Wednesday, April 15, 2009

College Basketball's Ten Greatest Dunkers

I just watched a program called "College Basketball's Ten Greatest Dunkers"; it actually originally aired during last year's March Madness but I think that the list is interesting and still timely, so I have reproduced it below, along with a few comments:

1) Darrell Griffith (Louisville): Known as "Dr. Dunkenstein" (like Darryl Dawkins' "Chocolate Thunder" and "Lovetron" references, this nickname has its origins with the Parliament Funkadelic band--in this instance, George Clinton's "Dr. Funkenstein" alias), Griffith had incredible hops that enabled him to do just about any kind of dunk imaginable even though he could not palm the basketball. He was listed as 6-4, but a December 1980 Sports Illustrated article insists that he was actually 6-3.

Griffith averaged 16.2 ppg during an 11 year NBA career spent entirely with the Utah Jazz, transforming himself from a high flyer to a mad bomber who twice led the league in three pointers made (1984, 1985) and once led the league in three point field goal percentage (1984). Griffith earned the 1980 Wooden Award while leading Louisville to the national title and he won the 1981 Rookie of the Year award after averaging 20.6 ppg.

2) Clyde Drexler (Houston): Clyde "the Glide" Drexler was a charter member of "Phi Slama Jama," Houston's high flying fraternity that nearly led the Cougars to a national title. In his prime, he truly did seem to be gliding through the air but even though he made his flights of fancy look easy, the exciting end results were actually the products of a lot of hard work. I have previously written, "Success at any form of competition is based on several factors: mastery of fundamental techniques, supreme focus on the task at hand and maintaining a state of calm in the heat of battle." Specifically, research has shown that 10,000 hours of "effortful study" is required to attain mastery in most fields. Drexler says, "Every dunk is like a custom made suit. It truly is tailored. It can't be duplicated. It wasn't thought out ahead of time. It was just tailored to that moment. Only after playing six, seven hours a day can you begin to even think like that. People think that it's genetic: 'You're a natural.' Sure--after seven hours a day for about 10 years in a row."

Drexler went on to win an NBA championship in 1995 as a Houston Rocket while playing alongside former Cougar teammate Hakeem Olajuwon. Drexler is a member of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players List and a Hall of Famer.

3) Vince Carter (North Carolina): "Half Man, Half Amazing" astounded crowds in the NCAA, the NBA and even the Olympics--who can ever forget when he literally jumped over the head of the 7-2 Frederic Weis?

Carter, the 1999 Rookie of the Year and an eight-time All-Star, put on arguably the best dunking exhibition ever while winning the 2000 NBA Slam Dunk Contest.

4) Dominique Wilkins (Georgia): "The Human Highlight Film" specialized in two footed takeoffs that resulted in powerful finishes, plus tip dunks of errant shots. Vince Carter admiringly says that Wilkins did dunks that no one else could do.

Wilkins won the NBA Slam Dunk Contest in 1985 and 1990 but many fans still think that he was robbed in 1988 in Chicago when home favorite Michael Jordan edged him out with a perfect score on his final dunk. A nine-time All-Star, Wilkins became a Hall of Famer in 2006.

5) Steve Francis (Maryland): Generously listed at 6-3, "Stevie Franchise" was an explosive dunker who could throw it down over players who were much bigger than he was. The 2000 co-Rookie of the Year made the All-Star team three times but never really seemed to fulfill his potential in the NBA.

6) Shaquille O'Neal (LSU): The "Diesel" candidly admits that every time he dunked the ball in college he was trying to tear the rim down. Understandably, no one wanted to get in his way when he had a head of steam. Young Shaq was quick, graceful and mobile while also having tremendous power. If only he had become as interested in blocking shots as he was in dunking...

O'Neal was a controversial selection to the 50 Greatest Players List (he had only been in the NBA for a short time when the list was made) but he certainly went on to prove that he belonged in that elite company.

7) Michael Jordan (North Carolina): Even though this is a list purely about college dunking skills, not pro dunking skills or overall greatness, seventh seems a bit low for "Air Jordan." Everyone knows his resume, so there is not much to say about the man who will be formally inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame this fall.

8) Darvin Ham (Texas Tech): Sort of a poor man's Dominique Wilkins, Ham delivered powerful dunks off of two footed takeoffs. He will always be remembered for breaking a backboard during Texas Tech's upset of North Carolina in the 1996 NCAA Tournament. He averaged 2.7 ppg in an eight year NBA career.

9) Harold Miner (USC): "Baby Jordan" could not live up to that unfair nickname but he was an excellent college player and a very creative dunker even though he, like Griffith and Francis, was not as tall as his listed height (6-5 in Miner's case). Miner's NBA career lasted only four seasons but he won two NBA Slam Dunk Contests.

10) Jerome Lane (Pittsburgh): Bill Raftery's "Send it in, Jerome" call helped to immortalize Lane's 1988 backboard breaking dunk versus Providence. Newly hired Arizona basketball coach Sean Miller provided the assist to Lane and jokingly says that he remembers the play as "the pass."

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