The men’s college basketball offseason offers an opportunity not only to reflect on the previous season, but to look back at nostalgic moments in the history of the sport. But sometimes, those conversations are complicated by a boundless time frame. How can one compare players or teams from the 1980s to players or teams from the last few years? The game has changed — dramatically — and that makes it difficult to have any fruitful conversations.
That’s why we’ve decided to launch a series that focuses only on the past 25 years of college basketball. Any team, player, coach or moment who was part of the sport between the 1998-99 and 2022-23 seasons is eligible. The rest? That’s someone else’s problem.
For the first installment of our “25 in 25” series, we present the top 25 Division I college basketball players over the past 25 years.
It was a challenging endeavor.
First, this goes beyond résumés. It’s about talent, skill, dominance and impact. The past 25 years feature an interesting mix of stars: from veterans who bucked the 1990s trend of turning pro right out of high school to young players who lasted a season in the one-and-done era. The latter group has an advantage here, because we can only imagine what they might have done with three or four years of college basketball, while the former is competing for spots against a strong list of their peers who also enjoyed significant achievements, longevity and consistency.
In both cases, we’ve made a strong attempt to select the best men’s college basketball players of the past 25 seasons.
Career stats: 25.8 PPG, 11.1 RPG, 1.9 BPG, 1.9 SPG
Career highlights: Wooden Award, first-team AP All-American, Big 12 Player of the Year, Big 12 All-Defensive Team
The only blemish on Durant’s résumé from his lone season of college basketball was his failure to reach the second weekend of the NCAA tournament (the Longhorns lost to USC in the second round). But an effortless offensive output — Durant connected on 40% of his 3-point attempts, 50% of his shots inside the arc and 82% of his free throw attempts — punctuates one of the greatest performances within the sport over the past 25 years.
Career stats: 14.2 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 4.7 BPG, 1.4 SPG
Career highlights: National championship, Wooden Award, Most Outstanding Player in the NCAA tournament, first-team AP All-American, SEC Player of the Year, SEC Defensive Player of the Year
Davis gave John Calipari his lone NCAA title as a two-way force who made 65% of his shots inside the arc and led the nation in blocks (186). That season, the decorated Wildcats lost just two games (on a buzzer beater at Indiana, and against Vanderbilt in the SEC tournament) and beat their NCAA tournament opponents by an average of 11.8 PPG.
Zion elevates for vicious block
Zion Williamson shows off his athleticism as he hustles back to a wide-open Virginia player and flies for a nasty block.
Career stats: 22.6 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 2.1 SPG, 1.8 BPG
Career highlights: Wooden Award, first-team AP All-American, ACC Player of the Year, all-ACC Defensive Team
Williamson is responsible for one of the most dominant seasons in college basketball history. He secured every reputable regular-season award while playing next to R.J. Barrett, a consensus first-team All-American and eventual NBA draft lottery pick. After connecting on nearly 75% of his shots inside the arc and producing a series of uncanny highlights — see: the De’Andre Hunter block at Virginia — Williamson needed just the one season to round out the top three on this list.
4. Jay Williams | G | Duke | 1999-2002
Career stats: 19.3 PPG, 6.0 APG, 2.2 SPG
Career highlights: National championship (2001), Wooden Award (2002), first-team AP All-American (2001, 2002), first team all-ACC (2001, 2002)
Long before his tenure as an ESPN analyst, Williams was a speedy Duke guard with a quick first step and a set of skills that separated him from his college peers. He shot 39% from 3 and 51% from inside the arc during his outstanding three-year career, too.
Curry-Griffin duel in ’08 Davidson-Oklahoma classic
On Nov. 18, 2008, Steph Curry scored a college career high of 44 points, but Davidson was defeated by Blake Griffin and Oklahoma.
Career stats: 25.3 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 3.7 APG, 2.1 SPG
Career highlights: First-team AP All-American (2009), Southern Conference player of the year (2008, 2009)
During Curry’s final season at Davidson, before he achieved superstar status in the NBA, he led Division I men’s basketball in scoring (28.6 PPG), and the Southern Conference in assists (5.6 APG). His 3-point barrage was also impossible to defend, as he made 41% of his shots from beyond the arc in three seasons.
Career stats: 20.2 PPG, 8.6 RPG
Career highlights: National championship (2009), Wooden Award (2008), first team AP All-American (2008, 2009), ACC Player of the Year (2008), all-ACC first team (2006, 2007, 2008, 2009)
North Carolina has a long list of elite players, but few can match what Hansbrough — who earned a spot on the AP first, second or third teams each year of his collegiate career — did. Hansbrough was also one of the most consistent players in recent college basketball history, as proved by four consecutive seasons in which he averaged at least 18 PPG and 7 RPG.
