Thousands of young men have suited up to play college basketball over the years — and among all of them, a select few have stood out as players that time won’t allow us to forget. The game has changed a lot over the years, but what it takes to be remembered as one of the true legends of college hoops hasn’t changed a bit.
We’ve ranked the absolute best men’s college basketball players to ever hit the court. Apologies to outstanding one-and-done players like Michael Beasley, Kevin Durant and Zion Williamson, but more seasons makes you more impressive in our book. The sample size for players like that was just too small compared to other guys who managed to dominate the college circuit for multiple seasons.
Did your school’s favorite son make the cut?
30. JJ Redick (Duke, 2002-2006)
Career Averages: 19.9 points per game | 2.7 rebounds per game | 2.2 assists per game
It could be argued that JJ Redick was the best pure shooter in NCAA history. His career 91.2-percent free-throw shooting percentage is the best of anyone who made at least 600 of them and he holds the NCAA second all-time mark in three-pointers made with 457. In his four stellar years at Duke, he was an All-ACC selection every season, a two-time consensus All-American and became the school’s all-time leading scorer. The most shocking thing about Redick’s career is that he never won a title.
29. Paul Silas (Creighton, 1961-1964)
Career Averages: 20.5 points per game | 21.6 rebounds per game
Absolutely dominant during his years at Creighton, Paul Silas is in elite company when you look at his nightly production. He is one of only five players in NCAA history to average at least 20 points and 20 rebounds per game for his entire career. Despite that insane level of output, Silas was only once named an All-American pick — but he put up the career numbers to easily earn a place on this list. If he had played for a powerhouse like UCLA, he’d probably be considered in the top 10 ever.
28. Michael Jordan (North Carolina, 1981-1984)
Career Averages: 17.7 points per game | 5.0 rebounds per game | 1.8 assists per game
Michael Jordan’s career averages aren’t quite as obscene as other guys on this list but his defensive skills, clutch shooting and ability to consistently outshine some of the game’s biggest 1980s stars put him on this list. While at UNC, Jordan was instrumental in them winning the 1982 NCAA Championship. He was twice named a consensus All-American and was named the consensus National Collegiate Player of the Year in 1984 before going on to have arguably the greatest NBA career in history.
27. Bobby Hurley (Duke, 1989-1993)
Career Averages: 12.4 points per game | 2.2 rebounds per game | 7.7 assists per game
Like Jordan, fellow ACC legend Bobby Hurley’s per-game averages aren’t eye-popping — he barely averaged a single statistic in double figures — but he was a gifted leader on the court and able to make all of his teammates play their best basketball. He is the NCAA’s all-time leader in career assists and his back-to-back championships won at Duke also put him in elite company. Hurley was named an All-ACC selection three times and was named the NCAA Tournament’s most outstanding player in 1992.
26. Joe Holup (George Washington, 1952-1956)
Career Averages: 21.4 points per game | 19.5 rebounds per game
One of those names that should be mentioned among college basketball’s legends more often than it is, Joe Holup torched the competition while at George Washington in the 1950s. He was just shy of averaging 20 points and 20 rebounds for his career but nonetheless became one of only two players in NCAA history to record 2,000 points and 2,000 rebounds. Holup’s 2,030 career rebounds puts him at second all-time in NCAA history. He was somehow only once chosen as an All-American.
25. Doug McDermott (Creighton, 2011-2014)
Career Averages: 21.7 points per game | 7.5 rebounds per game | 1.3 assists per game
An ultra-rare star player who opted to spend four years in college, Creighton’s Doug McDermott was named the consensus National College Player of the Year for his senior season in 2014. During his four seasons in the NCAA, McDermott was always outstanding, being named a consensus first-team All-American three times. He finished his career with the fifth-most career points scored in NCAA history (3,150) and his 135 career games scoring double-digit points are the most in history.
24. David Robinson (Navy, 1983-1987)
Career Averages: 21.0 points per game | 10.3 rebounds per game | 0.6 assists per game
Undoubtedly the best baller to ever come from America’s armed forces academies, The Admiral was a career double-double player and a brutal defender. David Robinson’s career averages of 21 points per game and 10.3 rebounds per game at Navy are impressive and led him to set a record that still stands. Robinson holds the NCAA’s all-time record for double-doubles recorded in a single season, when he secured 31 of them in 1986, out of 35 total games that season. He was a two-time consensus All-American pick and was named National Collegiate Player of the Year in 1987.
