More college basketball all-decade team content here.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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, 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.