Gosh, this is so hard. Historically, Alabama basketball is nowhere close to being as good as Alabama football, but along the way, Bama hoops has cranked out some really good players and really good teams. Wimp Sanderson was largely responsible for bringing the best players to the Capstone, but other NBAers like Richard Hendrix and Maurice “Mo” Williams trickled in in later years.
First off, let me give a quick qualifier. I’m not talking about the four players who had the best career at while at Alabama. In that case, I might have mentioned Reggie King or Leon Douglas or someone else of that magnitude. I’m talking about the best players to ever play for Alabama, including their time in the NBA.
Alabama’s biggest problem in basketball is that it has never been able to land a truly great player. I’m not talking about a one- or two-time NBA All-Star type player. I’m talking about a Top 50 All-Time player. Auburn did it when it landed Charles Barkley. Alabama has had some good players, but nothing of the caliber or Barkley or Clyde Drexler or even Dominique Wilkins. Somehow, that type of player has always eluded the Crimson Tide and continues to do so.
These days, most of the supreme in-state talent prefers to go to places like Kentucky and Michigan State, and who can blame them? Alabama rarely competes on a national level and its tournament participation is spotty.
Sanderson did an incredible job of luring talent to Tuscaloosa, and getting players like Derrick McKey, Latrell Sprewell, and Robert Horry was impressive enough. Mark Gottfried did a fine job of recruiting, but still was never able to land the elite player of Barkley’s stock. Anthony Grant knew Xs and Os but couldn’t recruit himself out of a wet paper sack, and Avery Johnson has done a decent job of bringing talent to T-town. For instance, Collin Sexton was a good pickup for Johnson and will end up being an NBA All-Star, but he’s not a Top 50 guy. And because he hasn’t had time to build a professional profile, he doesn’t make our list.
So who are the Top 4 players in Alabama basketball history? That’s a toughie.
Let me begin by saying it’s hard not to put Antonio McDyess in the Top 4 of all-time Alabama basketball players. So I won’t do that—not put him on there I mean. Originally I had McDyess out and Gerald Wallace in, but after further consideration I feel that McDyess had the better overall career. At one time, McDyess was one of the best players in the NBA. Had he have continued on his Denver clip, had he not had a major knee injury, we would probably be talking about McDyess as the greatest player to ever come out of Tuscaloosa. But unfortunately that didn’t happen.
But how do you not put Gerald Wallace in? I mean, at one point he was also one of the best players in the league. Wallace’s main problem was that he played on sucky teams.
Had Wallace made the list, he would have been the only player originally from the state of Alabama. He grew up in the small town of Childersburg and was recruited by then-Alabama coach Gottfried. He enjoyed one semi-productive college season where he averaged 9.8 points per game (I felt like he underachieved, and Gottfried didn’t get the most out of him), but truly blossomed in the professional ranks. After being drafted by the Sacramento Kings, Wallace reached his peak as an NBA player with the Charlotte Bobcats. He was named an All-Star in 2010 but had his best season in 2007-08 when he averaged 19.4 points per game. Wallace was a 16-year NBA veteran, posting a career scoring average of 11.9 points per game.
Close, but no cigar.
But then again, how do you not put Derrick McKey in? A native of Meridian, Mississippi, McKey played three seasons for Sanderson. His best season was 1987, when he averaged 18.6 points per game and led the team to a 28-5 record. After being named Southeastern Conference (SEC) Player of the Year, he was picked ninth overall by the Seattle Supersonics in the 1987 NBA Draft. He enjoyed his best years in Seattle, averaging more than 15 points per game for three straight seasons (1988-91). In 1993-94, McKey, along with swingman Gerald Paddio, were traded to the Indiana Pacers for Detlef Schrempf. During his 15-year NBA career, McKey amassed 10,266 points, 4,387 rebounds and 2,254 assists. He was perhaps more greatly lauded for his defensive skills; twice, he was named to the NBA’s All-Defensive Second Team.