23. Danny Manning (Kansas, 1985-1988)
Career Averages: 20.1 points per game | 8.1 rebounds per game | 2.3 assists per game
Anytime you make the case to be the greatest player in the history of a storied college hoops program like Kansas, you are in rarified air. Danny Manning is the all-time leading scorer and rebounder in Jayhawks history, numbers that put him ahead of some legitimate legends. Manning was key to the team’s 1988 NCAA championship win, being named National Collegiate Player of the Year that season. He was a three-time consensus All-American during his four seasons at Kansas and his college career eventually landed him in the National Basketball Hall of Fame.
22. Dan Issel (Kentucky, 1968-1970)
Career Averages: 25.8 points per game | 12.9 rebounds per game | 1.2 assists per game
Similar to Danny Manning at Kansas, The Horse earned his reputation as the best player in the history of a storied program. In Dan Issel’s three seasons at Kentucky, he was a two-time All-American and became the program’s all-time leading scorer and rebounder and one of the best all-around players in history. Issel’s scoring average of 33.9 points per game in 1970 is still the best single-season mark by any Wildcat in history.
21. Austin Carr (Notre Dame, 1967-1971)
Career Averages: 34.6 points per game | 7.3 rebounds per game
It’s easy to understand why Notre Dame head coach John Dee is trying to kiss his star player, Austin Carr, in this photo from 1970. Carr had just scored 61 points in an NCAA Tournament game, a total that still stands as the all-time record for single-game scoring. Carr was a total offensive freak, averaging at least 38 points per game in both the 1970 and 1971 seasons — both of which rank in the top 10 all-time for highest single-season scoring average. He was a two-time consensus All-American pick and was named National Collegiate Player of the Year in 1971.
20. Ralph Sampson (Virginia, 1979-1983)
Career Averages: 16.9 points per game | 11.4 rebounds per game | 1.2 assists per game
If you want to know just how dominant Ralph Sampson was during his four seasons at Virginia, just look at his accolades. The 7-foot-4-inch giant was named National Collegiate Player of the Year for a mind-blowing three consecutive seasons, from 1981-1983, which ties the all-time record. Sampson was also a three-time consensus All-American selection, aided by his insane career average of 3.5 blocks per game. His 1,511 career rebounds places him fifth among all players who’ve played since 1973.
19. Tim Duncan (Wake Forest, 1993-1997)
Career Averages: 16.5 points per game | 12.3 rebounds per game | 2.3 assists per game
Before he became one of the best players in NBA history, The Big Fundamental was one of the best to ever play college hoops. On top of averaging a career double double, Tim Duncan led Wake Forest to the NCAA tournament in all four of his seasons there. In that span, he was also a three-time All-ACC selection, two-time ACC Player of the Year, two-time consensus All-American and was National Collegiate Player of the Year in 1997. Duncan recorded an incredible 29 double doubles in 31 total games played during that season. His career total of 1,570 rebounds is the second most of anyone since 1973.
18. Shaquille O’Neal (LSU, 1989-1992)
Career Averages: 21.6 points per game | 13.5 rebounds per game | 1.7 assists per game
You want to talk domination? When he was just a young man at Louisiana State, Shaquille O’Neal averaged 4.6 blocks per game for his career. On top of that, he was scoring at least 21 points and grabbing 13 rebounds on a nightly basis. Triple doubles are extremely rare in college basketball and he recorded six of them, which is tied for the second most ever. For all his incredible play, Shaq was named a two-time consensus All-American, two-time SEC Player of the Year and three-time All-SEC selection.
17. Tyler Hansbrough (North Carolina, 2005-2009)
Career Averages: 20.2 points per game | 8.6 rebounds per game | 1.1 assists per game
In his remarkable time at North Carolina, Tyler Hansbrough became the first player in ACC history to be named an All-American and a first-team All-ACC selection in all four years he played. He also left UNC as the all-time leading scorer in ACC history — which is a mind-blowing accomplishment — and the school’s top scorer and rebounder ever. Capping off a great career, Hansbrough had an amazing senior season in 2009, leading North Carolina to win the NCAA championship. He also holds the NCAA’s all-time record for free throws made, with 982.
