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Top 5 players in UCONN men’s basketball history
The University of Connecticut Huskies were not always one of the best programs in the country. Actually, for many years, they were more of the laughingstock of the Big East than they were a perennial favorite to win the conference. The star recruits would not even consider UCONN as a possible landing spot for their college careers. After years of losing and frustration, the athletic department decided to bring in a coach from right up the road at Northeastern. This man had turned the Northeastern Huskies' entire program around the second he stepped foot in the gym. Calhoun led that group of Huskies to a 19-7 record in his first season has head coach. After building the program into one that consistently won 20 games, the Big East version of the Huskies came calling. He accepted the offer and in just his second season won 20 games. Since then, Calhoun's Huskies have amassed over 575 wins, won two national championships, participated in three final fours, won six conference tournament titles, and has had 31 players drafted to the NBA. Needless to say, Jim Calhoun deserves his status as a hall of fame coach, but even the best coaches in the world wouldn't be anywhere without some great players to coach. With that in mind, here are the top 5 players to ever don the UCONN Husky uniform.
5. Chris smith - (1988-1992) - From Bridgeport, CT
While there may be a few players who did not make this top five list, and who might be a bit better than Chris Smith, nobody in UCONN basketball history is more important than him. When discussing the best players in a program's history, the impact a player had on the program must be brought into the equation, and Chris Smith had more of an impact on the program than any player in UCONN history. Jim Calhoun could not get any of the blue chippers to commit to the Big East bottom feeder known as the University of Connecticut Huskies. Then, he went to his own backyard in Bridgeport, CT to find a man named Chris Smith. Calhoun undoubtedly used the idea of turning his home-state's basketball program around during his sales pitch, and eventually, Smith decided to play for the Huskies. During his sophomore campaign, Smith led his team to the Big East Tournament Championship, of which he was named the Most Outstanding Player and Smith then led the Huskies to an improbable Sweet Sixteen birth in the NCAA Tournament. They played Duke in that fateful game and lost a heartbreaker by one point, but that loss put UCONN on the map as a team to be reckoned with and all of that was thanks to the Connecticut native, Chris Smith.
By the Numbers: Over 4 Years at UCONN
Points per game - 16.9
Total Points - 2,145 (UCONN record)
Big East Points - 1,140 (UCONN record)
3-point FG - 242 (UCONN record)
If Chris Smith put UCONN on the NCAA map, then Donyell Marshall kept them there. Marshall came in during Smith's final season and it didn't take long for him to make an impact. Perhaps, the most dominating player in Husky history, Marshall made an immediate impact by amassing 11 points, 6 rebounds, and over 2.5 blocks per game in his freshman season. Marshall would go on to set the single season UCONN record for points during his junior season (855), while becoming the first Husky to be named to the First Team All America Team and the first to be named a finalist for the Naismith Player of the Year Award. During that junior season, Marshall averaged 25.1 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 3.2 blocks per game in leading the Huskies to a 29-5 record and Sweet Sixteen appearance in the NCAA Tournament, in which they lost to Florida in overtime. Marshall was then drafted 4th in the 1994 draft and over his fifteen seasons in the NBA, he has scored over 10,700 points and grabbed over 6,300 rebounds. The first star, not from Connecticut, in Calhoun's UCONN coaching career, paved the way for other non-local basketball start to look at the Huskies as an option for their collegiate basketball.
By the Numbers: Over 3 Years at UCONN
Points per game - 18.1
Rebounds per game - 7.6
Total Points - 1,646
Blocks per game - 2.7
Total Blocks - 242
By the time Ray Allen made his way to UCONN, Calhoun was no longer recruiting from one small part of the country. Because of Smith and Marshall putting the Huskies on the map as perennial contenders for the Big East title, Calhoun was now able to recruit some of the best players from all over the country. Case and point: Ray Allen from California. Like the first two players on this list, Allen made an immediate impact on the program. During the 1993-1994 season, Ray's freshman year, Allen averaged almost 13 points per game, while connecting on over 40 percent of his three point attempts. This was Donyell Marshall's last season in Storrs, and at least some of Marshall's gaudy junior year numbers could be attributed to Ray Allen's emergence as a deadly outside threat. Once Marshall left for the NBA, the team was left in Allen's hands, and he did not disappoint. In his second year on campus, Allen led the Huskies to their second straight Sweet Sixteen appearance, while being named to the First Team All America team and averaging 21 points and almost 7 rebounds per game. He also connected on 85 three pointers, while shooting them at a 44 percent clip. During his junior year, his final one with the Huskies, Allen was once again named a First Team All American, the first player in UCONN history to be named twice. He also averaged over 23 points per game, while hitting 115 three pointers at over 46 percent. The Huskies' record during his final season was 32-3 and included another Sweet Sixteen birth, but more importantly, it had one of the most memorable moments in UCONN history. During the Big East Championship game, against rival Allen Iverson(notes) and Georgetown, UCONN was trailing by 11 points with just over five minutes to play. After coming back to within one, Ray Allen made his only field goal in the second half, which happened to be a hanging, floating, foul line jumper in traffic to give UCONN the victory. Allen finished 5-20 shooting, but still had 17 points and, more importantly, 12 rebounds. Allen, like Marshall, left UCONN after his junior season and was drafted 5th overall in the 1996 draft. Since then, Allen has played for three teams over his fifteen year career, while posting a career average of over 20 points per game and a stellar 40 percent three point percentage. He has also been named to 9 all star teams, and will most likely be the first ever NBA hall of famer to come from UCONN.
