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The Grueling Truth - Where Legends Speak / Top 10 College Basketball Players of all time

Top 10 College Basketball Players of all time

Publish Date: 10/31/2023
Fact checked by: Simon Briffa

top 10

10) Larry Bird, Indiana State Sycamores

 Awards: National College Player of the Year, 2x MVC Player of the Year, 2x Consensus First Team All-American, Third Team All-American

Before Larry Bird transferred to Indiana State University from Indiana University, basketball was almost unknown at Indiana State. They hadn’t made it to the NCAA tournament in their entire history. They were the “third- or fourth” best team within their conference. The Sycamores were close to having the last undefeated college season. Larry Bird led them to a 33-0 record, enough to get them to the NCAA Tournament.

Larry Legend’s scoring was a hallmark of his college career. He averaged 30.3 points per season in three seasons and a career-high of 32.8 points in his final season. Legend was also a prolific rebounder, averaging 13.3 boards per season. He also had a team-first mentality. The open man would be the “first option” for the team.

Bird only played in one NCAA tournament during his college career. However, he was incredible in every game. His best college game was against DePaul. He posted a stat line that was 35-9-16. These were all NCAA career highs. Then, he played in the NCAA’s most-watched college basketball match against Magic Johnson and the Michigan State Spartans. Bird’s Sycamores lost the game to the Spartans, and Bird shot just 33%.

Video: Larry Bird Highlights | Indiana State vs DePaul |1979 NCAA Final Four

Larry Bird Highlights | Indiana State vs DePaul |1979 NCAA Final Four

9) Magic Johnson, Michigan State Spartans

Awards: NCAA Champion, NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player, Consensus First Team All-American, Second Team All-American, Third Team All-American

Johnson was a Michigan State Spartan, and they knew what to expect. He came out of Everett High School having won the State Championship. He averaged 28.8 points per game and 16.8 rebounds. Johnson was quick and agile, could handle the ball well and made jaw-dropping transition plays. After a 36-16-18-18 game as a sophomore in high school, he earned his “Magic” nickname. After being assured that he could play the one position, he decided to continue his unique style of play at Michigan State. He could play all five positions. He was an elite player in nearly every skill required to play each position. Outside shooting was something he improved on during his college career. You can also see his averages and box scores, which are a testament to his versatility. His exceptional leadership ability, in which he became the Spartans’ leader his freshman year, is just as evident in Magic’s college tenure as it was later with the Lakers.

Johnson’s sophomore year would be his best when he defeated Larry Bird’s Indiana State Sycamores to win the 1979 NCAA Championship. Johnson would score 24 points and have five assists and seven rebounds, while Bird was held at bay with 19 points. Birdshot 33%. This game would see the Spartans win their first NCAA Championship.

Magic’s contributions to Michigan State basketball and NCAA basketball put him in college basketball history.

Video: Magic Johnson - Michigan State Highlights

Magic Johnson – Michigan State Highlights

8) Christian Laettner, Duke Blue Devils

Awards: 2x NCAA Champion, NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player, Consensus National College Player of the Year, ACC Player of the Year, 2x ACC Athlete of the Year, Consensus First Team All-American, Consensus Second Team All-American, 2x First Team All-ACC, Second Team All-ACC

Although 16.6 points and 7.8 boards aren’t the most impressive stats, his success in college basketball was due to the toughness, determination, and grit he displayed every game. He also won numerous individual and team awards. He is best known for his ability to be decisive in crucial moments. He holds the records for scoring the most NCAA tournament points with 407 and the most games played with 23 of the possible 24. In a game where Laetner had a record 18-point, 10-rebound performance, he also helped the Blue Devils win their first NCAA Championship. He is most famous for his game-winning shot against Kentucky in OT, which was played with 2.1 seconds left. The shot is known as “the shot heard all over the world” or “the shot”. This came after a 31-point, 7-rebound performance, with Laettner going 10-for-10 from behind the field. The Blue Devils would win their second consecutive NCAA Championship thanks to Laetner’s heroics.

