Okay, the debate raged as to whether Jake should be considered one of K-State's all time greats. We’ll get to that later. I thought I’d offer my opinion of the top eleven K-State players. My criteria for this list includes, in this order: (1) contributions to team success; (2) physical ability and basketball skills; and (3) leadership. This is my list. Others might well come up with a different list, with different players or a different order, and that would be fine.
With this criteria, I exclude Michael Beasley from consideration. I’m not going to include a one-and-done on this list. With respect to pure physical ability and basketball skills, Beasley would be #2 (behind Mitch Richmond) on my list. He just wasn’t around long enough for me to include him with the "all time greats."
Here is a link to the career individual statistics for KSU players:
My list starts with players from 1958 to date. To me, 1957 (the year of KU’s and Wilt Chamberlain’s triple-overtime loss to North Carolina in the NCAA championship game) is the beginning of the "modern era" in basketball. Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Oscar Robinson and Elgin Baylor all played in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Their influence on college and pro basketball simply cannot be measured because the color barrier broke (everywhere but in the frickin SEC) because of them, and I wasn’t around to see the guys from the 1940s and early 1950s play. So I can’t rate those guys, and besides, they played in a largely segregated game.
Another thing I do not buy into is the idea that because of "conditioning" today’s elite athletes are "better" than the elite athletes from 20 to 50 years ago. Does anyone really want to argue that Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Oscar Robinson and Elgin Baylor would not be NBA All-Stars today? If so, do it at a bar after your sixth beer, because I have no time for that nonsense.
I came up with my list by consulting a Wiki link which included all the KSU players that have played any pro ball either in the USA or overseas.
I recommend this link because it contains a good concise history of the KSU basketbal program and it includes a particularly a good history of KSU’s performance in the NCAA tournament.
Except for Bob Boozer, I have personally seen every player on my list play. Here it is, with a Wiki link or comments where appropriate:
1. Mitch Richmond. In my opinion, simply the best Wildcat ever. Just check out his Wiki link:
And these comments from another Wiki:
"The 1987-88 season also proved to be momentous in the rivalry. In the first matchup of the season, on January 30, 1988, Mitch Richmond scored 35 points to lead Kansas State to a 72-61 win to halt KU's then-record 55-game home winning streak. On February 18, KU turned the tables, prevailing 64-63 at Ahearn Field House in Manhattan to deny K-State a victory over KU in the old field house's last year. In what was supposed to be the rubber game, in the 1988 Big Eight Conference Men's Basketball Tournament, Kansas State won a decisive victory by a 69-54 score. However, the biggest was yet to come. Both teams qualified for the NCAA tournament, and after three wins each in the tournament they faced each other on March 27 in Pontiac, Michigan, for the right to advance to the Final Four. Led by Danny Manning's 20 points, KU turned a tight game into a runaway and prevailed 71-58. Kansas would go on to win the National Championship".
I was living in South Carolina in 1988. I returned to Manhattan for a watch party for that elite 8 game. The heartbreak has never healed.
2. Rolando Blackman. In the 1981 NCAA tournament, Blackmon made a game winning buzzer-beater mid-range jumper to beat #2 ranked Oregon State. The jumper resulted in a photo of the shot on the cover of Sports Illustrated. In 2002, USA Today ranked that game one of the 63 best in NCAA Tournament history.
Here’s his Wiki link:
Link to the Sports Illustrated cover:
Alas, the SI jinx, as KSU fell to a James Worthy led North Carolina team in the Elite 8 game, in Salt Lake City (I hate that town!).
3. Bob Boozer. Boozer is the only player on this list I did not see play college ball. I include him this high in deference to many of the really old timers who did see him play who believe he deserves to be this high on the list. And how can you argue against a guy who, in the sweet 16, was on the team that beat Oscar Robinson’s University of Cinncinati team? Boozer played on the 1960 Olympic team, and in the pros with Oscar Robinson, Jerry West and Elgin Baylor. Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bob_Boozer
4. Willie Murrell. I was nine years old in the 1963-1964 season. Willie was my first basketball hero. In December 1963, KSU lost to John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins, with Gail Goodrich and Walt Hazzard, by three points (the game was at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, as part of the old Sunflower Doubleheader - I thought we had played them in Manhattan - but KU played, and lost, to UCLA in Manhattan; so that is the game I saw in Ahearn - funny how the old mind plays tricks on you - but I digress). In March 1964, KSU again lost to UCLA in the semi-finals of the Final Four, despite a 29 point and 13 rebound effort by Murrell. This loss was to Wooden’s first NCAA championship team. Links:
http://www.mmbolding.com/Kansas_NCAA/1964.htm ( I really recommend this link to everyone - fascinating - names like Jim (Bad News) Barnes, Don Haskins, Paul Silas, Cazzie Russell - it’s a great read). Murrell was simply a great forward in Tex Winter’s triangle offense. As great as his performances were against UCLA, it was his effort in the Regional Final that older Wildcat fans say was the best ever by a Wildcat in an NCAA tourney game (until Jake’s effort against Xavier). We beat Wichita State IN WICHITA, at the Roundhouse. WSU had Dave Stallworth, a consensus first team All-American, and eventual first round draft pick for the NY Knicks. Murrell’s performance was key to getting us to K-State’s fourth Final Four.
