Classiest Classes: Where Do Two Recent Short-lived UK Groups Rank?
In 1965-66, the best team in the country might have been UCLA's freshman squad. The Bruins' frosh, led by 7-1 Lew Alcindor's 31 points and 21 rebounds, defeated the two-time NCAA champion UCLA varsity, 75-60. The yearlings compiled a 21-0 record, outscoring their opponents 113.2 points per game to 56.6. Starters for what is considered by some as the best freshman team in NCAA history included Alcindor (33.1 ppg and 21.5 rpg), forwards Lynn Shackelford (20.9 ppg and 9.3 rpg) and Kent Taylor (7.2 ppg) and guards Lucius Allen (22.4 ppg and 7.8 rpg) and Kenny Heitz (14.3 ppg).
Freshmen became eligible for varsity competition seven years later, but there are no guarantees despite a recruit's regal high school resume. In fact, UCLA had a couple of the most disappointing classes in memory in the previous 10 years. Michigan saw both ends of the spectrum with a couple of its freshman recruiting crops in the 1990s that were highly acclaimed. One lived up to expectations while the other went from feast to famine.
The "Fab Five" in the first half of the decade probably will stand the test of time and earn recognition among the best classes in college basketball history. On the other hand, guard Louis Bullock was all that was left at the conclusion of the Wolverines' promising 1995-96 freshman class that included Tractor Traylor (left early to become an NBA lottery pick) and Albert White (transferred to Missouri where he was the Tigers' leading scorer in 1998-99 with 16.3 ppg). Minus Traylor and White, Michigan posted an anemic 12-19 record in 1998-99 and finished in a tie for ninth place in the Big Ten (5-11).
In the aftermath of Michigan's recruiting hauls, Duke had an amazing series of regal freshman classes. The Blue Devils' 1997-98 freshman crop (William Avery, Shane Battier, Elton Brand and Chris Burgess) dominated the ACC and was well on its way toward challenging Indiana's superb group in the mid-1970s as the premier class of all time until Avery and Brand left school early for the NBA and Burgess transferred to Utah. The splendid original class was eventually regarded as superior to Michigan's "Fab Five" but with only two years intact won't boast the extended excellence to supplant Indiana's brilliant crew that included Quinn Buckner, Scott May and Bobby Wilkerson.
In 1999-2000, Duke's stunning freshmen included Carlos Boozer, Mike Dunleavy Jr. and Jason Williams. In 2002-03, the Devils' frosh class included guards Sean Dockery and J.J. Redick plus centers Shavlik Randolph and Shelden Williams. All of these groups were Final Four-bound.
As a means of comparison, the Blue Devils' outstanding class comprised of Mark Alarie, Jay Bilas, Johnny Dawkins and David Henderson embarked with an 11-17 mark in 1982-83 before concluding their collegiate careers with an NCAA single-season standard for victories (37-3 in 1985-86).
Ranking recruiting classes regarding their long-term impact on college basketball is risky business. For instance, does Michigan's Fab Five deserve more acclaim than Butler's mid-major level class that also reached back-to-back NCAA championship games? Where does Kentucky's terrific title trio this season deserve to be ranked insofar as it was around only one year? And what does the future hold for the elite recruiting classes assembled this season by Kentucky, Arizona and UCLA? Next year's UK crop is already being labeled as perhaps the greatest in collegiate history but it will do well to simply be better than four previous Wildcats classes (1978, 1983, 2013 and 2015).
It is a simplistic copout to accept the instant visibility of icon programs and automatically cite them among the most influential in college history. Classes from Alcorn State, Butler, East Tennessee State, San Francisco, Southern Mississippi and Wichita State are mentioned in this appraisal. In an era of "one 'n done" freshmen, extended impact becomes an even more vital factor in separating the premier recruiting classes.
There is little doubt that Kentucky's 2012 title team frosh class would have quickly moved up the pecking order if they had chosen to return. It's unlikely the NCAA will tamper with a nation's fascination with freshmen by making them ineligible. Following is CollegeHoopedia.com's view, factoring in length of tenure (undergraduates declaring for the NBA draft), of the premier recruiting crops (excluding junior college signees) since the introduction of freshman eligibility in 1972-73:
1. Indiana (class of '76)
Recruiting Class: Tom Abernethy, Quinn Buckner, Jim Crews, Scott May, Bobby Wilkerson.
