Top 20 players in the Calhoun Era

Check out the Sunday edition of Hearst Connecticut Newspapers (Connecticut Post, Stamford Advocate, Danbury News-Times and Greenwich Time) for a special section on Jim Calhoun and the past 26 years of UConn basketball.

Today, I’ll give you a little sneak preview.  I’ve ranked the top 20 players in the Calhoun era, based solely on their collegiate careers. This countdown, along with columns and rankings and all sorts of other fun stuff, will appear in print Sunday. Enjoy.

20. Josh Boone, 2003-06 — Boone started on the 2004 national championship team and anchored the front line for two more seasons. Statistically, his sophomore campaign (12.4 points, 8.4 points, 2.9 blocks) was his best.

19. Tate George, 1986-90 — Famous for “The Shot” (and now his involvement in an alleged Ponzi scheme), George ranks second at UConn in career assists (677) and steals (201).

18. Jeremy Lamb, 2010-12 — The 6-foot-5 shooting guard was an All-Big East selection as a sophomore, but his contribution during UConn’s 2011 NCAA tournament run earned him a spot on this list: Lamb averaged 16.2 points while shooting 58 percent as Kemba Walker’s sidekick.

Marcus Williams (AP)

17. Kevin Freeman, 1996-2000 — Freeman, an undersized power forward, muscled his way to 12.2 points and 7.3 rebounds (while shooting 59 percent from the field) in 1998-99.

16. Marcus Williams, 2003-06 — Simply put, Williams was the most prolific distributor in program history. He averaged 8.6 assists as a junior, and developed a penchant for the big shot (he almost single-handedly rescued UConn from disaster against sixteenth-seeded Albany in the 2006 NCAA tournament).

15. Scott Burrell, 1989-93 — The Hamden native played a major role in helping the Huskies gain consistent national relevance. He became the first Division I player to finish his career with 1,500 points, 750 rebounds, 300 steals and 275 assists.

14. Hasheem Thabeet, 2006-09 —
Because he’s underachieved in the NBA, people forget that Thabeet was one of the most dominant shot blockers in the modern era of college basketball. Opponents literally avoided the paint when Thabeet was patrolling. The big fella averaged 13.6 points, 10.8 rebounds and 4.2 rejections as a junior.

13. Khalid El-Amin, 1997-2000 — There was no stage too big for this pudgy point guard. El-Amin scored the team’s final four points in a 77-74 win over to Duke, putting the finishing touches on Calhoun’s first national championship. He scored 15.3 points and dished out 4.4 assists per game for his career.

12. Rudy Gay, 2004-06 — Gay led a balanced attack in 2005-06 with 15.2 points per game, earning first team All-American honors in the process.

11. A.J. Price, 2004-09 — No UConn player battled through more roadblocks — some just bad luck, others self-created — on the path to a successful career: A brain hemorrhage nearly jeopardized Price’s life, a dormitory laptop theft cost him a full year and a torn ACL in March, 2008 seemed to be the final straw. But Price bounced back incredibly, leading the Huskies to the 2009 Final Four while averaging a team-high 14.7 points and 4.7 assists.  He was one of the nation’s best guards as a senior.

A.J. Price (AP)

10. Doron Sheffer, 1993-96 — UConn went 87-12 overall and 49-5 in Big East competition during Sheffer’s three years. The versatile guard was at his best in the NCAA tournament, where he averaged 15.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 4.8 assists.

9. Cliff Robinson, 1985-89 —.Calhoun inherited Robinson when he arrived at UConn, and the 6-foot-11 center gave him three remarkable seasons. He averaged 20 points and 7.4 rebounds as a senior.

8. Chris Smith, 1988-92 — Bridgeport’s finest is still the leading scorer in UConn’s history (2,145 career points). He helped put Connecticut on the map, earning Most Outstanding Player in the 1990 Big East tournament.

7. Ben Gordon, 2001-04 —
Emeka Okafor was the more celebrated player, but Gordon was equally important to the 2004 title run. He scored a then-record 80 points in three games at the Big East tournament (of course, the record was shattered seven years later when some 6-foot-1 guard won five games in five days).

6. Caron Butler, 2000-02 — Butler was the team’s best player — and arguably the league’s top talent — during his two seasons in Storrs. The 6-foot-7 forward averaged 20.3 points and 7.5 boards as he led UConn Big East regular season and tournament titles in 2002.

5. Donyell Marshall, 1991-94 —
Marshall averaged 25.1 points as a junior — the best single-season mark in program history — en route to becoming a Calhoun’s first All-American.

4. Richard Hamilton, 1996-99 — As smooth a scorer as they come, Hamilton was lead dog for the 1999 NCAA champions. He hit numerous big shots — none more memorable than the buzzer-beating fadeaway against Washington in the 1998 Sweet Sixteen — and averaged 19.8 points for his career.

Ray Allen (AP)

3. Ray Allen, 1993-96 — Allen drilled 200 3-pointers in his final two seasons and the Huskies lost just eight games in that span. They ran into a juggernaut (UCLA) in his sophomore season, and fell one game shy of the Elite Eight despite 36 points from Allen. UConn earned the No. 1 overall seed in Allen’s junior year, but stumbled to a Sweet 16 loss to Mississippi State.

2. Emeka Okafor, 2001-04 — The lone Husky to win National Player of the Year, Okafor scored 17.6 points, pulled down 11.5 rebounds and swatted away 4.1 shot attempts per game. If he had stayed in college all four years and kept his pace, he’d hold the NCAA record for career blocks (Okafor blocked 441 in three seasons; Mississippi State’s Jarvis Varnado recorded 564 in four years).

1. Kemba Walker, 2008-11 — No player, perhaps in modern day college athletics, was more valuable to his team. Period. As a junior, Walker averaged 23.5 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.5 assists, statistically the best year in program history. Oh, he also willed the Huskies to 11 wins in 29 days, an unimaginable run that saw the entire team take on his guts and unrelenting drive. And don’t forget: A 23-point performance against Missouri in the 2009 Elite Eight propelled Calhoun to his third Final Four.