There's a UCLA center, but he's not Bill Walton. There's a back-courtman whose versatility defies belief, but he's not Michael Jordan. There's a rep from the Big Ten, but he's not Isiah Thomas. There's a player from North Carolina, but he's not from Dean Smith's Tar Heels. And there's a guy from—could this be right?—the Ivy League.
Keep in mind that in making selections for SI's Millennium All-Star Team—the best five college players of the 20th century—we didn't care what our Fab Five for the Ages accomplished later in the NBA. Therefore, there's no Magic or Wilt (both of whom played only two years of college ball), no Larry (though he came darn close), no Michael (whose hands were tied by Smith's spread-the-wealth system) and no Bill Russell (alas, the competition was tough at the center position). And no player from the last 25 years because, it seems, so many potentially great collegians have left early for the pros.
Three members of our legendary lineup won at least one NCAA title—one of them won three—but all belong in anyone's hall of fame. More important, decades after they left their respective halls of ivy, they remain eternal BMOCs, men whose feats are celebrated whenever the old grads pull up a chair, pour a glass of sherry and say, "You know, I was around here when...."
Princeton, 1962-63 to 1964-65
When the stories from the East began to get out, it didn't seem possible: A 6'5", button-down, well-to-do brainiac from the Ivy League was America's best player? There was widespread disbelief until Bradley's senior year at Princeton, when he hung 41 points on top-ranked Michigan and Cazzie Russell in the 1964 Holiday Festival tournament at Madison Square Garden—he received a three-minute standing ovation after fouling out—and then one-man-teamed the Tigers into the '65 Final Four. Princeton didn't reach the championship game, but all Bradley did in the consolation match was score 58 points against Wichita State.
North Carolina State, 1972-73 to 1974-75
Close your eyes and you can still picture him: gliding over the rim to guide in the follow shot that beat Maryland in that memorable game on Super Bowl Sunday, 1973. Or rising straight into the air, copter-like, to release the most righteous-looking jumper in college hoops history. Or plummeting frighteningly to earth the time he had his feet cut out from under him at the height of his 42-inch vertical leap. The ACC has produced more great players than any other conference, but none of them, not even Michael Jordan, was a better collegian than the versatile, all-but-unguardable 6'4" Thompson, who in his first two seasons led the Wolfpack to a 57-1 record and an NCAA championship.
Cincinnati, 1957-58 to 1959-60
He was America's first Mr. Basketball, a player whose nonpareil skills—and nickname—were known even to people who knew little or nothing about the game. The Big O's stats are a poor way to illustrate the greatness of a man who was at once intimidating and cerebral, but they have to be mentioned: In his three college seasons the 6'5" Robertson averaged 33.8 points and 15.2 rebounds a game. Perhaps the best tribute came from Bob Cousy, who said Robertson could call out his moves in advance and still be unstoppable.
Ohio State, 1959-60 to 1961-62
He is seriously old school, remembered as something of a mechanical man whose arsenal included a glued-to-the-floor one-handed push shot. But the 6'8" Lucas, the prototypical power forward even though he was listed as a center in college, was the leader of a Buckeyes' brigade (he and John Havlicek and Mel Nowell had made a joint decision to play at Ohio State) that won 78 of 84 games over three seasons, made it to the NCAA championship game every year and took home the title in 1960. Lucas was tournament MVP that year and again in '61 despite the Buckeyes' loss to Cincinnati. He averaged 17.2 rebounds per game for his career and never shot less than 61% from the floor, and he remains the only three-time recipient of the Big Ten player of the year award. He doubtless remembers all of his stats and honors because he later became a nationally known memory expert.
UCLA, 1966-67 to 1968-69
Two in three seasons. That's how many games the Bruins lost when the 7'2" mystery man whom John Wooden still calls Lewis dominated the college game with his majestic skyhook. Alcindor loved shredding stereotypes as much as he did defenses. He ruled with finesse rather than power, comported himself more like a student on academic scholarship than like one of the most highly recruited high school athletes ever. The future Kareem Abdul-Jabbar never lost an NCAA tournament game, and in each of his three seasons he was the tournament MVP. Here's what we think: He was the best college player ever.