Video: Christian Laettner hits THE SHOT

Christian Laettner hits THE SHOT

7) Elvin Hayes, Houston Cougars

Awards: AP Player of the Year, UPI Player of the Year, Sporting News Player of the Year, 2x First Team All-American

January 20, 1968, is an etched date in college basketball history. It was the day of the first nationally televised college regular season game. The “Game of the Century” pitted Lew Alcindor’s 47-0 UCLA Bruins against the Houston Cougars. Alcindor was limited to just 15 points by Elvin Hayes, who had 39 points and 15 rebounds. The Cougars won the game.

Elvin Hayes’s NCAA record is one of the most impressive in NCAA history. This is due to his dominance in both the midrange and the paint. His iconic turnaround jumper was a highlight of his college career, where he averaged 31 points per game. He also averaged a remarkable 36.8 points per game in his last year. He was also a great player on the boards. His 222 rebounds were the highest in NCAA Tournament history and he had 37 rebounds in one game against Centenary.

His years as a Houston Big E player had significant cultural and sporting significance. Along with Don Chaney, he was the University of Houston’s first African-American player. Hayes’ overall record was 81-12.

Video: 1968 Game of the Century

1968 Game of the Century

6) Wilt Chamberlin, Kansas Jayhawks

Awards: NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player, 2x Consensus First Team All-American

Wilt, the Stilt’s two years in Kansas saw him set school records with averages of 29.9 and 18.3 points, averaging over 30 PPG his last year. He led the Jayhawks’ to a Big seven championship and an NCAA Tournament berth in his first year of play. He would then reach the National Championship, where they would lose to North Carolina Tar Heels. Chamberlain’s journey to the finals was not pleasant. Chamberlain would often be triple-teamed when he received the ball. Nearly every team would also freeze the ball. This means they would pass it around and not attempt to shoot it. Chamberlain and his team received much harsh treatment from fans, especially when they were trying to stop him. The team would be attacked with racist abuses and pelted with garbage. They had to be taken out of the arenas by the police. Chamberlain, who had a 32-point, 11-rebound game in the semifinals with eight blocks, played fantastic basketball. Chamberlain’s dominance at both ends of the court meant that teams had to use the above tactics.

Video: WiltMixTape - Wilt Chamberlain Kansas Highlights

WiltMixTape – Wilt Chamberlain Kansas Highlights

5) Pete Maravich, LSU Tigers

Awards: 3x SEC Player of the Year, 2x National Player of the Year, 3x Consensus First Team All-American, 3x NCAA Scoring Champion, NCAA Division 1 All-Time Leading Scorer

44.2 points per game. Although it may seem like a typographical error, this is what Pete Maravich averaged per match during his three years at college. This is an outrageous number, and it is not easy to comprehend. This would mean that Maravich would technically score 43 points on a below average night. This kind of outburst would be the talk of the town, a career game. However, it would be one point less than Maravich’s average scoring for his entire college tenure.

His scoring averages rose with each season of his college career. He scored 43.8 points his sophomore year and 44.5 points his senior season. His game was unique, especially in the era he played in. The era of the large man. He used a variety of hook shots and layups as well as a barrage of long-range bombs that were all before their time. Although the name “Pistol Pete” was a reference to his habit of shooting from his side, it is not new. His extraordinary playmaking abilities, using between-the-leg and no-look passes similar to Robert Cousy (former Boston Celtics point guard), earned him the nickname “Houdini”. Just think what the average would have been if a three-point shot would have existed at the time.

Video: Pete Maravich LSU Highlights

Pete Maravich LSU Highlights

4) Oscar Robertson, Cincinnati Bearcats

Awards: 2x Helms College Player of the Year, 3x UPI College Player of the Year, 2x USBWA College Player of the Year, 3x Sporting News College Player of the Year, 3x Consensus First Team All-American, 3x First Team All-MVC, 3x NCAA Scoring Champion

Every game, the 6’4″ guard filled out the stat sheet. His playing style was similar to the modern point guard, which combines elite playmaking with dynamic scoring. Robertson is often credited with being the predecessor to today’s great players. Robertson averaged 35.1 points and 15.2 rebounds in his first year of playing. He went on to average 33.8 points, 7.1 assists and 15.2 boards. As his scoring declined, his rebounds and assists increased. This helped him become a more versatile point guard. He was still the NCAA’s leading scorer and was eventually overtaken by Pete Maravich.

