The 2012 NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament will formally commence on March 13 and conclude with the winner of the championship game on April 2 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.
In tribute to the renowned event involving 68 schools, below are the three most accomplished basketball players to grace the collegiate hardwood over the past quarter-century.
1) Christian Laettner
Despite being a smug and unlikable version of 90210’s Brandon Walsh, Christian Laettner is simply the most decorated college ballplayer since 1987 without a close peer.
Laettner, who was honored with every award fathomable during his collegiate career and is the only player to ever start in all four Final Fours, was the main ingredient behind the Duke Blue Devils consecutive national championships in the 1991 and 1992 seasons.
Laettner, the owner of the most points scored in the history of the NCAA tournament, will live in lore for his game-winning last-second jump shot that propelled Duke to a 104-103 victory over Kentucky in the 1992 East regional final.
The 92’ regional final is acclaimed by many onlookers and pundits as “the greatest college basketball game ever played” and it is appropriate that the epic clash was decided by one of the greatest college superstars to ever put on sneakers.
2) Larry Johnson
Upon transferring from Odessa College to the University of Nevada-Las Vegas (UNLV) in 1988, “Grandma-ma” dominated the collegiate landscape and nearly led the Runnin’ Rebels to an unblemished season and consecutive national championships in 1991.
LJ was twice a First Team All-America selection who captured the Big West Conference Player of the Year award and was its tournament MVP in both the 1990 and 1991 years.
Johnson, the winner of the prestigious John R. Wooden Award and the Naismith College Player of the Year in 1991, is ranked 12th in career scoring and 7th in rebounding despite playing a mere two seasons for UNLV.
In 2002, regardless that the squad was as wholesome as a Nevada brothel, Johnson and famed teammates Stacey Augmon and Greg Anthony were inducted into the UNLV Hall of Fame along with the rest of the 1990-91 UNLV Men’s Basketball Team.
3) Carmello Anthony
Anthony played only one season (2002-2003) at Syracuse University. Nevertheless, Melo’s single campaign epitomized the notion of quality over quantity.
The Baltimore native averaged 22.1 points and 10.0 rebounds as he helped guide the Orangemen to their first ever NCAA tournament title in 2003.
Anthony, an All-Big East First Team selection and the consensus pick for NCAA Freshman of the Year, was drafted 3rd overall by the Denver Nuggets following his March performance for the ages.
Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim aptly described Anthony as “by far, the best player in college basketball. It wasn’t even close. Nobody was even close to him in college basketball. That’s the bottom line.”
* Honorable Mention: Bobby Hurley
Granted, the Duke icon looked like Eddie Munster in nut-huggers when he donned the Blue Devils’ shorts from 1989-1993.
Still, his dreaded and feeble appearance notwithstanding, Hurley is justifiably considered one of the preeminent point guards in NCAA history.
The Jersey City product remains the NCAA all-time assists leader with 1,076 dishes and he was a vital catalyst in the Blue Devils back-to-back national championships in 1991 and 1992.
Hurley, who participated in the Final Four three times, won the events MVP honors in 1992 and was named one of the fifty greatest players in ACC history a decade later.
Duke’s floor general was drafted 7th overall in the NBA Draft by the Sacramento Kings a month after his No. 11 jersey was retired in 1993.
Hurley may have resembled Herman and Lily Munster’s only child. But, as the old adage goes, one can’t judge a book by its cover.