Thrill List: College basketball
The most contemporary player to make the thrill list is Duke's Christian Laettner
Trail Blazers scouts clearly didn't see Michael Jordan play much in college
By the end of his LSU career, Pete Maravich's coach (his father) had little to say
These lists are not mere compilations of all-time bests in their respective sports but all-time bests at quickening the pulse and evoking a visceral response from those fortunate enough to have witnessed their artistry.
10. Christian Laettner, Duke
If two NCAA tournament buzzer beaters weren't enough (he bounced UConn in 1990 before more famously taking out Kentucky in '92), there's the get-the-blood-roiling factor: Remember how he stomped on a prone Aminu Timberlake of the Wildcats, thereby doubling the ranks of Duke-Hater Nation?
9. Bob Cousy, Holy Cross
He dribbled behind his back for the first time in a game as a Holy Cross junior, after which Loyola guard Gerry Nagel declared, "The guy is a magician." By his senior season he had developed the range of tricks he'd routinely deploy in the NBA. But Cousy always undergirded his flash with purpose.
8. Cleo Hill, Winston-Salem Teachers College
Sorry, Mr. Monroe -- you may have been Black Jesus, but at Winston-Salem Teachers College (now Winston-Salem State) you followed in the footsteps of someone so almighty that Billy Packer, who, with his Wake Forest teammates, discreetly scrimmaged against WSTC during the Jim Crow era, called the "forerunner of David Thompson and Michael Jordan." Hill stood 6-1, and could throw in hook shots from where the arc is now. With either hand.
7. Calvin Murphy, Niagara
It's a simple matter of physics: There's no way a 5-9 guy becomes the NCAA's fourth all-time leading scorer, as Murph did during his career at Niagara, without banking some serious highlights along the way. Plus, you never knew if he'd break out his baton at halftime and showcase his world-class twirling skills.
6. Earvin "Magic" Johnson, Michigan State
And to think: He developed those passes because he wanted to ingratiate himself to others on the playgrounds of Lansing, so he'd be chosen for pick-up games. Magic became a more sound player as a pro, but he was already showcasing Lakers-level spirit and inspiration by the time he had reached Michigan State.
5. Ernie DiGregorio, Providence
I offer a single moment from the career of the Providence point guard, dating back to the first half of the 1973 national semifinals against Memphis State: a no-look, half-court, behind-the-back pass through traffic for a layup. And rest my case.
4. Michael Jordan, North Carolina
Perhaps the oracles of the Trail Blazers' front office had their reasons for making Sam Bowie the No. 1 pick overall. But most of us who saw him in college, we knew. (I knew that day, late in his junior season, when MJ threw down a breakaway dunk in Cole Field House. Asked afterward if he had intended for it to "send a message," Jordan shook his head summarily. "No messages," he said, like an efficient secretary.)
3. Darrell Griffith, Louisville
Dr. Dunkenstein, chief practitioner among Louisville's NCAA Champion Doctors of Dunk, specialized in the Circle, in which he described one full 360-degree revolution, floor to ceiling, with the ball as he levitated to the hoop. "I've guarded guys who could leap before," said Iowa's Bob Hansen. "But all of them came down."
2. "Pistol' Pete Maravich, LSU
I leave you with quotes from two coaches. One is from LSU's Press Maravich, Pete's dad and college coach: "I get to the point where I don't coach him. I just watch." The other is from a coach at a black high school in Baton Rouge. "My god! He's one of us!" Indeed: Maravich got mobbed postgame by black Redmen in NYC after dropping 41 on St. John's. In the second half.
1. David Thompson, NC State
The North Carolina State forward popularized the term vertical leap by using breathtaking ups to convert alley-oop passes. It wouldn't have been quite as thrilling if he hadn't played during (dunk) prohibition; as with so many of life's pleasures, it's often worth leaving a little something to the imagination.
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