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.
The greatest player in March Madness history? Let me tell you a little bit about her.
Diana Taurasi, who went from Chino (Calif.) to Geno, led the University of Connecticut to four consecutive Final Fours and three consecutive NCAA championships. Only a handful of players from UCLA (men, 1967-1973) and Tennessee (women, 1995-1998) can make that claim. Taurasi was also a two-time Final Four MVP, a feat that, among those with three championship rings, only UCLA's Lew Alcindor (who won three) and Tennessee's Chamique Holdsclaw (two) have matched.
The career won-loss records of those players?
Alcindor: 88-2, three rings.
Holdsclaw: 134-17, three rings.
Taurasi: 139-8, three rings.
Yes, it's silly to argue that Taurasi was a more dominant collegian than Alcindor. Nobody was or has been since. But "Dee," as her UConn head coach Geno Auriemma most often referred to her, was a six-foot off-guard, an average height in women's hoops. Alcindor was a 7-foot-2 giant whose signature shot, the dunk, was outlawed by the NCAA for a number of years, as if Alcindor had an unfair advantage. Taurasi's unfair advantage, on the other hand, was her unsurpassed love of the game.
Quickly, Taurasi's NCAA tourney bona fides: a 22-1 overall record; three NCAA regional Most Outstanding Player awards; two Final Four MVPs; and three NCAA titles. The debate might be more conclusive were it not for Diana herself. Against Notre Dame in the 2001 national semifinals, Taurasi shot 1-for-15 from the field in a 17-point loss. It was the only game during Taurasi's four-year career in which she failed to rise to the occasion.
Taurasi, who has the prettiest jump shot I've seen in the women's game, was actually a better passer than scorer. She is UConn's third all-time leading scorer (behind Nykesha Sales and Kerry Bascom) but the school's all-time leader in assists (and 3-pointers). And she was even a better leader than she was a passer. And a gamer. No one enjoyed the critical moment -- what few there were for the Huskies -- better than Dee.
In her four years at Storrs the Huskies were 7-1 against arch-rival Tennessee. In every one of those games (including three Final Four matchups), Taurasi buried the Lady Vols. In eight career meetings against Tennessee, she finished with a 21.6 average. As a big-game player Taurasi was consistently, to use one of her favorite terms, "off the hook."
Take the 2002 national title game against Oklahoma. The Sooners, led by All-America Stacey Dales, clawed their way back into the contest with just over two minutes remaining. UConn, its lead down to six points, called a timeout. On the next possession Taurasi backed down Dales in the post, buried a soft jumper and eliminated the Sooners star from the game with the subsequent foul call. She then hit her foul shot. Game over.
You can argue that Taurasi, like Alcindor and Holdsclaw, was surrounded by great players. Certainly that is true of her first two seasons. As a freshman she did not even crack the starting lineup until Svetlana Abrosimova and Shea Ralph were injured. As a sophomore Taurasi played alongside Naismith winner Sue Bird and the All-America-caliber frontcourt trio of Swin Cash, Asjha Jones and Tamika Williams. But during her junior and senior season, Taurasi pulled the sled.
There's one more trait about Taurasi, more ineffable than statistical. She possessed the best traits of Magic (joy), Bird (gamesmanship) and Jordan (killer instinct) whenever she stepped onto the court. To her it was only a game, and it was always a game.
Think Magic Johnson in 1979 and multiply it by four years, and that is the legacy of Diana Taurasi. Statistically, she is one of the all-time college basketball greats. But in terms of the memories that she created and the good vibes (to all those who live outside of Knoxville) she passed along to all of us who watched her over four consecutive Final Fours, she is the unquestioned queen of March Madness.