Big Ten Hoops Fans of Yore – Favorite Players of Yesteryear

January 5, 2012

B1G Hoops

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.

Today, we're going Old School.

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.

Gill skies for one of his many, many sweet dunks.

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.

Gotta have at least one shooter on my list, and Guyton fits the bill.

 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.

Acie - rockin' the flattop, and rockin' the rim.

 4. Michigan – Loy Vaught: For a stint in the late 80s, this guy was my absolute favorite basketball player, pro or college.  Part of Michigan’s legendary ’89 National Title team, Vaught was the less heralded workhorse of the team.  Glen Rice could fill it up, and Rumeal was flashy, but I like glass-cleaners who grab the ball with authority.  And if you liked that, then Loy was your guy.  By his senior year, he was a double-double machine, averaging 15 and 11.

Loy Vaught - doing what Loy does best. Rebounding.

 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).

Scotty Skiles - with hair!

 6. Minnesota – Courtney James: This might seem an odd choice for a Gopher fan who watched the likes of Bobby Jackson, Sam Jacobsen, Quincy Lewis, and Dusty Rychart in person for years. It might seem even odder, given that Courtney James spent only 2 short years on the Gophers, before being dismissed by the highly ethical Clem Haskins.  My boy ‘Court-Dawg’ was kicked off the squad due to a 5th degree assault charge, where James threw a phonebook at his girlfriend’s face, and then tried to restrict her breathing with said phonebook.  Be that as it may, James’ play was my favorite component of the 1996-97 Gopher squad that vacated their lone Final Four appearance.  Big and strong (6’8″ 270 lbs),  the ‘Court-Dawg’ simply overpowered his opponents with his size, and always seemed to come up with big rebounds when they were needed.

The Court-Dawg. This guy shoulda played tight end for Jim Wacker.

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.

Who has the better name OSU fans? Scoonie Penn or Lawrence Funderburke?

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.

John Amaechi - standing tall

 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.

The always underrated Cuonzo Martin.

12. Wisconsin – Patrick Tompkins: This guy was an absolute BEAST. Waukegan, Illinois’ own Patrick Tompkins was another over-muscled power forward who took to rebounding to another level. He could throw down put back jams that would get you out of your seat. This guy got all his numbers from cleaning up the garbage from Badger shooters Tim Locum, Billy Douglass, and Brian Good.  If Wisconsin would have had a few more guys like Tomkins, and a few less Billy Douglasses over the years, I might well have been a Badger.

Patrick Tompkins displaying the extent of his shooting range.

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!


About Gopher Bandanna Guy

Connoisseur of Steely Dan, Soundgarden, smoked fish, and Singapore Slings. D-Lions and Tigers fan since 1982. Proud Golden Gopher Alum, Class of '99. SKI U MAH!

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21 Comments on “Big Ten Hoops Fans of Yore – Favorite Players of Yesteryear”

  1. dusty 12 Says:

    MSU — 1A.) Magic. 2B.) Jay Vincent. They owned Lansing/East Lansing since they battled each other as rivals in high school. They’d pre-empt network TV to show Everett vs. Eastern HS game on prime time TV.
    Wisconsin — Joe Chrnelich. Clutzy workhorse who helped Wisconsin be the last team to beat Magic’s NCAA Champ Spartans. Wes Matthews would be here but he let his kid go to Marquette; he’s been excommunicated from Badger lore.
    Minnesota — Name escaping me: center, big, quiet but good. 80s. Mychael Thompson? He was just cool.
    OSU — Michael Redd. Second-most awesome dunk I’ve ever seen in person.
    Indiana — Billy, er, Quinn Buckner. Played for Bucks. (Well so did Benson — but he sucked).
    Purdue — Carl Landry. Purdue stole the jewel, left UW the junk.
    PSU — short little twin guards. Curtains?
    Iowa — Smokin’ Sam Okie….because they took him off UW’s hands.
    Illinois — Jeff Jordan.
    Nebraska — Have they had a memorable player yet?
    Michigan — The bench players during the Fab Five years. What tools.


    • Tony Says:

      You’re old.


    • Gopher Bandanna Guy Says:

      Mychal Thompson played from ’74-’78, not ’80s, but that’s probably who you are thinking of. You wouldn’t mistake Kevin McHale for being cool.

      The PSU twin guards you’re thinking of are the Crispin bros., Joe and John.


  2. Tony Says:

    Illinois: Nick Anderson

    Indiana: Calbert Cheaney.

    Iowa: Roy Marble.

    Michigan: Antoine Joubert, because he was just so ridiculous.

    Michigan State: Steve Smith.

    Minnesota: Courtney James.

    Nebraska: No idea.

    Northwestern: No idea. Shonn Morris?

    Ohio State: Jared Sullinger. If it has to be from past, Jim Jackson.

    Penn State: No idea.

    Purdue: Glenn Robinson.

    Wisconsin: Michael Finley.


  3. Tony Says:

    From Twitter:


  4. Gopher Bandanna Guy Says:

    I should also point out that my list of 11 players are all guys I saw in person at least once, and some multiple times. Not a prereq for your own list by any stretch, but I feel pretty lucky to have been to so many games as a kid.


  5. Rowdiesdotcom Says:

    Fun article GBG, here are mine (more or less):

    Illinois: Deron Williams

    Indiana: Evansville’s own Cal Cheaney

    Iowa: BJ Armstrong (probably the Bulls effect)

    Michigan: Jalen Rose (looked like he was playing lackadaisically, but was just real smooth)

    Michigan State: Shawn Respert (could light it up in college, not so much in the Pros)

    Minnesota: Q Lewis (Smooth shooter. Oh, and saw him a on flight once.)

