Picking the top 10 all-time players from UConn men's basketball program that has produced many NBA stars

Published on Monday, 30 March 2020 16:41
Written by Neill Ostrout

Journal Inquirer

There is no easy way to do this. Hard choices must be made.

But during a time when the NCAA Tournament has been called off, it’s necessary now for a little Husky history to be infused into the fan base.

To rank the best players in UConn men’s basketball history, we’ve tried to consider many eras and difference makers.

It’s an impossible task, of course, as generations separate some of the program’s best. For example, how does Art Quimby’s rebounding ability compare to Emeka Okafor’s?

And from a school that has won four national championships and sent a plethora of players to the NBA, it’s a tough list to whittle down.

Here’s one man’s attempt:

No. 10, Walt Dropo (1942-47)

He played in just 41 games over three years, a stint that was interrupted by World War II, and is better known as a baseball player, having led the American League in RBIs (144) and total bases (326) as a rookie in 1950. But Dropo was UConn’s first basketball superstar, and averaged 20.7 points in his Husky basketball career.

Dropo’s 1946-47 Huskies lost their first game of the season to NYU then won 16 of their next 17 to finish 16-2.

“The Moose from Moosup” is probably edged out only by Scott Burrell as the best pure athlete in UConn athletics history, both of whom had a chance to play multiple sports professionally.

No. 9, Caron Butler (2000-02)

It’s hard to put a two-year player on the list when many of the others here were dominant for three or four years, but Butler was just that good.

He had a guard’s skills in a forward’s body, and nearly single-handedly took UConn to a Final Four (OK, a young Ben Gordon and a young Emeka Okafor helped, too). Butler scored 1,136 points in just two years in Storrs, averaging 18.0 points and 7.6 rebounds.

No. 8, Wes Bialosuknia (1964-67)

If there were a 3-point line in the late 1960s it’s a good bet Bialosuknia, known as “The Poughkeepsie Popper,” would still hold the UConn scoring record despite playing just three seasons (freshmen were ineligible for the varsity in his days). When he got a chance to play professionally, he was by most accounts the ABA’s best 3-point shooter.

As it stands, Bialosuknia averaged 23.6 points per game over three years at UConn, including a school-record 28.0 his senior season. Bialosuknia made 83.9 percent of his free throws and 44.8 percent of his field goals, excellent for a guard.

He was a sophomore on the UConn squad that went 23-3 in the 1964-65 season, one of the best teams in school history.

No. 7, Chris Smith (1988-92)

The first big-time recruit to “stay home” and play for coach Jim Calhoun, the Bridgeport native went on to help the Huskies reach the big time, beginning as a sophomore in the 1989-90 Dream Season. Smith finished his career as, and still remains, UConn’s all-time leading scorer.

He scored 2,145 points, and logged 4,270 minutes of playing time over his four years.

No. 6, Donyell Marshall (1991-94)

UConn’s first consensus All-American, Marshall was a dominant force. The 6-foot-9 Reading, Pennsylvania native’s 360-degree dunks, long-distance shooting, and shot-blocking helped the Huskies win 29 games in the 1993-94 season.

He scored 855 points in the last of his three seasons at UConn, and finished with a career scoring average of 18.1.

Now the head coach at Central Connecticut State University, Marshall also spent 15 years in the NBA after being the No. 4 overall pick in the 1994 Draft.

No. 5, Shabazz Napier (2010-14)

The only two-time national champion at UConn (well, other than teammates Niels Giffey and Tyler Olander), Napier scored 1,959 points while helping the Huskies to NCAA crowns in 2011 and 2014. But it was more than his scoring that the Huskies relied on. He was also an elite passer and was off the charts with the proverbial “basketball IQ.”

Napier made a litany of clutch plays in his career, including a 35-foot buzzer-beater against Villanova and 15-foot buzzer-beater against Florida.

No. 4, Richard Hamilton (1996-99)

He was the best player on the best team in the nation in 1999 (sorry, Duke), helping the Huskies reach the top of the NCAA heap.

