The SEC's Best By Decade

The SEC's Best By Decade

The Southeastern Conference saw a couple of hundred real basketball stars play for its member institutions between 1951 and 2000. Trying to compile one team of players from the half-century would be trying at best, as an All-American in 1951 would find it hard competing in the lower classification of NAIA teams today. Taking it decade by decade (where players can be properly compared), here are the cream of the crop.

1951-1960
1st Team

Center--Bob Pettit (LSU)
Forward--Cliff Hagan (Kentucky)
Forward--Bailey Howell (Mississippi State)
Guard--Frank Ramsey (Kentucky)
Guard--Jim Ashmore (Mississippi State)

2nd Team

Center--Bill Spivey (Kentucky)
Forward--Jerry Harper (Alabama)
Forward--Rex Frederick (Auburn)
Guard--Johnny Cox (Kentucky)
Guard--Al Rochelle (Vanderbilt)

Honorable Mention

Joe Gibbon--Ole Miss
Denver Brackeen--Ole Miss
Zippy Morocco--Georgia
Ed Wiener--Tennessee
Gene Tormohlen--Tennessee

Bob Pettit: He was actually cut from his Baton Rouge High School team one year and had to earn his scholarship to LSU the hard way. Once there, it became apparent that he was the finest offensive threat in SEC history by the time he graduated. He went on to become a 10-time 1st Team all-NBA player and twice was named MVP

Cliff Hagan: In his senior year at Kentucky, he averaged 24 points and 13.5 rebounds per game for the consensus #1 team in the nation (UK finished 25-0 and refused an NCAA Bid). Hagan, 6-04 out of Owensboro, could play all five positions on the floor, but forward was his natural spot. As a pro, he teamed with Pettit as a member of the St. Louis Hawks, before joining the Dallas Chaparrals of the ABA (where he coached Vandy's Tom Hagan). Cliff was considered one of the most handsome men in NBA history, and he had a female following rivaling that of baseball's Eddie Mathews. He later served as Athletic Director for his alma mater.

Bailey Howell: In my opinion, Howell was the best all-around player in SEC history, better than Maravich. Think Mickey Mantle on the hardwoods. Howell averaged over 30 points per game at Middleton High School in Tennessee, before selecting Mississippi State as his college choice. With the Bulldogs, he averaged 27 points and 17 rebounds in his three seasons. He was awarded SEC Player of the Year in both 1958 and 1959, leading MSU to a 24-1 mark in his senior year. The stocky 6-07 forward could move like a guard and play under the basket like a center. When he played in the 1950's, 45% was considered excellent shooting; Howell shot over 55%. As a pro, he was a 6-time All-Star with the Detroit Pistons, Boston Celtics, Baltimore Bullets, and Philadelphia 76ers.

Frank Ramsey: A 6-03 guard out of Madisonville, KY, Ramsey was the perfect compliment to Hagan, when the K-Cats destroyed everybody on their 1954 schedule. Ramsey averaged just under 20 points per game with most of those points coming from outside (today's 3-point territory). He spent nine seasons in the backcourt with the perennial NBA champion Celtics, sharing duties with Bob Cousy and Bill Sharman.

Jim Ashmore: Mississippi State coach Babe McCarthy had lightning in a bottle with Ashmore. In 1957, when Howell averaged 26 points a game as a sophomore, the senior Ashmore tossed in 28.3 points per game. Ashmore had long range and knew how to get to the foul line, where he was deadly. He was the 32nd pick in the 1957 draft, but unfortunately, it was with the Celtics, who already had four of the top 10 guards in the NBA. Ashmore had no chance.

Of Note: Joe Gibbon was an All-American basketballer at Ole Miss, but his best sport was on the diamond. Gibbon pitched for the Pittsburgh Pirates, including two games of the 1960 World Series.

