We discussed the criteria for picking the players on the all-decade teams in the intro to this series.
This is going to be a little bit different.
While these guys did not do enough to earn a spot on any of the All-Decade teams, I thought it was important to highlight the guys that helped turn programs from doormats into powerhouses. These are those players.
ALL-DECADE ALL-LEGACY TEAM
FRED VANVLEET and RON BAKER, Wichita State
It really is incredibly to think back on what these two were able to accomplish at Wichita State during their four seasons on campus.
Baker came in as a walk-on from a small town in rural western Kansas. Fred VanVleet came in as an under-the-radar recruit from Rockford, Illinois, and together they launched Wichita State’s basketball program to unprecedented heights. In 2012-13, they played critical roles on a team that made it all the way to the Final Four as a No. 9 seed. They might have played for the national title in a world where Louisville walk-on Tim Henderson doesn’t come out of nowhere to bang home two threes to spark a run that erase a 12-point Wichita State.
The following season, Baker and VanVleet were the centerpieces of a team that won their first 35 games, getting the absolutely brutal luck of drawing preseason No. 1 Kentucky, then a No. 8 seed, in the second round of the tournament. The following season, the Selection Committee did Wichita State even fewer favors, slotting them as a No. 10 seed despite the fact that they were a top 15 team in the country, according to everyone not on said Selection Committee. The Shockers did beat Kansas in the second round of the tournament that season, so it wasn’t all bad. As seniors, the Shockers fought through some early injury issues before winning two NCAA tournament games.
All told, VanVleet and Baker won 121 games with the Shockers, including three Missouri Valley regular season titles and one Arch Madness title. They won at least two games in every NCAA tournament except for the one when they entered 34-0.
It was enough to get the Shockers a move from the MVC up to the American Athletic Conference.
That’s a legacy.
MALCOLM BROGDON, Virginia
Brogdon wasn’t the first player to commit to Tony Bennett at Virginia, and he wasn’t Bennett’s first pro, and he is certainly not the only that has played for this program that has helped turn it into a place that develops players and wins basketball games at unprecedented rates.
But his role in the development of Virginia from doormat to winner of four of the last six ACC regular season titles should not be diminished.
Brogdon was a top 100 recruit from Atlanta that committed the Wahoos when they were still bad. As a freshman in 2011-12, the Wahoos earned a No. 10 seed in the NCAA tournament – the first NCAA tournament they had reached under Bennett – but Brogdon missed the following season with a foot injury. UVA missed the tournament that year, but for the next three years, Brogdon was the star of a team that was the best program in the ACC.
In 2013-13, he was an all-ACC player on a team that went 30-7, won the ACC regular season title and reached the Sweet 16 as a No. 1 seed. The following year, he was a second-team All-American on a team that would have been a No. 1 seed and likely made it further than the second round of the NCAA tournament if Justin Anderson had not broken his wrist. As a senior in 2015-16, Virginia was once against a No. 1 seed as Brogdon finished the year as a consensus first-team All-American, getting UVA all the way to the Elite Eight, where they lost to Syracuse.
Today, Virginia is the healthiest program in the ACC and coming off of winning the program’s first national title.
And Brogdon had as much to do with getting them to this point as anyone.
JOSH HART and RYAN ARCIDIACONO, Villanova
Hart and Arcidiacono ushered in this era of Villanova basketball.
It’s been covered to death at this point, but there was a turning point for Jay Wright’s basketball program around 2012, when he realized that he had gotten away from building a program the way he wanted to build it.
So instead of just targeting highly-rated players, he started targeting guys that he knew would buy into the Villanova Way, that would work hard, build a culture and hang around for three or four years, but who still had NBA upside. Arch and Hart were two of the first recruits that he targeted, the former in the Class of 2012 and the latter in the Class of 2013. Together, they won three Big East regular season titles, a Big East tournament title and the 2016 national title.
They laid the groundwork for the team that then won the 2018 national title, the best team that we have seen in the sport this decade.
If Villanova is truly a blue-blood program these days, they are there because Arch and Hart built it.
JOEL BERRY II, JUSTIN JACKSON and THEO PINSON, North Carolina
Berry, Jackson and Pinson were all five-star recruits, top 20 prospects and McDonald’s All-Americans, and while it’s not all that hard to believe that UNC can land players like that right now, at the time it wasn’t happening all that often.
This was right in the middle of the fake class scandal that North Carolina dealt with, and the threat of potential NCAA sanctions had scared off five-star prospects in the years before and after. The most famous name was probably Brandon Ingram, who grew up a North Carolina fan but committed to Duke in the class after Berry, Jackson and Pinson because he was worried about what the NCAA would do to the program.
But those three went to North Carolina, and while none of them look like they are going to end up being superstars in the NBA, they carried the Tar Heels to one of the most memorable two-year runs in program history. In 2015-16, when they were sophomores, the Tar Heels won the ACC regular season title, the ACC tournament title and made it all the way to the national title game where, you might remember, this happened.
The following season, however, UNC did much of the same. They once against were the best team in the ACC – despite the fact that Duke had an absolutely loaded roster that year – before completing what would have been the best redemption story of our generation if Virginia hadn’t gone and did what they did last season.
That was a special group, one that will be remembered for a long, long time in Chapel Hill.
GRANT WILLIAMS, Tennessee
We can all see what Rick Barnes has going at Tennessee right now.
They are currently a top 25 team in college basketball, recruiting at levels we rarely see their football team recruit at, despite the fact that they lost four starters off of last year’s roster.
That’s when you know a program is operating at an elite level. They can lose important players unexpectedly without seeing a drop off.
And the reason they’re here has as much to do with Grant Williams as anyone else. Williams was an undersized, 6-foot-5 power forward that committed to Tennessee when they were not very good. After a promising freshman season, Williams turned in back-to-back All-American campaigns that led the Vols to a 2018 SEC regular season title. Tennessee was a top ten team in the two years where Williams was the best player on the floor, and if it wasn’t for his influence, it’s fair to wonder if the program would be where it is right now.