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College Basketball’s All-Decade Team

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The 2010s are coming to an end, which should make you feel incredibly old.

We’ve now gone a full decade with John Calipari in charge of the Kentucky Wildcats. We’re more than a decade removed from the existence of Psycho T on a college basketball campus. In the last ten years, we’ve seen Kentucky and Duke win titles by playing as young as possible, Virginia win by playing as slow as possible, Villanova win by shooting as many threes as possible and UConn win a pair of titles by hoping a star point guard can carry them through a six-game tournament.

We’ve experienced Jimmermania. We survived Zion Williamson’s Shoegate. We watch Louisville win a national title and then had the NCAA erase it from our collective memory because an assistant coach like to turn dorm rooms into the Champagne Room.

It’s been a wild ride.

And over the course of the next two weeks, we will be taking a look back at some of the best parts of the decade.

Today, we are taking a look at the best college basketball all-decade players.


Doug McDermott (Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

The criteria for picking the all-decade teams was kind of tricky with the one-and-done rule in effect.

On the one hand, some of the very best players that we have ever seen in the collegiate ranks spent all of six months playing college basketball. How do we weigh that against guys that had sensational three or four year careers without ever reaching the heights that some of those one-and-dones reached.

It was difficult to balance, and after spending too many hours thinking about it, I’ve come to the decision that there is no right answer.

And that that is OK.

So without further ado, here is college basketball’s All-Decade team for the 2010s.

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ALL-DECADE FIRST TEAM

PLAYER OF THE DECADE: Doug McDermott, Creighton

McDermott’s path to becoming one of the greatest college basketball players of a generation, not just the decade, was not typical.

He played his high school ball in Ames, Iowa, where he was completely overshadowed by his teammates, Harrison Barnes. His father, Greg, was the head coach at Iowa State at the time, but Doug committed to play for his dad’s old school, Northern Iowa. He eventually left Iowa State and took the head coaching gig at Creighton. Ben Jacobson let McDermott out of his letter of intent so that he can play for his pops at a league rival, and that turned out to be a costly decision.

Doug played in the Missouri Valley for three season. He averaged 14.9 points and 7.2 boards as a freshman, seeing that number jump to 22.9 points and 8.2 boards as a sophomore and 23.2 points and 7.7 boards as a junior. As a senior, when the Bluejays made the jump to the Big East, he led the nation by averaging 26.7 points.

He left Creighton as the fifth-best scorer in Division I history, amassing 3,150 points; he’s since been surpassed by Chris Clemons from Campbell. He was the first player in 29 years to be named a first-team AP All-American for three consecutive seasons. He is one of just three players in the history of men’s basketball to record 3,000 points and 1,000 rebounds, and he owns an NCAA record by scoring in double figures in 135 games. He only played in 145 games for the Bluejays.

Not bad for a kid that was the second-best player on a public high school team in Ames.

Jalen Brunson (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

JALEN BRUNSON, Villanova

If things had gone the way that the Brunson family had wanted them to go, Jalen never would have ended up at Villanova. He would have played for their city rival, Temple. That’s where his father, Rick, played, and where he was going to get a job as an assistant before a legal issue ended that dream.

So Jalen went to Villanova, where he would become a starter that averaged 9.6 points and 2.5 assists, an integral piece of a team that won the 2016 national title. He was a first-team all-Big East player as a sophomore, but it was his junior season that is the real reason he is a first-team All-Decade player. Brunson would average 18.9 points and 4.6 assists, putting together one of the most efficient seasons in college basketball history en route to a National Player of the Year award and a second national title in three seasons for the team we named as the best in college basketball this decade.

In three seasons with Villanova, Brunson went 103-13 with a 45-9 record in the Big East. He won two Big East regular season title, two Big East tournament titles and two national titles. That’s decent.

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Kemba Walker (Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

KEMBA WALKER, UConn

“Cardiac Kemba does it again!”

That is the line that I will always remember about Kemba Walker’s 2010-11 season, which is wild when you really do think about it.

