Grantland named their top 50 greatest college basketball players. Kansas managed to get one name on the list.
14. Danny Manning (Kansas, 1984-1988): As a freshman, he seemed overhyped. As it turns out, he was “accurately hyped.” The Jayhawks won the national title when Manning was a senior, despite a mediocre 21-11 record during the regular season; had he turned pro as a junior, they might have missed the NIT.
I honestly don’t have a problem with many of the names ahead of Manning at No. 14 except JJ Reddick and Tyler Hansbrough.
The author listed his criteria as:
- Talent. This is the most important quality. However — and I cannot stress this enough — it’s not theonly quality. It’s 50 percent of the equation, and sometimes less.
- The individual’s college career must be more meaningful than his pro career. This doesn’t mean the player had to be a professional bust, or even a professional disappointment — the candidate could be still be the league MVP, win multiple Larry O’Brien trophies, and spend his summers playing Clue in Billy Hunter’s boathouse with Hubie Brown.1 It does not require anyone to be a terrible NBA product. However, the peak of the player’s career needs to happen when they’re working for free (or at least pretending to work for free). If an objective, informed fan hears this person’s name, they should reflexively associate that individual’s greatness with the idiom of college basketball. That’s the key — any theoretical pro career is just something semi-irrelevant that happened later in life.
- Ideally, the player should possess an unorthodox game. Are you an undersized two-guard with no conscience? Do your unnaturally long arms compensate for your lack of a natural position? Do your physical limitations give you a paradoxical advantage? Were you the “one man” on a “one-man team”? Are there no other players comparable to your rarified version of weirdness? If so, congratulations. These are the qualities that make you memorable.
- There needs to be something vaguely “collegiate” about the individual’s persona. This, obviously, is an abstraction; ranking college players on how “collegiate” they seem is a little like ranking filmmakers on how “cinematic” they act. But there’s still something to this, even if it’s impossible to quantify: I like unfinished people. I like players who are still figuring out who they are. I like guys who wear sweaters instead of suits. You can disagree with the logic of my argument, but it’s not really based on logic, so your argument will fail.
- As with any historical list, my age is a bias. I am 39. I’m aware that human nature causes us to (a) romanticize players we remember from childhood, (b) lionize people we’ve only read about, and (c) undervalue modern players who seem like lesser versions of people we’ve seen before.
- The dead are valued more than the living. I’m simply being honest here: It helps to be dead. If I have to choose between a dead legend and a living legend, it’s never a difficult choice.
I found it really odd that Wilt Chamberlain was completely left off the list. He changed the game.