ACC Mount RushmorePosted by KCarpenter on February 20th, 2012
The men whose visages grace the face of the Mount Rushmore of the Atlantic Coast Conference were chosen based on a simple set of criteria. The faces of those who grace the mountain must belong to truly legendary individuals; men who changed the game, left a lasting legacy, or otherwise accomplished feats of greatness that remain unmatched or unequaled. The ACC is fortunate to have such a rich history of legends that there is an embarrassment of riches, and it’s difficult to choose only four. Ultimately, the four that were picked were the ones whose accomplishments stand out not just as spectacular in the conference, but in the entire sport.
- Mike Krzyzewski – Simply put, he’s the most successful men’s basketball coach alive today. He has more wins than any coach in history, four national titles, and built Duke into a perennial national power. He has the most (77) NCAA tournament wins of any coach ever and has the second most Final Four appearances ever. In the history of all of college basketball, only John Wooden and maybe Adolph Rupp can point to coaching accomplishments that come close to what Coach K has achieved. Krzyzeski is a coaching icon whose adaptability and disciplined approach makes Duke a threat to win the national championship any given year. The continued success of Krzyzewski and Duke are a credit to the ACC, and the high profile of the sport’s most famous active coach has helped to keep the national attention on the conference.
- Dean Smith – When Dean Smith retired, he had set the all-time record for wins in men’s college basketball at 879, had won two national championships, been to 11 Final Fours (second to John Wooden, tied with Krzyzewski), and won a record 65 NCAA tournament games (he now ranks second, having been surpassed by Krzyzewski). While Frank McGuire won the ACC and North Carolina’s first national title in 1957, Smith is the man who built North Carolina into a regular championship contender. Over the course of 36 years, Smith built the Tar Heel program into a national heavyweight and helped turn the conference into a serious threat to take the national title any given year. Smith won the ACC Coach of the Year award eight times, a record that still stands. As a coach, he was a pioneer of advanced statistical analysis and his use of “points per possession” came literally decades before tempo-free statistics were a part of the national conversation. Similarly, his book, “Multiple Offenses and Defenses,” is the best-selling basketball strategy book of all time. While Smith’s quantitative accomplishments and coaching record may be surpassed, his outlook and philosophy have left a much deeper mark on North Carolina, the conference, and the game itself.
- David Thompson – The best college player in ACC history, North Carolina State’s David Thompson’s impact on basketball extends far beyond his significant accomplishments. In the 1972-73 season, Thompson led the Wolfpack to an undefeated season that sadly didn’t include postseason play due to NCAA penalties incurred during his recruitment. The next season, he led NC State to a national title. He capped it all off by wrapping up the National Player of the Year honors in 1975. Over the course of his college career, he averaged 28.6 PPG and 8.1 RPG. Beyond the numbers, the greatness of Thompson was in the way he played. Thompson was only 6’4″ but played with astonishing athleticism and leaping ability. Thompson was one of the first players to ever consistently play above the rim and he is often credited for popularizing the alley-oop. In his final game at NC State, in the waning seconds, David Thompson let loose a thunderous dunk in blatant violation of the rules of that era. It was a bold symbol and a declaration that set the tone for a new era of spectacular, athletic basketball. David Thompson was the pioneer of this impossible-seeming brand of aerial prowess and his influence on the aesthetics and style of modern basketball, as well as future players like Michael Jordan, can’t be overstated.
- Ralph Sampson – There have only been two players to win the Naismith National Player of the Year award multiple times, both winning three times apiece. Bill Walton, as the key cog in the unstoppable UCLA championship machine, was one of those players. The other one was Ralph Sampson, a man who played at the Virginia from 1979-1983. In terms of individual decoration in college basketball, Sampson sits on top of the pile. In addition to his record three Naismith awards, Sampson is the only men’s player in history to win the Wooden Award twice. He also won the AP Player of the Year award three times. The 7’4″ center was a dominant double-double machine, averaging 16.9 PPG, 11.4 RPG, and 3.5 BPG over the course of his college career. Though Sampson has been criticized for never leading his team to a national championship, his greatness as one of the best college basketball players of all time is simply indisputable.
Christian Laettner – National player of the year, two-time national champion, starter in four separate Final Fours and the guy who hit the most famous shot in the history of March Madness, few players are as iconic as Duke’s Christian Laettner. It’s practically insane that he’s not one of the four greatest figures in conference history. That said, Laettner’s success perhaps had more to do with his coach, teammates and circumstances than his own innate talents as a basketball player, as demonstrated by his fairly average play in the NBA afterward. This is not to say that Laettner wasn’t a great player (he was); but simply that his individual accomplishments and contributions to his team during his college career don’t stand above two of the greatest legends of coaching and two of the most phenomenal players that the college game has ever seen. That said, it would be impossible not to mention the guy responsible for one of the most legendary moments in college athletics.
Unfairly Left Off
- Michael Jordan – How is the Greatest Player of All-Time not on this list? Welcome to the ACC. Michael Jordan may be the greatest NBA player of all-time, he may have been a national player of the year in college at North Carolina, and he may have won Dean Smith his first championship with an epic game-winning shot in the NCAA final. Even so, if we are looking at just the college career of His Airness, he doesn’t quite pass muster.
- Tim Duncan – Yes, we also left off arguably the greatest power forward of all time. Tim Duncan’s outstanding four years at Wake Forest are remarkable and a reasonable foreshadowing of the NBA greatness that awaited Duncan. Yet for all of his early talent, Duncan’s overall college achievements pale before the competition. He lacks both the consistent dominance and individual achievement of Ralph Sampson and the team achievements of Christian Laettner.
- Roy Williams – There are only four active coaches that have won multiple national championships, and only thirteen who have ever done it. Roy Williams of North Carolina is third all-time in NCAA Tournament wins as well as in Final Four appearances. He has the highest winning percentage among active head coaches and has already been inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. It’s a testament to the greatness of the ACC, that such a distinguished coach isn’t great enough to make it onto the mountain and last on a mention of honorable mentions.
- Len Bias, J.J. Redick, Tyler Hansbrough, etc. – If we aren’t letting in Michael Jordan or Tim Duncan, then these guys aren’t getting in, no matter how celebrated their college careers.
Picking four of the greatest in the ACC is a difficult and inherently subjective process, so please feel free to tell us your selections in the comments section below.