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Top 10 Big Ten Basketball Players of All-Time

Publish Date: 05/29/2024
Fact checked by: Mark Lewis

There are many legends of Big Ten Basketball, and today we will look at the twenty greatest players ever in Big Ten basketball history. If you are a Penn State, Maryland, Rutgers, or Nebraska fan, you will not have a player like Len Bias from Maryland make this list because he never played in the Big ten.


How long did you play in the Big Ten? George McGinnis is a top-ten all-time player, but he only played one year in the Big Ten and then moved on to the NBA. So at least two years is required to make this list. Team achievements and stats are also significant.

10) Steve Alford, Indiana

Steve Alford was an Indiana Hoosier guard, a prolific scorer, and one of the greatest shooters in Big Ten history. Many still revere him as a legend for setting the Indiana all-time scoring record, which was later broken by Calbert Cheaney.

Alford led the Hoosiers to a fifth national champion and was named All-American. Alford is highly underrated by many as a great college basketball player, but he also played a big part in the 1984 US Olympic Basketball team winning gold.

Video: Big Ten Icons: Steve Alford 4

Big Ten Icons: Steve Alford 4


9) Mateen Cleaves, Michigan State

Cleaves was a three-time All-American with the Michigan State Spartans. Cleaves is most well-known for helping Tom Izzo to win his only National Title..

Cleaves was a three-time team captain and epitomized Big Ten basketball at it’s best.

Video: The Flint-Stones (Full Feature HD)

The Flint-Stones (Full Feature HD)

8) Glen Robinson, Purdue

Although Glenn Robinson was only at Purdue for three years, he significantly impacted Purdue basketball in a positive light.

Robinson was an all-American and led Purdue to the Regional Finals. Robinson will go down as one of the best Purdue Boilermakers of all-time.

Robinson was a successful NBA player.

Video: Who was Glenn Robinson, the Big Dog, with Purdue and the Milwaukee Bucks - 90s NBA content

Who was Glenn Robinson, the Big Dog, with Purdue and the Milwaukee Bucks – 90s NBA content

7) Calbert Cheaney, Indiana

Cheaney was a three-time All-American. Some disappointed him because he failed to lead the Hoosiers to a national title. According to many Hoosier fans, this still places him behind Alford. Not me. Cheaney is the all-time scorer in Big Ten history and was a do-it-all player. He did lead the Hoosiers to the Final Four in 1992 and a regional final appearance in 1993.

Video: Indiana vs Northwestern - 3/4/1993 - Calbert Cheaney Breaks Both Records

Indiana vs Northwestern – 3/4/1993 – Calbert Cheaney Breaks Both Records

6) Glen Rice, Michigan

Glen Rice, Michigan’s all-time leading scorer. He led them to a 1989 national championship win in overtime over Seton Hall. Rice was an outstanding player who could be both versatile and stable.

He was a guard or forward, unlike any other basketball player we had seen up until that time. He was almost automatic as a shooter and was a solid defender. The Fab Five never won it all while at Michigan but Rice did.

Rice’s superior play made the game different.

Video: 1989 Southeast Regional Final 3 Michigan vs 5 Virginia 1 of 1

1989 Southeast Regional Final 3 Michigan vs 5 Virginia 1 of 1

5) Cazzie Russell, Michigan

Russell was a great player, was a three-time All-American, and was named player of the Year in his senior season.

He also led the Wolverines into back-to-back Final Fours. Russell was the first truly great Wolverine basketball player. Cazzie was a scoring machine and was darn near unstoppable as a college basketball player.

Video: The House That Cazzie Built - Official Trailer #1

The House That Cazzie Built – Official Trailer #1


4) Isiah Thomas, Indiana

Thomas, despite only playing for two years at Indiana, Thomas is one of the greatest players to ever play in the Big Ten. Even as a sophomore, the guard could do things many people couldn’t imagine doing.

He led the Hoosiers to the 1981 National Championship and was named the tournament’s most outstanding player. Indiana won the Big ten both of his years there and in 1980 reached the Regional semi-finals. Thomas was coached by Bob Knight one of the best Big Ten Basketball coaches of all-time.

Video: Big Ten Elite: 1981 Indiana Basketball 1

Big Ten Elite: 1981 Indiana Basketball 1


3) Rick Mount, Purdue

Rick Mount was a Purdue Boilermakers player and was one the greatest scorers the game had ever seen. Mount averaged nearly 40 points per game during his career, even without the three-point line. Imagine what a man who is possibly the greatest shooter that ever lived could have done with a three-point line.

