Basketball college is probably the most bizarre sport in which to pick an All-Decade team because a large percentage of the best and most important players are stuck for only 1/10 of it.
It was left to judge whether the impact of a single-game changing player for a single season replaced the performance of exceptional – but perhaps not dominant – athletes who contributed for three or four whole seasons.
It can be like comparing apples to shells.
Although there were no guys, we were able to choose a team full of players whose excellence will remain in college play for years to come – and who will remain legends forever in the programs lucky enough to now call them graduates.
Center: Anthony Davis, Kentucky (2011-12)
Why it’s here: It took Davis some time to find his place as a college student. He produced four single-game games in his first 11 appearances. When it came time to pick our team all over America, we didn’t include him in the first team – but we told everyone to expect that he would eventually be a Player of the Year. Not only did he do this, he became the most important player in the final four of 2012 and led the NCAA Championships. Davis continued to develop as an offensive player up until that weekend in New Orleans, improving his jump and adding a hook that wasn’t part of his arsenal earlier this year. The NCAA Tournament was the best player ever delivered in the ’10s.
With the numbers: Davis blocks 29 shots in the 2012 tournament, the second-best total.
Power Forward: Zion Williamson, Duke (2018-19)
Why it’s here: Williams entered the basketball world with 28 points on 11 of 13 shots in a 118-84 Kentucky loss and it was clear that I had never seen anything like it before. It became a phenomenon during his time with the Blue Devils, until it was no longer necessary to use his surname. Williamson shot 68 percent from the field, averaging 22.8 points and 8.9 rebounds, but the numbers do not convey his influence on Duke’s performance. The opponents fought the way they defended him and the only game in which he had not scored at least 11 points was the one in which he was injured after a minute. All that was missing from his resume was the appearance of Final Four, which was rejected by an Elite Eight loss to a point in Michigan State.
With the numbers: After returning from a notorious knee injury last March – an injury that has led many analysts to say he has to stop playing college basketball to protect Draft NBA status – Williamson showed his commitment of playing 258 minutes in the ACC and NCAA tournaments.
Small forward: Doug McDermott, Creighton (2010-14)
Why it’s here: As a teammate of Harrison Barnes High School in Ames, Iowa, McDermott was not widely recruited and signed a letter of intent to play in Northern Iowa. After McDermott’s father was hired at Creighton, UNI agreed to release him. He was injured for three years until the Missouri Valley Conference, averaging 14.9 points as a freshman and then averaging 22.9 points per game and 23.2 points. These skeptics who backed McDermott’s production were a product of mostly mediocre competition in the valley proved wrong when Creighton moved to the Big East before his season and Doug answered with his best season: 26.7 points per game and 96 3-pointers.
With the numbers: McDermott’s career total of 3,150 points ranks 6th in the NCAA. He is one of only 10 players in the top 3,000 career points and one in three with 3,000 points and 1,000 rebounds.
Protective spot: Shabazz Napier, Connecticut (2010-14)
Why it’s here: Napier was not the most impressive guard to appear in college basketball this decade, but who was the winner. Napier was a key contributor to UConn’s surprise NCAA championship of 2011, not starting but appearing 28 minutes per game in his last three games, all of which passed the Huskies in 2014. It was an All-American consensus in 2014 , when he scored 18 points and 4.9 assists. When Kentucky coach Julius Randle struggled 10 points for 3-of-7 shooting in the 2014 title game, Napier scored a loose 20 and hit 4-of-9 from 3-point range. It was never as spectacular as teammate Kemba Walker was in 2010-11, but Napier’s presence went down with a double impact – at least in ring terms.
With the numbers: After becoming a freshman as a sophomore, Napier never measured less than 35 minutes.
Protective spot: Jalen Brunson, Villanova (2015-18)
Why it’s here: Brunson’s junior season of 2017-18 was definitely the most dominant season for any player in this decade and we would have to reach at least Jameer Nelson’s 2013-14 season to find comparable performance. The difference, of course, was that Nelson’s heart was broken in the Elite Eight and Brunson went to stand on the podium and celebrate a second championship in three years. Brunson averaged 18.9 points and 4.6 assists, but those numbers were reduced by the abundance of Wildcats offensive tackles and passers. It all started with him, but it wasn’t necessary for Brunson to finish it. When Villanova overturned his offense, he dominated the position. When he stayed on the perimeter, he hit .408 on third-downs.
With the numbers: In 2017-18, Brunson shot 59.9% from the game on 2-pointers, converting 184-of-307. It is just 6-3.
Coach: John Calipari, Kentucky (2009-2019)
Why it’s here: Calipari arrived in Kentucky by establishing an excellent recruitment class. had worked for the landing of John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Xavier Henry and others while in Memphis. Everyone but Henry chose to follow him to the United Kingdom. He became the first of his teams to win 30 in the United Kingdom, but it was only after Anthony Davis arrived two years later that Calipari claimed his first NCAA Championship. He insists it was never a plan to build on promising prospects and many critics insisted he should try a different approach, but it’s difficult when even men who aren’t top prospects bloom and come in, too. (Goodbye, Tyler Herro!) Calipari kept Kentucky not only relevant, but essential through it all. The Wildcats reached the Elite Eight in 2010, 2017 and 2019, the Final Four in 2010, 2014 and 2015 and the top of the mountain in 2012.
With the numbers: 41.2 percent of Calipari’s 757 career wins to date have occurred in Kentucky.