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But Russell was so dominant in his last two college seasons that he can spot everybody else a year and still be, indisputably, the greatest player in the history of the collegiate game. It wasn't just that he led USF to two consecutive national titles (in 1955 and '56); Russell changed college basketball more than any other player. After his junior season the three-second lane was doubled in size--the so-called Russell Rule--in an effort to diminish his ability to control the game defensively. He was such an offensive force, guiding his teammates' errant shots into the basket, that a year after he left offensive goaltending was banned.
Perhaps more significantly, Russell was the figure most important in establishing the black man's place in the game. He suffered extraordinary prejudice, withstood it and prevailed. In a very real sense it can be said that William Felton Russell changed the game defensively, offensively and culturally.
-- Frank Deford
The greatest player in March Madness history? Let me tell you a little bit about her.
Diana Taurasi (below), who went from Chino ( Calif.) to Geno (Auriemma), led Connecticut to four consecutive Final Fours and three consecutive NCAA championships. Taurasi was also a two-time Final Four MVP, a feat that only Alcindor surpassed.
But no one could surpass her love of the game. She possessed the best traits of Johnson (joy), Bird (gamesmanship) and Jordan (killer instinct) every time she stepped onto the court. -- John Walters
? For Final Four coverage and the complete essays, go to SI.com/basketball/ncaa.