During last night’s North Carolina-N.C. State game, sometime before Jess flipped the channel in disgust, Dick Vitale unveiled his “All-North Carolina Team” – the five best college basketball players who played in the state.
I’m not sure if he did this with filling out the positions in mind, but it actually works out really well.
— Phil Ford (North Carolina, 1974-78), easily the best floor general in ACC history, is the obvious choice to run the point, and Michael Jordan (North Carolina, 1981-84) joins him in the backcourt.
— David Thompson (N.C. State, 1972-75) is, at 6-foot-4, actually two inches shorter than Jordan, but played quite a bit of small forward in college due to his 48-inch vertical leap, and Ford would have a great deal of fun serving Thompson the alley-oops that Thompson essentially invented at N.C. State (they were alley-oop layups, though, since dunking was outlawed in NCAA basketball from 1968 to 1976).
— Christian Laettner (Duke, 1988-92) and Tim Duncan (Wake Forest 1993-97) both stand 6-foot-11 and alternated between power forward and center in their careers, so they’re really interchangeable.
It’s a formidable lineup, for sure, and I think Vitale accurately identified the best five. But every basketball team needs a bench, and coaches. So who fills out the roster? First, some ground rules.
1. Since Vitale apparently balanced the starting five by position, I’ll do the same with the bench: four guards, four forwards, and two post players.
2. Only players’ college careers are taken into account. If Vitale considered NBA accomplishments in making his starting lineup, Laettner and Ford don’t make it, and Thompson is iffy.
3. Criteria, in no particular order, are simply collegiate statistics and the accomplishments of the players’ team(s). “Bonus” consideration may be given to players who were local products coming out of high school.
Let’s do this!
Stephen Curry (Davidson, 2006-09) fills a huge need missing from the starting five with his long-range shooting, hitting 414 three-pointers and averaging 25.3 points per game during his three-year career with the Wildcats. He mainly makes the team, though, based on Davidson’s run to the Elite Eight in the 2008 NCAA Tournament, where the Wildcats, despite being only a #10 seed, defeated #2 Georgetown and #3 Wisconsin before losing by only two to top-seed Kansas in the regional final. While Davidson had some solid role players on the team in Jason Richards and Andrew Lovedale, it’s safe to say that Davidson doesn’t go anywhere without Stephen Curry and his impressively gaudy statistics.
Johnny Dawkins (Duke, 1982-86) is the obvious choice to serve as the backup point guard. The 1986 National Player of the Year held Duke’s all-time scoring mark until being eclipsed by J.J. Redick in 2006, averaging over 20 points per game. He made his true mark in his senior campaign when he led Duke to a 37-3 record and their first national title game in the Mike Krzyzewski era, losing by three to Louisville.
Rodney Monroe (N.C. State, 1987-91), the “Ice” in the Wolfpack’s “Fire and Ice” duo along with Chris Corchiani, surpassed Thompson’s all-time scoring mark at N.C. State en route to the 1991 ACC Player of the Year award, averaging 27 points per game during his senior campaign. The one negative mark on his legacy is that the Wolfpack could not make it past the Sweet Sixteen during his career, despite the team having three highly talented players in Monroe, Corchiani, and Tom Gugliotta.
Jay Williams (Duke, 1999-2002) saw his NBA career cut short by a motorcycle accident and subsequent nagging injuries, but had a stellar career for the Blue Devils. The consensus 2002 National Player of the Year scored 2,079 points in three seasons, including an average of nearly 26 points per game in the 2001 NCAA Tournament during Duke’s run to that year’s national title. His postseason performance puts him ahead of one very notable contemporary in the state during this time, Chris Paul.
Honarable mention: Brett Blizzard (UNC-Wilmington), Randolph Childress (Wake), Vinny Del Negro (N.C. State), Earl Monroe (Winston-Salem State), Jeff Mullins (Duke), Chris Paul (Wake), J.J. Redick (Duke), Dick Snyder (Davidson), Monte Towe (N.C. State), Henry Williams (Charlotte).
Grant Hill (Duke, 1990-94) doesn’t have the huge statistics that some other candidates may have, but this team needs him in the postseason. Duke won two titles and made a third championship game during his four years in Durham, and even though he scored nearly 2,000 points in his career, he’s best known in Duke lore for one assist – the 75-foot pass to Laettner that set up his legendary game winner against Kentucky in the 1992 regional final. And while professional careers don’t factor into being named to this team, it’s worth noting that Grant Hill has had a much better pro career than most Duke players, in that he didn’t completely bomb.
