Like many of the writers here at The Daily Big Ten, my love for all things Big Ten began well before I ever actually attended a Big Ten University. Growing up in southwest Wisconsin, with a father who enjoyed live sporting events, it was only natural that I was frequently taken to games during my formative years in the 80s and early 90s to the closest geographical Big Ten arena – the Wisconsin Field House.
Now before you jump to any conclusions and believe that I’m a just some former Badger-lover who bitterly ‘settled’ for going to Minnesota, let me dispel this up front. My old man never forced any particular team on me growing up. He didn’t begrudge me the freedom to enjoy the color and fanfare of teams from an entirely different part of the country. He basically brought me along to take it all in and figure things out for myself. Come senior year, I was accepted into Purdue and Michigan, prior to selecting Minnesota, so it wasn’t a matter of grades or test scores. But, from about age 12 and on – I knew someday I would become a Big Ten alumnus.
And so, I ended up chosing my own troubled group of teams to pull for over the years. That said, I didn’t immediately gravitate to the Gophers that I so dearly love today. There I sat in the Wisconsin Fieldhouse, often neutrally watching basketball at the D-I level, sometimes getting caught up in the excitement of close games, but never really developing as a Badger fan. What can I say? Steve Yoder and Stu Jackson just didn’t take. And after going to many conference games, I dabbled for a spell as a Michigan man (er, kid) - loving their colors, and being impressed with the likes of Gary Grant, Roy Tarpley, and Glen Rice. I saw a lot of other big names roll thru the Fieldhouse (and usually beat the Badgers), and thus began my love of Big Ten hoops.
Feeling nostalgic of late, I decided to take a stroll down memory lane and present my list of All-Time favorite Big Ten Players, team-by-team. Not necessarily the best, but my favorite, some for good reasons, others that more closely follow the rationale of a 10-year old. Ok, so maybe my stroll down memory lane isn’t particularly distant (80s and 90s), but it probably is relative to the active web-browsing demographic. So here we go (alphabetically by school):
1. Illinois – Kendall Gill: A supreme dunker who played for the Illini from ’86 to ’90, I loved watching this guy fly around, and the battles they had against the ’88-’89 Michigan team are particularly entertaining. In his senior year, he averaged 20 ppg and shot just over 50%. Pretty damn good for a shooting guard/wingman.
2. Indiana – A.J. Guyton: This guy was not the typical type of player I usually gravitate towards. I typically lean towards the big, mean power forward-types who can rebound the ball, then shove their defender down, while they throw down a thunderous jam. DJ White would seem a natural choice, and not the slender shooting guard who could score and score and score some more. Sometimes you just gotta go with a shooter. Guyton was fun to watch when he had his shooting stroke going.
3. Iowa – Acie Earl: The sawed-off and pesky Andre Woolridge drew my consideration, but Acie wore a memorable flat top fade as well as anybody, and I’ve always enjoyed that look. He also wore a shirt under his jersey, which was just coming into vogue in the early 90s, and I definitely emulated that look in junior high basketball. When he went to work in the post, I remember thinking he looked like he was wearing stilts, but he was a still a highly effective Big Ten center, averaging 15 and 7 over his career.
5. Michigan State – Scott Skiles: One of the first college basketball games I can remember attending in person was in the mid-80s, when Jud Heathcote’s Spartans came into the Fieldhouse and pummeled the Badgers. I remember this pale, little red-headed kid whirling around giving out no-look behind-the-back passes and never, ever missing a shot. He made a very big impression on me that day. At least until I decided I like rebounding and two-handed slams better. Skiles career at MSU is totally overshadowed by Magic and Mateen, who delivered National Titles, but man, did Skiles put up some impressive numbers (27 ppg, 6.5 apg, 55% FG, 90% FTs).
7. Nebraska – Incomplete: Sorry Cornhuskers. Nothing personal, but your Big Ten tradition didn’t exist until this year. I’ve got nothing for you.
8. Northwestern – Tavaras Hardy: The tirelessly hard working T-Bone Hardy, was the Wildcat’s MVP during some dismal years, including Kevin O’Neill’s 0-16 in Big Ten play season. Here’s a guy who maximized his talent through effort, and did the ‘Cats proud during some tough seasons. His hard work rewarded, he’s now an Associate Coach under Carmody.
9. Ohio State – Scoonie Penn: I thought about going with Lawrence Funderburke. A fun name, and a Bobby Knight antagonizer – so he gets points in my book. But in the end I had to go with an even more fun player, Scoonie Penn. Quick to the hoop and a pretty good rebounder for being 5’10″, Scoonie was a Boston College transfer who became Michael Redd’s backcourt mate, and helped put OSU back on the map for basketball.
10. Penn State – John Amaechi: This Brit expatriate was a great center who transferred to Penn State from Vanderbilt shortly after Penn State joined up with the Big Ten. In his final 2 seasons at PSU, he averaged 16 and 9, and was pretty solid with his mid-range jumper. He may be known more recently now though for having the courage to come out publicly as a gay man, after years playing professionally in a sport where homosexuals are largely derrided.
11. Purdue – Cuonzo Martin: As much as I liked watching the Big Dog during his time at Purdue, I liked watching Cuonzo more, mainly because he was a tough as nails defender, who happened to be able to light it up from 3-point land too. The dude hit 45% of his 3′s during his career at Purdue. Nuff’ said.
So who’s on your favorite Big Ten players list? Step out of the comfort zone of your favorite team or alma mater and recall a player or two who you appreciated or enjoyed, despite his allegiance to another school. Let’s hear ‘em people!