Because that line was delivered by Dave Pasch in the quarterfinal of the Big East tournament. Granted, the line was justified. Kemba had just dropped Pitt’s Gary McGhee to give UConn, the No. 9 seed in the Big East tournament, their third win in three days over the league’s regular season champs. He would go on to lead UConn to eight more wins in a row, taking home not only the Big East tournament title but the national title as well.

Which leads me to one of the most incredible information nuggets that I’ve come across in my years as a college basketball writer: After averaging 23.5 points, 5.4 boards and 4.5 assists for a team that became the first to win a major conference tournament title by winning five games in five days before leading that same team to a national title as a No. 3 seed, Walker did not win any Player of the Year awards.

There are six major college basketball Player of the Year awards, mind you. And not a single one of them determine that Kemba was the best college basketball player that season.

In hindsight, I think that was a miss.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL ALL-DECADE LEGACY TEAM

Zion Williamson (Lance King/Getty Images)

ZION WILLIAMSON, Duke

Zion makes this list despite playing just 33 games in his college career thanks to Duke’s Elite Eight exit and a knee injury that stemmed from a shoe that exploded in the middle of a game against North Carolina. No one on any of these teams will have played fewer games.

But I didn’t think I could justify have the best player that I have ever seen in the college ranks not on the list. He finished the year averaging 22.6 points, 8.9 boards, 2.1 assists, 2.1 steals and 1.8 blocks. No one has done that since at least 1992-93, which is as far back as basketball reference’s database goes, and he was a freshman playing in the ACC. He holds the record for the highest PER in college basketball since 2009-10, which is as far back as that data goes.

We’ll never see anything like Zion Williamson ever again, so I have no problem making an exception to get him on this list.

Anthony Davis (Robert Willett/Getty Images)

ANTHONY DAVIS, Kentucky

I love the Anthony Davis story because I love the trajectory of his career.

When he was a sophomore in high school he was a goofy, 6-foot-2 guard that wore rec specs and was completely inconsequential. When he was a junior he grew to 6-foot-6 and got an offer from Cleveland State, but he was only part way through his growth spurt, as he eventually sprouted to 6-foot-11 without losing any of those guard skills while adding a 7-foot-5 wingspan, making him just an absolutely perfect player for modern basketball.

Suddenly, the dude that looked like this when he was a sophomore is the No. 1 recruit in the country and putting up 14.2 points, 10.4 boards and 4.7 blocks to lead Kentucky to their first national title since 1998 before becoming the No. 1 pick in the draft and, eventually, LeBron’s running buddy in LA.

But that’s jumping ahead.

Because in college, Davis was an absolute game-changer to the point that everyone that saw the Wildcats play immediately knew who their best player was despite the fact that he took the fourth-most shots on the team.

John Petty Jr. returns to Alabama for senior season

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama guard John Petty Jr. is staying in school instead of entering the NBA draft.

The Crimson Tide junior announced his decision to return for his senior season Monday on Twitter, proclaiming: “I’m back.”

Petty, the Tide’s top 3-point shooter, averaged 14.5 points and a team-high 6.6 rebounds rebounds last season. He was second on the team in assists.

Petty made 85 3-pointers in 29 games, shooting at a 44% clip.

Alabama coach Nate Oats called him “one of the best, if not the best, shooters in the country.”

“He’s made it clear that it’s his goal to become a first round pick in the 2021 NBA Draft and we’re going to work with him to make sure he’s in the best position to reach that goal,” Oats said.

Fellow Tide guard Kira Lewis Jr. is regarded as a likely first-round draft pick.

McKinley Wright IV returns to Colorado

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McKinley Wright IV will be back for season No. 4 with the Colorado Buffaloes.

The point guard tested the NBA draft process before announcing a return for his senior year. It’s a big boost for a Buffaloes team that’s coming off a 21-11 mark in 2019-20 and was potentially looking at an NCAA Tournament bid before the season was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wright was an All-Pac-12 first team selection a season ago, along with an all-defensive team pick. He and athletic forward Tyler Bey declared for the draft in late March. Bey remains in the draft.

