25. Jimmer Fredette (BYU, 2007-2011): As a senior, Jimmer took 765 shots. That's about 235 fewer than he should have.
24. Mookie Blaylock (Oklahoma, 1987-1989): The vortex of those stellar late '80s Oklahoma squads, Mookie was a defensive chupacabra, a better-than-average shooter, Jeff Ament's idol, and a gratuitous opportunity for me to write about his coach and mentor, Billy Tubbs. People don't remember how hilarious Billy Tubbs was, often without even trying. Once, his wife accused Tubbs of loving basketball more than he loved her. "But honey," he replied, "I love you more than track."
23. Glen Rice (Michigan, 1985-1989): You know, I have no idea if Rice hooked up with Sarah Palin in 1987. But if he did, I'm happy for both of them. Let's assume the rumor is true: Why is this information remotely controversial? They were both adults. They probably had a lot in common. They were in Alaska. They were not in the town where Footloose happened. What, exactly, was the espoused atrocity here? At least she was interested in a great player. It was probably the best decision she ever made.
22. Khalid El-Amin (UConn, 1997-2000): Did you ever play intramural basketball against a short, fat, confident kid who kept driving the paint and effortlessly scoring over every clown who tried to stop him? And no matter how hard you played him, he never seemed excited or intimidated or even particularly interested? And then — when the game was finished, and everyone else was exhausted — he casually decided to jump into some other random intramural game and scored another 28 points in the exact same way? El-Amin was the NCAA version of that unstoppable fat kid.
21. Wayman Tisdale (Oklahoma, 1982-1985): The only smooth jazz bassist who was ever a three-time All-American. Unstoppable on the block, and seemingly always in a good mood. He died from cancer in 2009. Tragic.
20. Xavier McDaniel (Wichita State, 1981-1985): Certainly a solid pro3 and an okay grunge-era actor, but his '85 season for Wichita State — 27.2 points, 14.8 rebounds — established him as the first-ever college player to lead the nation in both categories.
19. Jerome Lane (Pittsburgh, 1985-1988): Send it in, Jerome.
18. Steve Alford (Indiana, 1983-1987): He could have been no. 1 on this list, if free throws were worth five points apiece and getting screamed at was worth 25.
17 and 16 (tie). Johnny Neumann (Ole Miss, 1972-1973) and Frank Selvy (Furman, 1951-1954): Only three guys have averaged 40 points a game for a season. These are "the other two guys." Neumann4 only played for his sophomore season; he had bad acne, a worse attitude, and a Maravich-like style. He jumped straight to the ABA and evaporated. Selvy scored 100 points in one game against Newberry College, but it was kind of sketchy (his coach demanded that everyone on the team made sure Selvy scored as much as possible). That said, 41-of-66 (and 18-of-22 from the line) is quite an evening, sketchy or no.
15. Austin Carr (Notre Dame, 1968-1971): Sure, he had a fine pro career with the Cavaliers, but he was the first big-time college scorer of the 1970s. In the original draft of this story, I also argued that Carr was "the main reason UCLA's 88-game win streak ended." This is not true, since Carr had already graduated. But perhaps his memory provided motivation?
14. Danny Manning (Kansas, 1984-1988): As a freshman, he seemed overhyped. As it turns out, he was "accurately hyped." The Jayhawks won the national title when Manning was a senior, despite a mediocre 21-11 record during the regular season; had he turned pro as a junior, they might have missed the NIT.
13. Freeman Williams (Portland State, 1974-1978): Akin to a more stable World B. Free, the 6-foot-4 Williams averaged 30.9 as a sophomore, 38.8 as a junior, and 35.9 as a senior. If implementing the 3-point goal had been Jimmy Carter's first directive as president, Freeman breaks the 40-point barrier once (and maybe twice). In 1981, he dropped around 20 a night for the San Diego Clippers, although few remember and fewer care.
12. J.J. Redick (Duke, 2002-2006): Thousands of Americans despise Redick. His crime? Playing for Duke and not missing enough jump shots. If you drain 22-footers so successfully that it makes total strangers hate you, you've done something right.
11. Hank Gathers (Loyola Marymount, 1987-1990): The second man to lead the nation in both scoring and boards, Gathers was a 6-foot-7 center who outran everybody and adored offensive rebounding. He's absolutely the greatest player who ever died during an official game. Here again: Fucking tragic.
10. Tyler Hansbrough (North Carolina, 2005-2009): Hansbrough was the basketball equivalent to Tim Tebow, but he arrived a year earlier. He prepared us for Tebow. He was the pre-Tebow. He was the Prebow.