He is still regarded as one of the greatest scorers in history and is a legend at Purdue. Mount led the Boilermakers to their only National Championship game appearance, where they came up short against one of John Wooden’s legendary UCLA teams.

Video: 1969 Richard

1969 Richard “Rick” C. Mount, talented basketball player at Purdue University

2) Magic Johnson, Michigan State

Magic Johnson is a well-known basketball player.ย Perhaps the most well-known name in basketball, after Jordan.

Johnson was an MSU player and had a successful career. He led the Spartans to the regional finals in 1978 and then to their first-ever National Championship in 1979. If Magic Had stayed for one or two more years, he may well rank at number one on this list.

Magic in his freshman season lost a close game in the regional finals to the eventual champion Kentucky wildcats and he followed that up by beating Larry burd and the undefeated Indiana State Sycamores in 1979.

Video: Magic Johnson - Michigan State Highlights

Magic Johnson – Michigan State Highlights


1) Jerry Lucas, Ohio State

Lucas was a three-time All-American and three-time conference player of the year. He also won the player-of-the-year award during his junior season and senior seasons.

In his second season, Lucas also led the Buckeyes to win the national title.

Video: Big Ten Icons: Jerry Lucas 4

Big Ten Icons: Jerry Lucas 4

Honorable Mentions

Deron Williams, Illinois

Williams had an excellent NBA career, but before that, he burst on the scene at Illinois and helped lead the Illini to the final four as a slasher and scorer.

Rod Fletcher, Illinois

Rod Fletcher, a guard, was an Illinois player in the 1950s. Fletcher led the Illini to two straight Final Four appearances in his senior and junior seasons.

Fletcher, a senior, was also recognized as an All-American.

Two-time All-Big Ten Guard was a tremendous asset to the Illini and helped build a great program at Illinois.

Joe Barry Carroll, Purdue

Caroll, a 7’1″ center, played for the Purdue Boilermakers in the late 1970s and early 80s. In his senior season, he was named All-American and is a Purdue legend.

He was a great shot blocker and helped the Boilermakers reach the Final Four in 1980.

Andy Phillip, Illinois

Phillip was the greatest player ever to have played at Illinois. Phillip is regarded as one of the best collegiate players of the 1940s.

He was an All-American and was also the 1943 player of the Year. His career was cut short at Illinois because of World war 2.

Video: Illinois Athletics Hall of Fame - Andy Phillip

Illinois Athletics Hall of Fame – Andy Phillip

Kent Benson, Indiana

Benson was the star player of Indiana’s undefeated team of 1976. This feat was awe-inspiring and will likely never be repeated. Benson was a limited player but fit Coach Knight’s offense perfectly. The Hoosiers only lost one game over the 1975-76 basketball seasons.

He was considered the best prospect in the country and was selected Number one, he was a dust in the NBA, but a legend in the Big Ten.

Gary Bradds, Ohio State

Gary Bradds was a star player for the Ohio State Buckeyes. He had big shoes to fill, and he lived up to them. He averaged 33 points per match and was named college basketball’s best player.

Bobby Knight is also a friend and teammate, and the Buckeyes teams of the early 60s were dominant.

John Wooden, Purdue

John Wooden was an outstanding player; of course, he is more known for his coaching while at UCLA.

He led Purdue to a national championship in 1932, being named player-of-the-year and a three-time All-American.

Don Schlundt, Indiana

Schlundt was a 1950s basketball player for the Indiana Hoosiers. Schlundt was one of the most outstanding Hoosiers ever to play the game. He set the school record in points per career until Steve Alford broke it.

Schlundt led the Hoosiers to a national championship in 1953 and was named a three-time All-American.

Steve Smith, Michigan State

This Spartan is regarded as one of the best shooters of all time. Smith wouldn’t just take it to the basket if he was on the court. Smith could make you feel broken… he could smile at you and then shoot it straight down your throat.

John Kotz, Wisconsin

John Kotz was an All-American player for the Wisconsin Badgers during the 1940s. Badgers won a championship in the 1940s, which was a huge decade for the Badgers.

Badgers fans still remember Kotz, who is a legend for many.

Ronnie Lester, Iowa

Lester was a cat-quick guard who could do it all. If not for injuries, he may have been in this top ten. In 1980, he led the Iowa Hawkeyes to the Final Four but got hurt early in the game. If he had stayed healthy, the 1980 Iowa Hawkeyes would have won the National Championship.

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