“We’ve got unfinished business,” said Wright, who averaged 14.4 points and 5.0 assists per game last season.

Midway through the season, the Buffaloes were looking like a lock for their first NCAA Tournament appearance since ’15-16. Then, the team hit a five-game skid, including a loss to Washington State in the Pac-12 tournament. Simply put, they hit a defensive rut they just couldn’t shake out of, Wright said. It drove him to work that much harder in the offseason.

“This is my last go-around and I’ve got big dreams,” the 6-footer from Minnesota said. “I want to take CU to a place they haven’t been in a while. We want to go back to the tournament and win high-level games.”

The feedback from NBA scouts was reaffirming for Wright. He said they appreciated his transition game, movement away from the ball and his defensive intangibles. They also gave Wright areas he needed to shore up such as assist-to-turnover ratio and shooting the 3-pointer with more consistency.

He took it to heart while training in Arizona during the pandemic. He recently returned to Boulder, Colorado, where he’s going through quarantine before joining his teammates for workouts.

“The work I put in and the time I spent in the gym compared to all my other offseasons, it’s a big gap,” Wright said. “Last offseason, I thought I worked hard. But it was nothing compared to the time and different type of mindset I put myself in this year.”

Another motivating factor for his return was this: a chance to be the first in his family to earn his college degree. He’s majoring in ethnic studies with a minor in communications.

“My grandparents are excited about that. My parents are excited about that,” Wright said. “I’m excited about that as well.”

Wright also has an opportunity to take over the top spot on the school’s all-time assists list. His 501 career assists trail only Jay Humphries, who had 562 from 1980-84. Wright also ranks 13th all-time with 1,370 career points.

NOTES: Colorado announced the death of 95-year-old fan Betty Hoover, who along with her twin sister, Peggy Coppom, became fixtures at Buffs sporting events and were season ticket holders since 1958. Wright used to run into them not only on the court, but at the local bank. “I’ve never met anyone as loving and supporting and caring as those two,” Wright said. “They hold a special place in my heart. It sucks that Betty won’t be at any games this year. Maybe we can do something, put her name on our jersey. They’re two of the biggest fans in CU history.”

Jared Butler returns to Baylor

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Baylor got some huge news on Monday as potential All-American Jared Butler announced that he will be returning to school for his junior season, joining MaCio Teague is pulling his name out of the 2020 NBA Draft to get the band back together.

Butler was Baylor’s leading scorer a season ago, averaging 16.0 points and 3.1 assists for a team that went 26-4, spent a portion of the season as the No. 1 team in the country and was in line to receive a 1-seed had the 2020 NCAA Tournament taken place.

With Butler and Teague coming back to school, the Bears will return four starters from last season’s squad. Starting center Freddie Gillespie is gone, as is backup guard Devonte Bandoo, but those are holes that can be filled. Tristan Clark, who was Baylor’s best player during the 2018-19 season before suffering a knee injury that lingered through last year, will be back, and there is more than enough talent in the program to replace the scoring pop of Bandoo. Matthew Mayer will be in line for more minutes, while transfer Adam Flagler will be eligible this season.

Baylor will enter this season as a consensus top three team in the country. They will receive plenty of votes as the No. 1 team in the sport, making them not only a very real contender for the Big 12 regular season crown but one of the favorites to win the national title.

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As MaCio Teague returns, Baylor now awaits Jared Butler’s NBA draft decision

Butler is the key.

Baylor was one of college basketball’s best defensive teams last year. They finished fourth nationally in KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric, a ranking that dropped after they Bears lost two of their last three games to TCU and West Virginia. Where they struggled was on the offensive end of the floor. The Bears would go through droughts were points were at a premium and their best offense was a missed shot. Butler’s intrigue for NBA teams was his ability to shoot and to create space in isolation. He’s the one guy on the roster that can create something out of nothing for himself.

And now he is back to try and lead Baylor to a Final Four.

Arizona State’s Martin to return for senior season

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TEMPE, Ariz. (–Arizona State guard Remy Martin is withdrawing from the NBA draft and will return for his senior season in the desert.

