The Final Four is arguably my favorite time of the sports year, and with that in mind, memories of Final Fours past always bubble to the surface. Teams and players will come up, and moments are re-lived. However, there are plenty of players who've made their mark during the Final Four, and with that as a backdrop, today's post is going to highlight the best Final Four players of all-time.
To prevent confusion (well, to lessen it), my list starts at my first memory of the Final Four, which was back in 1990, when UNLV won the national championship, so this list will go from 1990-2009. There's sure to be some kudos, as well as some obvious omissions, but that's another reason why this will be so much fun. This team is compiled of the players I think of, when it comes to what the Final Four is all about. There may be better players, but these are the ones that do it for me. Without them, there’s no way my Final Four experience would have been what it was, simply because they all made their mark, and made it memorable to watch.
Point Guard - Ed Cota (1997, 1998, 2000)
Ed Cota is easily one of my favorite college point guards of all-time, and to this day, I'm salty about not being able to watch him run the show for an NBA team. Make no mistake though; when Ed Cota was playing the point for Carolina, he was the most exciting point guard in college basketball. Some people discredited him, but once he led an underwhelming UNC team to his third Final Four in four years, even the small amount of naysayers he did have had no choice, but to give the man his props.
Shooting Guard – Gilbert Arenas (2001)
Before he was Hibachi or Agent Zero, he was simply Gilbert Arenas, the backcourt mate of Jason Gardner, who was a monstrous guard in his own right. Arenas put on a show in the National Semifinal against Michigan State, and if he was 100%, I truly believe the Arizona Wildcats beat Duke in the 2001 National Championship. On a team that was loaded with NBA talent, Arenas definitely held his own, and made his mark.
Small Forward – Shane Battier (2001)
Initially, my pick here was Carmelo Anthony, but with the makeup of my team, I need to have someone who’s a great defender, and Battier was certainly in the mold. Truth be told, he’s one of the…maybe two or three Duke players that I sincerely like, simply because he played hard, and even though he went to Duke, he never really gave off that aura of being cocky or arrogant. There’s absolutely no shame in having the man start for this team.
Power Forward – Larry Johnson (1990)
There’s no way I could have this list, and not have Larry Johnson on here. His Runnin’ Rebels are the reason I started watching March Madness. The way they used to dunk, talk reckless, start (and finish) fights, and just scare the crap out of opposing teams is something I’ll always remember. Johnson was always right there, ready for whatever, but more important than that, the man could flat-out PLAY.
Center – Chris Webber (1992, 1993)
Since the Fab Five remains the best collection of underclassmen of all-time, someone from the team had to be on here, and there’s no better player than Chris Webber. In those early days, we got a chance to see what was soon to come in the NBA, because the man could shoot, score, rebound, pass, and handle the rock. When five freshmen decide to do what the Wolverines did, a substantial amount of credit will be given to the boys who started it all, and that includes C-Webb.
Coach - Tom Izzo (1999, 2000, 2001, 2005, 2009)
There's no doubt in my mind that Tom Izzo is the greatest man who ever lived. Last year, the question was asked if he was the best coach in college basketball, but even if he isn't, it really doesn't matter, because when you look at his track record, and the recent teams he's taken to the Final Four, there's no doubt in my mind he's one of the best coaches in my lifetime.
Forwards – Carmelo Anthony (2003), Corliss Williamson (1994), Joakim Noah (2006, 2007), Ed O'Bannon (1995)
Guards – Jason Williams (Duke; 2001), Mateen Cleaves (1999, 2000), Ricky Moore (1999), Jalen Rose (1992, 1993)
Centers – Loren Woods (2001), Emeka Okafor (2004)
Mario Chalmers (2008) – Chalmers made one of the greatest shots of all-time against Memphis, but I still remember Ricky Moore playing out-of-this-world defense in the 1999 National Championship against Duke. In the end, the nod goes to him over Chalmers.
No Kentucky Wildcats – There were plenty of great players to choose from, but after racking my brain, I didn’t feel comfortable putting them over any of the people already on the team.
Marcus Camby (1996) – He was probably better than both Woods and Okafor, but I don’t really remember much about UMass’ run, except for them destroying my Hoyas in the Elite Eight that year. After that, my mind went blank. Loren Woods was really the only one who was worth a damn against Duke in the title game in 2001, and Okafor was straight dominant against Duke and Georgia Tech.