Antawn Jamison (North Carolina, 1995-98) didn’t win a title with the Tar Heels, but did lead them to back-to-back Final Fours in 1997 and 1998 along with Vince Carter. He would be a shoo-in for this list had Carolina actually come away with a title during his career, but back-to-back losses in the national semifinal despite the Tar Heels being heavily favored put him on the bubble. The Charlotte product and 1998 National Player of the Year makes it by virtue of averaging a double-double for his career (19.9 points, 10.0 rebounds), despite being on a loaded team along with the likes Carter, Brendan Haywood, and Shammond Williams.
Cedric “Cornbread” Maxwell (Charlotte, 1973-77) bypasses several nationally-recognized players on this list for two reasons. First of all, it’s my list and I can include whomever I want, including legends from my alma mater. Secondly, and most notably, Maxwell was crucial in taking the 49ers from neophyte unknowns to the college basketball promised land in the mid-1970s. In four years, Kinston native Maxwell scored 1,824 points, all while he and point guard Melvin Watkins led the Niners to a 58-0 home mark, the 1976 NIT Finals (after beang N.C. State in the semifinals), and a shocking win over #1 Michigan in the 1977 regional finals in Charlotte’s first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament. The lone black mark, though, came in his final meaningful collegiate game at the Final Four, when a court-length pass by Marquette slipped through Maxwell’s hands and to Warriors player Jerome Whitehead directly under the basket, who laid in the game-winner at the buzzer to send the 49ers home.
James Worthy (North Carolina, 1979-82) had quite a year in 1982. The Gastonia product was a consensus first-team All-American and scored 29 points in the Tar Heels’ 63-62 victory over Georgetown in the national title game – earning the Final Four Most Outstanding Player award in the process – and was the top pick by the Lakers in the NBA Draft. Despite often being overshadowed on his own team by Jordan and Sam Perkins, and in the ACC by Virginia’s Ralph Sampson, Worthy sowed the seeds of his “Big Game James” moniker with the Tar Heels.
Honorable mention: Vince Carter (North Carolina), Len Chappell (Wake), Julius Hodge (N.C. State), DeMarco Johnson (Charlotte), Sam Perkins (North Carolina), Rodney Rogers (Wake), Lennie Rosenbluth (North Carolina).
Tom Burleson (N.C. State, 1971-74) actually only stood a slight 7-foot-2 instead of the 7-foot-4 that N.C. State advertised him as, but the Avery County native still towered above the opposition both literally and figuratively during his three year career. Along with Thompson and Monte Towe, Burleson helped lead State to an undefeated probation-marred 1973 campaign and the 1974 national title while averaging 19 points and 13 rebounds per game for his career.
Mike Gminski (Duke, 1976-80) holds a special place in the hearts of many North Carolina fans for his stint as a fan favorite with the Charlotte Hornets during the twilight of his NBA career in the early ’90s. Before that, though, he was a dominating presence in the middle for the Blue Devils, graduating in 1980 as Duke’s career leader in points, rebounds, and blocks; despite all the greats that have come through Duke in the past 30 years, he still ranks in the top five in all three categories. He also led the Blue Devils to the 1978 title game, losing to Kentucky but setting the stage for Duke’s rise to national prominence in the 1980s.
Honorable mention: Thurl Bailey (N.C. State), Elton Brand (Duke), Artis Gilmore (Gardner-Webb), Tyler Hansbrough (North Carolina), Fred Hetzel (Davidson), Eric Montross (North Carolina).
Mike Krzyzewski (Duke, 1980-present) edges out the other obvious choice here in Dean Smith based on empirical evidence alone – four national championships to Smith’s two and Krzyzewski’s edge in wins. The Blue Devils were an occasional good team but often languished in the middle prior to Krzyzewski’s arrival; under him, they’ve become an institution.
Dean Smith (North Carolina, 1961-97) is the associate head coach on this dream coaching staff.
Jim Valvano (N.C. State, 1980-90) is clearly needed for the motivational speeches before the game and at halftime. Don’t ever give up.
Lefty Driesell (Davidson, 1960-69) turned Davidson into a national power in the 1960s along with star players Fred Hetzel and Dick Snyder, and under his stewardship the Wildcats went to consecutive Elite Eights in 1968 and 1969.
Honorable mention: Everett Case (N.C. State), Clarence Gaines (Winston-Salem State), Frank McGuire (North Carolina), Bob McKillop (Davidson), Bones McKinney (Wake Forest), Jeff Mullins (Charlotte), Dave Odom (Wake Forest), Norm Sloan (N.C. State), Roy Williams (North Carolina).
So, who did I miss? Who am I wildly wrong about? I’m sure some people have some opinions and I’m curious to hear them.