Achievements: Last NCAA champion to go undefeated compiled a 63-1 record in last two seasons this class was intact, climaxing a run of four Big Ten titles. Reached 1973 Final Four with freshmen Buckner and Crews as starting guards under coach Bob Knight (May was ineligible as a freshman for academic reasons). Posted an amazing 59-5 conference mark while capturing four consecutive Big Ten titles. Abernethy, Buckner, May and Wilkerson all played at least five seasons in the NBA while Crews went on to coach Evansville and Army for more than 20 seasons
2. Duke (class of '01)
Recruiting Class: William Avery, Shane Battier, Elton Brand, Chris Burgess (transfer/Utah).
Achievements: Won 31 of 32 ACC games in two seasons together before Avery and Brand left early for the NBA draft. NCAA playoff runner-up in 1999 under coach Mike Krzyzewski
3. Georgetown (class of '85)
Recruiting Class: Ralph Dalton, Patrick Ewing, Anthony Jones (transfer/UNLV), Bill Martin.
Achievements: Won NCAA title in 1984, runner-up in 1985 and reached Final Four in 1982. Went 30-7, 22-10, 34-3 and 35-3 under coach John Thompson. The Hoyas' worst Big East record in that span was 11-5 in 1982-83 although their only conference crown was in 1984. Ewing was the only one of the group to play more than three season in the NBA.
4. Florida (class of '08)
Recruiting Class: Corey Brewer, Taurean Green, Al Horford, Joakim Noah.
Achievements: Brewer, Horford and Noah were top nine NBA draft choices as undergraduates after capturing back-to-back NCAA crowns in 2006 and 2007.
5. North Carolina (class of '06)
Recruiting Class: Raymond Felton, Rashad McCants, Sean May, David Noel, Bryon Sanders.
Achievements: Felton, McCants and May earned All-ACC honors in their final seasons as juniors when they captured the NCAA crown before becoming top 14 NBA draft choices.
6. Kansas (class of '03)
Recruiting Class: Nick Collison, Drew Gooden, Kirk Hinrich.
Achievements: Collison, Gooden and Hinrich each became an NBA lottery pick. After Gooden left early for the NBA draft, Collison and Hinrich were All-Americans in 2003 when the Jayhawks finished NCAA Tournament runner-up under coach Roy Williams. KU went unbeaten in the Big 12 Conference in 2002.
7. Duke (class of '03)
Recruiting Class: Carlos Boozer, Mike Dunleavy Jr., Jason Williams.
Achievements: Might have been the school's best if any of them had exercised all of their eligibility similar to teammate Shane Battier. Reached NCAA playoff final in 1999 and 2001 under coach Mike Krzyzewski.
8. Michigan (class of '95)
Recruiting Class: Juwan Howard, Ray Jackson, Jimmy King, Jalen Rose, Chris Webber.
Achievements: NCAA Tournament runner-up in 1992 (25-9) and 1993 (31-5) as freshman and sophomore starters. Howard, Rose and Webber became NBA first-round draft choices as undergraduates and each played more than 12 years in the league. Principal drawback is that none of the "Fab Five" was a member of a Big Ten Conference title team under coach Steve Fisher.
9. North Carolina (class of '10)
Recruiting Class: Wayne Ellington, Ty Lawson, Alec Stephenson (transfer/Southern California), Deon Thompson, Brandan Wright.
Achievements: Wright was a "one 'n done" recruit, but core of group cruised to 2009 NCAA crown by winning their playoff games by an average of 20.2 points.
10. Notre Dame (class of '81)
Recruiting Class: Tracy Jackson, Gilbert Salinas, Kelly Tripucka, Stan Wilcox, Orlando Woolridge.
Achievements: Final Four participant in 1978 and Midwest Regional runner-up in '79. Irish went 23-8, 24-6, 22-6 and 23-6 under coach Digger Phelps. Jackson, Tripucka and Woolridge were its top three scorers each of their last three seasons. Tripucka (26.5 ppg/15.3) and Woolridge (25.1/10.6) had long NBA careers where they flourished as scorers, posting a pro career-high scoring average significantly higher than their college career mark.
11. Louisville (class of '82)
Recruiting Class: Wiley Brown, Jerry Eaves, Scooter McCray, Derek Smith, Pancho Wright.
Achievements: Won NCAA title in 1980 with Brown, Eaves and Smith starting while McCray was sidelined with a knee injury. Reached the 1982 Final Four under coach Denny Crum. Went 24-8, 33-3, 21-9 and 23-10 with Metro Conference crowns the first three years.
12. Kentucky (class of '15)
Recruiting Class: Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague, Kyle Wiltjer.
