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.
For nearly a decade Chamique Holdsclaw ended every basketball season in the same Russellesque way. At Tennessee she won three consecutive NCAA titles, which was preceded by four New York state high school titles at Christ the King, which was preceded by an eighth-grade title in Queens, N.Y. Holdsclaw delivered championships with the consistency of Big Ben.
But let's focus solely on her halcyon days in 'ol Rocky Top. Only the UCLA men had won three consecutive NCAA tournament titles before Holdsclaw burst onto the college basketball scene in 1996, a lithe and long-armed assassin with a ready-made championship swagger. She wore No. 23, though it was merely coincidence that she shared that jersey number with another famous basketball sharpshooter. For Holdsclaw, the number represented the 23rd Psalm, which included the verse, "The Lord is my shepherd." And was she ever a worthy shepherd for Tennessee coach Pat Summitt. Holdsclaw was a four-time All-America for the Lady Vols, one of only five women to earn the honor (along with teammate Tamika Catchings, Cheryl Miller of USC, Ann Meyers of UCLA, and Lynette Woodard of Kansas). She was the first women's basketball player to win the Sullivan Award (1999) as the nation's top amateur athlete and finished her Tennessee career with 3,025 points and 1,295 rebounds.
Some argue that Miller and Diana Taurasi deserve a higher standing than Holdsclaw, just as there are those who prefer Edouard Manet to Claude Monet. Certainly, Miller was the most athletic player of her generation and won the Naismith Trophy a record three times. (Holdsclaw won it twice, in 1998 and 1999.) Taurasi equaled Holdsclaw's mark of three NCAA titles and has a small advantage in the won-loss record (139-8 to 134-17). But look at their respective surrounding casts. At USC, Miller was flanked by the wondrous Cynthia Cooper, and world-beaters in Pam and Paula McGee. As an underclassman Taurasi had a quartet of All-America upperclassman: Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Ashja Jones and Williams. Later, she led a couple of players just below the All-America level (Barbara Turner and Jessica Moore).
Holdsclaw's posse, albeit made up of terrific college players, wasn't nearly at that level. As a freshman Holdsclaw was Tennessee's leading scorer and rebounder alongside Michelle Marciniak, Latina Davis and Pashen Thompson. The following year, Abby Conklin, Tiffani Johnson and a still-raw Kellie Jollie rode shotgun beside her. As a junior, Holdsclaw won her third consecutive title as a chaperon to freshmen Tamika Catchings and Semeka Randall. Catchings was the only Kodak All-American Holdsclaw ever played with (though Marciniak was Naismith All-America in 1996).
While UConn's Rebecca Lobo deserves full marks for bringing women's basketball into the television age, Holdsclaw made it cool to watch the sport. She could penetrate to the goal or kill you with the mid-range jumper, just like that other No. 23. She scored off other people's misses. She scored off her own up-fakes in the low post. What separated her from other college players -- including Taurasi -- was her ability to rebound. She averaged nearly nine boards per game during her career. And only Taurasi faced the kind of scrutiny Holdsclaw did in 1998, when the national press honed in on the two-time defending champions and debated whether Holdsclaw's Tennessee squad was the greatest team ever. She responded by leading the Lady Vols to an NCAA record 39 wins without a defeat. It's one of the great player-leadership jobs in sports history. "You can be talented and versatile, but if you can't compete under pressure, then you're never going to be known as one of the all-time greatest players, and that's what Chamique could do," Summitt told the Hartford Courant last year. "She was just a fierce competitor who believed if you give her the ball, she's going to win the game. And more often than not, she would make the play. She wasn't going to be denied."