Saturday, March 15, 2008

Shining moments

As we begin our annual descent into Madness, we give you a completely self-indulgent look at TATB's all-time favorite college hoops players . . .

Benny Anders, Houston: One of the most mysterious characters in recent college basketball history, his legend grows by the year. Anders (No. 32 in the picture) played with Akeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler on the skywalking 1983 University of Houston Phi Slamma Jamma team that beat Louisville in a dunkfest in the Final Four before falling to N.C. State in the final, and by all accounts he more than held his own with his future superstar teammates. Said former Houston guard Reid Gettys: "Clyde will concede Benny tore him up in one-on-ones. Now, Clyde won't concede Michael Jordan tore him up, but he concedes Benny would get him." While Drexler went on to become one of the NBA Top 50 players of all time, Anders's talent went unfulfilled, by all accounts due to a lack of self-discipline. He didn't last at Houston, never played in the NBA, and, sadly, hasn't been heard from in years. But no one forgets him.

Kenny Anderson, Georgia Tech: It's hard to believe the lethargic, seen-it-all NBA veteran who passed his time front-rimming 15-foot jumpers for the Celtics a few seasons ago was the same dynamic player who in 1990 earned justified comparisons to Tiny Archibald while leading Georgia Tech to the Final Four. But Anderson really was something to behold in his youth, a super-quick lefty slasher with rare creativity as a passer and finisher. Though he averaged over 25 ppg as a sophomore and played 15 years in the NBA, it's not unfair to say he peaked as player as a freshman, when he joined long-range gunner Dennis Scott and versatile Brian Oliver to form "Lethal Weapon 3," one of the most fun and memorable trios in college hoops history. If you saw him in college, you can't help but wonder what happened along the way to sap his joy for the game.

Danny Manning, Kansas: Manning carried the Jayhawks to the '88 title, and "carried" is the appropriate word there - his most notable teammates were Milt Newton, Kevin Pritchard, and Scooter Barry, whose claim to fame is being the least gifted of Rick Barry's hoop-playing spawn. In the title game against Oklahoma, Manning posted this hop-on-my-back-fellas stat line: 31 points, 18 rebounds, 5 steals, and 2 blocked shots. For a player of such immense talents - he scored over 2,500 points in his four seasons - he also had unusual amounts of intelligence and savvy to his game, little baby hooks and touch passes and clever moves in the post. I'm not convinced he would have been a bona fide superstar in the NBA had he not blown his knee out 26 games into his rookie season with the Clippers - he was never that quick in the first place - but he would have been a hell of a second banana on an outstanding team.

Carmelo Anthony, Syracuse: Even in his one year of college ball, his game was a polished blend of Hip-Hop and Old School (I'm a sucker for that midrange rainbow jumper), and his easy charisma has always been off the charts. Solely because of him, I picked Syracuse to win it all in '03 - the only time I've had the last team standing as far as I can remember. If that's not a good reason to include him here, I don't know what is.

Chris Jackson, LSU: One of my laments as a sports fan is that I was born too late to see Pistol Pete Maravich play at LSU. For someone of my generation, watching Jackson, who averaged 30.2 ppg his freshman year (1988-89) for the Tigers, was as close as we'll come. He had seemingly limitless range, only a hint of a conscience, a dancer's balance (he always seemed to shoot on the move), and a handle that would wow even the AND1 crowd. If ESPN Classic hadn't tragically and inexplicably been converted to the Bowling/Poker Who-Gives-A-Bleep Channel in recent years, I'd like to think random games from Jackson's freshman year is the kind of stuff they'd be showing.

Chris Mullin, St. John's:
Remember when St. John's-Georgetown was an Event, Capital E? No? Well, I bet Walter Berry does.

Wally Szczerbiak, Miami (Ohio): Loved his 43-point performance against Washington during the RedHawks' run to the Sweet 16 in the '99 tourney. Couldn't stand him as a limping chucker for the Celtics.

David Robinson, Navy: Couldn't help but laugh at Red Auerbach's quote in this clip: "He's got a lot to learn . . . but not that much." In other words: The kid's unreal, but I don't want anyone knowing I think that. Classic Red.

Bo Kimble, Loyola-Marymount The lefthanded free throw still gets me.

Glen Rice, Michigan: His range extended to Kalamazoo.

John "Hot Plate" Williams, LSU: One of the great obese players of all time. How's that for a backhanded compliment?

Toby Bailey, UCLA: Ah, hell, I'll admit it: I bought the Next Big Thing hype. Should have known better than to fall for a 6-foot-3-inch guard who couldn't shoot.

(I'll add more as I think of them today. Feel free to add yours in the comments . . . )