1961-1970


1st Team

Center--Dan Issel (Kentucky)
Forward--Neal Walk (Florida)
Forward--Pete Maravich (LSU)
Guard--Louie Dampier (Kentucky)
Guard--Don Kessinger (Ole Miss)

2nd Team

Center--Clyde Lee (Vanderbilt, right)
Forward--Leland Mitchell (Mississippi St.)
Forward--Pat Riley (Kentucky)
Guard--Roger Kaiser (Georgia Tech)
Guard--Tom Hagan (Vanderbilt, right)

Honorable Mention

A.W. Davis--Tennessee
Ron Widby--Tennessee
Tom Boerwinkle--Tennessee
Cotton Nash--Kentucky
Bob Andrews--Alabama

Dan Issel: Adolph Rupp believed this 6-08, 240 center out of Batavia, Illinois to be the player who got the most out of his talent. As a senior in 1970, Issel scored 34 points per game and pulled down 13 rebounds a game. His range was 20 feet, and he hit at a 55% clip. He got to the free throw line 275 times as a senior and hit 76%. The pro scouts thought he was too small, too slow, and couldn't jump, so after being drafted lower than he expected by the Detroit Pistons in the 1970 draft, he opted to sign with the Kentucky Colonels in the ABA. Issel grabbed the league scoring title as a rookie and kept up the pace the rest of his career, ending with several seasons as a member of the NBA Denver Nuggets.

Neal Walk: Walk, really a center, was placed here as he was the equal of Issel. Walk averaged close to 20 rebounds per game as a junior in 1968, and as a senior in 1969, the 6-10 native of Cleveland finished among the national top 10 in both scoring and rebounding. After his NBA career with the Phoenix Suns, Walk played ball several years in Israel. In the late 1980's, Walk was diagnosed with a malignant tumor in his spinal cord. The surgery permanently put him in a wheelchair. At the age of 41, Walk took up the sport of Wheelchair basketball. He was elected to the Jewish Hall of Fame

Pete Maravich: It would take a volume of encyclopedias to divulge all the pertinent information about Pistol Pete. He was the greatest scorer in the history of college basketball, and he could do things with the ball nobody else ever could, before or after. Combine the passing ability of all the top Harlem Globetrotters; the shooting ability of Larry Bird; the court knowledge of Bill Walton; and the floppy socks and hair of Davy Jones, and you get a composite of Maravich. Near the end of his life, he found peace in the Lord, but in his playing days, he was more in tune with the Devil. At Memorial gym, he once punched a Commodore in the stomach (The refs missed it).

Louie Dampier: In football, there are dozens of running backs who could stake claim to the best ever. However, it is a foregone conclusion that Jim Brown was the best of the best. In basketball, there are dozens of great shooters who could stake claim to the best outside shooter ever, but it's Dampier who was the best of the best. The tiny 6-00 guard out of Indianapolis had no equal when it came to the running jump shot. He made Kentucky's fast break lethal. Vanderbilt fans remember how he ended the Commodores' chance for repeating as SEC champs in 1966: He simply scored 20 points in the first 12 minutes of the game en route to a 42-point outburst. Dampier graduated from Kentucky owning a 50%+ field goal accuracy. He frequently shot from over 22 feet away from the basket. As a member of the Kentucky Colonels, he set the all-time ABA 3-point shot record. His last three years in the pros were spent in the NBA with San Antonio. He retired just as the NBA adopted the three-pointer.

Don Kessinger: Yes, he's the all-star shortstop of the Chicago Cubs! Kessinger was "The Secretary of Defense" in the Major leagues, but he was the biggest offensive threat the SEC had in the pre-Maravich 1960's. Kessinger once hit 22 of 28 field goal attempts in a single SEC game. He could hit from outside and drive the lane for inside baskets. He tended to draw lots of fouls and hit almost 85% from the charity stripe. He averaged over 22 points per game in his three years in Oxford. From there, he played 15 years of Major League baseball, garnering multiple all-star selections as shortstop. He was the Cubs' leadoff hitter for most of those seasons.

Of Note: From 1964 to 1969, Tennessee had at least one player named to the All-American team.

