College Basketball

Ranking the 10 Greatest Mid-Major College Basketball Stars of the Last Decade

Scott HenryFeatured ColumnistMay 2, 2014

Ranking the 10 Greatest Mid-Major College Basketball Stars of the Last Decade

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    The past 10 years have seen a shift in how college basketball views its "mid-major" members.

    Since 2006, six teams outside the game's traditional power conferences (ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC) and the AAC—new home of 2014 national champion Connecticut—have made the Final Four.

    While in a 14-year span from 1992 to 2005, just six total mid-major teams reached the national semifinals, meaning the rate of infiltration has increased over the past decade.

    As the unconventional teams continue to make bigger splashes, their star players continue to gain more notoriety.

    Players from mid-major programs have dotted All-American teams and parlayed their collegiate exploits into NBA draft selections with increasing regularity.

    These 10 mid-major players have seen varying degrees of success after leaving college, but all became major stars for their schools at varying points since the 2004-05 season.

    Since the definition of "mid-major" is often arbitrary, we kept this one simple: Players were considered for this list if they spent the majority of their college seasons competing outside the conferences listed above, regardless of where their schools now reside.

10. Omar Samhan, St. Mary's

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    Saint Mary's center Omar Samhan not only understood his limitations, he embraced them.

    A 6'11" banger who was an increasingly rare true low-post center, Samhan gave a blunt scouting report on himself before the Gaels' 2010 Sweet 16 matchup with Baylor (via Diamond Leung of ESPN.com):

    "He can jump, and I can't. He's fast, and I'm not. He's strong, and I'm not. Although I’ll have trouble guarding him, he’ll have trouble guarding me."

    Samhan's mouth made him catnip for the assembled reporters, but his game made him Kryptonite for SMC's opponents.

    The Egyptian big man averaged 21.3 points, 10.9 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per game as a senior, leading the West Coast Conference in all three categories and making himself an All-American honorable mention selection.

    He carried St. Mary's to its first Sweet 16 since 1959, when the tournament only invited 23 teams.

    The 10th-seeded Gaels stormed to the regional semifinals with wins over No. 7 Richmond and No. 2 Arizona, with Samhan balling like an Egyptian the whole time.

    He put up 61 points on 75 percent shooting over the two games.

    Samhan now plays in the country of his ancestors, preparing to represent Egypt in this summer's FIBA World Cup. A good showing there could put him back on the NBA radar.

    The man who once defended his mooring down low with the pithy rejoinder "I think the paint's sexy" can now drain three-pointers with regularity, showing that his throwback game can adapt to the times.

9. Isaiah Canaan, Murray State

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    Wade Payne/Associated Press

    Two years before Wichita State's undefeated run was polarizing college basketball observers, Murray State was drawing even more raised eyebrows.

    The Racers climbed into the national Top 10 with a 23-0 record in coach Steve Prohm's rookie season.

    Point guard Isaiah Canaan emerged as a star that season after two years of steady double-figure scoring.

    His 19.0 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game not only landed him a second-team All-American selection, but helped put the 30-1 Racers in the NCAA tournament, albeit as a sixth seed.

    Murray State won its second tournament game in three yearsthe Racers had beaten Vanderbilt as a No. 13 seed when Canaan was a freshmanbehind Canaan's 15 points and seven rebounds.

    Already projected as a potential first-round NBA draft pick, Canaan elected to come back for his senior year. His raw statistics improved21.8 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 4.3 APGbut his shooting efficiency tailed off slightly.

    The Racers still claimed a regular-season OVC West crown but fell to league newcomer Belmont in an overtime thriller in their conference championship game.

    Canaan became a second-round pick of the Houston Rockets, appearing in 22 games during the 2013-14 season.

8. Chris Douglas-Roberts, Memphis

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    Quick, which player from the 2008 national runner-up Memphis Tigers was a first-team All-American?

    If you said Derrick Rose, you made the classic mistake of equating pro draft stock with college success.

    While freshman point guard Rose was the No. 1 pick in the 2008 NBA draft, wing Chris Douglas-Roberts was the one tapped as an All-American by the Associated Press.

