November 27, 2009
As the decade winds down, The Dagger will celebrate the past 10 years of college basketball with various top 10 lists. Today, we look at the 10 best players of the 2000s:
No. 10 (tie): J.J. Redick, guard, Duke; Adam Morrison, forward, Gonzaga.The first two players on our list were co-National Players of the Year in 2005-06; they were also Halo 2 partners and eventual NBA busts. But in their heyday, J.J. Redick and Adam Morrison ruled the college hoops world, Redick with hot shooting and an uncanny ability to find open spots on the perimeter; Morrison with an all-court game that included rebounding alongside prodigious mid-range scoring, reminding many of Larry Bird.
No. 8: T.J. Ford, guard, Texas. There is one player in the history of college basketball to lead the country in assists as a freshman. That player is T.J. Ford. Ford's college career was short but legendary: The Naismith award, the Wooden award, a retired Texas jersey, a regional NCAA tournament MVP, a 2003 season in which he led his team in scoring, assists and steals -- Ford was a lightning bolt of college hoops brilliance, one everybody, if only briefly, saw.
No. 7: Juan Dixon, guard, Maryland. Gary Williams' 2002 title-winning Maryland team was talented -- Steve Blake and Chris Wilcox are still playing productive NBA minutes -- but Juan Dixon was its undisputed leader. Dixon overcame an insane childhood (both his mother and father were heroin addicts and died of AIDS-related illnesses before Dixon was 17) to become the only player in NCAA hoops history to record 2,000 points, 300 steals and 200 3-pointers. And in 2001-2002, no one was denying him an NCAA title.
No. 6: Blake Griffin, forward, Oklahoma. Griffin's freshman season in 2007-08 was promising, but few could have imagined just how good Griffin would be. But Griffin's sophomore season was just that, as the Oklahoma forward tore through the Big 12 and the national college hoops season with as dominant a season as a college forward can have. For visual evidence -- as if you need any -- see here.
No. 5: Jason Williams, guard, Duke. The only player better than Dixon in the country in 2001-02 is the next player on our list, Duke guard Jason (aka Jay) Williams. With the Maryland-Duke rivalry at its most fierce in 2001 and 2002, Williams won an NCAA title in 2001 and a Naismith award in 2002, the year that Maryland finally overcame the Dukies, and everyone else, to win the title. Williams' NBA career was cut short by an ill-advised motorcycle accident, but anyone who watched him play in college would verify his rightful place on this list -- and the potential that went sadly unfulfilled.
No. 4: Jameer Nelson, guard, St. Joseph's. Likewise, few people will forget St. Joes' remarkable run in 2003-04, when Nelson and fellow guard Delonte West led Phil Martelli and company to a 27-1 regular season record and a buzzer-beating loss to Oklahoma State in the Elite Eight. Nelson averaged 20 points, five assists and three steals per game during tiny St. Joseph's brief moment of national notoriety.
No. 3: Kevin Durant, forward, Texas. In a way, Durant changed everything. One of the first NBA-ready players (alongside Greg Oden at Ohio State) to be forced into a year of college hoops, Durant proved that all leagues are not created equal. As a freshman at Texas in 2006-07, Durant averaged 25 points and 11 rebounds; he went for 28 and 13 in games against Big 12 opponents. After a 37-point, 23-rebound game against Texas Tech, Bob Knight described Durant as "really good." The rest of the country agreed, handing Durant a Naismith award, an almost unheard-of honor for a freshman. But who would deny Durant's once-in-a-generation talent, then or now? Certainly not us.
No. 2: Shane Battier, small forward, Duke. No surprise here. Battier was good before and after the passing of the millenium; he led the Blue Devils to a national runner-up in 1999 and a national title in 2001, when he swept the national player of the year awards. (Battier has become universally recognized as underrated in the NBA, but there was no such trend in college.) In four years, Battier established himself as one of the best college hoops players of all time.
No. 1: Tyler Hansbrough, forward, North Carolina. And, of course, there's Tyler Hansbrough. If any player defined the aughts, it was Hansbrough, whose four years at North Carolina were dominant from start to finish. Hansbrough averaged 20 points and eight rebounds a game over four years, and the way he got his points -- out-muscling opponents inside and getting to the free throw at an insane rate -- were borderline legendary. Hansbrough sealed the deal as a senior in 2008-09, winning his first national title. Some would argue Hansbrough's place in the college basketball canon, but few would argue his deserving nature at the top of this list. As aesthically unpleasant as it might be, Tyler Hansbrough was the best player of the 2000s.
Honorable mentions: Stephen Curry, Mateen Cleaves, Kirk Hinrich, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, Ben Gordon, Emeka Okafor, Joakim Noah, Kevin Love, Kevin Pittsnogle, Andrew Bogut, Ty Lawson, Michael Beasley, Derrick Rose, Chris Paul, and a whole host of others we could spend all day talking about.