5. Mike Evans. K-State’s all-time leading scorer. I was a junior at K-State his freshman year. He had the sweetest jump shot. He could pop it quick, off the dribble drive, head fake or off the catch. His offensive skills were second to none, and he was a fierce competitor. He started every game he was at K-State, and he did that for Jack Hartman, one of the toughest taskmaster coaches you will ever see. He shot 49% from the field for his career, and I would estimate that 40% of his shots were from today’s three point range. Had he played in the 3 point shot era, he’d have another 800 points on his school record. Mike Evans was involved in two of KSU’s bigger "heartbreakers" in our NCAA tourney history. In 1975, at the elite 8 level, we lost 95-87 to Syracuse. A guy named Rudy Hackett (I kid you not) traveled through the lane and threw in a 13 footer at the buzzer to tie the game in regulation. Blown call. Then, in 1977, we lost 67-66 at the sweet 16 level to eventual champion Marquette. That game was marred by controversy. For an explanation, check out this link"
Here is Mike’s wiki page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mike_Evans_(basketball)
6. Lon Kruger. Best pure floor general K-State has ever had. He led K-State to Big 8 titles in his sophomore and junior years. In 1972, as a sophomore, his team lost to Louisville in the Elite 8 game and as a junior his team lost to Memphis State at the elite 8 level. Unfortunately, we did not track assists when he played. If we had, I’m sure he would lead K-State in per game assist average. He was adept at running Jack Hartman’s complex offensive sets and he was a reliable shooter from mid-range. He just did not make mistakes. His coaching career gives you an idea of what kind of point guard he was.
7. Steve Henson. Only K-State player to make NCAA tourney for four consecutive years. Great point guard and a better shooter and scorer that Kruger. He was on the 1988 Elite 8 team that lost to KU. Henson played when the Big 8 had its best talent. In 1988, Henson’s sophomore season, 5 of the first 16 picks in the NBA Draft were from the Big 8. link:
The next year, Oklahoma’s Stacey King and Mookie Blaylock were the 6th and 12th pick in the NBA Draft. Henson held his own with all of them, including Blaylock, who had an exemplary NBA career. Henson played in the NBA for 6 seasons.
Here’s Steve’s wiki link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Henson
8. Chuckie Williams. Best long range bomber K-State has ever seen. I mean, from DOWNTOWN! And he shot a career 47%. Oh, if only the 3 point line had been in effect ...
Played #2 guard with Mike Evans on the 1975 Elite 8 team that lost to Syracuse. Williams had 35 points in that game. He might be higher on the list but his defense was only average and his ball handling ability was not superb. A first round draft choice who never really flourished in the pros.
9. Ed Nealy. Played on NCAA tourney teams in his sophomore, junior and senior seasons. He averaged 8.7 rebounds per game. He is on this list because he just did what he was asked: rebound and play defense. A review of his wiki page tells you why he’s on my list.
10. Denis Clemente. Readers here know this player. He’s on my list because I believe his unique physical gift of meth-lab-like SPEED created so many problems for the opposition that he made others on the team better. He was a leader that allowed HCFM to play the kind of ball HCFM likes to play. I’d take Denis, in today’s game, as my point guard EVERY YEAR, even before Henson and Kruger. You could truly build a team around this guy, and how he made Jake and Curtis Kelly better players should be obvious to all of us by now.
SO, WHERE WOULD I RATE JAKE? At #11. I have been somewhat critical of Jake in recent weeks, but I don’t think my criticisms have been unfair. When I started this project, I didn’t think Jake would be quite this high on the list. But when I judge him by the criteria I established for making the list, I believe he deserves to be this high. Had he brought more "leadership" and consistency to the table THIS YEAR he would have jumped a few spots, at least. But he didn’t. He has shown that he is not a really good point guard, and unfortunately, that is the role HCFM asked him to play this year. I simply don’t know why he is not a better point guard. He has the physical tools necessary to be a darn good point guard. But he simply makes too many mistakes. I assure you, Lon Kruger, Steve Henson, and Mike Evans did not make the kind and number of mistakes in a game that Jake does. Just didn’t happen. Based on his height, I’d have thought he was more likely to excel there rather than as a #2. But he hasn’t. And perhaps that is why I am more disappointed (as opposed to angry) with his play this year. Nonetheless, Jake deserves major respect for his role in making K-State basketball relevant these last four years and, as I have said before, his effort in last year's Xavier game is the single most courageous effort by a Wildcat that I can recall. For these reasons Jake deserves to be considered one of the all time greats. Now, if Jake can somehow elevate the play of this TEAM these last weeks of his senior year, I think he would have the chance to jump up there with Chuckie Williams - in that area of the list. I’m hoping he finds a way, as a senior leader, to get this team to live up to the expectations we had for the team going into the season. EMAW!