    CDR led the Tigers in scoring at 18.1 PPG, sinking 54 percent from the floor, 71 percent from the foul line and 41 percent from behind the arc.

    Memphis won its first 26 games with a February battle with UAB constituting the Tigers' most serious challenge. Douglas-Roberts scored 32 points in that game, converting a clutch three-point play with 6.5 seconds left in a one-point victory.

    He upped the ante in the NCAA tournament, recording 23.3 PPG and 4.2 RPG as the Tigers rolled to the national title game. The man who converted that clutch and-one against UAB continued his improving form at the foul line as well, sinking 81 percent of his freebies in the postseason.

    That improvement made it bitterly ironic when Douglas-Roberts missed three free throws in the final 1:15 of regulation in the national final, allowing Kansas to force overtime and win the title.

    CDR shrugged off the disappointment and declared for the 2008 NBA draft that would be headlined by his teammate Rose.

    Douglas-Roberts, however, slipped to the New Jersey Nets at No. 40. Since then, he has suited up for four different teams, making his first playoff appearances this season (2014) with the Charlotte Bobcats.

7. Andrew Bogut, Utah

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    Australian center Andrew Bogut became the face of the Utah Utes basketball program when coach Rick Majerus left during the 2003-04 season.

    A freshman that year, Bogut put up 12.5 points and 9.9 rebounds per game in winning the Mountain West Conference's Freshman of the Year award.

    During his summer vacation, Bogut journeyed to Europe as many college students do. However, Bogut's was a working excursion to Athens, Greece, where he represented Australia in the Olympics.

    He put up nearly 15 points and nine rebounds per game in the Olympics, demonstrating the ability to excel against world-class opposition.

    When Bogut returned to Utah in the 2004-05 season, he exploded into national prominence as a true college basketball star.

    Averaging 20.4 points, 12.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game while shooting 62 percent from the floor, Bogut won multiple national player of the year honors, including the Wooden and Naismith awards. He helped carry the Utes to their first Sweet 16 since making the 1998 national title game.

    The seven-footer declared for the 2005 NBA draft, where the Milwaukee Bucks drafted him first overall. He's still active, albeit injured, for the Golden State Warriors.

6. Adam Morrison, Gonzaga

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    The 2005-06 national player of the year race was a two-horse affair between Duke sniper J.J. Redick and Gonzaga scoring machine Adam Morrison.

    A solid scorer as a sophomore (19.0 PPG), Morrison exploded as a junior, leading the nation with 28.1 points a night.

    Forever a threat to torch an opponent for 30, Morrison frequently went even farther than that.

    He put up 43 points in a win over Michigan State and a loss to Washington. He broke 40 in back-to-back wins over San Francisco and Portland. He set a career high with 44 against Loyola Marymount.

    The shaggy-haired 6'8" forward overcame constant triple-teams andmore importantlytype 1 diabetes to become a dominant collegiate scorer.

    He beat out Redick for most of those POY trophies, but both were already eliminated from the NCAA tournament by the time some of those honors were handed out.

    Gonzaga's Sweet 16 loss to UCLA became the stuff of legend, but not for reasons Morrison would care to remember.

    His game-ending crying jag became proof of either his competitive drive or his emotional immaturity, depending on one's point of view.

    Despite speculation that the tears would drive NBA teams away from him in droves, Morrison was the No. 3 selection in the 2006 draftMichael Jordan's first selection for the Charlotte Bobcats.

    Injuries derailed his career after a spotty rookie season, although Morrison did receive two NBA championship rings for propping up the end of the Los Angeles Lakers' bench.

    This past season, he returned to Gonzaga as a student assistant coach. As he told Jim Meehan of The Spokesman-Review, the transition from player-to-coach is a swift one:

    Just doing this last year it’s crazy how you go from a player and ‘These coaches are on my ass for the littlest stuff’ to ‘Coach, I get it now, you didn’t close off the baseline, I have to yell at you.’ We used to call it the dark side. You go to the dark side right away.

5. Gordon Hayward, Butler

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    Gordon Hayward was a three-star recruit according to Rivals.com, but then-Butler coach Brad Stevens was still highly excited to secure his commitment.

