Monday, April 09, 2007

Dominant College Basketball Players--The Top 5

This is the final installment in a series of posts examining the most dominant college basketball players since the 1990-91 season. Without further ado, here are the Top 5.

1) Jason Williams (Duke): Absolutely did whatever he wanted on the court. All the more amazing because he was almost always the shortest man on the court. Amazing strength enabled him to get to the basket. I will admit he got a lot of calls, but, because he was the aggressor, he forced the officials to give him the benefit of the doubt. Fearless in crunch time. When I watched him at Duke in the waning minutes of big games, I felt sure he would hit whatever shot he put up or at least get to the line. Didn’t seem to matter how many hands were in his face when shooting 3s. One of the most underrated clutch shooters of all time. And with all his scoring (career average of 19 points per game), he was also great at setting up his teammates (never averaged less than 5 assists per contest). Willed his team to wins. Yes, he had an excellent supporting class, but he was simply on another level. A very good defender when he needed to be as well, in large part because he overpowered opposing point guards. The most explosive little man I’ve ever seen. Great body control and balance. Low center of gravity enabled him to pinball his way through traffic, and his upper body strength allowed him to finish. Played a little out of control at times, but still an incredibly intelligent player. Perhaps the ultimate team leader. Elevated the play of those around him. He also worked his ass off, which is saying something when you’re as talented as this guy. Almost always the hardest working player on the court. Bottom line: imposed his will on the game like no one I’ve ever seen before or since. I hope he gets another shot in the NBA.

2) Larry Johnson (UNLV): If he had had the ball in his hands as much as Jason Williams did, he would be number 1. As a point guard, Williams just had more opportunities to dominate. Still, LJ powered his way through smaller defenders and drove past the big guys. He was an excellent defender and totally underrated on that end of the floor (largely because of Stacy Augmon’s defensive excellence). Make no mistake, though, Grandmama was a lock-down defender. His strength and intelligence on the offensive end made it almost impossible to deny him the ball on any given possession. Had a truly multi-faceted game. Pretty good mid-range jump shot. Excellent facing up and spotting teammates, and even better on the dribble-drive and with his back to the basket. For all that that was made of his ability to put the ball on the floor and get the hoop, he also had an excellent post-up game. Amazing basketball instincts. Tremendous finisher on the break in a style reminiscent of Charles Barkley. Incredible rebounder, despite giving up inches to other power forwards. Averaged at least 20 points and 10 rebounds per contest during both his seasons in Vegas. Perhaps the most intimidating college basketball player I’ve ever witnessed (including Shaq). Even if he wasn’t the most dominant college basketball player I’ve ever seen, he was, in my opinion, the best.

3) Shaquille O’Neal (LSU): It feels silly to try to explain why Shaq was dominant. Well, here’s a short list—the sheer size of the behemoth; his explosiveness and surprising quickness; even in college, he had a high basketball I.Q. for a center; dominates games without alienating teammates; likeable leader; strongest player to ever lace up a pair of sneakers; good hands; great with his back to the basket. As a collegian, he wasn’t even close to the passer he is today. While Shaq has definitely improved since making the leap to the NBA, he was also incredibly dominant in college. Averaged 12 rebounds or more in all 3 seasons as a Tiger. As a sophomore, O’Neal averaged 27.6 ppg. The fact that Christian Laettner was invited to be a member of the Dream Team was an absolute disgrace. Shaq was more dominant even back then. Would be hard not to rank the Big Aristotle number one if his Bayou Bengals had reached a Final Four. By the way, now is the time for Jumping Bull to make his Todd Lindeman Top 5 push.

