We discussed the criteria for picking the players on the all-decade teams in the intro to this series.
ALL-DECADE THIRD TEAM
SHABAZZ NAPIER, UConn
There are just seven college basketball players that won two national titles this decade, and I’m not sure anyone – including Jalen Brunson – played a bigger role in landing his team those two titles that Shabazz.
As a freshman, Napier emerged late in the season as a critical second ball-handler and scorer that allowed Kemba Walker to play off the ball while taking some of the defensive attention he drew away. That team, as you know, went on to win the 2011 Big East tournament as well as the national title.
UConn’s 2014 national title run, which came in Kevin Ollie’s second season at the helm, was not as easy. The Huskies did not win the Big East tournament, but they come out of Selection Sunday with a No. 7 seed, making them to lowest-seeded national champions since No. 8 seed Villanova beat Georgetown in the 1985 national title game.
Shabazz was unbelievable that season. He finished the year averaging 18.0 points, 5.9 boards and 4.9 assists, and like Kemba Walker in 2011, he was shut out of any and all National Player of the Year awards. That’s what happens when Doug McDermott’s senior season corresponds with your national title run.
TREY BURKE, Michigan
Trey Burke is from Columbus. A childhood friend of Jared Sullinger, Burke played alongside him and another Ohio State player – J.D. Weatherspoon – in high school, but he was a year younger and then-Ohio State head coach Thad Matta opted to sign Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott instead, leaving Burke without a spot.
So John Beilein swooped him, and Burke immediately made Matta regret his decision. As a freshman, Burke averaged 14.8 points, 4.6 assists and 3.5 boards before coming back to school as a sophomore and turning into the National Player of the Year, averaging 18.6 points, 6.7 assists and 3.2 boards. He thrived in Beilein’s ball-screen heavy alongside the likes of Tim Hardaway Jr., Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary.
The Big Ten was absolutely loaded that season, so the Wolverines finished in fourth place, but they proved how good their were in the NCAA tournament by making a run to the national title game, where they lost to Louisville.
FRANK MASON, Kansas
Frank Mason’s career path is what makes college basketball so great.
Stories like this.
Mason was originally committed and signed to Towson, but he ended up failing a class as a senior in high school, making him ineligible and forcing him to attend prep school at a Military Academy in Virginia. It was there, and on the AAU circuit the summer before his prep year, that Mason impressed the Kansas staff enough to become the point guard that they signed in the recruiting class that included Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid and Wayne Selden.
It was the promise that he showed that convinced Self to let Naadir Tharpe walk, and by his senior year, Mason was the National Player of the Year. It’s pretty amazing when you think about it: Mason was in a recruiting class with three top 15 prospects, two of whom grow into top three picks, and he was the guy that ended up winning all the individual awards in college.
I guess why he was the guy that had a song written about him. #BIFM
EVAN TURNER, Ohio State
Turner’s career at Ohio State started in 2007, but he had one of the best season’s that we’ve seen out of a college basketball player this decade in 2010.
Coming off of a season where he was first-team All-Big Ten as a sophomore, Turner was arguably the best player in the country as a junior. He averaged 20.0 points, 9.2 boards and 6.0 assists for the Buckeyes, which was enough to earn himself a tag as the National Player of the Year in a year that both John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins played for Kentucky.
But here’s the most incredible part: Turner quite literally broke his back during the season. He suffered transverse process fractures in early December, an injury that was expected to keep him out for two months. He was back within a month – after Ohio State dropped out of the top 25 – and not only did he turn their season right around, but he managed to set a Big Ten record for the number of conference Player of the Week awards for one player in one season despite missing five weeks of that season.
Should I mention that the Buckeyes won both the Big Ten regular season and tournament titles that year?
DENZEL VALENTINE, Michigan State
Valentine was a solid piece for a few good Michigan State teams for his first three seasons in East Lansing, but it was his senior year that earned him a spot on this list.
The 6-foot-4 Valentine had an unprecedented season, becoming the first player since at least 1992 to averaging 19.5 points, 7.5 boards and 7.5 assists. He did this for a Michigan State team that was one of the best in the country, that won the Big Ten tournament and likely would have won the Big Ten regular season title if he hadn’t injured his knee midway through the season.
The proof is that the Spartans entered the NCAA tournament as the overwhelming favorite to win the national title.
That … did not end well.