver Anniversary all-conference teams. The Writers' Bloc isn't content with debating who the best players of the ACC or Big East were ... we want to know the best player -- period -- was. Dan Shanoff kicks off the debate by arguing that Carmelo Anthony's perfect season can't be beat.

Carmelo Anthony: The perfect game | From Dan Shanoff

Picking league-by-league college hoops "Silver" teams was great for the Office Cubicle Debate Society, but kind of a cop-out. The eight all-conference teams left us with 40 notable players, but no definitive choice for best college hoops player of the past 25 years.

Carmelo Anthony
One season? But what a season it was.

The arbitrary formula to find this player? I'll argue a combination of: the individual player's skills (represented by his stats and accolades); his team's performance (represented by college hoops' only team metric that counts: Titles); and some intangible "X Factor" that holds the argument together.

As the WB's banner-carrier for "instant history" (the wing of sports fans who can't remember past last week and for whom everything that just happened is "best ever!"), I'll take college hoops' most recent star, Carmelo Anthony -- with the campaign slogan "One ... and Done.

He stands as the only collegian of the past 25 years whose career consisted of the equivalent of an NFL QB having a perfect passing rating -- for an entire career. He was college basketball's "perfect storm."

Individual skills?

Led his team in scoring (plus 10 rebounds per game), and -- if not for voter bias against true freshmen -- should have claimed national player of the year to go with his NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player award.

Team performance?

Carried Syracuse to a national title that, on paper and from pundits, they had no business winning -- certainly at the start of the season, but even at the start of the Tournament.

X factor? Four words: All as a freshman.

Forget that he only played one year: It's what he DID with that year that counts. No other "player of the quarter-century" candidate can boast of Carmelo's combination of individual and team achievements -- combined with the ease with which he accomplished them, all as a one-and-done freshman. There's the rub: He's got no other collegiate record to "ruin his perfect game"; players can only be judged on the evidence they provide.

Other players can perhaps claim more individual skills (but not as a freshman). Other players won titles (but not in their one and only shot. Other players have compelling X factors. But no player combines all three like Carmelo; college basketball has never seen another player like him.

Best college player of the this Silver Anniversary? You just saw him.

Christian Laettner | From David Schoenfield

Nice try, Dan. But one "perfect" year does not make for best. Don Larsen pitched a perfect game in the World Series, but nobody's calling him the greatest World Series pitcher of all time.

Christian Laettner
How many times do you think Rick Pitino has watched this shot?

I present Christian Laettner, who actually bothered to stay around for four years at Duke. Let's see: four Final Fours, including back-to-back national championships in 1991 and '92. A monumental semifinal upset of undefeated UNLV in '91. Two of the most memorable last-second clutch shots in Tournament history -- to beat Connecticut and, in the greatest college game ever played, Kentucky (a game in which Laettner WAS perfect, 10-for-10 from the field and 10-for-10 from the line). Throw in a national player of the year, a slew of NCAA Tournament records and -- don't forget -- Dream Team membership, and you have college hoops' No. 1 player of the past 25 years.

Ralph Sampson | From Alan Grant
He stood 7-4, but ran the floor like he was 6-4. He was a three-time national player of the year and though his pro career saw him play with heart of someone 4-4, he did lead Virginia to one Final Four. I know the formula calls for us to incorporate titles, but it is a team sport, you know. Therefore, one player, minus the other four, can still be greatest. That said, I'll take odds of, oh, 5-4, that there was no better college player than Ralph Sampson.

Cheryl Miller & Chamique Holdsclaw | From Melanie Jackson

Think 1986. Texas had just gone undefeated to win the NCAA title. And before anyone yells, "HOLD UP! Texas has never won a hoops crown. That was the year Louisville beat Duke in Mike Krzyzewski's first trip to the Final Four "

Well, at the risk of getting predictable, we're talking women's hoops. Because in 1986, even Sports Illustrated declared her the best basketball player in the nation -- male or female.

Chamique Holdsclaw
Another shade of orange: Holdsclaw led the Lady Vols to three national titles.

No, Hall of Famer Cheryl Miller probably isn't the best college basketball player of all time, but over the past 25 years, not many men have dominated like she did. Like Carmelo, she led Southern Cal to the NCAA title as a freshman. And like Laettner, Miller won back-to-back titles (1983-84), added a gold medal at the 1984 Summer Olympics and won three national player of the year awards.

And though she lost her final collegiate game -- those aforementioned Longhorns beat the Women of Troy in the national championship game in her senior season -- Miller left USC with three Final Four appearances and more than 3,000 points, 1,500 rebounds and 700 steals (career averages of 23.6 ppg, 12.0 rpg). She lost only 20 games.

