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.
In 1976 you probably couldn't find too many people who had heard of Larry Bird. When he arrived at Indiana State University, the gangly 6-foot-9 "hick from French Lick" had a body that more closely resembled a weekend racquetball player than that of a Division I basketball player. But Bird was special. A triple threat on offense, he was a cerebral assassin, able to compensate for his lack of athleticism with superior basketball acuity. The season before Bird took the court at ISU, the Sycamores finished 13-12; in 1976, led by Bird's 32.8 points per game, Indiana's other state school went 25-3, earning a berth in the National Invitation Tournament, It would be the first of three consecutive postseason appearances.
But it wasn't merely the individual accolades that made Bird so special. In 1976 he became just the 12th sophomore in NCAA history to average at least 30 points per game. By 1979 he was the consensus national Player of the Year and a first team All-America for the second consecutive season. Bird concluded his career at Indiana State in fifth place on the all-time NCAA scoring list, a remarkable feat when you consider he played only three seasons for the Sycamores. Oh, and did I mention he still holds 29 Indiana State records?
His scoring, however, was only a fraction of his greatness. Bird was a ferocious rebounder -- he averaged 13.3 per game for his career -- and possessed the court vision of a point guard. Former Southern Illinois coach Joe Gottfried once said of Bird, "If this guy has a weakness, it's that he can't shoot the 20-foot jumper left-handed." A consummate team player, Bird politely declined when the NBA came calling after his junior season, foregoing NBA megabucks in favor of a return to Terre Haute for his senior season and the opportunity to lead the Sycamores to the Final Four.
Perhaps the most compelling case to be made for Bird as the greatest college player ever is the state of the program he left behind. While perennial champions like UCLA and North Carolina simply replace graduating talent with more talent, Indiana State's appearance in the 1979 NCAA tournament was the first in school history. They have since advanced to the tournament on just two other occasions. Larry Bird wasn't a part of making Indiana State great -- Indiana State was great because of Larry Bird.