1971-1980
1st Team

Center--Leon Douglas (Alabama)
Forward--Bernard King (Tennessee)
Forward--Johnny Neumann (Ole Miss)
Guard--John Mengelt (Auburn)
Guard--Kevin Grevey (Kentucky)

2nd Team

Center--Rick Robey (Kentucky)
Forward--Reggie King (Alabama)
Forward--Jack Givens (Kentucky)
Guard--Ernie Grunfeld (Tennessee)
Guard--T.R. Dunn (Alabama)

Honorable Mention

Reggie Johnson (Tennessee)
Wendell Hudson (Alabama)
Mike Mitchell (Auburn)
John Stroud (Ole Miss) Kyle Macy (Kentucky)

Leon Douglas: Maybe the most underrated center in SEC history, Douglas was a force at both ends of the floor. He could score 20 points in 10-15 minutes and pull down 10-15 rebounds consistently. His intimidating defense allowed the Tide guards to gamble for steals, knowing they wouldn't get burned if they were beaten to the basket. Douglas led the Tide to at least a share of three consecutive SEC championships. The 6-10 center from Leighton, Alabama played seven years in the NBA with the Detroit Pistons and Kansas City Kings.

Bernard King: As a freshman for Ray Mears in 1974, King debuted by topping 40 points. King, a svelte 6-07 forward from Brooklyn, continued to be a consistent scorer and rebounder for the Vols, leading them to the 1977 SEC title. He left after three stellar seasons on the floor marred by several off the court incidents. As a pro, he continued scoring at a torrid pace. A knee injury caused him to miss parts of several seasons and eventually forced his retirement. He left with a 22.5 career average.

Johnny Neumann: Pete Maravich left LSU after the 1970 season. The SEC wondered if it would ever see a player who could average 40 points per game. It happened just one year later with the arrival of Johnny Neumann. Neumann was a 6-06 wing player from Memphis's Overton High School (he played against Vandy's Jimmy Conn and Steve Turner in high school). He averaged 40.1 points per game, including two games over 60, in his lone season of varsity action in Oxford. Averaging almost 35 field goal attempts from all over the floor, Neumann connected on better than 46% to go with a 77% free throw mark. Neumann, declared as a hardship case, joined his hometown Memphis Tams of the ABA (Memphis had the hardship and needed a drawing card). His pro career lasted little longer than his college career due to off the court problems. He returned to basketball as a coach in the CBA and later landed the head jobs in Europe and the Middle East.

John Mengelt: Mengelt often found himself overlooked, since he played in the shadow of Maravich and Neumann. Mengelt was a similar player to Louie Dampier; he had a little more size and a little less speed. Mengelt averaged 28.3 points per game as a senior at Auburn; he hung 60 points on rival Alabama the year before. When the Tigers led late in the game, the ball went to Mengelt who wrapped up several games at the charity stripe. He spent 10 years in the NBA, gaining some local fame with the Chicago Bulls where he retired to become their color analyst for television. Kevin Grevey: The Jerry West of the SEC. Grevey could do a little of everything for the Wildcats. He could score 30 points, both from the outside and in the inside. He could pull down a bevy of rebounds; he could run the offense; and he could stop the opponents' scoring threat. After averaging nearly 24 points as a senior and leading Kentucky to the NCAA Championship game, Grevey was a first round pick of the Washington Bullets, where he later won a championship ring.

1981-1990 1st Team

Center--Sam Bowie (Kentucky)
Forward--Charles Barkley (Auburn)
Forward--Dominique Wilkins (Georgia)
Guard--Chris Jackson (LSU)
Guard--Jeff Malone (Mississippi State)

2nd Team

Center--Will Perdue (Vanderbilt)
Forward--Kenny Walker (Kentucky)
Forward--Chuck Person (Auburn)
Guard--Carlos Clark (Ole Miss)
Guard--Vern Fleming (Georgia)