Career stats: 19.9 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 2.2 APG
Career highlights: Wooden Award (2006), first-team All-American (2005, 2006), ACC Player of the Year (2005, 2006)
As Duke’s all-time leading scorer (2,769 career points), Redick remains one of college basketball’s most polarizing players, only because he was so damn good and consistent. He collected multiple ACC and national honors after connecting on 41% of his 3-point attempts and going 91% from the free throw line over four years.
Career stats: 22.2 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 1.6 SPG
Career highlights: National championship, Most Outstanding Player in the NCAA tournament, second-team AP All-American
We’ll never know what Anthony might have done had he decided to play another year or two for Jim Boeheim. On the other hand, as the catalyst of Syracuse’s only national title run, he didn’t need a lot of time to leave his mark.
9. Kenyon Martin | F | Cincinnati | 1996-2000
Career stats: 11.0 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 2.5 BPG
Career highlights: Wooden Award (2000), First-team AP All-American (2000), NABC Defensive Player of the Year (2000), Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year (1998,1999, 2000), all-Conference USA first team (1999, 2000)
The 1999-2000 Cincinnati team will always be one of men’s college basketball’s biggest “What if?” cases because Martin suffered a season-ending leg injury before the NCAA tournament. Outside of that, his senior season was remarkable (18.9 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 3.5 BPG), and proof that he is one of the best two-way college players of the last quarter century.
Career stats: 27.4 PPG, 8.7 APG, 1.7 SPG
Career highlights: First-team AP All-American, all-Big 12 first team
Although Young’s efficiency waned midway through the season after an electric start, he became the first player in NCAA history to lead the nation in both points and assists (the latter became an official NCAA stat in 1983) — and he did it as a freshman. He also averaged 1.7 SPG and made 86% of his free throw attempts.
Career stats: 26.2 PPG, 12,4 RPG, 1.6 BPG, 1.3 SPG
Career highlights: First-team AP All-American, Big 12 Player of the Year
Beasley produced numbers that don’t seem real for a freshman — in addition to the above stats, he shot 38% from 3, 77% from the free throw line and 56% from inside the arc — and still finished behind Tyler Hansbrough in the national player of the year race. His single season of college basketball does not get the full credit it deserves.
Career stats: 19.7 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 3.9 APG, 2.3 SPG, 1.2 BPG
Career highlights: First-team AP All-American (2003), Conference USA Player of the Year (2003), all-Conference USA first team (2002, 2003), Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year (2003)
Wade elevated Marquette to a higher tier of college basketball nearly 30 years after its won its first national championship (1977). When he carried the Golden Eagles to the Final Four in 2003, after averaging 21.5 PPG that season, it was clear Wade was a star.
13. Shane Battier | F | Duke | 1997-2001
Career stats: 13.6 PPG, 1.8 SPG, 1.7 BPG
Career highlights: National championship (2001), Wooden Award (2001), Most Outstanding Player in the NCAA tournament (2001), first-team AP All-American (2001), ACC Player of the Year (2001), all-ACC first team (2000, 2001)
Arguably the most complete player Mike Krzyzewski coached, Battier’s senior season was a picturesque conclusion to a stellar career. He won his third consecutive NABC Defensive Player of the Year award, led Duke to a national title and averaged 19.9 PPG (80% from the free throw line, 54% inside the arc, 42% from 3), 7.3 RPG and 2.3 BPG.
14. Rip Hamilton | G | UConn | 1996-99
Career stats: 19.8 PPG, 1.3 SPG
Career highlights: National championship (1999), Most Outstanding Player in the NCAA tournament (1999), first-team AP All-American (1999), Big East Player of the Year (1998, 1999)
While Hamilton will always be remembered as the clutch leader of a Huskies squad that snapped Duke’s 32-game winning streak and outplayed the Blue Devils in the 1999 NCAA title game, he was a star throughout his college career. Hamilton’s three seasons included the previously mentioned national championship, multiple national awards and a 38% mark from the 3-point line.
15. Elton Brand | F | Duke | 1997-99
Career stats: 16.2 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 1.9 BPG
Career highlights: Wooden Award (1999), first-team AP All-American (1999), ACC Player of the Year (1999)
The only thing missing from Brand’s résumé is a national championship (thanks to Rip Hamilton & Co.). But he was a reliable and impactful star who led the Blue Devils to 37 wins, a school as well as a national record.
16. Emeka Okafor | C | UConn | 2001-04
Career stats: 13.8 PPG, 10.6 RPG, 4.3 BPG
Career highlights: National championship (2004), Most Outstanding Player in the NCAA tournament (2004), first-team AP All-American (2004), NABC Defensive Player of the Year (2003, 2004), Big East Player of the Year (2004), all-Big East first team (2003, 2004)
Okafor might have become the NCAA’s all-time leader in blocks if he had stayed another year in college. Instead, he finished at 11th all time, with 441 blocks. In his final season in Storrs, Okafor averaged 17.6 PPG, 11.5 RPG and 4.1 BPG on the way to the national championship.