9. Lionel Simmons (La Salle, 1986-1990): The list of players who've scored 2,000 points and snagged 1,000 rebounds is surprisingly long. The list of players who scored 3,000 points while snagging 1,000 rebounds is not. The L-Train finished with 3,217 and 1,429. He's the best player from the cable-TV era who almost no one outside his hometown ever saw more than once.
8. Christian Laettner (Duke, 1988-1992): Oddly, I've always felt Laettner was slightly overrated as a collegiate and slightly underrated (and vastly underutilized) as a pro. But the guy made the most memorable shot of all time and played in 23 NCAA tournament games over a span of four years. At the time, the maximum number of tournament games anyone could play in a given season was six. The math is not complicated.
7. Len Bias (Maryland, 1982-1986): Though the NBA potential of Bias became a little overstated in the wake of his overdose (there were a lot of busts in the '86 draft and he might have been one of them), there's no disagreement over his dominance in the ACC. Everyone who played against him seems to insist he was the best college athlete they ever faced, which is one of the complimentary upsides to dying young.
6. Walter Berry (San Jacinto Junior College and St. John's University, 1983-1986): This 6-foot-8 southpaw was one of the only people to be the best player on two separate collegiate levels — he had one of the greatest JUCO seasons ever at Jacinto and was a Wooden Award winner for St. John's. He also had the craziest scoring attacks of the '80s — he ignored his right hand completely, whirled incessantly, and showed supreme disinterest in developing anything as dull as a jump shot. He electrified every college game he played, but — of course — was not designed for the orthodoxy of the NBA. Larry Brown tried to unlock his insanity for the Spurs in 1988, and it did not take. "He's a fundamentally sound coach," Berry told a reporter at the time, "and my game does not consist of fundamentals."
5. Ralph Sampson (Virginia, 1979-1983): Absolutely the most skilled 7-foot-4 player of his (or any) generation, particularly if you like your 7-4 center to occasionally play shooting guard. A three-time Naismith player of the year, Ralph was the best college basketball player I ever saw with my own eyes, thus beginning my lifelong relationship with being wrong about things I'm totally confident about.
4. David Thompson (North Carolina State, 1973-1975): David Thompson created Michael Jordan.
3. Bill Walton (UCLA, 1971-1974): Deadheads in downtown Portland might quibble with Walton's inclusion5 on this list, but the man defined both the hippie collegiate experience and the NCAA style of play. Judging from his own statements, I'm relatively certain he'd sacrifice half his injury-plagued pro career just to spend five more minutes in a bomb shelter with John Wooden. Moreover, Walton had the greatest offensive performance anyone's ever going to see in a meaningful contest, hitting 21 of 22 against Memphis in the '73 title game.
2. Pete Maravich (LSU, 1967-1970): The free thinker/lunatic who invented my haircut averaged 44.2 a game during his three-season career; everyone who follows basketball knows this, because there's simply no corollary for that kind of offensive production. It's doubtful anyone will average 40 points again, and there's zero chance someone will do it three times in a row. But here's something even crazier: Maravich averaged 44.2 points per game while shooting 43.8 percent from the field. His career scoring average was higher than his career shooting percentage. Obviously, this is mathematically possible, because it happened. But try to imagine a modern scenario where that numeric contradiction occurs again. You will spend a long, long time staring into the abyss. Sometimes it pays to play for your dad.
1. Lew Alcindor (UCLA, 1966-1969): This, I cannot deny, is a form of cheating that even Sam Gilbert would find egregious. Obviously, Alcindor changed his name in 1971 and had a decent pro career; one could make the argument that perceiving "Lew Alcindor" as a separate entity from "Kareem Abdul-Jabbar" is essentially a question about the definition of personhood. But here's the rub — I suspect Jabbar himself would argue that he is not the same Catholic stickman who showed up at Westwood in 1965, and it was that pre-Kareem who remains the most jaw-dropping college player to ever walk the planet. The fact that UCLA won the national title during all three seasons Alcindor played is merely the third-most interesting detail of his college career; the fact that the NCAA outlawed dunking due to his dominance is probably second. But to me, the thing that will always be most unfathomable about Alcindor was his very first game, played when he was an ineligible freshman: UCLA was coming off back-to-back national championships. As an exhibition, the Bruin varsity — ranked no. 1 in the nation — opened the season by scrimmaging the freshmen team. Alcindor had 31 points, 21 boards, and eight blocks. The freshmen hammered the varsity by 15 points; the no. 1 team in the country could not beat a player who could not yet play. As an ineligible 18-year-old, Alcindor was (at worst) the fourth or fifth-best basketball player in the world. So I guess talent does matter, sometimes.