Achievements: Undefeated SEC worksheet before capturing an NCAA title in their lone season together. Outside marksman Wiltjer was the only one not to declare for the NBA draft after their 38-2 freshman campaign under coach John Calipari.
13. North Carolina (class of '97)
Recruiting Class: Guy McInnis, Jerry Stackhouse, Rasheed Wallace, Serge Zwikker.
Achievements: Zwikker was the only Tar Heels representative for each of their three 28-win campaigns in this four-year span under coach Dean Smith.
14. Kentucky (class of '83)
Recruiting Class: Sam Bowie, Derrick Hord, Charles Hunt, Dirk Minniefield.
Achievements: Oft-injured Bowie played five years, reaching Final Four in 1984. Original class had respective records of 29-6, 22-6, 22-8 and 23-8, but never advanced beyond second game of NCAA playoffs. Captured three SEC championships in that span under coach Joe B. Hall.
15. UCLA (class of '77)
Recruiting Class: Marques Johnson, Wilbert Olinde, Gavin Smith (transfer/Hawaii), Jim Spillane, Richard Washington.
Achievements: Won [John Wooden's](coaches/john-wooden) final NCAA title in 1975. Washington left for the NBA a year early. Bruins went 26-4, 28-3, 28-4 and 25-4 with four Pacific-8 Conference crowns. Reached Final Four in '76 under coach Gene Bartow.
16. Ohio State (class of '10)
Recruiting Class: Mike Conley Jr., Daequan Cook, David Lighty, Greg Oden.
Achievements: Known as the "Thad Five" (when adding juco recruit Othello Hunter), the Buckeyes compiled a 35-4 as NCAA Tournament runner-up in 2007. Oden and Conley were top four NBA draft choices following freshman campaign.
17. North Carolina (class of '77)
Recruiting Class: Bruce Buckley, Walter Davis, John Kuester, Tom LaGarde.
Achievements: Lost 1977 NCAA playoff final (28-5 record) after posting similar marks (composite of 70-18) the previous three years. Captured ACC regular-season championships their last two seasons under coach Dean Smith.
18. North Carolina (class of '94)
Recruiting Class: Eric Montross, Derrick Phelps, Brian Reese, Clifford Rozier (transfer/Louisville), Pat Sullivan.
Achievements: Won NCAA title in 1993 after reaching 1991 Final Four as freshmen. Compiled records of 29-6, 23-10, 34-4 and 28-7 under coach Dean Smith. Only ACC regular-season championship was in 1993.
19. Illinois (class of '06)
Recruiting Class: James Augustine, Dee Brown, Deron Williams, Kyle Wilson (transfer/Wichita State).
Achievements: Bill Self's recruits became NCAA Tournament runner-up in 2005 under coach Bruce Weber.
20. Kentucky (class of '13)
Recruiting Class: Eric Bledsoe, DeMarcus Cousins, Daniel Orton, John Wall.
Achievements: Regional runner-up after winning SEC regular-season and league tournament titles in 2010 in their lone season together. All four recruits became NBA first-round draft choices.
21. Michigan State (class of '81)
Recruiting Class: Mike Brkovich, Magic Johnson, Rick Kaye, Jay Vincent.
Achievements: Recovered from embarrassing 18-point defeat to league cellar dweller Northwestern to win 1979 NCAA championship under coach Jud Heathcote with an average victory margin of 20.8 points. Went 25-5 and 26-6 and captured Big Ten titles in Johnson's two seasons before posting losing records (12-15 and 13-14) after he turned pro early.
22. Duke (class of '86)
Recruiting Class: Mark Alarie, Jay Bilas, Johnny Dawkins, David Henderson.
Achievements: Runner-up in 1986 NCAA playoffs with an NCAA-record 37-3 mark after going 24-10 and 23-8 the previous two years following an 11-17 worksheet as freshmen under coach Mike Krzyzewski. Senior season accounted for the group's lone ACC regular-season championship.
23. San Francisco (class of '79)
Recruiting Class: Winford Boynes, Bill Cartwright, Erik Gilberg, Raymond Hamilton (left after two seasons), James Hardy.
Achievements: Went 22-8, 29-2, 22-5 and 22-7 with WCAC championships the last three years. Boynes and Hardy were among the top 13 NBA draft picks after leaving school following their junior season when Dan Belluomini succeeded Bob Gaillard as coach. Cartwright was the third selection overall the next year.
