The best basketball player from every SEC West school
It’s basketball season in the SEC, a time known by most as “the football offseason” or “when Kentucky takes out their pent-up frustration on the rest of us.” Though few would argue that the SEC’s basketball history would compare with leagues like the ACC or the B1G, Southeastern Conference schools have been flush with individual talent since nearly the inception of the sport.
Let’s take a look at the best hooper from every school, starting with the West. The criteria, which is solely determined by me as I type this sentence, puts college accolades over pro, with only about a 70-30 split. Especially in a sport where talent often correlates to wins, the totality of one’s career has to carry at least some weight.
Anyway, let’s get started:
Alabama: Reggie King
As years of Alabama basketball come and go, Reggie King’s name remains atop the program’s all-time leaderboard. He’s still the Crimson Tide’s all time-time leading scorer with 2,168 points, and he’s second on the rebounding charts with 1,279 boards. Alabama played some of its best basketball under C. M. Newton, and King was their best player.
King didn’t have much of a pro career, but he was a force at Alabama and he will always be remembered.
Auburn: Chuck Person
Like most of you, I had Charles Barkley penciled in here, but upon further review, Sir Charles wasn’t even the best Chuck to play at Auburn. That title goes to his understudy, Chuck Person, who really blows him out of the water when it comes to college achievements. Barkley was for sure a better pro, but Person was no slouch there either, compiling a 13-year NBA career in which he averaged 14 points and 5 rebounds.
Where Person takes the lead, however, is with his decorated résumé as a college scorer and winner. Where Barkley’s teams played in one tournament game total — a first-round exit against Richmond — Person’s teams went much further. It should be noted that Person was on that team, and as a sophomore still outscored Barkley in his final college season. Person’s teams then went on a 5-2 tournament record in the 2 seasons after Barkley’s departure.
As for career achievements, Person has them all. He consistency was other-worldly with 68-straight 10-point games spanning 3 seasons, and 63 20-point games in his college career. That’s honestly one of the most impressive things you’re going to read today, folks. No wonder why he leads Auburn’s all-time scoring list and is one of two 2-time All-Americans in Auburn history.
Arkansas: Sidney Moncrief
Moncrief has the perfect mix of college and pro achievements. He finished with the second-highest scoring total with 2,066 points and he tied for the second-highest career rebounding average in Razorback history at 8.3 per game. Pretty crazy for a player that was only 6-3.
Sid “the Squid” was a 4-year letterman, compiling averages of 12.6, 15.4, 17.3, and 22.0 points per game while in Fayetteville – and he could do it all. When he was a finished product, Moncrief was an elite defender, a great scorer and rebounder, and a solid free throw shooter.
He would go on to have a storied NBA career where his Bucks teams would go as far as the Eastern Conference Finals. Moncrief carried his defensive prowess over to the next level, where he coupled his 5 All-Star teams with 5 All-Defensive teams and 2 Defensive Player of the Year awards.
LSU: Pete Maravich
It’s just stupid how good Pistol Pete was at basketball. He may be the best college basketball player ever, if not simply the best scorer. Maravich averaged 44.1 points, 6.6 rebounds and 5.1 assists during his 3-year college career. His yearly scoring averages, as well as his career total of 3,667 points, will likely never be matched. And even more incredible, he did it in just 3 years. LSU has a ton of contenders, including Shaquille O’Neal, Chris Jackson, and Bob Pettit, but none come close to the allure of Pistol Pete.
His teams weren’t very good, and the expectations of his father, then LSU coach Press Maravich, led to a pretty rough life for Pete, but he overcame all of that to put on the greatest show on the hardwood that college basketball has ever seen. His career-high was 69 points, and literally every longtime SEC media guide is littered with the aftermath of The Pistol under “opponent single-game high.”
As far as the NBA goes, Maravich is a Hall of Famer whose scoring prowess did not stop at the next level. He led the league in scoring with the New Orleans Jazz (back when that name still made sense) with 31.1 points per game in 1976-77. Pistol Pete was a 5-time All-Star and made the All-NBA team 4 times.
Mississippi State: Bailey Howell
Bailey Howell is the GOAT of Mississippi State basketball, plain and simple. Despite only playing for 3 years, he is the Bulldogs’ best all-time best scorer and rebounder, with career averages of 27.1 points and an even 17 rebounds per game. He was a 2-time consensus All-American, two-time SEC Player of the Year, and his name carries such weight that there is now a trophy named after him, which is awarded to the best male and female basketball player in the state of Mississippi every year.
Howell’s MSU teams were fierce, going 44-5 over his last 2 seasons, and somehow missing the NCAA tournament in 1958-59 despite a 24-1 record. They would finish third in the AP poll that year, which should be considered one of the best Mississippi State teams in history, regardless of the sport. They outscored their opponents by an average of nearly 15 points per game.
Ole Miss: Johnny Neumann
Look, we’re just going to have to throw the criteria out the window for this one. Johnny Neumann is just way better than anyone else who has ever played at Ole Miss and that’s it. It doesn’t matter that he only played one year (he averaged over 40 points a game that year). Career scoring numbers don’t matter when your leading scorer took four years to get to 2,328 points and Neumann got over 900 in a single season.
Yes, he was a bit of a maverick, and his decisions didn’t exactly represent the school, but he was just the best at Ole Miss. Period. He was a consensus All-American and the SEC Player of the Year in his lone season, and again, those averages were 40.1 points on 46 percent shooting, 6.6 rebounds and 3.2 assists. Just crazy.
Texas A&M: Acie Law
Though Acie Law doesn’t have some of the flashy numbers of his older counterparts, his impact on the Texas A&M basketball team helped revitalize the program for the modern age. During Law’s freshman season, the Aggies were a paltry 7-21, including a winless 0-16 in conference play. Their defense was ranked No. 304. It doesn’t get much worse than that for a Power 5 team.
When Law left 4 years later, the Aggies were coming off two straight Tournament appearances, and their No. 9 ranking at the end of his senior year was the best in program history. Their record improved every year, eventually leading to arguably the best team in Texas A&M history.
Sure, there are many things involved in turning around a program, but many players don’t do this:
Law’s senior season was something special, as he was a consensus All-American behind averages of 18.1 points, 5 assists and 3.3 rebounds per game. The 6-3 guard couldn’t miss, as he led the Aggies to a No. 3 seed by shooting 50 percent from the floor and 45.8 percent from 3-point range.
In the 94 years before Acie Law’s time in College Station, the Aggies had never been ranked in a final poll. Since then, they have made 3 polls in 11 years. What he did was make people believe that A&M could be more than a football school, and more than a doormat for the likes of Kansas and Texas. That belief is still true today, and it wouldn’t be possible without Law.