The Lawrence Journal-World just completed their reader-driven contest to determine the best KU basketball player of the last decade. Weird timing, yes, since apparently everything that happened in the spring of 2000 gets pushed back to the 90s. But fun anyway.
It was interesting looking at their brackets – they went position-by-position – and realizing how unique KU’s pool of talent over that period was. Until a year ago, no one had left after a single season in Lawrence. Before that, only one player left before his junior year. 1 Thus, there are really only a couple elite players at each position. I would imagine schools like Kentucky, North Carolina, and Duke would have much deeper lists since they’ve had a lot more one-and-doners.
Next, it’s funny how big an effect the events of the spring of 2008 had on the balloting. Guys who played on that team get, I estimate, at least a 30% bump in the voting. Sasha Kaun was a fine player, and had a fabulous senior season, most notably being the only guy who didn’t look nervous in the Davidson game. But the title run helps you forget how frustrating he was his first three years, when he had trouble holding on to the ball, routinely got worked over by mobile big men he was guarding, and picked up tons of cheap fouls. Nets hide a lot of warts.
Aaron Miles is one of the best pure point guards to ever play at KU. But he gets buried in the competition having to face Kirk Hinrich and Sherron Collins. Throw in the title bump for Russell Robinson and I bet Aaron would have finished fourth in an open vote.
Keith Langford is one of my all-time favorite KU players, both because he got the most out of his considerable talents and was not the typical jock off the court. But put him up against Mario Chalmers and it’s no contest.
The most interesting battle is at point guard where Hinrich and Collins were the finalists. In many ways they are total opposites and in others they were mirror images of each other. The tall, skinny white kid from a small high school in Iowa against the short, stocky black kid from Chicago’s inner city. Both burned to win, were never afraid to take the big shot, and have a career full of game-changing plays to their credit. Hinrich was a monster against Arizona in the 2003 Regional Final and fueled the frenetic pace of the ’01-03 seasons. Sherron was only involved in the two biggest plays in KU history. That’s a tough one.
Nick Collison won the fan voting as player of the decade, and that’s a fine choice. He was another guy who got every last ounce out of his talent, has represented the school well as a person and professional, and had some of the biggest individual games of the decade. He also had perhaps the best in-game quote of the decade. “I’m going to the Final Four. You can either get out of my way or help me.”
He led a final five of Hinrich, Chalmers, Brandon Rush, and Drew Gooden. You can’t complain too much about that starting five, although I think most would agree that Sherron is 1B to Hinrich’s 1A at the point. For different reasons, you can make a reasonable argument that any of those players was the best of the last ten years. No coach would turn down a bench of Collins, Langford, Xavier Henry, Marcus Morris, and Wayne Simien.
The final takeaway is KU had a fabulous decade. It’s easier to remember the 2008 postseason and the seasons when KU fell to lower seeded teams in March than the continuous run of excellence. Despite a traumatic coaching change, the program has been as successful as any other in the game.
The mention of VCU 2 still upsets my stomach, but, all things considered, it was a pretty fantastic decade for Kansas basketball.