“I’m blessed to have the opportunity to coach Remy Martin for one more season,” Sun Devils coach Bobby Hurley said in a statement Sunday. “Remy will be one of the best players in college basketball this year and will be on a mission to lead Arizona State basketball in its pursuit of championships.”

A 6-foot guard, Martin is the Pac-12’s leading returning scorer after averaging 19.1 points in 2019-20. He also averaged 4.1 assists per game and helped put the Sun Devils in position to reach the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year before the season was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Martin’s return should put Arizona State among the favorites to win the Pac-12 next season.

Martin joins fellow guard Alonzo Verge Jr. in returning to the Sun Devils after testing the NBA waters. Big man Romello White declared for the draft and later entered the transfer portal.

Hurley has signed one of the program’s best recruiting classes for next season, headed by five-star guard Josh Christopher.

Michigan State forward Xavier Tillman will remain in the 2020 NBA Draft

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In the end, Xavier Tillman Sr.’s decision whether or not to return to remain in the 2020 NBA Draft for his senior season came down to security.

A 6-foot-8 forward that averaged 13.7 points, 10.3 boards, 3.0 assists and 2.1 blocks this past season, Tillman was an NBC Sports third-team All-American a season ago. He’s projected as the No. 23 pick in the latest NBC Sports mock draft. He was the best NBA prospect that had yet to make a decision on his future until Sunday.

That’s when Tillman announced that he will be foregoing his final season of college eligibility to head to the NBA.

In the end, it’s probably the right decision, but it’s not one that the big fella made easily.

Tillman is unlike most college basketball players forced to make a decision on their basketball future. He is married. He has two kids, a three-year old daughter and a six-month old son. This is not a situation where he can bet on himself, head to the pro ranks and figure it out later on.

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He needs something stable, particularly given the fact that we are living in the midst of a pandemic that has put the future of sports in doubt, at least for the short term.

He needs security.

He needed to know that there would be a job for him in the NBA. Not a two-way contract. Not a spot on a camp roster or a chance to develop in the G League. Hell, there might not even be a G League next season. That was an option at Michigan State. He was living in an apartment with his family that was covered by his scholarship and stipend. He had meals paid for. He was able to take food from the training room home and have dinner with his family. He was able to get to class, to the gym, to practice and back home in time to do the dishes at night. He told NBC Sports in March that the school was able to provide him with $1,200-a-month to help pay for things like diapers high chairs. That was all going to be there if he returned to school. It was a great situation, one that lacked the uncertainty that comes with the professional level.

Because as much as I love Tillman as a role player at the next level, NBA teams do not all feel the same. The tricky thing about the draft is that it makes sense to swing for the fences on the guys that can be locked into salaries for the first four years of a contract. The Toronto Raptors took Pascal Siakam with the 27th pick and have paid less than $7 million in total salary in his first four years for a player that made an all-star team. Kyle Kuzma is averaging 16.0 points through three seasons and is on the books for $3.5 million in year four.

Tillman’s ability to defend, his basketball IQ, his play-making and his professional demeanor means that he can step into the modern NBA and do a job as a rotation player for just about any team in the league. But he doesn’t have the upside that other bigs in the same projected range have — Jalen Smith, Daniel Oturu, Jaden McDaniels, Zeke Nnaji — so there are teams that are scared off.

I don’t get it.

But Tillman’s decision to head to the professional ranks indicates that he does, indeed, feel confident in the fact that he will have gainful and steady employment next season. Since he would have walked at Michigan State’s graduation in May had it been held, that doesn’t leave much to return to school for.

The Spartans will now be left in a tough spot. There are quite a few pieces to like on this roster. Rocket Watts had promising moments as a freshman, as did Malik Hall. Gabe Brown and Marcus Bingham are both talented players. Joey Hauser had a good season at Marquette, and the early returns on freshman Mady Sissoko are promising. But this is going to be a young and unproven group.

Izzo has had less at his disposal before, but this is certainly not an ideal situation for Michigan State.