    Nebraska: SoDak’s Eric Piatkowski

    Northwestern: Evan Escchmeyer or Geno Carlisle! (played against him at SPAC once)

    Ohio State: Mos def Jim Jackson.

    Penn State: Dan Earl (dishing and swishing with a nice sounding name via the PA)

    Purdue: Glenn Robinson

    Wisconsin: Can’t decide among either Alando Tucker, Michael Finley, or Danny Jones. (probably due to they being 1-2-3 among UW alltime scorers), so I’ll go with Kirk Penney, mate.


    • Tony Says:

      Wow, damn good list, Rowdie. I may need to edit.


      • Gopher Bandanna Guy Says:

        Yeah good stuff there Rowdie. I always preferred the more reckless and wild Dee Brown over Deron Williams during that Illini era, but Deron was always the superior player.


    • Dusty12 Says:

      Thank you Rowdie — Eschmeyer…that’s my NW pick too. I couldn’t remember his fricking name but he ate Wisconsin up in the Big Ten tourney one year…I think he ate them up every time UW-NW played during his tenure.

      I think he inspired Bo’s recruit-and-sign all the 6-10 white guys you can recruiting strategy.


      • Rowdiesdotcom Says:

        Thanks, D12. Because Bo caught on, the Wildcats’ strategy has shifted ever so slightly to Sign All 6’10” Eastern Europeans. . .


  6. AskTheWho Says:

    My picks won’t surprise anyone, but here they are none the less:

    MY favorites-
    Purdue- If I have to list one, I’ll go ahead and get it over with. Glenn Robinson. He only played three years, which to me means he couldn’t stand another year at Purdue.

    Ohio State- Jim Jackson. Baller. 1992 Best Player.

    Michigan State- Mateen Cleaves. Tallent and a killer fro.

    Illinois- Deron Williams. Won my fantasy basketball league for me, and for that I will pick him. He should have played at the real Assembly Hall, but his loss.

    Indiana- Alan Henderson. It would have been banner number six if he hadn’t had his leg broken in practice. He’s my all-time favorite Hoosier.

    That’s my list. I left off a lot if greats, but those are guys I remember having grown up in the 90’s and early 00’s. Go Hoosiers!!!


  7. SnappyTorto Says:

    Thank you for the stroll down amnesia lane! I remember quite a few Patrick Tompkins thunderdunks that rattled off the rim back to half court.

    In my mind those years in the Big 10 had the legendary coaches. Jud Thud, Dr. Tom, Gene Keady, Lou Henson, The General (known for his chair tossing) and Clem (before Ganglegate).

    I knew when I started reading that The Court Dog had to make the list! Perhaps you could make a list of your least favorites. May I suggest the tittle “Sandman List” in honor of your next favorite Gopher! Fife?

    Keep the great posts coming.


    • Gopher Bandanna Guy Says:

      Yes – good idea Snappy. I believe I will do a inverse version of this list, with the ‘Most Disliked Players’.

      Kyle Sanden will definitely be on the top of that list. Worst. Gopher. Ever.


  8. Tony Says:

    Lansing State Journal hoops reporter weighs in:


  9. Ben Hogg Says:

    As a kid who grew up in Madison, but ended up a Gopher I gotta weigh in on not necessarily the best, but oftentimes controversial & fun to watch….

    Illinois- Kenny Battle (he could fly! led em to the FInal Four)
    Indiana- Brian Evans (awkward lefty could light it up)
    Iowa- Chris Kingsbury (dude could pull up from half court!)
    Michigan- Sean Higgins (always up for a street fight)
    Michigan State- Shawn Respert (in range once he stepped in the gym)
    Minnesota- Quincy “Instant offense” Lewis (king of the 15-foot bank shot)
    Northwestern- Evan Eschmeyer (rebounding machine)
    Ohio State- Lawrence Funderburke (total badass)
    Penn State- The Crispin brothers (so annoying, yet so good)
    Purdue- Steve Scheffler (big & dirty like Laimbeer – easy to hate, fun to watch)
    Wisconsin- Willie “Ice” Simms (style points)/Andy Kilbride (once threw a punch at NW)


    • Jay Blasi Says:

      I grew up at the UW Fieldhouse. We would always arrive an hour or two before the game so I could stand next to the floor and return errant balls back to the players. As an elementary schooler that was pretty awesome.

      While wins were not at a premium the entertainment value was great.

      I miss the Fieldhouse!!!

      Some of my fondest memories against other teams are:
      Iowa — loss to BJ Armstrong and company. Lots of Hawkeyes in the building.
      Minn — Alley oop to Patrick Tompkins form Kurt Portmann
      Ind — Triple OT loss on Dean Garrett tip (refs screwed us 8 ways to Tuesday)
      Purdue — The big dog goes off for 42 (14 for 14 from the line). Lots of Gene Keady antics.
      Mich — I fell in love with the Fab Five. I got all 5 to autograph a magazine. It took hours before the game. Sure enough the only time I ever rooted against the Badgers — they beat the Fab Five.

      Of the Badgers — Willie Simms was my favorite.He had the flash and he was so nice. Always called me his homeboy. He would give me his towel after games. We even had shirts made up that said Willie’s Homeboy.Watching him climb on the scorers table and waive his towel after beating Michigan was pretty cool.


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