4) Tim Duncan (Wake Forest): Was the professor of post-up moves by the beginning of his junior year. Always seemed mature beyond his years. However, his stoic demeanor never kept his from being a great team leader. One of the most underrated and intelligent defenders I’ve ever witnessed. The 102 blocks he registered as a senior marked the lowest season total of his career. Athletic interior opponents who lacked post skills and basketball I.Q. were easy prey for the Big Fundamental, even during his days at Wake. Always made it look easy—no wasted effort in Duncan’s game. When he played against the ACC powers, you could read the opposing coaches’ faces—“How did we miss this guy?” The fact that he stayed in school just makes it that much harder to leave him out of the Top 3. While he dominated nearly every match-up he faced, he disappeared from games more often than the guys in the Top 3 (but that doesn’t mean he disappeared very often). Didn’t take the Demon Deacons far enough in the tourney to break into the Top 3. Then again, the college game is dominated by guard play, and I think Timmy is rated a little lower because of it. Someone that played 4 years of Division I college basketball deserved to be on this list. Put up excellent numbers his entire career (as a senior, he averaged 20 points and 14 rebounds per game), but, as is the case with his professional career, Duncan’s impact can’t be reduced to mere numbers.

5) Corliss Williamson (Arkansas): During his time in Fayetteville, he was the Charles Barkley of college basketball. The ultimate tweener, Corliss outmuscled smaller opponents and drove around immobile post players. He had a great supporting class, but it was Williamson that made the Razorbacks champions. He was also a great leader and an incredible competitor. No one played harder (or rougher). He was fierce in the post, sacrificing his body for his team and bullying the opposition. Corliss could get out and finish on the break with the best of them. Finally, Williamson knew how to win and made his teammates better from the power forward position, which is often hard to do in the guard-dominated collegiate game. Career averages of 19 ppg and 7 rpg.

Glaring omissions? Stupid choices? Let me have it.


Blogger Joe B. said...


what about Glenn "the Big Dog" Robinson. He didn't play his freshman year then he averaged 24 and 9 as a sophomore and 30 and 10 as a junior. Yeah he only played two years but I think he at least deserves some mention. As a fan of the Big Ten I thought he'd make your list somewhere.

April 9, 2007 at 8:14 PM  
Blogger Joe B. said...


just looked back and saw that you had Big Dog as one of the best scorers. Can't argue with that, just thought he would be closer to the Top 5.

April 9, 2007 at 8:20 PM  
Blogger Thelonius Monk said...

I never would have nightmared of Jay Williams to be at the top of this list when you began, but you make an incredibly compelling argument. If he was still at top form for the Bulls, causing them to draft better big men in the draft rather than Hinrich or Duhon they would be pretty amazing right now. Think of Jay Wil running the point with Gordon, Deng, say they draft Nick Collison or David West rather than Hinrich in 2003, Tyrus Thomas, Ben Wallace. They may have even been able to swing some deal for Kevin Garnett using a drafted Hinrich, then Deng, and Nocioni.

Anyway, I got off topic, but I agree with your choices. I never got to watch Larry Johnson much because I was on a lot of drugs in 90 and 91 so I don't remember much, but I loved Grandma-ma in the mid 90's.

Shaq was always Shaq, and I actually think he could have logged minutes on the Dream Team.

April 9, 2007 at 8:44 PM  
Blogger Jumping Bull said...

Shaq was always Shaq, except when he was going up against Todd "Shaq Kryptonite" Lindeman.

April 9, 2007 at 8:56 PM  
Blogger Jesus' Son said...

2 things.

1. I will never forget the Duke v. Indiana Elite 8 game in 2002 when Duke was down 4, Williams hits the 3 as time expires, gets fouled on the shot, then misses the free throw for the tie. His inablity to hit that clutch free throw may take him down a little bit in my book. For those who don't remember, youtube it. It reminds me of those free throws missed by Carney (or Washington?) in the Memphis game a couple years back.

2. It may have been the biggest weekend for UK basketball in a while and there ahs been no posts about Coach Clyde? Please provide some insight for those of us living outside of the Commonwealth. I beg you. I can't tell you how pissed off I was when I kept expecting a post all weekend and all that was written was "Grocery Monster."