16. Lionel Simmons (La Salle, 1986-1990)
Career Averages: 24.6 points per game | 10.9 rebounds per game | 2.7 assists per game
L-Train had a stellar career at La Salle that stands on its own in NCAA history. He’s the only player in history to score at least 3,000 points and grab at least 1,100 rebounds. His 3,217 career points are the third most in history — but that’s what happens when you average nearly 25 points per game for four seasons. A double-double machine, Lionel Simmons once scored in double figures for 115 consecutive games, which stands as an NCAA record. He led La Salle to three NCAA Tournament appearances, was twice named a consensus All-American and was chosen as the National Collegiate Player of the Year in 1990.
15. Artis Gilmore (Jacksonville, 1970-1971)
Career Averages: 24.3 points per game | 22.7 rebounds per game
Artis Gilmore’s career stats are simply unbelievable. He’s one of only five players in history to average 20 points and 20 rebounds per game for their entire career, which was only two seasons after he transferred from junior college before his junior year. During those two years at Jacksonville, Gilmore was an All-American both seasons and led his team to the NCAA championship game in 1970, where they fell just short to UCLA. His mind-blowing average of 22.7 rebounds per game is still the all-time career record and probably always will be.
14. Magic Johnson (Michigan State, 1977-1979)
Career Averages: 17.1 points per game | 7.6 rebounds per game | 7.9 assists per game
Damn near averaging a triple double for his career, Earvin “Magic” Johnson was the game’s most popular star at a time when more people watched college basketball than ever. Johnson was twice named an All-American at Michigan State, including as a consensus first-team selection in 1979. That same year, he led the Spartans to win the NCAA championship in the most-watched basketball game in American history. Not surprisingly, he was named the tournament’s most outstanding player that year. Few players have ever been able to control a game like Johnson.
13. Christian Laettner (Duke, 1988-1992)
Career Averages: 16.6 points per game | 7.8 rebounds per game | 1.8 assists per game
In the history of college hoops, it doesn’t get much more divisive than Christian Laettner. But even his legions of haters can’t deny that they would’ve loved to have Laettner playing for their team instead of at Duke. Perhaps the best Blue Devil of all time, Laettner helped lead Duke to the Final Four all four seasons he was there — which itself is a record — and to back-to-back championship wins in 1991 and 1992. He was named the consensus National Collegiate Player of the Year for the latter season, was a two-time consensus All-American and a three-time All-ACC selection.
12. Jerry West (West Virginia, 1957-1960)
Career Averages: 24.8 points per game | 13.3 rebounds per game | 2.8 assists per game
You know you’re a great player when you’re selected as the most outstanding player of the NCAA Tournament even though your team lost the championship. That’s what happened in 1959 for Jerry West, which was also one of his two seasons as a consensus All-American selection. Mr. Clutch averaged nearly 25 points and more than 13 rebounds per game for his career at West Virginia, leading him to put up 30 double doubles in a possible 31 games played during the 1960 season.
11. Wilt Chamberlain (Kansas, 1956-1958)
Career Averages: 29.9 points per game | 18.3 rebounds per game
Wilt “The Stilt” Chamberlain was an unprecedented monster in the college game, averaging nearly 30 points and more than 18 rebounds per game in his two seasons at Kansas. He was named a consensus All-American both of those seasons and, like Jerry West, was named the NCAA Tournament’s most outstanding player in 1957 despite his team losing in the title game.
10. Larry Bird (Indiana State, 1976-1979)
Career Averages: 30.3 points per game | 13.3 rebounds per game | 4.6 assists per game
One of the ultimate box-score stuffers, Larry Bird turned little Indiana State into a national powerhouse during his years there. Averaging a double double for his career, including a ridiculous 30.3 points per game, it’s easy to see why Larry Legend was a two-time consensus All-American pick. He really became a star in 1979, when he was named the National Collegiate Player of the Year and led Indiana State to the NCAA championship game, where they fell to Magic Johnson’s Michigan State Spartans. But Bird had the more impressive overall college career, if you ask us.
9. David Thompson (North Carolina State, 1972-1975)
Career Averages: 26.8 points per game | 8.1 rebounds per game
The personal killer of UCLA’s unbeatable dynasty, David Thompson led North Carolina State to upset the Bruins in the Final Four and win the NCAA championship in 1974. He was also named the National Collegiate Player of the Year in 1975 and was chosen as the ACC’s Player of the Year an unthinkable three years in a row, from 1973 to 1975. “Skywalker” is credited with helping change basketball into the high-flying, dunk-obsessed sport it would become after his college career.
