words // Brandon Richard
One of the most forgotten elements of Michael Jordan’s career when talking about his “Greatest of All Time” resume is the fact that he was a champion on the college level. In fact, it was his buzzer beater against the Georgetown Hoyas in 1982 that gave the Tar Heels the National Championship. We shouldn’t go as far as rewarding him a seventh championship, but his sustained greatness is part of the Jordan mystique.
NCAA Championship teams don’t always crank out the best NBA players; in fact, most of the time they don’t. When you factor in how early the best players are leaving school these days, we’ll probably see it less and less as time goes on. However, there are some exceptions, and I thought it’d be fun to list the best NCAA Champions currently playing in the NBA.
The criteria of my list is centered around a complete body of work, rather than just the player’s current status. Joakim Noah certainly deserves an honorable mention, and would clearly make my list if it were based on current level of play, but he still needs to pad his career resume to make this cut. Check out who did make the Top 10.
10. Emeka Okafor, Center, Connecticut – 2004
7 Seasons/12.9 PPG/10.3 RPG/1.8 BPG
Okafor’s legacy will pretty much always be centered around the fact that he didn’t turn out to be anywhere near as good as Dwight Howard, but you can’t downplay averaging a double-double through seven NBA seasons. He won Rookie of the Year over Dwight in 2004-2005, but hasn’t brought home much hardware since. Still, in an era of the disappearing big man, having a reliable 10 rebounds and two blocked shots is always a hot commodity.
9. Ben Gordon, Guard, Connecticut – 2004
7 Seasons/17.2 PPG/2.8 RPG/2.9 APG
Emeka’s old UCONN teammate is next on the list as one of the better bench scorers in the NBA. Ben used to draw comparisons to Vinnie “Microwave” Johnson during his stint in Chicago due to his ability to “heat up in a hurry.” Things have slowed down a bit in Detroit, but in his defense, the Pistons are a mess. Gordon’s 04-05 Sixth Man of the Year and All-Rookie honors are enough to land him on the list.
8. Shane Battier, Forward, Duke – 2001
10 Seasons/9.6 PPG/4.7 RPG/2.0 APG/1.1 SPG/1.0 BPG
Battier is the kind of guy every coach loves to have on his roster. A defensive specialist, Battier has been known to lock down the best of the best in his 10-year career. Battier was named to the All-Rookie Team in 2001-2002 and has been selected to represent the second Team All-Defense twice.
7. Al Horford, Center, Florida – 2006 & 2007
4 Seasons/12.8 PPG/9.7 RPG/2.4 APG/1.1 BPG
Horford is a beneficiary of a depleted era of big men, but it’s hard to discredit two NBA All-Star selections. The man in the middle has been the anchor of a Hawks team that has been to the playoffs every year he’s been in the league. He’s been playing out of position as well, but don’t expect the Hawks to address position needs anytime soon.
6. Jason Terry, Guard, Arizona – 1997
13 Seasons/16.2 PPG/2.7 RPG/4.7 APG/1.3 SPG
Along with San Antonio’s Manu Ginobili, Jason Terry has somewhat re-defined the NBA’s Sixth Man role. Like Manu, Terry is capable of starting on just about any NBA team, but sacrifices his personal gain for the sake of the team. Terry was the 2008-2009 Sixth Man of the Year and is currently eighth on the NBA’s All-Time three-pointers made list.
5. Mike Bibby, Guard, Arizona – 1997
13 Seasons/15.3 PPG/3.2 RPG/2.5 APG/1.2 SPG
It’s been a while since Bibby lit up the courts in those Nike Air Foamposites, but he’s had a really solid NBA career since making the jump. A starter in the majority of the games he has played in his 13-year career, Mike has averaged 15 points, six assists and a steal. He also ranks 15th on the NBA’s All-Time three-pointers-made list. Shoddy officiating may have cost him a shot at a championship in 2002, but now a member of the Miami Heat, Bibby has a chance for redemption.
4. Carlos Boozer, Forward, Duke – 2001
9 Seasons/17.3 PPG/10.1 RPG/2.5 APG
Nobody figured Carlos Boozer would be an All-Star caliber player. That’s why he fell into the second Round of the 2002 NBA Draft. However, the five-year, $80 million contract he signed with the Bulls last summer means he’s doing pretty well for himself. One of the best power forwards in the game, Boozer has made two NBA All-Star Games and was named t0 the 2007-2008 All-NBA Third Team. Now the sidekick of Derrick Rose in Chicago, Boozer has a chance to add more hardware to his mantle during the postseason.
3. Richard “Rip” Hamilton, Guard, Connecticut – 1999
12 Seasons/17.7 PPG/3.2 RPG/3.5 APG
Would somebody please trade Rip Hamilton? The 12-year veteran is currently stuck in Detroit’s mess, but fortunately for him he doesn’t need to do much ring chasing, because he already has one. Part of the 2004 Pistons’ Championship Team in 2004, Hamilton is a three-time NBA All-Star and led the league in three-point percentage in the 2005-2006 season. Rip also holds the distinction of being the only player on the list to win championships is both the NCAA and NBA.
2. Carmelo Anthony, Forward, Syracuse – 2003
8 Seasons/24.8 PPG/6.3 RPG/3.1 APG/1.1 SPG
Unless you’re a New York Knicks fan, you’ve probably heard enough of this name in recent weeks, but Carmelo Anthony is the second best NCAA Champion still playing in the NBA. In his young NBA career, he’s been named to four All-Star teams, four All-NBA teams and has Gold & Bronze Medals in Olympic competition. Melo is often described as the NBA’s best pure scorer and has averaged more than 25 points five times during his career.
Now teamed up with Amar’e Stoudemire, can Anthony lead the Knicks back to the top of the basketball world? That remains to be seen. Carmelo will probably rank number one on this list for me shortly, but he’ll need another great year or two to surpass this next man.
1. Grant Hill, Guard/Forward, Duke – 1991 & 1992
16 Seasons/17.5 PPG/6.3 RPG/4.4 APG/1.3 SPG
Caught up in a bit of “Fab Five” controversy lately, the old man is still getting it done out in Phoenix. Perhaps that shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering how much he was on the shelf during the middle of his career. Grant Hill was on his way to being one of the best players in NBA history before a series of injuries plagued him during his prime.
Nevertheless, Grant is still a seven-time NBA All-Star, 1994-1995 Rookie of the Year and five-time All-NBA. What’s most remarkable is that in his 16th season, he’s giving Phoenix 14 points, four rebounds and three assists per game. He says he wants to play at least two more years if his body holds up. I don’t doubt that he can. A great start to his career and longevity to tack on gives him the edge over Melo in this particular debate.
What do you think of this list? Was anybody omitted that you think should have made it? Do you have any strong disagreements with the rankings? Share your thoughts in the comment section below. I’d like to hear what you think.