24. Duke (class of '06)
Recruiting Class: Sean Dockery, Lee Melchionni, Shavlik Randolph, J.J. Redick, Shelden Williams.
Achievements: Three seasons with at least 28 victories as All-Americans Redick and Williams exercised all of their collegiate eligibility. Can't be ranked ahead of Michigan's Fab Five because they never reached a Final Four.
25. Kansas (class of '09)
Recruiting Class: Mario Chalmers, Micah Downs (transfer/Gonzaga), Brandon Rush, Julian Wright.
Achievements: Wright left school early for the NBA prior to KU's NCAA title in 2008. None of group was around for the 2008-09 campaign.
26. Syracuse (class of '06)
Recruiting Class: Carmelo Anthony, Billy Edelin, Gerry McNamara.
Achievements: Anthony, the 2003 Final Four MOP, led the champion Orange in scoring in five of its six playoff games. McNamara was Big East Conference Tournament MVP as a senior.
27. Connecticut (class of '07)
Recruiting Class: Josh Boone, Charlie Villanueva, Marcus Williams.
Achievements: Won 2004 NCAA title before each of them left school early for the NBA the next two years.
28. Kansas (class of '05)
Recruiting Class: Keith Langford, Michael Lee, Aaron Miles, Wayne Simien.
Achievements: Splitting time between coaches Roy Williams and Bill Self, this quartet combined for nearly 5,100 points.
29. Marquette (class of '09)
Recruiting Class: Dominic James, Wesley Matthews, Jerel McNeal.
Achievements: Recruited by Tom Crean and playing senior season under Buzz Williams, they combined for more than 5,400 points in compiling four 20-win seasons.
30. Arizona (class of '76)
Recruiting Class: Al Fleming, John Irving (transfer/Hofstra), Eric Money, Coniel Norman, Jim Rappis.
Achievements: Overshadowed by UCLA, UA's "Kiddie Korps" started off 16-10 before members of the original group went 19-7, 22-7 and 24-9 under coach Fred Snowden. Norman averaged 23.9 ppg and Money averaged 18.5 ppg before they turned pro after two seasons. Irving played one season with the Wildcats before transferring to Hofstra, where he led the nation in rebounding in 1975. Fleming became the school's all-time leading rebounder.
31. Purdue (class of '88)
Recruiting Class: Jeff Arnold, Troy Lewis, Todd Mitchell, Dave Stack, Everette Stephens.
Achievements: "The Three Amigos" (Lewis, Mitchell and Stephens) were instrumental in helping the Boilermakers compile a four-year record of 96-28 (.774), including a glittering 29-4 mark as seniors under coach Gene Keady. Lewis and Mitchell still rank among the school's all-time top 10 scorers. Group captured Big Ten Conference titles their last two seasons together. Stephens went on to have the most NBA experience with 38 games.
32. Wichita State (class of '83)
Recruiting Class: Antoine Carr, James Gibbs, Ozell Jones (transfer/Cal State Fullerton), Cliff Levingston.
Achievements: Posted marks of 17-12, 26-7, 23-6 and 25-3 under coach Gene Smithson. Group is somewhat overlooked because the school was on NCAA probation in 1982 and 1983. Levingston left after his junior year. Captured Missouri Valley Conference regular-season championships in 1981 and 1983. Jones played in the NBA with Carr and Levingston.
33. North Carolina (class of '99)
Recruiting Class: Vince Carter, Antawn Jamison, Ademola Okulaja.
Achievements: Coach Dean Smith must have been frustrated in his last two seasons that teams with talents such as Carter and Jamison lost a total of 18 games in 1995-96 and 1996-97.
34. Arizona (class of '05)
Recruiting Class: Will Bynum (transfer/Georgia Tech), Isaiah Fox, Channing Frye, Dennis Latimore (transfer/Notre Dame), Salim Stoudamire.
Achievements: Might have ranked higher if they didn't go through the turmoil of coach Lute Olson's swan song.
35. Kentucky (class of '78)
Recruiting Class: Jack Givens, Dan Hall (transfer/Marshall), James Lee, Mike Phillips, Rick Robey.
Achievements: Freshmen on UK's national runner-up in 1975. Givens (Final Four MOP), Lee, Phillips and Robey represented four of the Wildcats' top five scorers for the Wildcats' 1978 NCAA titlist under coach Joe B. Hall. UK had to settle for participating in the 1976 NIT when Robey missed more than half of the season because of a knee injury.
