RTC’s Mount Rushmore – Top Four (And More) Most Significant People in College Basketball HistoryPosted by EJacoby on February 20th, 2012
Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter.
As we celebrate President’s Day on this Monday, it’s a good time to reflect back on the significant accomplishments of George Washington and the other great leaders of our country’s 236-year history. That got us to thinking: Who are the most significant people in the history of college basketball? The game is not quite as old as the United States of America, but there are many options to choose from in a sport that’s over 100 years old, from prodigious coaches to superstar players. In the end, we determined that no single player, in a maximum of four years of eligibility, has had as much impact on the sport as any of the four coaching legends that we selected. Head coaches are responsible for shaping the lives of hundreds of players during their tenure and thus have a greater opportunity to impact the game than anyone else. Here’s a look at the accomplishments of four of the all-time great coaches in college basketball history that compose our RTC Mount Rushmore (these are in no particular order):
Mike Krzyzewski – You may not be able to spell or pronounce his full last name, but ‘Coach K’ is one of the first names that comes to mind when discussing the greatest coaches in basketball history. Krzyzewski became the all-time winningest Division I men’s basketball coach when he recorded his 903rd victory to surpass his former coach at Army, Bobby Knight, earlier this season. Coach K has been at Duke since 1980 and has led the Blue Devils to four National Championships, 11 Final Fours, and 12 ACC regular season titles. He also coached the USA Olympic ‘Redeem Team’ in 2008 to a gold medal. Mike Krzyzewski was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2001, still remains the head coach of one of the top contenders in the country every year, and doesn’t appear to be calling it quits anytime soon.
Adolph Rupp – A man known for his obsession with winning, Adolph Rupp is perhaps the single most successful head coach in NCAA history, statistically speaking. Rupp is fifth on the all-time men’s coaching wins list (876 victories), and he did it with the second-best winning percentage of all time, at 82.2%. Rupp spent his entire 41-year coaching career at Kentucky, where he guided the Wildcats to six Final Fours and four National Championships. His tournament records could have been even more impressive if it wasn’t for his team’s two-year hiatus from the postseason in the 1952-53 and 1953-54 seasons. Rupp also led UK to 27 SEC regular season titles in 41 years and was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame while still coaching in 1969. Shortly after he retired, Big Blue Nation named their home court after him, and Rupp Arena remains one of the historic landmarks in college basketball today.
Dean Smith – Spending his entire 36-year coaching career at North Carolina, Dean Smith led his team to 11 Final Fours during his tenure, two of which ended in National Championships. He retired with the most victories in Division I history in 1997, though he has since been surpassed by three men and remains fourth on the wins list. Smith coached Michael Jordan as well as fellow future pros James Worthy and Sam Perkins during UNC’s first National Championship in 1982. Smith is also well known as one of the good guys in the sport, preaching social equality and recruiting the school’s first African-America scholarship athlete, Charlie Scott, in 1967, amongst many other notable accomplishments. Today, the Tar Heels play in the Dean E. Smith Center that honors the legendary head coach.
Simply put, John Wooden is the most important coach in college basketball history, and is on the short list of the greatest coaches of all time in any sport. Wooden coached UCLA for 27 seasons that included a 12-year run of domination that no team has ever come close to repeating. The Bruins won 10 National Championships from 1964 until 1975, including seven in a row from the ’67 to ’73 seasons, and included an overall 88-game winning streak during that span. The Wizard of Westwood is revered just as much for his well-known life lessons as a teacher as much as he’s known for winning. Wooden created the ‘Pyramid of Success’ that taught his players lessons for success in life, mainly off the basketball court, and quotes from his teachings are recognized throughout the world. It’s no surprise that Wooden lived for 99 years before passing away in 2010. The most coveted college basketball award for individual performance is named the John R. Wooden Award to recognize the coach, who was inducted to the Hall of Fame as both a player (at Purdue) and coach.
Conference Mount Rushmores:
- Bob Knight – He just misses the cut on our Mount Rushmore, but Knight’s face would certainly be on there if there were room for a fifth. The General ranks second on the all-time wins list behind Coach K, and he won three National Championships at Indiana from 1971 through 2000. However, unlike the four members on our list, Knight was a controversial coach for several acts of verbal and, occasionally, physical violence towards players and media members, the most infamous coming when he choked a player during practice in 1997. He wound up getting fired from Indiana in 2000 and finished his career at Texas Tech where he retired with 902 victories.
- Henry Iba – If you aren’t familiar with Mr. Iba, you should get to know him, a two-time National Champion head coach for Oklahoma State (then named Oklahoma A&M) in the 1940s. Iba won 751 games in 36 years and also coached the USA Olympic team to gold medals in the ’64 and ’68 games. The Henry Iba Award today recognizes the top college basketball coach of the year as voted by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, in honor of the Hall of Fame head coach.
Honorable Mention, Players/Media:
- Lew Alcindor – Before changing his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and becoming the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, Lew Alcindor was a superstar at UCLA under John Wooden. He won National Championships in each of his three seasons as a Bruin from 1967 to 1969, was named the NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player each year, and was a multiple National Player of the Year winner through various awards. He averaged 26.4 points and 15.5 rebounds per game in his college career and was deemed the greatest college basketball player ever by ESPN in their Top 25 list in 2008.
- Christian Laettner – Perhaps the biggest superstar in the modern era of the game, Laettner was the leader of the Duke Blue Devils for back-to-back National Championship seasons in 1991 and 1992, during the latter of which he won every major Player of the Year award. It wasn’t Laettner’s compiled statistics (16.6 career scoring average), but instead his clutch performances that made him one of the game’s all-time greats. He’s the only player to start in four Final Fours and he also hit ‘The Shot’ in 1992’s “Greatest Game Ever Played” against Kentucky that remains one of the most iconic moments in the sport’s history.
- Dick Vitale – We all know Dickie V as the enthusiastic broadcaster and ambassador of the sport for the past 30-plus years, but Vitale also coached at the University of Detroit in the mid-1970s. Now, he’s a beloved icon of the game whose face and voice is perhaps the most recognizable in all of college basketball. What else can we say? He’s just awesome, baby! With a capital ‘A’.
- Dave Gavitt – Known for his many contributions to the game, Gavitt reached the Final Four at Providence as head coach in 1973 for the first time in that school’s history in addition to his many accomplishments as an administrator afterward. He is perhaps best known as the first commissioner of the Big East Conference in 1979 where he established the league that quickly picked up on the new medium of cable television (ESPN) and became and remains today a juggernaut in the sport. He also created the concept of the USA Olympic Dream Team in 1992 and was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006.
We recognize that picking a college basketball Mount Rushmore is an exercise in subjectivity. Leave us your thoughts on who should have been (or not) selected in the comments.