Hamilton finished his three-year UConn career with 2,036 points, averaging 19.8 per game. He averaged 21.5 points in each of his last two seasons at UConn, leading UConn to the school’s first-ever national championship in the latter.

No. 3, Ray Allen (1993-96)

If we included NBA careers, celebrity status and post-UConn accomplishments, Allen would top the charts. But in terms of impact as a UConn player alone, he’s just short.

The best shooter the school has ever seen - sorry Ben Gordon, Rashad Anderson, Bialosuknia and everyone else - Allen had 1,922 points, 601 rebounds and 245 assists in his UConn career.

He averaged 23.4 points per game in his third and final season with the Huskies, helping the team to 32 wins. In his three years at UConn, the Huskies won 89 games and lost just 13. His career is slightly marred by the fact that three of those losses came in the NCAA Tournament (Florida, UCLA and Mississippi State in 1994, 1995 and 1996, respectively) and before the Final Four.

No. 2, Emeka Okafor (2001-04)

The only thing more egregious than Emeka Okafor not being the consensus national player of the year in 2004 (Jameer Nelson of St. Joseph’s won most of the awards), was the fact that he wasn’t ranked among the top 100 high school players by most experts after his standout career at Bellaire High near Houston was complete.

His UConn career began with a double-double of 11 points and 12 rebounds against Vanderbilt in Hartford, and ended with a double-double of 24 points and 15 rebounds against Georgia Tech in San Antonio, the latter of which won the Huskies their second national championship.

Okafor finished his UConn career with 1,426 points, 1091 rebounds and 441 blocked shots, ranking him 23rd, fourth and first in school history. He also made 59 percent of his shots from the floor, the fourth-best mark in school history.

No. 1, Kemba Walker (2008-11)

We are excluding professional accomplishments in our evaluations here, and we are weighting postseason efforts heavily. In that way, there is no other choice but Walker for the top spot.

Not only did he score 965 points in the 2010-11 season, breaking Donyell Marshall’s school record by more than 100 points, Walker directed the single most dramatic run in NCAA basketball history. The Huskies won an unprecedented five games in five days in the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden, then followed that up with six straight wins as part of the NCAA Tournament to claim the school’s third national crown.

His step-back jumper at the buzzer to beat Pittsburgh remains one of the iconic shots in UConn history, and it was only the pinnacle of many clutch shots he made.

Walker finished his three-year UConn career with 1,783 points, nearly all of which seemed to come right when his team needed it.

Other worthies

The ones we deserve hate mail for leaving off the list:

Rudy Gay (2004-06) - We allowed ourselves just one two-year player and Butler edged him out.

Art Quimby (1951-55) - This one was a tough omit. An amazing 21.5 rebounds and 17.5 points per game, albeit in a different era.

Cliff Robinson (1985-89) - If NBA careers counted, he’d zoom up the list. As it was, 15.3 ppg and 6.1 rpg at UConn is darn good.

Khalid El-Amin (1997-2000) - He had 1,650 points, 479 assists and more moxie than anyone else in program history.

Tony Hanson (1973-77) - Coach Dee Rowe’s superstar should have made the list for his mustache alone. Alas, not enough spots.

Toby Kimball (1962-65) - We gave the nod to his one-time teammate, Bialosuknia, but Kimball averaged a whopping 18.4 points and 17.9 rebounds as a Husky. Spent nine years in the NBA as well.

Bob Staak (1968-71) - Averaged 18.1 points, hitting 46.6 percent of his shots as a guard/forward. Helped UConn to a memorable 35-32 win over Rhode Island in the 1970 classic slow-down game.

Corny Thompson (1978-82) - “UConn Cornelius” was more than just a character in Rudolph, kids. The Middletown native got UConn off to a start in the Big East with career averages of 15.9 points and 8.9 rebounds.

Ben Gordon (2001-04) - Like El-Amin, perhaps gets knocked down a peg for being only the second-best player on a championship team. Still, like El-Amin, was an incredible talent. Averaged 16.9 points in three-year UConn career.

Posted in Newington Town Crier, UConn on Monday, 30 March 2020 16:41. Updated: Monday, 30 March 2020 16:42.