    “I’ll never forget that day,” Stevens said to The New York Times' Thayer Evans in 2010. “That was a big moment. I told our guys to take the rest of the day off and go golfing.”

    Stevens knew Hayward was a great fit for his system at Butler, but even the coach had to be surprised at the impact the Brownsburg, Ind. native made in his two seasons.

    Hayward emerged as the leading man on a team that carried the Horizon League's banner to the first Final Four appearance in both school and league history.

    As a freshman in 2008-09, Hayward won Horizon League Newcomer of the Year for ranking in the league's top 10 in scoring (13.1 PPG), rebounding (6.5), steals (1.5), blocks (0.9) and free throw percentage (81.5).

    After he rated some preseason All-America nods as a sophomore, Hayward improved his numbers to 15.5 points and 8.2 rebounds per game, leading Butler to a No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament.

    That fifth seed survived four games by a combined 13 points, conquering Murray State, Syracuse, Kansas State and Michigan State to set up a national title clash with Duke at Lucas Oil Stadium—less than six miles from Butler's own Indianapolis campus.

    Hayward's place in NCAA lore was ensured when he hurled up a half-court prayer that was a mere inch from making him a folk hero.

    The 45-foot shot bounced off the back rim, giving Duke a 61-59 win but still putting Hayward on every NCAA tournament historical highlight package from now until the end of days.

    After nearly capping his career off in fairytale fashion, Hayward became the ninth pick in the NBA draft.

    He became the first Butler player drafted and signed to the NBA since Ralph O'Brien in 1950 and the school's first pro overall since Billy Shepherd spent three years in the ABA during the 1970s.

4. Derrick Rose, Memphis

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    As alluded to earlier, the biggest star on Memphis' 2007-08 team wasn't first-team All-American Chris Douglas-Roberts, but the flashy perpetual-motion point guard Derrick Rose.

    It was 26 games into Rose's Memphis career before he experienced defeat, but he didn't suffer another loss until the national championship game.

    Not always a dominant scorerRose was held below 10 points 11 timeshe was nevertheless always the focus of the opposing defense, helping six other players average at least 5.9 PPG.

    That's not to say Rose couldn't get his own. After all, he wouldn't be here if he couldn't score. He averaged 14.9 PPG, upping that ante to 20.8 in the NCAA tournament.

    Rose added 6.5 rebounds and six assists per game to help coach John Calipari reach his second Final Four. In the regional final, third-team All-American Rose helped hold first-teamer D.J. Augustin of Texas to 4-of-18 shooting in an 18-point UM win.

    At the Final Four, Rose continued putting on a show, handily outscoring UCLA star Darren Collison 25-2 as the Tigers cruised into the title game.

    Another 18 points, six rebounds and eight assists in the final nearly gave Memphis its first national championship, but Rose missed a crucial free throw in the waning moments to allow Kansas to force overtime.

    Rose got Calipari back to the season's final weekend, but he also contributed to Calipari's having his second Final Four vacated after questions were raised about Rose's SAT score and his brother's frequent travels with the team.

    By then, Rose was already gone to the NBA, chosen first overall by the Chicago Bulls in the 2008 draft.

3. Stephen Curry, Davidson

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    The son of a longtime NBA gunner, Stephen Curry proved that sometimes the orange doesn't fall far from the tree. In the process, he put Davidson College on the national basketball map, paving the way for the school's impending move from the Southern Conference to the Atlantic 10.

    In its infinite basketball wisdom, Virginia Tech offered Curry only a walk-on role, despite his heritage (father Dell played for VT before his 16-year pro career).

    Davidson instantly reaped the benefits, as the willowy sniper poured in 21.5 PPG as a freshman in 2006-07.

    He dropped in 30 points in a first-round NCAA tournament loss to Maryland, but in hindsight, there may have been a hint of Terminator-esque "I'll be back."

    His sophomore season was a comparative cruise after a tough non-conference schedule. The Wildcats, tuned up by meetings with North Carolina, Duke, NC State and UCLA, crushed their SoCon opponents to the tune of 22 straight wins entering the NCAA tournament.

    Only four of the 22 wins were by fewer than 10 points.

