We recently identified the best active college football head coaches based on their FBS playing careers and now we’re doing the same for college basketball coaches, which comes with the added challenge of having almost three times as many coaches from which to choose.
To make things more interesting, we decided to name a starting five plus a bench unit that could reasonably fit well together as a hypothetical team. (Yes, we know our bench is heavy on guards but just look at those names.)
Here are the Division I college basketball head coaches who had the best NCAA DI playing careers.
Point guard: Bobby Hurley
Current school: Arizona State
Alma mater: Duke
- Two-time national champion (1991, 1992)
- 1992 Final Four Most Outstanding Player
- 1993 consensus First Team All-American
- NCAA Division I career assist leader: 1,076 assists
- NCAA Division I freshman assist record: 288 assists
- 14th-best NCAA Division I career assist average: 7.69 assists per game
We could have gone in a few different directions with the starting point guard spot on our hypothetical, star-studded team but we went with the NCAA’s all-time assist leader. Hurley led Duke to back-to-back national championships in 1991 and 1992 before having his best individual season as a senior.
The current Arizona State head coach was named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player in 1992 and he carried that momentum into his final college season, when he averaged 17 points, 8.2 assists, 2.6 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game to earn consensus First Team All-American honors. Hurley was a career 40.5 percent three-point shooter at Duke, allowing him to stretch the floor from the point-guard position.
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Shooting guard: Steve Alford
Current school: Nevada
Alma mater: Indiana
- National champion (1987)
- Two-time consensus First Team All-American (1986, 1987)
- Three-time First Team All-Big Ten
- 1987 Big Ten MVP
- Second in school history in career points (2,438)
- School-record 107 three-pointers in 1987
- School-record career 53.0 three-point percentage
- Led the NCAA in free throw percentage in 1984: 91.3%
- 11th-best NCAA Division I career free throw percentage: 89.8%
Staying with the theme of national championship winners and lights-out shooting, former Indiana guard Steve Alford would be a great running mate alongside Hurley. As a senior, Alford led Indiana to a national title while averaging 22 points, 3.6 assists and 2.6 rebounds on 53 percent shooting from behind the arc in the first year that the three-point line was introduced across the NCAA.
Had the three-point line been added to the college game earlier in Alford’s career, he could have potentially joined – or rather, invented – the 50/50/90 club, meaning he could have shot at least 50 percent from the field, 50 percent from three-point range and 90 percent from the free throw line.
Alford led the NCAA in free-throw shooting as a freshman (91.3%) and he shot well above 50 percent from the field in his first three seasons, while also handling an increasing usage on offense: 59.2 percent on 9.3 field-goal attempts per game as a freshman, 53.8 percent on 13.5 attempts per game as a sophomore, 55.6 percent on 16.3 attempts per game as a junior.
Small forward: Jerry Stackhouse
Current school: Vanderbilt
Alma mater: North Carolina
- 1995 consensus First Team All-American
- 1995 First Team All-ACC
- 1994 ACC Tournament MVP
- 1994 ACC All-Freshman Team
Stackhouse was one of the elite prep and college players of his time, playing at Oak Hill Academy, earning McDonald’s All-American Game MVP honors and then starring at North Carolina. He averaged 12.2 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game as a freshman, while coming off the bench in every game but one, before blowing up as a sophomore, when he started every game except for one and averaged 19.2 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.7 blocks and 1.5 steals per game, while shooting nearly 55 percent from two and 41 percent from three.
North Carolina earned a No. 1 seed when Stackhouse was a freshman and the Tar Heels finished No. 1 in the final AP poll of the regular season, then they made the Final Four as a No. 2 seed during his sophomore year.
Power forward: Juwan Howard
Current school: Michigan
Alma mater: Michigan
- 1994 NABC Second Team All-American/AP Third Team All-American
- 1994 unanimous First Team All-Big Ten selection
- 1994 NCAA tournament Midwest Regional Team
- 1993 NCAA tournament West Regional Team
- Two-time All-American
- Three-time All-Big Ten
Howard, who is coming off of his second season coaching his alma mater – a season in which Michigan earned a No. 1 seed, by the way – was a part of the Fab Five at Michigan and his Wolverines played in the national championship game in 1992 and 1993, although the school’s wins were later vacated. His per-game averages really took a jump between his sophomore and junior seasons. He averaged 20.8 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.5 steals per game as a junior in 1994.
Center: Patrick Ewing
Current school: Georgetown
Alma mater: Georgetown
- 1984 national champion
- 1985 National College Player of the Year
- 1984 NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player
- Three-time consensus First Team All-American
- Two-time Big East Player of the Year
- Member of NCAA Division I 2,000 points & 1,000 rebounds club
- 22nd-highest career rebound total among NCAA Division I players who started their careers in 1973 or later: 1,316 rebounds
In Ewing’s four years playing for Georgetown, the Hoyas earned three No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament and played in three national championship games, winning one in 1984. Ewing is second in school history in scoring (2,184 points) and first in rebounding (1,316 rebounds), blocks (493) and games played (143).