He was more than that; he helped the Bearcats to prominence in his playing days. In his second year, he led them to the regional semifinals. They lost to Kansas in overtime. The team suffered two back-to-back losses in the Final Four to the University of California. Robertson scored 19 points, nine assists, and 19 rebounds in his first game. He then recorded 18 points, ten assists, and ten rebounds the following year. Robertson’s collegiate career would end without any NCAA titles, but he did help the Bearcats achieve their highest NCAA finish.

Video: Rare Footage of Oscar Robertson at University of Cincinnati

Rare Footage of Oscar Robertson at University of Cincinnati

3) Bill Russell, San Fransisco Dons

Awards: 2x NCAA Champion, NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player, 2x Helms Player of the Year, UPI College Player of the Year, WCC Player of the Year, 2x Consensus First Team All-American

He averaged 19.9 points per match and grabbed 19.2 rebounds in his first season. He also was the reason for a change in NCAA rules, which allowed them to widen the lane to combat his defensive dominance. Although the number of his blocks was not recorded, the San Francisco Examiner reported that in his first game, he blocked 13 shots, with most of them coming at the expense of All-American center Bob McKeen. He would lead the Dons to back-to-back NCAA Championships and a string of 55 consecutive wins. He is also known for his clutch play. In his first finals against Tom Gola’s La Salle, he scored 23 points and grabbed 25 rebounds, while he recorded 26 points against Iowa and 27 rebounds in the second one.

Shot interference rules were also introduced to combat the defensive prowess displayed by Russell after he graduated.

Video: 1955-56 USF Basketball Wins Record 60 Consecutive Games, Two NCAA Titles

1955-56 USF Basketball Wins Record 60 Consecutive Games, Two NCAA Titles

2) Bill Walton, UCLA Bruins

Awards: 2x NCAA Champion, 2x NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player, 3x National College Player of the Year, 3x Consensus First Team All-American, 3x West Regional Team

Walton’s UCLA time was marked by absolute dominance. He led them on a remarkable 73-0 win streak. His only four losses were in his senior year. He finished with an overall record of 86-4. He won back-to-back NCAA championships. In the finals against Florida State, he scored 24 points and grabbed 25 rebounds. Then he had his best college game the next year in the National Championships. He scored 44 points, 13 boards, and two assists against Memphis State. He made 21 of 22 shots. His 44-point outburst is UCLA’s record for the most points scored by a single player in an NCAA championship game.

He was a traditional big camped in the paint to catch lobs and pull-down boards. His style allowed him to play highly efficient games like the one against Memphis. He also had a 65.1% overall field goal percentage for his college career. He also holds the UCLA rebounding record, being the Bruin’s all-time leader for total rebounds and rebounds per match.

Video: Bill Walton Greatest Games: 44 Points vs Memphis State (1973 NCAA FInal)

Bill Walton Greatest Games: 44 Points vs Memphis State (1973 NCAA FInal)

1) Lew Alcindoe, UCLA Bruins

Awards: 3x NCAA Champion, 3x NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player, 2x AP Player of the Year, Naismith Player of the Year, 3x Consensus First Team All-American, 3x West Regional Team

In his first year of eligibility, he averaged 29 points and 16 rebounds. He also led UCLA to a 14-0 record within the Pac-8 conference. He was the team’s top scorer with 20 points in the National Championship win against Dayton that year. In his junior year, he would lead the Bruins to a 14-0 record in conference play. He also averaged around 26 points per game and 17 rebounds. Alcindor implemented a rule change that prohibited dunking in the NCAA, which resulted in his points per game dropping. He scored 34 points on 71% shooting and had 16 rebounds in that championship. In his last year of college, he averaged 24 points. He also finished his distinguished college career with a National Championship. He scored his highest finals with 37 points and 20 rebounds there. In his senior year, he was named the first Naismith Player Of The Year.

Lew Alcindor’s college career was defined by his dominance in the court, the scoring charts and the record books. UCLA’s #3 is still the best college basketball player of all time, six decades later.

Video: Lew Alcindor at UCLA

Lew Alcindor at UCLA

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