    Davidson earned a No. 10 seed in the tournament and proceeded to show the No. 7, 2 and 3 seeds the door en route to the Elite Eight against top seeded Kansas.

    Curry's scoring totals against Gonzaga, Georgetown and Wisconsin? 40, 30 and 33. No biggie. KU held him to 25 points on 25 shots but still only survived by two points.

    Curry returned for his junior season to prove himself as a valid NBA point guard prospect.

    A sexy stat line of 28.6 points, 4.4 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 2.5 steals per game earned him his second straight All-American selection, but a surprising loss in the SoCon tournament relegated the Wildcats to the NIT.

    Questions must have been answered, because Curry was made the seventh pick of the 2009 NBA draft.

    He has since become one of the league's most feared guards, leading the Golden State Warriors to the playoffs the last two seasons.

2. Doug McDermott, Creighton

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    Before Doug McDermott, the last man to earn three first-team All-American selections was Patrick Ewing from 1983-85. Before him came Ralph Sampson. Before him? David Thompson.

    That's elite company for a guy who wasn't even the most heralded recruit on his own high school team and played his first three college seasons in the Missouri Valley Conference.

    Overshadowed by future North Carolina Tar Heel/Golden State Warrior Harrison Barnes at Ames (Iowa) High School, McDermott was prepared to play for father Greg at Iowa State, only to follow him to Creighton.

    Doug led the Bluejays in scoring in all four of his collegiate seasons, with a very solid 14.9 PPG being his low water mark as a freshman. From there, he upped his average to 22.9 to 23.2 to 26.7, climbing from third to second to first in the nation.

    The Jays reached the round of 32 in each of the last three NCAA tournaments, unfortunately bowing out with an embarrassing 30-point loss to Baylor as a No. 3 seed in 2014.

    McDermott hung on long enough to break into the NCAA's all-time top five in scoring.

    During his senior season alone, he surpassed legends like Oscar Robertson, Danny Manning, Larry Bird and David Robinson.

    Doug's runaway success and the wins that resulted from his hyper-efficient scoring10th in career true shooting percentage since 1997-98 according to Sports Referencewere the direct causes of Creighton being invited to join the Big East for the 2013-14 season.

    McDermott played his final season under a banner that used to represent a major conference, but he was already a national star in the MVC. The Valley hasn't had any of those since at least Hersey Hawkins or Xavier McDaniel, if not Larry Bird.

    Again, more elite company for Dougie McBuckets.

1. Jimmer Fredette, BYU

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    When your name is attached to the suffix "-mania" and a Facebook thread devoted to showering you with biblical-grade hyperbole garners its own post on ESPN.com, you have well and truly arrived as a superstar.

    Jimmer Fredette managed all that, dominating college basketball in the 2010-11 season.

    Jimmer didn't set the world on fire as a freshman the way a Derrick Rose or Stephen Curry did, but he did record a solid 16.2 points and 4.1 assists per game as a sophomore in 2008-09. As a junior, Fredette improved to 22.1 PPG to lead the Mountain West Conference, and then dropped 37 on Florida for BYU's first tournament win since 1993.

    Then came that aforementioned 2010-11 season, Jimmer's senior campaign.

    A meaningless New Year's Day game against something called Fresno Pacific (then NAIA, now a Division II program) was the last time "The Jimmer" was held below 20 points.

    He dropped games of 47, 42 and 43 in conference play.

    He topped them all with 52 in a Mountain West semifinal win over New Mexico. He had people in that epic Facebook thread reciting multiple "Hail Jimmers" without fear of condemnation for idolatry.

    BYU even rolled to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1981, dealing a 22-point beating to future West Coast Conference rival Gonzaga in the process.

    The Cougars met up with Florida once again, and Jimmer went off once again (32 points), but he needed 29 shots to get those points and the Gators exacted revenge for the previous season.

    With that, it came to pass that BYU's pump-faking prophet collected copious national player of the year hosannas after finishing with a 28.9-PPG average.

    His journey took him to Sacramento after being drafted 10th overall and traded by Milwaukee. He spent two-plus seasons coming off the Kings' bench before being waived and claimed by the Chicago Bulls, who used him in a mere eight games.

    No way to treat a basketball deity, is it?

     

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