April 9, 2007 at 9:07 PM  
Blogger Thelonius Monk said...

It was Washington. To Jason's credit he did hit a three while getting fouled with only a few seconds left. I feel like college dominance can exist without superior free throw shooting skills. If I remember he led the comeback against Maryland when they were down like nine with 20 something seconds. I could be completely wrong on that because I've blocked out a lot of Duke memories.

Sorry about the Billy Clyde no-post, but I think all of us in Lexington where overwhelmed with the media hype and attention the story was getting. It was also Easter weekend and there were a lot of eggs to be found.

April 9, 2007 at 9:40 PM  
Blogger Codename Curveball said...

I am watching a fight between Evander Holyfield and Ray Mercer from 1995. What has happened to boxing? I guess this is off-topic, so I would just like to add that I also thought Shaq was a great movie star and rapper. And, I also like Easter Eggs. There is no better way to celebrate Jesus' birthday than hunting for some eggs.

April 9, 2007 at 11:07 PM  
Blogger Runs With Two Horses said...

I remember when LJ was always playing against bigger power forwards too, just not in college. Paul Milsap led the country in rebounding for nine years by playing against competition comparable to Grandmama's, maybe he should garner some consideration.

I can't argue that he was extremely intimidating, though. I think putting LJ on this list is just your way of saying the UNLV teams were really dominant and they deserve some representation.

April 10, 2007 at 8:19 AM  
Blogger Runs With Two Horses said...

I also like to think that by virtue of the set up of this blog, Lukasz Obrzut is on the cusp of being in the top five. Though he might have been overlooked amongst the most dominant players, he'll always have that dunk in Tuscaloosa.

April 10, 2007 at 11:07 AM  
Blogger the butler said...

Ahhhh- the Big Nasty. Good call.

I think it's a great list.

I was actually in a coffee shop in Amsterdam when I saw Jay Williams miss that free throw through a thick cloud of smoke. At first I thought those magical fungi were playing tricks on me...he didn't miss very many clutch shots.

Crazy to think of how close the Devils were to winning six championships as opposed to three. Should-a, could-a, would-a.

April 10, 2007 at 1:07 PM  
Blogger Codename Curveball said...

One of my high school teachers wanted me to get him tickets to a Duke basketball game. Ah high school, what a terrible place. Oh, I like the picks as well. I guessed Williams would be on there. I am ashamed at myself for not thinking of Duncan. Forgive me if I am a little surprised to not see Travis Ford at the number 3 position...the dude was a baller. Now I need to contact T. Monk to see what the status of our quest to get swoll as hell is.

April 10, 2007 at 4:19 PM  
Blogger Runs With One Horse said...

T. Monk deserves some sort of suspension for suggesting that Monster Mash was the greatest nickname. Better than Grandma-ma? I don't think so. Also, I still don't completely understand why he was called grandma-ma. Those were confusing times in the marketing dept. at Converse, but I suppose in terms of brand recognition it was a real coup. Also, wasn't he on ABC's TGIF? Perhaps it was a guest role on Hangin' With Mr. Cooper. I could be wrong about this.

April 10, 2007 at 6:04 PM  
Blogger Thelonius Monk said...

Monster Mash was the greatest COLLEGE nickname. Grandma-ma didn't come around until Larry Johnson was with the Charlotte Hornets. He actually made a guest appearce on Family Matters, which was on TGIF, so you were partially correct.

I remember my neighbor growing up had two posters in his bedroom: One was of grandma-ma squeezing the air out of a basketball, the second was of Charles Barkley and it read "I am an athlete, not a role model." If I could find these posters somewhere I would buy them at whatever the cost.

April 10, 2007 at 6:11 PM  
Blogger Natty Bumpo said...

I want that Larry Johnson UNLV jersey that he's wearing in the pic above. Those were some great uniforms.

April 10, 2007 at 7:00 PM  
Blogger jb said...

When does this running segment end?

April 19, 2007 at 8:13 PM  

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