' ' Cinema Romantico: My All-Time College Basketball Team

Thursday, March 21, 2024

My All-Time College Basketball Team

We live in the golden age of GOATS, greatest of all times in the fields of basketball, tennis, football, fĂștbol, even Scrabble, as I recently learned, though I confess, all the GOAT calling is wearing me out. Iowa’s Caitlin Clark might well be the greatest women’s basketball player of all-time, but I’m of the opinion that if you haven’t gone back and watched Cheryl Miller, or Lisa Leslie, to name but a couple, play, you’re not qualified to make that call. (I’m also unqualified on grounds of partiality because I grew up ten miles west of where Clark grew up. That is to say, of course she’s the greatest women’s basketball player of all-time!) But after reading over the weekend how in the ongoing GOAT wars between Michael Jordan and LeBron James apparent bad actors are making specious arguments that the former couldn’t use his left hand, I felt as if it was probably time to call the whole GOAT thing off, or at least give it a rest for a few years. And besides, it has always seemed to me that the true illustration of taste stems less from who any given person views as the quote-unquote greatest and more from who they would cite as a favorite, or favorites.

So, after noodling on this for decades, on long car rides, on the train to and from work, and in meetings at work where I was probably ignoring PowerPoint presentations, as we stand on the precipice of the 85th Men’s NCAA Tournament, behold, I indulged my long-desired exercise and constructed my all-time men’s college basketball team. At this point, it probably goes without saying that these are not the greatest players. Though there are a couple NCAA champs, a former First Team All-American, a former Second Team All-American, this team is not about rings or resumes but something deeper and truer, an eccentric spirit that, to me, encapsulates why I have always preferred the college game to the professional one, a spirit that I can no longer say is indescribable because I am going to try and describe it right now.

 My All-Time College Basketball Team

F – Dallas Comegys, DePaul (1984-87). The gangly, 6'9" Comegys hailed from Philadelphia, same city as Earl Monroe, the so-called Black Jesus, which is appropriate, in a way, because Comegys spent his four-year career oscillating between savior and washout. Noted equally for immense skill and lethargy, NCAA tournament success and disappointment, Comegys was as evocative of college basketball’s propensity for unlikely private Catholic university powerhouses as he was of all the disinterested C students like me. 

F – Devin Davis, Miami of Ohio (1994-97). A power forward with a small forward’s height, the 6'7" Davis was a classic college basketball anomaly, further evoked in how he came to Miami (OH) from Miami (FL), and sported dreadlocks at a time when that was so rare people literally wrote articles about it. Honestly, I didn’t even know he existed until I saw his team upset Arizona in the 1995 NCAA Tournament, a game I watched in my high school library on the TV on top of the AV cart at lunch with a couple equally obsessed March Madness friends, where his unglamorous 90s game - defense, rebounds, elbows, offense almost exclusively around the rim - belied the verve with which he played. The beauty of March Madness is how it presents these unlikely heroes we only glimpse once, twice if they reach the second round, and yet never forget. For me, Davis remains the exemplar.

C – Pervis Ellison, Louisville (1986-89). An immaculate flat-topped post player who arrived at Louisville in the last season of no three-point line but who also ran the floor and could sink jump shots, Ellison was at once a throwback and a sign of the future, plus the possessor of the greatest nickname in basketball history, college or pro, Never Nervous Pervis. What’s more, in winning Final Four MVP by leading the Cardinals to the 1986 National Championship his freshman year, Ellison essentially peaked at his chosen sport despite playing three more seasons in college, going #1 in the 1989 NBA draft, and carving out a decade as a professional. I can’t say how he feels about it, of course, but to me, that anti-arc isn’t sad, just profound, a monument to college sports and perhaps the college experience in general, fleeting but forever.

Basically spotted up from the logo. This shot goes in, btw.

G – Al Dillard, Arkansas (1994-95). It’s appropriate that the so-called 3-D Dillard’s last name rhymed with Dame Lillard’s, of the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers cum Milwaukee Bucks, because decades before Dame, not to mention Caitlin Clark, the 6’1” guard on Arkansas’s 1994 National Champions and 1995 National Champion runners-up was already bombing three-point shots from logos. Indeed, a 24-year-old junior and a 25-year-old senior who only got to Arkansas after passing his GED exam and going through Southern Union junior college, the mirthfully swaggering Dillard scored points like he was making up for lost time.

G – Jamaal Tinsley, Iowa State (2000-01). Going to show that not all college success stories are commensurate, Tinsley came to Central Iowa as we all do, by way of Bed-Stuy in Brooklyn, where he dropped out of high school, and Mount San Jacinto Community College east of L.A. before settling in Ames on the Skunk River and becoming the cocksure conductor of back-to-back Big 12 champions. Raised basketball-wise in the legendary Rucker Park of Washington Heights, the 6'3" point guard infused a state that for most of my formative basketball watching years was in the thrall of the bounce pass fundamentals of Dr. Tom Davis’s Iowa Hawkeyes with extemporaneous, even reckless, revelatory New York playground spirit

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