Mark Green: The greatest college basketball player

Mark Green
Mark Green

Recently I stopped by Diamondback Arena to check in with the Magazine basketball teams. Coach Randy Bryan was about to begin practice with the junior girls, but in his usual gracious manner he took a few minutes to visit about the good old days and to give his opinions about who was best. Those discussions are always enjoyable. 

One of the best aspects of being a sports fan is that everyone has the right to an opinion. So, if I think that Cuthbert Shrimpfenheimer was the greatest tiddlywinks player ever, I have the right to say so.  

Although my reasoning is no better than anyone else’s, I at least have been following college basketball for over 50 years. My logic may be faulty, but by this time my memories are longer than those of most folks. So, for better or worse, right or wrong, here is what I think about the subject of the greatest of all time in college basketball.  

I got disgusted with the NBA years ago, so I would not venture an opinion about the pros. However, I have followed the college game since my youth. Therefore, my opinion here concerns only the time that various players spent in college. They might have been superstars or stinkers in the NBA, but that does not enter into my opinion here. The one-and-done sorts are logically eliminated from consideration because one year is not enough of a sample. 

It is my carefully considered opinion that the greatest college player of all time was Lew Alcindor (later called Kareem Abdul-Jabbar). You had to have seen him play to realize fully just how dominant he was. First, he was 7-feet 2-inches tall and amazingly graceful and coordinated for such a big man. Second, he was equally dominant on both ends of the court (which you could not say about Bill Russell or Pete Maravich, as great as they were). After Coach John Wooden helped him perfect the “sky hook,” he was virtually unstoppable on offense. 

Alcindor made a statement as soon as he arrived on campus in the fall of 1966. In those days, freshmen were not eligible for varsity play and it was UCLA’s custom for the varsity to play the freshmen in an “easy” pre-season game. The Bruins had won the national championship in 1964 and 1965, so they were a bona fide powerhouse program. 

This game did not turn out to be so easy, however, as Alcindor and the freshmen defeated the varsity by 15 points. Alcindor had 31 points and 21 rebounds. In his very first varsity game his sophomore year, he scored 56 points, which set a school record. 

During Alcindor’s three varsity seasons, UCLA had a record of 88-2. In one of those defeats (the “Game of the Century” against Elvin Hayes and the Houston Cougars), the Bruins lost by two points as Alcindor played with a scratched cornea. However, the Bruins came back to defeat Houston in the NCAA tournament by 32 points. 

Over his three varsity seasons, Alcindor averaged 26 points and 15 rebounds per game and shot 62% from the field. UCLA won the national championship all three years. The closest score in their three NCAA finals was 15 points over Dayton in 1967. The dunk was banned after the 1967 season, primarily because of Alcindor. 

There you have one old-timer’s opinion. I realize that I passed over several great players, from Tom Gola to Tim Duncan. But I still think I am right, because I never saw a player who dominated the college game the way Alcindor did.