The Best College Basketball Player Ever in North Carolina

The NCAA Basketball Tournament is underway, and once again the Duke Blue Devils team is a number one seed. They have lots of talent, but this year the guy to watch is named Zion. Biblically speaking that means the kingdom of heaven but playing against Zion Williamson has proven for many teams to be h*##.

Given that basketball is religion in North Carolina, that the NCAA tournament is underway and Zion mania, I began to wonder who the games’ most sainted player might be. Who was the best college basketball player ever in North Carolina? This would be the best player while in college, not a pro career. I thought that would be a simple Google search, right? Not so much.

When I entered “Best college basketball player ever in North Carolina” I got lists for UNC, and while as a Tar Heel partisan I might agree with that response, I really wanted results for the state. I next entered “Best college basketball ever in the state of North Carolina” and got the same information. Nothing seemed to give a list representative of all the state’s colleges.

Failing that, I thought I’d search by the Big Four schools: Duke, N.C. State, UNC and Wake Forest. I realize that omits Division II schools and HBCUs but thought this would give me lists of players over a longer time. Several lists popped up, and all four schools were rated by “Ranker NCAA Basketball,” which seemed to be a vote by fans. I was a curious fan so that seemed a good place to start.

But I thought it’s always good to have an “expert” opinion, so I looked to Bleacher Report, a collection of sports journalists and bloggers with a website. While the Ranker survey seemed a popularity contest, I thought the Bleacher Report should be more reasoned. Let’s look at the top five players from each list to compare.

The most consistent ranking was for Wake Forest, both having #1 — Tim Duncan, #2 — Chris Paul, #3 — Muggsy Bogues, #4 — Randolph Childress. There was a big divergence at #5, with Rankings showing Josh Howard, and Bleacher showing Dickie Hemric. Who?? Dickie Hemric, who played in the 1950s, was the third player in NCAA history to surpass 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in his career.

The most mixed up was for Duke. Ranking listed #1 — Grant Hill, #2 — Christian Laettner, #3 — Kyrie Irving, #4 — J.J. Reddick, #5 — Zion Williamson (Seriously? Not a whole season played and there he is). Bleacher went with #1 — Christian Laettner, #2 — Bobby Hurley, #3 — J.J. Reddick, #4 — Shane Battier, #5 — Mike Gminski. Again, they are taking a longer view.

The easiest one to evaluate was for N.C. State. That’s because Bleacher didn’t do a “Greatest N.C. State Basketball Players of All Time” list. The Ranking list had #1 — David Thompson, #2 — Thurl Bailey, #3 — Tommy Burleson, #4 — Tom Gugliotta, #5 — Rodney Monroe. (But what is Bleacher saying here?)

The most disparate list was for UNC. The Ranking list had #1 — Michael Jordan, #2 — James Worthy, #3 — Vince Carter, #4 — Bob Mc Adoo, #5 — Sam Perkins. The Bleacher list had #1 — (Get ready) Tyler Hansbrough, #2 — Michael Jordan, #3 — Phil Ford, #4 — James Worthy, #5 — Lennie Rosenbluth. In the 1950s Rosenbluth achieved various All-America honors, led in scoring for two seasons, as a senior was named NCAA Player of the Year, and had other MVP honors.

So looking at the #1 picks, that’s Tim Duncan from Wake Forest, Grant Hill or Christian Laettner from Duke, David Thompson from N.C. State, and Michael Jordan or Tyler Hansbrough from UNC.

Still no clear answer on who was the best college basketball player ever in North Carolina. What to do? Well ask some guys I know, of course. I started with my ex-husband (Fan 1), a sports lu-natic (as in a cross between a lunatic and fanatic) and he chose David Thompson. So did my current interest (Fan 2), a more than passing sports fan. Then I asked a former boss (Fan 3), a more than passing sports fan also. He chose Christian Laettner.

So what about area experts? I asked Bobby Gutherie with the N. C. Sports Hall of Fame. He chose David Thompson. So did WRAL-TV sports anchor Jeff Gravley.

Let’s review the #1 picks by school.


Ranking — Grant Hill: Three time All-American and three time All ACC selection, 1994 ACC Player of the Year. Contributor to NCAA Championship teams in 1991 and 1992, scored 1,924 career points, 218 steals, and at 6’8”, one of the first “point/forwards.”

Bleacher — Christian Laettner: Immortalized for his buzzer-beater against Kentucky in the 1992 national semis, his remarkable numbers are 2,460 points, 1,149 rebounds and 145 blocks, all placing him in Duke’s all-time top five.

N.C. State

Ranking — David Thompson: Three time All-American, twice College Player of the Year, three-time ACC Player of the Year, 1972–73 led NCSU to undefeated season, 1973–74 helped NCSU defeat Marquette in NCAA Championship game, 1974 NCAA Tournament MVP. Nicknamed “Skywalker” because of 44-inch standing vertical leap. “Alley-oop” pass play invented by him and Monte Towe because at the time dunking was banned in college basketball. Reportedly, Michael Jordan said David Thompson was the player he looked up to.

Bleacher — No list of greats from N.C. State


Ranking — Michael Jordan: Two-time first team All-American, won most National Player of the Year awards in his junior year (1984), 1982 ACC Freshman of the Year, 1984 ACC Player of the Year. In his first year hit the game-winning jump shot for the 1982 NCAA Championship against Georgetown. Ability to leap and hang led to the moniker “Air Jordan.”

Bleacher — Tyler Hansbrough: ACC All Conference team for the four years, and on some type of All America list for four years. He was ACC Freshman of the Year in 2006 and ACC Player of the Year in 2008. He is the ACC’s all-time leading scorer (2,872), and the first player in ACC history to lead his school in both scoring and rebounding all four years. He holds the NCAA record for career made free throws (982), the ACC record of 20-point games in a career with 78. In 2008 he won the Wooden Award and was National Player of the Year.

Wake Forest

Ranking and Bleacher — Tim Duncan: He is the only Naismith Award winner to play at Wake Forest and was the first player in NCAA history to record 1,500 points, 1,000 rebounds, 400 blocks and 200 assists in a career.

So does one of the top picks from each school deserve to be considered the best college basketball player ever in North Carolina? What about selections from my casual inquiry of fans?

Fan 3 — Christian Laettner: Two NCAA titles, Final Four MVP, two-time all American, College Player of the Year, ACC Player of Year, two-time ACC Athlete of the Year, hit one of the most famous shots in NCAA tournament history (against Kentucky), and as a bonus was the only college player on the Greatest Basketball Team of All Time, the ’92 Olympic Dream Team.

Fan 1 and Fan 2, Sports Hall of Fame rep and WRAL sports anchor all chose David Thompson as the best college player ever in North Carolina. His accolades are at the Ranking results above.

But hold the presses! Bleacher report does have a list of the 25 best players ever in the ACC, and the top five are all from North Carolina schools. The list is #1 — David Thompson, #2 — Tyler Hansbrough, #3 — Tim Duncan, #4 — Christian Laetnner, #5 — Michael Jordan.

So who does it seem really is the best college basketball player ever in North Carolina, not as a pro but in college? This survey at first seemed to lean toward Thompson or Laettner. But as a true Tar Heel, I just can’t pick one of them. Then the Bleacher Report list of the best players ever in the ACC really muddied the waters. I still can’t pick. How about you?

Sources include,, and



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