Honorable Mention

Derrick McKey (Alabama)
Durand "Rudy" Macklin (LSU)
Dale Ellis (Tennessee)
Elston Turner (Ole Miss)
Howard "Hi-C" Carter

Sam Bowie: I always thought he reminded me (looks and voice) of an old Yiddish immigrant who got a really good tan in Florida. He was a totally different player before missing two seasons to multiple leg injuries. Although he was 7-01, he could play either center or forward. Besides an excellent shooting touch for his size, he was an exceptional passer, quite often leading the Cats in assists. After coming back to play as a senior, he had the dubious distinction of being picked one spot ahead of Michael Jordan in the 1984 NBA draft. More leg injuries shortened his career. Bowie later became the radio color analyst for his alma mater.

Charles Barkley: "The Round Mound of Rebound" was known almost as much for his reputation at the dinner table as he was on the floor. Barkley was only 6-05, but he could rebound like he was six inches taller. As a forward at Auburn, he averaged only 14 points per game for his career, but he played at a time when 65 points was the average. He pulled down close to 10 rebounds a game, which was about as good as 13 today. Barkley hit 63% of his shots, many within one arm's length from the rim. After his college career ended a year early, Barkley spent 16 years in the NBA, retiring with a 22 point and 12 rebound average.

Dominique Wilkins: A smooth, cat-like player on the floor, Wilkins walked softly, but let his stat sheet speak loudly. After an injury-plagued freshman season, Wilkins emerged as one of the best players in modern day SEC basketball. He scored 22.5 points and 7.8 rebounds per game his last two years at Georgia. He played 15 seasons in the NBA, leaving a 25 point scoring average. Compare his stats to Michael Jordan, and you will see a similar player. Had he stayed at Georgia for his senior season in 1983, who knows how far the Bulldogs might have gone; without him, they made it to the Final Four.

Chris Jackson: He didn't match the feats of Bob Pettit or Pete Maravich, but Chris Jackson had the ability to score 40 points a game. Jackson topped 30 points a game as a freshman; he tailed off a little as a sophomore because he had to share the ball with two other big stars. In his second season, his free throw percentage was 91%! He wasn't strictly a shooter; Jackson averaged close to four assists per game as well. His pro career was marred by several incidents, most notably his refusal to stand for the National Anthem and Tourette's Syndrome.

Jeff Malone: Who knows how good this super shooter would have been in Starkville playing under today's rules. Malone spent two years having to endure the stall drudgery of Coach Bob Boyd. As a senior, in an offense that was no more up-tempo than today's Vanderbilt offense, Malone burned the nets for 27 points a game. If the three-point shot had been in effect, that average would have been over 30. Next to Louie Dampier, he was the next best outside shooter in SEC history. He spent 13 remarkable years in the NBA leaving with close to a 20 point career average. Following his playing career, he became a coach and now leads the Columbus Riverdragons of the NBDL. Michael Jordan called him the toughest player he had to guard.

1991-2000


1st Team

Center--Shaquille O'Neal
Forward--Jamal Mashburn (Kentucky)
Forward--Gerald Glass (Ole Miss)
Guard--Allan Houston (Tennessee)
Guard--Wesley Person (Auburn)

2nd Team

Center--Corliss Williamson (Arkansas)
Forward--Chris Porter (Auburn)
Forward--Ron Mercer (Kentucky)
Guard--Todd Day (Arkansas)
Guard--Billy McCaffrey (Vanderbilt)

Honorable Mention

Antoine Walker (Kentucky)
Ansu Sesay (Ole Miss)
Larry Davis (South Carolina)
B.J. Mackie (South Carolina)
Tony Delk (Kentucky) [Tie]
Scotty Thurman (Arkansas [Tie]

Shaq: Wilt Chamberlain of the SEC. His stats could have been much better, but the zebras didn't call half the fouls that were committed on him. He averaged 25 points (at a 62% clip), 14.3 rebounds, and 5 blocks a game his last two seasons at LSU. He is the top star of the NBA with multiple NBA championship jewelry. After his NBA career ends, he could step right into a motion picture career.

