SEC Mount RushmorePosted by EMoyer on February 21st, 2012
Eric Moyer is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Sun Conference and Southern Conference and a contributor to the RTC SEC Microsite. You can find him on Twitter @EricDMoyer.
In honor of President’s Day, RTC is putting together the Mount Rushmores of the six power conferences. For all the history in the SEC, picking four who represent all of basketball proved difficult and will surely (hopefully) create good debate. So without any delay, here’s the Mount Rushmore of SEC basketball:
Adolph Rupp – Kentucky: Rupp, a fixture on the Mount Rushmore for all of college basketball easily earned one of the four coveted spots. Rupp learned under Phog Allen while playing at Kansas, then came to Kentucky and ultimately passed Allen before retiring as the winningest coach in college basketball history. His Wildcat teams won four NCAA titles (1948, 1949, 1951, and 1958) and 27 SEC titles in his 41 years on the bench. In 11 of those years, he posted undefeated seasons in SEC play. In SEC Tournament play, he posted a 57-6 record with 13 more titles. During the height of his reign, he made it nearly impossible for teams to win at Kentucky. Rupp authored the longest home court winning streak in Division I history, winning 129 straight from January 4, 1943, to January 8, 1955. As part of his legacy, his name adorns the current Wildcat home court, Rupp Arena, the student section is named the eRUPPtion Zone, and one of the major national player of the year awards is the Adolph F. Rupp Trophy.
Pete Maravich – LSU: When your conference boasts the all-time leading scorer in Division I despite only getting to play three seasons due to an NCAA rule prohibiting freshmen from playing for the varsity team, you can guarantee another spot on Mount Rushmore. Combine his mythical status and ball-handling wizardry, the choice of Pete Maravich is almost as easy as Rupp. He still holds 15 NCAA records and owns the top scoring seasons for a sophomore, junior, and senior. On the LSU freshman team, he scored an additional 741 points and averaged 43.6 points per game. The Sporting News, AP, and UPI named Maravich a First-Team All-America in 1968, 1969, and 1970. In 1970, he claimed the Naismith Award and Player of the Year awards from The Sporting News and the USBWA. Like Rupp, Maravich’s name lives on as the Tigers play in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
Billy Donovan – Florida: The only active member of the SEC Mount Rushmore, Donovan started his near-quarter century in college coaching on the staff of Rick Pitino at Kentucky. While in Lexington (1989-94), he was part of the revival coming out of the mess left behind by Eddie Sutton. After two years at Marshall, Donovan came to Florida to follow Lon Kruger. In his third year, he took the Gators to just their third Sweet Sixteen appearance ever. A year later, after surviving a tough first round game against Butler, he brought the Gators to within one game of a national championship before losing to Michigan State. After five years of not advancing past the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament, Donovan etched his face on the SEC Rushmore by guiding the Gators to back-to-back NCAA titles in 2006 and 2007. With three Final Four appearances, only Rupp has been to more final weekends among SEC coaches. During the Gators’ title runs, they dominated Kentucky, becoming the only school in SEC history to win seven consecutive games against the Wildcats (matching Notre Dame for the longest win streak against Kentucky among all teams). He already owns the most wins in Florida history and ranks third on the SEC all-time list. At 46, he can only further strengthen his place on the mountaintop.
C.M. Newton – Kentucky, Alabama, Vanderbilt: Like the real Mount Rushmore that features “no-brainers” Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln with Teddy Roosevelt added on, C.M. Newton might be a head-scratcher to some, but upon a full review, he deserves the final spot over other worthy candidates like Shaquille O’Neal, Nolan Richardson, Dan Issel, and Bob Pettit. Newton was a reserve on Rupp’s 1951 national title team who then came to coach Alabama and Vanderbilt before finally returning to Lexington to resuscitate the Wildcat program following its probation. At Alabama, he came to Tuscaloosa at the recommendation of Rupp. He won or shared SEC titles in 1974, 1975, and 1976 becoming just the second school other than one from Kentucky to win three straight conference titles. He left coaching for a year to work as an SEC Associate Commissioner, but returned to lead Vanderbilt to consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances (1988-89.) He trails only Rupp, Donovan, and LSU’s Dale Brown on the SEC wins list. Always a forward thinker, Newton recruited Alabama’s first African-American player, Wendell Hudson, in 1969, and as Kentucky AD, he hired Bernadette Mattox, the university’s first African-American women’s basketball coach in 1995 and in 1997 he hired Tubby Smith, the university’s first African-American men’s basketball coach. A Basketball Hall of Famer, Newton served as the president of USA Basketball from 1992 to 1996. Under his leadership, the decision to permit pros to play in the Olympics came about, resulting in the 1992 “Dream Team.”
- Pat Summit – Tennessee: Like Cheryl Miller in the Pac-12, if we eliminate gender, Pat Summit certainly overtakes one of the four current occupants on the SEC’s Mount Rushmore. She is the winningest coach in college basketball history (men or women), now approaching 1,100 wins. She and the Lady Vols have never missed the NCAA Tournament and her eight national titles trail only John Wooden (10). She also is the only person to have two basketball courts used by Division I basketball teams named in her honor (the court at Tennessee’s Thompson-Boling Arena is named The Summit and at her alma mater, UT Martin, the Skyhawks play on the Pat Head Summitt Court). As for her legacy, 45 of her former players have also gone into coaching.
- Dan Issel – Kentucky: Issel averaged 25.8 points and 13.0 rebounds per game in his three years as a Wildcat, but had the unfortunate timing of playing in the exact same time span as Pete Maravich so he never received the top individual accolades of “The Pistol.” The two famously dueled in a 1970 contest where Maravich scored 64, but Issel’s 51 led the Wildcats to a 109-96 victory. He still stands atop the Wildcat scoring and rebounding lists and maintains the top two scoring seasons in UK history. He earned First-Team All-America honors in 1970 and was enshrined into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1993.
- Shaquille O’Neal – LSU: Only two SEC players have ever won the AP National Player of the Year, and both hail from LSU: Pete Maravich (1970) and O’Neal (1991). During his three years as a Tiger, he once led the nation in rebounding (1991, 14.7 RPG) and in blocked shots (1992, 5.2 BPG). A two-time SEC Player of the Year (one of eight in league history), O’Neal led the conference in rebounding and blocked shots all three years. His career field goal percentage ranks second all-time and he registered six triple doubles – no one in league history has had more than two. In addition to his Player of the Year award, he also claimed the Tanqueray World Amateur Athlete of the Year in the same year.
- Nolan Richardson – Arkansas: Richardson’s start with Arkansas came with the Razorbacks were still part of the Southwest Conference, but when the Razorbacks joined the SEC in 1991, his teams were more than ready. He won or shared the West Division title each in each of the first four years of the division and the Razorbacks made four straight Sweet Sixteen appearances from 1993 to 1996. In the middle of that run came his crowning achievement, the 1994 national title – just the second ever won by an African-American head coach (John Thompson at Georgetown was the first in 1984). His trademark “40 Minutes of Hell” gave opponents fits during the peak of his coaching career and now his top protegé, Mike Anderson, has brought back the “Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball” to Fayetteville.
Other Mount Rushmores:
As always, with finite lists, there must be omissions, we welcome all debate in our comments section or to me directly @EricDMoyer on Twitter.