Career stats: 21.7 PPG, 7.5 RPG
Career highlights: Wooden Award (2014), first-team AP All-American (2012, 2013, 2014), Missouri Valley Conference player of the year (2012, 2013), Big East player of the year (2014)
If there were any doubts about McDermott’s dominance, they ended when he continued to win conference player of the year honors after Creighton moved from the Missouri Valley Conference to the Big East. In the Bluejays’ first season in the new league, McDermott became the first player in 30 years to secure three consecutive first-team AP All-American honors. He’s also seventh all time in scoring with 3,150 points.
18. Blake Griffin | F | Oklahoma | 2007-09
Career stats: 18.8 PPG, 11.8 RPG
Career highlights: Wooden Award (2009), first-team AP All-American (2009), all-Big 12 first team (2008, 2009)
At the collegiate level, Griffin was an assertive, high-flying talent with the strength and skills to do whatever he wanted against opponents. During his Wooden Award-winning season, he averaged 22.7 PPG (66% from inside the arc) and 14.4 RPG (leading the nation in total rebounds, at 504).
19. Buddy Hield | G | Oklahoma | 2012-16
Career stats: 17.4 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 1.3 SPG
Career highlights: Wooden Award (2016), first-team AP All-American (2016), Big 12 Player of the Year (2015, 2016), all-Big 12 first team (2014, 2015, 2016)
Hield helped Oklahoma reach the NCAA tournament four years in a row, including a Final Four appearance in 2016. The Sooners would lose to eventual national champion Villanova, but that season was Hield’s best: 25.0 PPG and 5.7 RPG, while connecting on 46% of his 3-point attempts and 88% of his free throw attempts.
20. Kemba Walker | G | UConn | 2008-11
Career stats: 16.1 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 4.1 APG, 1.7 SPG
Career highlights: National championship (2011), Most Outstanding Player in the NCAA tournament (2011), first-team AP All-American (2011), all-Big East first team (2011)
Walker led a team that was 21-9 overall and 9-9 in the Big East at the end of the regular season on an 11-game winning streak, resulting in a national title. That wasn’t a fluke: Walker averaged 23.5 PPG that season, capping his three-year college career with an elite effort.
21. John Wall | G | Kentucky | 2009-10
Career stats: 16.6 PPG, 6.5 APG, 1.8 SPG
Career highlights: first-team AP All-American, SEC Player of the Year, all-SEC first team
Wall lived up to the hype as Kentucky’s top recruit the year John Calipari arrived from Memphis, leading the program to a 35-3 record and the Elite Eight. He struggled as a shooter from beyond the arc, but shot 51% from inside it. He also had a pregame dance that went viral.
Career stats: 15.0 PPG, 4.1 APG, 6.8 RPG, 1.6 SPG
Career highlights: Wooden Award (2010), Big Ten Player of the Year (2010), all-Big Ten first team (2009, 2010)
While he couldn’t lead his team past the Sweet 16, Turner compiled one of the most versatile careers of the past 25 years as a 6-foot-7 athlete who could play and guard multiple positions, and won national player of the year honors his final college season.
Career stats: 19.7 PPG, 5.1 RPG
Career highlights: Wooden Award (2006), first-team AP All-American (2006), West Coast Conference Player of the Year (2006)
For most college basketball players, a year that includes an average of 19.0 PPG and a 56% clip inside the arc would be their best. Morrison had that kind of season, then followed up the next year leading the nation in scoring (28.1 PPG) with a 43% clip from the 3-point line.
Career stats: 18.7 PPG, 1.2 SPG
Career highlights: Wooden Award (2011), first-team AP All-American (2011), Mountain West Conference player of the year (2011), all-Mountain West Player of the Year (2009, 2010, 2011)
“Jimmer Mania” wasn’t just hype, rather the byproduct of the former BYU star’s stellar performances — including a senior season anchored by averages of 28.9 PPG (he also led the nation in scoring), 4.3 APG, 40% from 3 and 89% from the free throw line. Fredette elevated the entire Mountain West conference during his time at BYU.
Career stats: 14.4 PPG, 3.7 APG
Career highlights: National championship (2016, 2018), Wooden Award (2018), first-team AP All-American (2018), Big East Player of the Year (2018), all-Big East first team (2017, 2018)
In just three years, Brunson had one of college basketball’s most impressive recent runs. He transitioned from a role player with a talented 2016 team that won Jay Wright’s first title, to the leader of the 2018 national title-winning team — the year in which he posted a career high in scoring (18.9 PPG, 40% from 3).