Jamal Mashburn: Credit Rick Pitino with making him the star he became. He became the Willie Mays of SEC basketball with the Wildcats. He could shoot from outside; take it to the hoop; run the fast break; dish the ball for an assist; steal the ball; rebound at both ends; and play excellent full-court defense. As a pro, his first three years were not far off from Magic Johnson's first three years.

Gerald Glass: He came to Ole Miss after two seasons of junior college ball. In his stay in Oxford, he reminded me of Elgin Baylor. A bulky 6-05 forward, Glass was as good as Mashburn. He averaged over 26 points per game in his Rebel career. His NBA career didn't go so well, as he could not play guard, and he was too small to play forward.

Allan Houston: Tennessee's only player to average over 20 points per game for four seasons, Houston combined the skills of Ernie Grunfeld and Bernard King into a body that looked more like Ron Widby. One of the SEC's best three-point shooters, Houston also had a quick move to the basket. Fouling him was a wrong move; he averaged 85% at the line. In the NBA, he has enjoyed a dozen-year career so far in which he has continued to score more than 20 points per game every season.

Wesley Person: A deadly three-point bomber, Person ranks up there with Louie Dampier and Jeff Malone as one of the deadliest outside shooters in SEC history. As a 2-guard, he led his team in both scoring and rebounding many times. His near 20 point career average and 7 rebound average complimented is +50% accuracy from the field and 44% three-point accuracy and 75% accuracy at the foul line. He continued to do damage behind the arc in the NBA, finishing in the top 10 five times.

The Five Best Zebras

#5: Don Shea: Shea was a consummate professional who looked more like a sparing partner for Jake LaMotta. He officiated during the 1970's and 1980's, and then became the supervisor for the conference. His calm handling of a major incident at the 1992 SEC tournament involving Tennessee's Carlos Groves' flagrant foul against Shaquille O'Neal prevented a catastrophe.

#4: Dale Kelly: Kelly was a referee by night and a Tennessee State Legislator by day. He didn't command many headlines, and that's what makes him so great. You left a game not knowing much about him. His reign was during the 1960's and 1970's.

#3 Paul Galvin: Galvin looked like a midget amongst the SEC redwoods. He officiated multiple Final Fours and at one time ranked near the top of the list with Hank Nichols and Irv Brown. Many coaches accused him of being in Joe B. Hall's pocket, but Galvin was a fine official.

#2: Burrell Crowell: Crowell was a character on the floor. He resembled baseball's Don Zimmer, and his gravely voice added to his persona. He carried a small rag to wipe the sweat off his brow during games and referred to it as his call-saver rag. If a coach got on him too much, he'd pull out the rag and tell the coach he was saving a call to go against that coach at a crucial time in the game (all in fun, but it usually shut up the coach).

#1: Lou Bello: There can be no other top choice but the clown prince of basketball officiating. Bello was the Richard Burton of referees. If you are old enough to remember Major League umpire Ron Luciano, Bello was even more theatrical. He would run and slide on his knees pointing to the very spot where a player committed a violation. In 1967, when Tennessee's Ron Widby was garnering All-American accolades, he called Widby an "All-American Bitcher" during a Vandy-Tennessee game at Memorial gym. He would have made a great official for the Globetrotters. One night in 1968 when LSU was playing at Georgia, Bello whistled a foul on Bulldog Tom Brennan (Vermont's head coach in 2005) after Pete Maravich flattened Brennan. Brennan complained, but Bello said "Hey, they a'int here to see you."

Bello was the only official I can remember ever to receive a standing ovation at Memorial Gym; when he was introduced as an official prior to a game, he came onto the floor with his hands raised like he was a boxing official proclaiming himself the winner of the match.

Note: Information for this article came from: All 12 SEC schools' official athletic web pages; The Louisville Courier JournalThe Jackson Clarion Ledger; Basketball Reference and each schools' media guide.

Next: Vanderbilt's all-time teams decade by decade

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