REACT: Who is the greatest college player of all time?
Sports Illustrated asked its writers to weigh in with their picks for the greatest college basketball player of all time. Read through their selections and then tell us yours.
Eddie Fogler was so confident we'd never forget. It was more than two decades ago, amid the delirium of North Carolina's third national championship and first under the legendary Dean Smith, that all Fogler (then an assistant under Smith) wanted to talk about after the game was the shot that iced it. "People will remember that shot 25 years from now," he declared. "The kid doesn't even realize it yet, but he's part of history now."
It was the type of moment we've come to expect from Michael Jeffrey Jordan, whose heroics over the years were numerous enough to make you forget he actually walked among us, let alone around campus at Chapel Hill. Even with a full head of hair, this 6-foot-6 marvel was pulling championships out of his hat. He was just a Tar Heel freshman --- a freshman! --- when he sunk a 17-foot jumper with 15 seconds left to snatch the 1982 NCAA title from Georgetown's grasp. The next year, Jordan took player of the year honors. The year after that, gold in the Olympics.
Still, few had pegged His Airness for a star. Varsity-team status eluded him as a sophomore at Laney High School in Wilmington, N.C. At Chapel Hill, he was easily overshadowed by teammates James Worthy, Sam Perkins and --- most notably --- Matt Doherty at his own position. But Jordan rode his tireless work ethic to the top of the depth chart, re-dedicating himself to defense and fashioning himself into the consummate team player, ready with the extra pass, the timely steal and the monster block. After coming up big in games against Tulane, Maryland and Virginia, the freshman Jordan was firmly entrenched among the best defensive guards in the country.
But he was not the best player in 1984 NBA draft. That honor went to Houston's Akeem Olajuwon, whose basketball talents to that point weren't nearly as certain as his height. Kentucky's Sam Bowie took the No. 2 spot, while Jordan slipped to Chicago at No. 3. Perhaps if Jordan hadn't reached such spectacular heights as a pro, a collegiate career during which he averaged 17.7 points on 54 percent shooting would have held up better against time. But the greatness of his achievements as an amateur pale in comparison to the six championships, five MVP awards and 14 All-Star nods he'd collect during 15 NBA seasons.
Why penalize a great player for evolving into the greatest of all time, realizing that every time he took off from the free-throw line, uncorked another bottle of champagne or hit a buzzer-beater, Jordan became a victim of his own success? Because he not only optimized greatness, he wrote the book. The legacy he left behind at UNC, when measured against his larger body of work (however expansive), is no less significant.
That shot was more than history, Eddie. It was the beginning.