8. Jerry Lucas (Ohio State, 1959-1962)
Career Averages: 24.3 points per game | 17.2 rebounds per game
A total stud at Ohio State, Jerry Lucas fell just short of averaging 20/20 during his career with the Buckeyes. He did lead the team to the NCAA title in 1960, which was one of two NCAA Tournaments in a row that he was named most outstanding player. Nearly 60 years since he played his final season, he’s still the only player to ever be named Big Ten Player of the Year three times, which is the same number of times he was chosen as a consensus All-American.
7. Elvin Hayes (Houston, 1965-1968)
Career Averages: 31.0 points per game | 17.2 rebounds per game
Elvin Hayes became an American icon in 1968, when he led his Houston Cougars to a 71-69 victory over the UCLA Bruins in the Game of the Century. That game was a landmark for NCAA basketball on national television, and he scored 39 points and pulled down 15 rebounds, outperforming UCLA’s Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. In addition to his performance in that blockbuster game, Hayes averaged 31 points and 17 rebounds for his career and became a two-time consensus All-American. He also broke down plenty of doors for black players at colleges in the South.
6. Tom Gola (La Salle, 1951-1955)
Career Averages: 20.9 points per game | 18.7 rebounds per game
No player in NCAA history has grabbed as many rebounds as La Salle’s Tom Gola did during his storied career. He’s one of only two men to ever record 2,000 points and 2,000 rebounds, reaching that milestone by averaging just shy of a 20/20 line in every game where he played. Gola also set the all-time NCAA record for double doubles, recording 96 of them. He took La Salle all the way, winning a championship in 1954 and was three times named a consensus All-American.
5. Oscar Robertson (Cincinnati, 1957-1960)
Career Averages: 33.8 points per game | 15.2 rebounds per game
One of the greatest players to never win a championship, The Big O did all he could to take Cincinnati all the way, even making it to the NCAA title game twice. He proved to be an unstoppable player, averaging an astounding 35.1 points per game during the 1958 season and picking up a double double in 55 out of 60 games played as a junior and senior. Robertson was named a three-time consensus All-American and the National Basketball Hall of Fame called him “the best all-around player in the history of college basketball.”
4. Bill Russell (San Francisco, 1953-1956)
Career Averages: 20.7 points per game | 20.3 rebounds per game
Of all the great basketball players to come out of the 1950s, nobody had a better career than Bill Russell. Ignoring the 11 titles he won in the NBA, Russell led San Francisco to back-to-back NCAA championships in 1955 and 1956, making him the rare college player to win multiple titles. He’s also one of only five men in NCAA history to average 20 points and 20 rebounds for his career. Not surprisingly, Russell was also named the most outstanding player of the NCAA Tournament in both years San Francisco won it.
3. Bill Walton (UCLA, 1971-1974)
Career Averages: 20.3 points per game | 15.7 rebounds per game
The giant that helped execute the final stretch of UCLA’s unstoppable run in the 1960s and ’70s, Bill Walton was a machine for on-court production. He was named the National Collegiate Player of the Year three consecutive times, from 1972 to 1974, which ties the all-time record. He also led UCLA to back-to-back titles in 1972 and 1973. When Walton was the star at UCLA, the team had two undefeated seasons and pulled off an incredible 88-game win streak that will likely never be matched in the sport.
2. Pete Maravich (LSU, 1967-1970)
Career Averages: 44.2 points per game | 6.4 rebounds per game | 5.1 assists per game
There’s never been a better offensive player in college basketball history than “Pistol” Pete Maravich … and it’s not even debatable. In an era before the three-point line existed, Maravich averaged more than 44 points per game for his entire career. The numbers are simply mind-boggling. He holds the NCAA’s all-time career points record, with 3,667 points scored, in the course of only three seasons. He holds virtually every scoring record in the books, including most points in a single season (1,381 in 1970), career scoring average and total 40-point games (56). Maravich was named SEC Player of the Year and was a consensus All-American three times each.
1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (UCLA, 1966-1969)
Career Averages: 26.4 points per game | 15.5 rebounds per game
The single most dominant player on the single most dominant team of all time, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — who then played under the name Lew Alcindor — won a championship with UCLA in all three seasons he was eligible, which is unheard of. He started his collegiate career with a massive bang in 1966, scoring 56 points, which is a record for any player’s first game. All three seasons that Abdul-Jabbar led the Bruins to the championship, he was also named the NCAA Tournament’s most outstanding player, a tally that’s also a record.