Discussion of this season's superb sophomore class inevitably brings to mind some of the extraordinary groups from previous eras. For your consideration—and perhaps consternation—SPORTS ILLUSTRATED has selected the outstanding class of the 1920s, '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s and early '70s. Although the emphasis was placed on the players' collegiate accomplishments, their later careers were also taken into account. Each class is listed according to the decade it entered college.
The most controversial aspect of the selections may not be who was included, but who wasn't. Many great players were not chosen because there were not enough other exceptional performers in their classes to make their years truly classy. Thus you will not find here the names of Russell, Chamberlain or Alcindor—or even Robertson and West. For years many fans have assumed that the class that entered college in 1956 and included Oscar Robertson and Jerry West was the finest ever. The main reason for this thinking was the awesome performance of the U.S. team in the 1960 Olympics. Actually, only four of the 12 Olympians were members of the Robertson-West class.
There should be no controversy, however, about the most distinguished class of the 1920s, because five 1927 freshmen became members of the Naismith Hall of Fame. And two of them, guards John Thompson of Montana State and Charles Hyatt of Pittsburgh, were chosen in 1970 for the Helms Foundation's 10-man, all-time team. Thompson and classmate Frank Ward have the added distinction of playing on what Helms called, in 1960, the greatest team ever—Montana State's 1929 club that finished 36-2.
This class also includes two Hall of Fame players best known for having coached their alma maters to national titles: Branch McCracken of Indiana and Bud Foster of Wisconsin. A third Big Ten player—and the fifth Naismith inductee—was Stretch Murphy of Purdue.
Another alltime All-America, Hank Luisetti of Stanford, heads the class of 1935-38. Luisetti was twice Player of the Year, but he is better known for having perfected the running one-hand shot. Notre Dame has two members of the '30s best team, 1936 Player of the Year John Moir and Paul Nowak. The other all-stars include Mike Bloom, who led Temple to victory in the first NIT, and conference scoring champions Jewell Young of Purdue, Bonnie Lee Graham of Mississippi and Fred Pralle of Kansas.
The outstanding class of the 1940s was the one that played from 1946 to '49. With Ralph Beard, Alex Groza and Wallace (Wah Wah) Jones, Kentucky won the NIT in 1946, was runner-up in '47 and won the NCAAs in '48 and '49. These three, along with three other members of Kentucky's fabulous squad, were also on the gold-medal-winning 1948 Olympic team. The gold lost some of its luster when Beard and Groza pleaded guilty to shaving points at Kentucky in 1949.
Some other notable players in the 1946-49 class were Ed Macauley of St. Louis, a member of the Naismith Hall of Fame; Vern Mikkelson of Hamline, who is in the NAIA Hall of Fame; Vern Gardner of Utah, the star of the team that handed Beard, Groza & Co. its loss in the '47 NIT; and Tony Lavelli of Yale, the Helms Player of the Year in '49.
Heading the top freshman class of the 1950s are Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek, who performed at Ohio State from 1959 to '62. Lucas was a two-time Player of the Year and a member of the 1960 Olympic team, along with a classmate, Terry Dischinger of Purdue. Even with Lucas and Havlicek, the Buckeyes lost two national title games to Cincinnati, which was led by Tall Paul Hogue.
This class also included five other players who are considered the best performers ever at their schools: Zelmo Beaty of 1962 NAIA champion Prairie View; Chet Walker of Bradley; Dave DeBusschere of Detroit; Billy McGill of Utah; and Len Chappell of Wake Forest.
Points, and lots of them, makes the class of 1967-70 very special. Led by Pete Maravich of LSU, seven of its members scored at least 2,000 points in their three-year careers. Maravich, Calvin Murphy of Niagara and Rick Mount of Purdue were three-time All-Americas, which did not leave many kudos for such other top backcourt men as Charlie Scott of North Carolina and Nate Archibald of UTEP. There was talent in the frontcourt, too, with Dan Issel of Kentucky, Bob Lanier of St. Bonaventure, Dave Cowens of Florida State and Rudy Tomjanovich of Michigan.