Round one of the NCAA Tournament tipprf off on Thursday and to celebrate, we’re building a team with the best players in New York college basketball history.
Only two New York colleges qualified for March Madness this season: Iona, the MAAC Tournament champion and 13-seed in the West Region; and Colgate, the No. 15 seed in the Midwest after claiming the Patriot Tournament title.
With the bigger schools like Syracuse and St. John’s failing to receive bids, we’re going to take a trip down memory lane and celebrate NY college basketball icons of years past.
To qualify for this squad, a player must have attended a school in the Empire State. So any player that was born and raised in New York but went out of state for school got cut following our team tryouts. We’ll also select a legendary NY college hoops coach to oversee the squad.
Point Guard: Speedy Claxton — Hofstra
The Hempstead, New York, native stayed in town for college, playing for years at Hofstra. Despite his small 5-foot-11, 166-pound frame, Speedy Claxton was an immediate difference-maker for the Pride.
As a freshman, he averaged 15 points, 3.4 assists and 1.9 steals per game. Those totals rose to 22.8 points, 6 assists and 3.3 steals per game by his senior season in 1999-2000, helping Claxton become Hofstra’s all-time leader in assists and steals.
Claxton played under future Villanova coaching legend Jay Wright throughout his time at Hofstra. But it wasn’t until Claxton’s senior year that the Pride made the NCAA Tournament.
The fun didn’t last long, however, as the No. 14-seeded Pride were immediately thumped in a 20-point loss to No. 3 Oklahoma State despite 20 points and seven assists from their senior leader, who ultimately returned to the Hofstra bench as the team’s head coach in 2021.
But with Claxton’s ability to pass the ball, all he needs is better scorers around him for a deep March Madness run. And that’s just what we’re going to give him with the rest of this squad.
Shooting Guard: Carl Braun — Colgate
We had to show respect to the old-school legends with this selection. Carl Braun was born in Brooklyn and was a strong baseball player, too. A pitcher, he was signed by the New York Yankees in 1947.
He was a bit slender at 6-5, 180 pounds but a gifted scorer. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find his stats from Colgate, but he was a playmaker for the Knicks for 12 seasons.
When he left the Knicks in 1961, his 10,499 points were tops in team history. He now ranks fifth in that category. He was also known for his obscure free throw motion, which is worth a search on YouTube.
Based on his NBA success, we’re sure Braun can get buckets for our all-time New York college team. It may just take him some time to get used to the 3-point line.
Small Forward: Chris Mullin — St. John’s
Chris Mullin and New York basketball go together like peanut butter and jelly. Mullin was born in Brooklyn and started shaping his game early on blacktops across the city.
Then, Mullin truly became a New York basketball legend when he stayed local and committed to play college ball at St. John’s. In his first year with the Redmen, now known as the Red Storm, Mullin averaged 16.6 points per game and set the freshman record for points.
No player in St. John’s history has scored more points than Mullin. He also made the most free throws, has the best free-throw percentage and the best true-shooting percentage in school history.
In Mullin’s senior season, he led the team to the Final Four but ultimately lost to Big East rival Georgetown.
Mullin was a well-rounded player. He was a playmaker that could create scoring opportunities for himself, but could also dish it off to a teammate. His strong defense would also make him a pivotal part of our team.
Power Forward: Carmelo Anthony — Syracuse
Back when Carmelo Anthony was a freshman at Syracuse during the 2002-2003 season, it wasn’t normal for a first-year player to lead the team. But Anthony’s talent was anything but normal.
He led the Orange to a 30-5 record and averaged a double-double in points (22.2) and rebounds (10) along the way. No Syracuse player had more points, rebounds, minutes played and free throws made that year.
But Melo’s dominance didn’t end in the regular season. Anthony dropped 33 points on Texas in the Final Four, setting a freshman record for an NCAA Tournament game. Then, he scored 20 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in the championship game to take down Kansas. It still stands as the only championship in school history.
Anthony was an unstoppable scorer and very athletic for his size. He’s the undoubted superstar of this team.
Center: Bob Lanier — St. Bonaventure
The Buffalo native Bob Lanier was a force for the Bonnies from the moment he stepped on campus.
But back then, NCAA rules only allowed Lanier to play on the Bonnies freshman team in year one. It wasn’t until his sophomore season that he started gaining national notoriety on the varsity squad.
His ability to score and control the glass was unparalleled. In his senior year, Lanier averaged 29.1 points and 16 rebounds per game.
In that same season, Lanier led St. Bonaventure to the Final Four. But in the previous game, the big man injured his knee and was forced to sit out the semifinal. Without their star player, the Bonnies lost to Jacksonville University and future Hall of Famer Artis Gilmore.
But on our team, we’re giving Lanier another chance at NCAA Tournament glory. Between him and Melo, every rebound is going our way.
Coach: Jim Boeheim — Syracuse
Who better to coach this all-star squad than Boeheim? He coached Syracuse for 47 years before his recent retirement.
In the 1,557 games Boeheim coached for the Orange, he held a 1,116-441 record; good for a .717 win percentage.
The 78-year old has also been to the NCAA Tournament 34 times. Five of his teams made the Final Four, and three of those squads played in the title game. But only the 2002-2003 team with Melo won it all.
Honorable Mention Bench Unit
As we mentioned, the spots in the starting five are reserved for players that attended New York colleges. But we’re willing to open up some seats on the bench for players born in the Empire State that left for college.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — UCLA
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (named Lew Alcindor at the time) was arguably the best college basketball player of all-time. He averaged 26.4 points per game, 15.5 rebounds per game and shot at a 63.9% clip in his career.
It all began in Harlem for young Alcindor, leading his high school team to a 79-2 record (including a 71-game winning streak) and three straight New York City Catholic championships.
In Kareem’s three years at UCLA, his team’s held an 88-2 record and went undefeated in their 1967 campaign. Abdul-Jabbar’s list of accolades goes on forever, but a few include: 1960s All-Decade Team, three Final Four Most Outstanding Player awards, NCAA Tournament and All-Time Team.
But what’s most impressive is the three consecutive NCAA Tournament champions Abdul-Jabbar won with legendary coach John Wooden.
Michael Jordan — North Carolina
Michael Jordan was raised in Wilmington, North Carolina. But he was actually born in Brooklyn and didn’t move south until he was around five. That’s good enough to make our honorable mention list.
MJ averaged 17.7 points and five rebounds per game in three seasons with the Tar Heels. He won the Wooden Award, the Naismith Award and the Rupp Trophy, to name some accomplishments.
Jordan held an 88-13 record at North Carolina and as a freshman, hit the game-winning shot to bring a national title back to Chapel Hill. Talk about starting your career off on the right foot.
Kemba Walker — UConn
We’ve got a pair of scorers on the bench in Abdul-Jabbar and Jordan, and now we’ve added a distributor in Bronx-born Kemba Walker. Of course, Kemba can get buckets, too. He averaged 23.5 points per game as a junior. But on this team, we’ve already got plenty of scoring options.
Despite only playing three college seasons, Walker holds 11 UConn school records. Some include: most points, minutes played, free throws and highest player efficiency rating.
In 2011, Walker and the Huskies won the national championship over Butler. But that’s not what most remember from his time at UConn.
Rather, they think of Walker’s step-back game-winner vs. Pittsburgh in the 2011 Big East tournament. With time ticking down and the game tied, Walker had the ball with a taller defender guarding him.
Walker proceeded to break the defender’s ankles before hitting one of the most iconic shots in college basketball history. The play earned him the nickname Cardiac Kemba.