He was named a consensus First Team All-American as a sophomore, junior and senior, as well as earning Final Four Most Outstanding Player when Georgetown won the national championship in 1984. Ewing averaged 15.3 points, 9.2 rebounds and 3.4 blocks on 62 percent shooting in his college career.
Reserve: Johnny Dawkins
Current school: UCF
Alma mater: Duke
- 1986 Naismith Player of the Year
- Two-time consensus First Team All-American
- Two-time First Team All-ACC
- Second in school history in career scoring (2,537)
- 49th in NCAA Division I history with 2,537 career points
There’s no doubt that Dawkins could make a very strong case to be the starting point guard for this hypothetical team. The 1986 Naismith Award winner and two-time First Team All-American is second on Duke’s career scoring list with 2,537 points.
Dawkins led the Blue Devils to the 1986 national championship game to cap off his national player of the year campaign in which he averaged 20.2 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.2 assists on 54.9 percent shooting.
Reserve: Penny Hardaway
Current school: Memphis
Alma mater: Memphis
- 1993 consensus First Team All-American
- Two-time Great Midwest Player of the Year
- Tied for NCAA Division I record with two consecutive triple-doubles
Penny Hardaway only spent two years at what was then called Memphis State (now Memphis) but he won conference player of the year honors both seasons and he was always a threat to record stats near a triple-double. A physical specimen at 6-7 who was capable of playing either guard position, Hardaway averaged 22.8 points, 8.5 rebounds, 6.4 assists, 2.4 steals and 1.2 blocks per game in 1993, while shooting 58.3 percent inside the arc.
Reserve: Juan Dixon
Current school: Coppin State
Alma mater: Maryland
- 2002 national champion
- 2002 consensus First Team All-American
- 2002 ACC Player of the Year
- Three-time First Team All-ACC
- 2002 All-NCAA Tournament Team
- 16th in NCAA Division I history with 333 career steals
As the best player on a national championship team, former Maryland guard and current Coppin State coach Juan Dixon is a must-have for this team. His scoring average jumped from 7.4 points per game as a freshman to 18.0 points as a sophomore, before leading the Terrapins with 20.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 2.6 steals per game as a senior.
He was a dangerous three-point shooter with a career 38.9 clip from behind the arc that peaked at 41.1 percent as a junior. Dixon averaged 25.8 points on 54 percent shooting during Maryland’s NCAA tournament run in 2002.
Reserve: Mike Woodson
Current school: Indiana
Alma mater: Indiana
- 1980 NABC Second Team All-American
- 1980 Big Ten MVP
Woodson’s college career was sandwiched between two of Indiana’s national titles (1976 and 1981), and in his injury-limited senior season, the Hoosiers won the Big Ten and earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament. He returned to help Indiana win six games in a row to end Big Ten play and win the conference’s regular season crown, which earned him conference MVP honors.
He averaged 19.8 points per game for his career, including a career-high 21 points per game as a junior, while shooting 50 percent from the field, pulling down 5.6 rebounds per game for his career, and getting to the free throw line with regularity (5.2 attempts per game), where he shot 78 percent for his career.
He scored 2,061 points in his college career, which ranks fifth all-time in Indiana history.
Reserve: Fred Hoiberg
Current school: Nebraska
Alma mater: Iowa State
- 1995 First Team All-Big Eight
- 1994 Second Team All-Big Eight
Hoiberg averaged double figures in points per game in all four of his seasons in Ames, including a career-high 20.2 points per game as a junior, while shooting 59 percent from 2-point range, 45 percent from three and 86 percent from the free throw line. He also averaged 6.7 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.7 steals per game that season.
Iowa State made the NCAA tournament three times in his career.
Reserve: Hubert Davis
Current school: North Carolina
Alma mater: North Carolina
Sure, Davis played the 2-guard but just as the game of basketball has evolved, so will we. As a senior, Davis averaged 21.4 points per game on 56 percent shooting inside the arc and 42.9-percent 3-point shooting, while helping North Carolina go 23-10 and earn a No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament. His Tar Heel teams made the Sweet16 three times and the Final Four once – a total of 10 career NCAA tournament wins.
He was a career 43.5-percent 3-point shooter, including a junior season in which he shot nearly 49 percent, making him another dangerous scoring threat on the wing.
Other notables: Mark Pope (Washington/Kentucky), Cuonzo Martin (Missouri), Chris Collins (Northwestern).