36. Kansas State (class of '11)
Recruiting Class: Ron Anderson Jr. (transfer/South Florida), Michael Beasley, Fred Brown, Jacob Pullen, Dominique Sutton (transfer/North Carolina Central), Bill Walker.
Achievements: Notched a 21-12 record in their only season together as Beasley and Walker departed for the NBA after freshman campaign.
37. Maryland (class of '81)
Recruiting Class: Ernest Graham, Albert King, Greg Manning.
Achievements: Graham, King and Manning all finished their careers with more than 1,500 points. The Terrapins went 15-13, 19-11, 24-7 (won 1980 ACC regular-season title) and 21-10 under coach Lefty Driesell.
38. Pittsburgh (class of '91)
Recruiting Class: Bobby Martin, Jason Matthews, Sean Miller (RS in 1990), Darelle Porter, Brian Shorter (Prop 48).
Achievements: All five players became 1,000-point scorers in their careers. The Panthers went 24-7 with a Big East Conference title in 1987-88 when they were freshmen before struggling the next couple of seasons under coach Paul Evans.
39. UCLA (class of '83)
Recruiting Class: Darren Daye, Rod Foster, Michael Holton, Cliff Pruitt (transfer/UAB).
Achievements: NCAA Tournament runner-up in 1980 as freshmen under coach Larry Brown. Won Pacific-10 title in '83 under Brown's successor (Larry Farmer). Compiled records of 22-10, 20-7, 21-6 and 23-6.
40. Georgia (class of '83)
Recruiting Class: Terry Fair, Lamar Heard, Dominique Wilkins.
Achievements: The Bulldogs averaged 19 victories annually from 1979-80 through 1982-83 after winning more than 14 games only once the previous 29 seasons.
(Underrated classes that didn't generate the headlines they deserved.)
Alcorn State (class of '85)
Recruiting Class: Eddie Archer, Aaron Brandon, Tommy Collier, Michael Phelps.
Achievements: Archer, Brandon, Collier and Phelps all finished their careers with more than 1,200 points. The Braves won three SWAC championships in four years from 1982 through 1985 under coach Davey Whitney, winning NCAA playoff games in 1983 and 1984 when they were eliminated by Georgetown and Kansas by a total of six points.
Butler (class of '12)
Recruiting Class: Gordon Hayward, Shelvin Mack, Ronald Nored, Chase Stigall (redshirt).
Achievements: Hayward nearly hit a game-winning half-court shot in 2010 NCAA title contest. Mack and Nored appeared in back-to-back NCAA championship games. Stigall went on to become one of the Bulldogs' top three-point shooters.
East Tennessee State (class of '91)
Recruiting Class: Greg Dennis, Major Geer, Keith Jennings, Alvin West.
Achievements: All four players became 1,000-point scorers in their careers. East Tennessee State coasted to three consecutive Southern Conference Tournament titles from 1989 through 1991 under coaches Les Robinson and Alan LeForce.
Iowa (class of '89)
Recruiting Class: B.J. Armstrong, Ed Horton, Les Jepsen (freshman redshirt), Roy Marble.
Achievements: George Raveling's final recruiting class with the Hawkeyes (including J.C. signee Kevin Gamble) all played in the NBA after helping Tom Davis capture national coach of the year acclaim in 1986-87.
Southern California (class of '89)
Recruiting Class: Jeff Connelly (transfer/Santa Clara), Hank Gathers (transfer/Loyola Marymount), Bo Kimble (transfer/Loyola Marymount), Tom Lewis (transfer/Pepperdine).
Achievements: The nucleus of USC's class, recruited by Stan Morrison, left to become stars in the West Coast Conference after a modest freshman season (11-17) when George Raveling arrived as coach.
Southern Mississippi (class of '88)
Recruiting Class: Casey Fisher, Derrick Hamilton, Randolph Keys, John White.
Achievements: Keys, Fisher, Hamilton and White all finished their careers with more than 1,300 points. The Golden Eagles, overshadowed in the Metro Conference by Louisville, won the 1987 NIT under coach M.K. Turk when each of the quartet scored in double digits.
Wake Forest (class of '82)
Recruiting Class: Mike Helms, Jim Johnstone, Guy Morgan, Alvis Rogers (RS in 1982).
Achievements: All four players finished their careers with more than 1,100 points under coach Carl Tacy. Morgan, Rogers and Johnstone each grabbed more than 550 rebounds. The Demon Deacons posted back-to-back 20-win seasons for the first time in school history (22-7 in 1980-81 and 21-9 in 1981-82 when they finished both years in third place in the ACC).