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Five Greatest NCAA Tournament Players Ever

 

By Stan J. Griffin

Is your NCAA Tournament bracket already busted, even just on life support after just the first day or two of action?

That is the case for millions of Americans, especially with early action from the 2015 "Big Dance" already highlighted by upsets from underdogs such as UAB, Georgia State and UCLA.

The NCAA basketball tourney is one of the most anticipated times of the year for sports fans, even for those who only casually follow college basketball during the regular season.

Millions of dollars will be bet in various bracket pools, and millions of dollars in actual production will be lost by various companies and businesses all over the nation, whose employees are spending more time keeping track of the tourney games instead of their actual jobs.

And if the first couple of days of this year's crazed hoop event are any indication, it will be another memorable event with plenty of close finishes, shocking upsets and heroic individual efforts.

With that being said, I thought I would take a shot a picking my Top 5 players in the history of the NCAA tournament.

This of course, is a difficult task, if not an impossible one, and of course my list is purely subjective as most lists tend to be.

Of course the history of this prestigious tourney includes numerous legends and Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Grant Hill, Larry Johnson, Sam Perkins, Patrick Ewing, Bobby Hurley, Bobby Joe Hill and David Thompson are just a few of those who took the event to the next level.

The following are my Top Five selections, however, when you take into account individual success in the tourney as well as, of course, team championships or big success by their respective squads.

1. Christian Laettner, Duke: Whether you hate the former Blue Devil star, and many people surely do around the nation, or love him, it would be hard to assemble an NCAA tourney legend list without including a player who truly had a flair for the dramatic, and for big-time tourney success under the legendary Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. The only player to start in four consecutive Final Four games, Laettner capped his amazing and prolific college career with back-to-back national crowns. He won the 1990 and ’92 East regional finals with buzzer-beaters, the latter against Kentucky being one of the most replayed plays in NCAA Tournament history in what is often described as the greatest tournament game of all time. Laettner is the career-leading scorer in tournament history (407 points) and played in a remarkable 23 tournament games. He was inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010, and his tourney success no doubt is largely responsible for that honor.

2. Lew Alcindor, UCLA: The future professional basketball star who would later be known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Alcindor, in three years in Westwood under the legendary coach John Wooden, lost two games and won three consecutive NCAA championships. In his six Final Four games, the Bruins center averaged 25.7 points and 18.8 rebounds, and he is the only player to be named Most Outstanding Player at the Final Four three times. If freshmen were eligible during his time at UCLA, it is very likely he would have been 4-for-4 in national championship rings collected. He is also the NBA's all-time leading scorer.

3. Bill Walton, UCLA: The redheaded big man known almost as much for his political views and his adventures with The Grateful Dead as his hoops prowess, Walton led Wooden’s Bruins to a pair of national titles and another Final Four appearance in which UCLA lost to eventual champion North Carolina State in overtime. Walton, who also had a solid NBA career before injuries began taking their toll, also had one of the best single-game performances in tournament history scoring 44 points on 21-of-22 shooting in the 1973 final against Memphis. The Walton-led 1971-72 UCLA team had a 30-0 record and won by an average margin of 30 points a game. He helped lead the Bruins to two 30-0 seasons and also played a big part in UCLA's record 88-game winning streak.

4. Jerry Lucas, Ohio State: A blast from the past choice, Lucas, the Middletown, Ohio native, helped lead the Buckeyes to three championship game appearances and one title. Lucas, prolific in terms of scoring and grabbing boards, had an astounding 33 points and 30 rebounds against the Kentucky Wildcats in the Elite Eight in 1961 for the only 30-30 game in NCAA Tournament history and was named the Most Outstanding Player at the Final Four twice. He was also named as one of the 50 greatest NBA players ever in 1996. He was the college basketball player of the year in 1961 and 1962.

5. Bill Russell, San Francisco: Another player who would later become one of the true all-time legends of the professional game, and widely considered the best NBA player of all time, Russell had a pretty fair college career as well and led the Dons to a 57-1 record with back-to-back national titles and a then-NCAA record 55-game winning streak over his final two seasons. Russell led USF to NCAA championships in 1955 and 1956.  He became known for his strong defense and shot-blocking skills, once denying 13 shots in a game.

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