Of course, that's three more than Chamique Holdsclaw lost at Tennessee. And Holdsclaw has done something no man has over the past 25 years: win three national championships.

Patrick Ewing | From Ralph Wiley

Hmm. Best college sharecropper, I mean, basketball player? In the division Mel mentions (and I do think you have to specify divisions here), I'll take Sheryl Swoopes. Frankly, Sheryl is a horribly stunted interview -- she often makes you wonder what they do to the poor people in West Texas; socially, it must be even worse than what Buzz Bissinger reported in "Friday Night Lights" -- but woman, could she ball! Didn't she drop 47 for Texas Tech in an NCAA final vs. Ohio State? Yep.

Patrick Ewing
Ewing made the Hoyas the top hoops power during his four years.
Men's D-1? Can't tell. But, if pressed, I'd have to say Patrick Ewing. One NCAA title, but three trips not just to the Final Four but the Final game; the two losses are considered two of the four/five best championship games ever. The first ('82), Ewing as a freshman, was a coming-out party of another freshman, Michael Jordan, Fred Brown's faux pas, 62,000 at the Superdome, Dean Smith's first national title.

The second ('85) was only the "greatest upset" game, when 'Nova and a limber sophomore named Harold Jensen (and three future pros named Eddie Pinckney, Dwayne McClain and Harold Pressley, and an overrrated hophead named Gary McLain) combined to shoot 90 percent in the second half -- 90! -- and still won by only two.

Then an oh-by-the-way national title in '84, by snuffing keeper-of-the-flame Kentucky, then over the top of Olajuwon and Phi Slamma Jamma. For a four-year bit, that's serious balling.

Diana Taurasi | From Eric Adelson

And how 'bout Diana Taurasi? Three Final Fours, two crowns, a longest-ever unbeaten streak, and she's not done yet. How many overall games has she lost at UConn? Six. I say if she leads a still-young team to a third straight title, she gets my vote as the greatest-ever college basketball player of her gender, and consideration for the starting lineup of most-dominating college basketball players ever.

Mugsy Bogues | From Chuck Hirshberg

    "Let us be grateful to Mugsy Bogues, for his many years of inspired play, and for illustrating this principle: Whenever a value is less than the mean, its corresponding Z-score is negative."
    -- M. F. Triola, Elementary Statistics

Bloc-heads, you want to talk "formulas"? You want to talk "greatest"? You've GOT to talk Tyrone "Mugsy" Bogues.

HEY! Quit laughing at me, or I'll stand on my tippy-toes and butt you in the kneecap with my head.

No athlete in history has ever beaten longer odds, and I have the numbers to prove it, thanks to Prof. Triola and his book.

The "Z-score," in case any of you have forgotten, is a way in which mathematicians measure the degree of oddness in a statistical oddity. (It does this by counting how many "standard deviations" that oddity sits from the "mean," or arithmetic average; for a full explanation, complete with basketball illustrations and equations with lots of Greek letters, see an excerpt of Triola's book. If a Z-score is 2 or more (or, as in Mugsy's case, -2 or less), it fits the statistical definition of "unusual" -- which, translated into normal English, means, "odd as hell."

No, by this measure, a 5-foot, 3-inch American male -- even one who DOESN'T play basketball -- is odd as hell. (Think about it: How many do you know?) But a basketball player that small? Beyond odd; it's utterly freakish, it's mind-blowing, it's a spectacular human achievement. The Z-score is off the charts. Or under them.

Most people remember Mugsy as a successful, though not spectacular, NBA point guard. But as a Wake Forest Demon Deacon, he was Mighty Mouse. His numbers (about 9 assists and 3 steals per game from '84 to '87) don't tell how he used to make opponents play his game. Nobody dared to press the Demon Dekes, ever, because Mug would burn through 'em like a laser. On defense, he almost always made the opposing point guard turn his back while dribbling, like a bashful maiden of olde. Ask any ACC coach of the era and he'll tell you: "Dribble the ball in front of Mugsy and -- POOF! -- it was gone."

How great was Bogues? Well, he was drafted No. 12. That says a lot. But what's more remarkable and inspiring was how he did it: By accepting his "limitations" and transforming them into advantages. There are two words for that -- REVOLUTIONARY and GENIUS.

Mugsy Bogues was all that. And more.





ALSO SEE:


Page 2's Silver showdown bracket

Writers' Bloc: Public Enemies #1

Writers' Bloc: The Bachelor

Writers' Bloc: Stained reputations

Writers' Bloc: Sex & soccer





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