By the Numbers: Over 3 Years at UCONN
Points per game - 19.0
Total Points - 1,922
3 point FG - 233
3 point FG% - 44.8
Many would consider the man affectionately known as "Rip" to be the best player to ever wear the Husky uniform. And, to be honest, they may be right. Choosing between Hamilton and the number one player on this list was not an easy task. During his junior season, Rip was responsible for bringing home the first National Championship in UCONN history. He was named the Most Outstanding Player during their 1999 national title run, and scored 27 points in the championship game against longtime rival, Duke. He averaged 21.5 points per game during the 1999 season, was named First Team All American and Co-Big East Player of the Year. He ranks second in UCONN history in points scored and did so in only three seasons, compared to Chris Smith's four and he is also the only player in UCONN history to amass over 700 points in a season twice. Hamilton's National Championship winning team of 1999 compiled a 34-2 record and won the program's fourth Big East Championship. Rip left UCONN after that amazing season and was drafted 7th overall by the Washington Wizards in the 1999 NBA Draft. He has gone on to average 17.8 points per game over his 12 year (and counting) career and has made 3 all star games. In 2004, he was a key member of the NBA champion Detroit Pistons team and he averaged over 21 points per game during the playoff run. Hamilton has only played for two teams in his NBA career, the Wizards and the Pistons.
By the Numbers: Over 3 Years at UCONN
Points per game - 19.8
Total Points - 2,036 (UCONN record for 3 year player)
3-point FG - 237 (UCONN record for 3 year player)
Emeka Okafor's parents were both born in Nigeria. They sent Emeka to the United States to give him a better opportunity. He took advantage. After playing for Bellaire High School in Houston, Texas, he decided to take his game to Storrs, Connecticut, and Coach Jim Calhoun could not have been happier. Okafor was the man who rekindled the good old days of the dominant big man, something UCONN hadn't had since Donyell Marshall left nearly seven years earlier. When Okafor came to UCONN during the 2000-2001 season, he was a raw athlete with huge potential. He average only 7.9 points per game in nearly 30 minutes of action, but he pulled down 9.0 rebounds and blocked an average of 4.1 shots per game. Even in his early years, Okafor was a shot blocker like no program in the country had ever seen. Okafor improved astronomically from year to year in almost every facet of the game, while staying consistent with blocked shots. During his All American, sophomore year Okafor averaged over 15 points, 11 rebounds, and 4.7 blocked shots per game, while leading his team to the Big East Championship game and to the Elite 8 as a five seed in the NCAA Tournament, in which they lost to number 1 seed Texas by a score of 82-78. All of this led up to Okafor's junior season. The 2003-2004 season was one to remember for Okafor. He was named the NABC and Sports Illustrated National Player of the Year, the NCAA Tournament's Final Four Most Outstanding Player, and for the second consecutive year he was named the National Defensive Player of the Year and an All American. These awards capped what may be the most dominant single season for the most dominant team in UCONN history are what make him the best player in the program's existence. While all of these individual were great, Okafor would tell you that the most special award was the one that was achieved as a team (sort of). That was the 2004 National Championship, which was won at the hands of Georgia Tech, but was really won in the Elite 8, when UCONN once again beat old time rival Duke in one of the most memorable games in Husky history. Duke was dominating most of the game, and led by 8 with less than three minutes remaining. At this point Okafor, who had been having a pedestrian game so far, took over. He scored 5 of the last 8 UCONN points, including a turnaround go ahead bucket, following an offensive, not-to-be denied rebound. He finished the game with 18 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 blocked shots, while battling back problems that had limited his minutes throughout the tournament. While Okafor's numbers were great, what truly sets him apart from most student-athletes is his academic prowess. Okafor graduated in just 3 years from UCONN and was named the Academic All American of the Year in his final season at UCONN. After graduating, he was selected with the number 2 pick overall in the 2004 NBA Draft by the Charlotte Bobcats.
By the Numbers: Over 3 Years at UCONN
Points per game - 13.8
Rebounds per game - 10.6
Blocks per game - 4.3
Total Blocks - 441 (UCONN Record)
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