No cigar for you either, Derrick. Dommage!
Without wasting any more of your time, here is the Rushmore of All-Time Alabama basketball players:
“Mo” Williams was the NBA player with nine lives. Although he only played 13 seasons in the NBA, it seems like he played forever, maybe because he did work for seven different teams and was all over the place. Despite the constant change in uniforms, he posted the most consistent pro career of anyone who makes the list. He averaged 13 points per game in his career and was the point guard on Cleveland’s only NBA championship in 2016. He never made an appearance on All-Star weekend but he was plenty good. For three straight years from 2006-09, he averaged more than 17 points per game and dished out 5.5 assists per game.
Antonio McDyess’ professional career spanned from 1995-2011 and statistics-wise is essentially split in two. He had his glory years with the Denver Nuggets. Across six seasons in the Rockies, McDyess averaged 17.3 points per game and reached a scoring average of 20 per game in 1998-99 and 2000-01. During that time, he was the Nuggets’ best player, as in both seasons McDyess averaged a double-double and led the team in scoring. He was named an NBA All-Star in 2001. McDyess even represented his country on the U.S. Olympic men’s basketball team.
The second half of his career was not so productive, however. After a knee injury in 2002, McDyess was never the same player again. He played for the Knicks, Suns, Pistons, and Spurs, but never averaged more than 10 points per game. After his injury he became a critical role player in both Detroit and San Antonio. He was a great compliment to the Wallaces in Detroit—Ben and Rasheed—and helped the Pistons win the Eastern Conference and move on to play the Spurs in the NBA Finals. Later, McDyess emboldened center Tim Duncan while a member of the Spurs.
McDyess is probably remembered most for his athleticism. He was a great leaper, rebounder, shot blocker, and scorer. And if he found open court between himself and the rim, expect a behind-the-head two-handed flush or a one-handed tomahawk jam.
Sprewell came to Alabama in 1990 after a two-year stint at Three Rivers Community College (Missouri). After a middling first year, the 6-foot-5 guard averaged 17.8 points per game in his second season in Tuscaloosa, helping the Crimson Tide to a 26-9 record. Sprewell went on to an illustrious and controversial NBA career, one that witnessed him become one of the toughest and best players in the league, while at the same time he was arguably one of the more dangerous and unpredictable individuals to ever grace the parquet floor. One cannot mention his career without mentioning in the same breath the 1997 incident when Sprewell choked his coach, P.J. Carlesimo, during practice. Scoring-wise, his best season was 1996-97 when he averaged 24.2 points per game with the Golden State Warriors, but Sprewell will probably be remembered most for his time with the New York Knicks, especially the 1999-2000 team that went 50-32 and lost to the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals. Sprewell was voted to the NBA All-Star Game on four occasions and posted a career scoring average of 18.3 points per game.
The pride of Andalusia, Alabama, “Big shot Bob” has more rings—seven—than Michael Jordan and many grandmothers who order their costume jewelry on QVC. Horry only played for four NBA teams, but he played for those teams at quite the opportune time. Take, for instance, his four-year stint with the Houston Rockets from 1992-96. It just so happened that this was during the tenure of Hakeem Olajuwon, who, in bringing back-to-back NBA titles, turned Houston into Clutch City. Horry was clutch, too, as in Game 1 of the NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs he hit this shot:
After playing for the Phoenix Suns for one season, Horry joined the L.A. Lakers with a young Kobe Bryant and a hungry Shaquille O’Neal. There, Horry collected three more championships, bringing his total up to five. But he wasn’t done. He joined the San Antonio Spurs in 2003 and added two more rings—one in 2005 and another in 2007.
Although he only averaged 7.0 points per game for his career, it seems like he always had a nose for championships—and a thirst for the big moment.
At the end of the day, you just can’t leave a guy with seven rings off of your list.
So that’s it. What do you think? Did we get it right? H&A
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