Some of you may have been following the ESPN feature celebrating the greatest college basketball players of all-time. If you did, you are aware only one Oklahoma basketball player made the illustrious list.
The special feature is titled “SportsCenter Special: College Basketball’s Greatest of All-Time” is one of the ways the 24-hour sports and entertainment network is filling the void in real-time sporting events resulting from nationwide actions taken to stem the rising tide of the global coronavirus pandemic.
The ESPN staff has created a 64-player bracket in the form of a GOAT College Basketball Tournament and is utilizing interactive fan voting as the means to advance players through the bracket. Both men and women players are included in the 64-player field.
Certainly it was not a difficult task coming up with 64 great college players of both sexes. The hardest part had to have been limiting the list to just 64. It wouldn’t have surprised me if no former Oklahoma Sooner — and there were plenty of very good ones to choose from — made the list, but one did.
The top four seeds, as chosen by a group of ESPN writers and commentators, are former UCLA star Lew Alcindor (now Kareem Abdul Jabarr); Breanna Stewart, who won four national championships with Connecticut; Duke star Christian Laettner, who is the all-time men’s NCAA Tournament scoring leader, and Bill Walton, who preceded Alcindor at UCLA and once scored 44 points in an NCAA Tournament game, making 21 of 22 field-goal attempts.
Alcindor is the top seed in the West Region, Stewart in No. 1 in the East, Laettner the top seed in the South and Walton leads the Midwest bracket.
Here is the full 64-player ESPN Tournament bracket.
Oklahoma’s Trae Young is the No. 13 seed in the South Region, and he is matched up with the No. 4 seed, Chamique Holdsclaw, a former Final Four Most Outstanding Player with Tennessee.
Young played just one season at OU, in 2017-18, and led the nation in both scoring (27.4 points a game) and assists (8.7 per game). His 848 points set a new Big 12 record for points by a freshman, breaking the record preheld by Kevin Durant of Texas and Michael Beasley of Kansas State.
Born in Lubbock, Texas, the son of Rayford Young, who played basketball at Texas Tech, Young grew up in and around the Oklahoma basketball program in Norman and went to Norman North High School. He was a home-grown prospect that head coach Lon Kruger and his Sooner staff didn’t want to get away.
Not the only former Sooner but clearly the most recent, Young was a first-round NBA draft selection (No. 5 overall).
There is no questioning Young’s extraordinary ability or his star status. He has earned that. But, I’m sorry, he is not the greatest Oklahoma basketball player of all-time. And he certainly didn’t play on one of the great Sooner teams of all-time.
Thanks largely to Young, OU won 12 of its first 13 games, but won just six of its final 19 to go a middling 18-14. The Sooners did make the NCAA Tournament that season, but only as a No. 10 seed, and lost to Rhode Island in their opening-round game.
Young was a consensus First-Team All-American, but he was not the only Oklahoma player to achieve that honor. Stacey King did it in 1989. Young was not a national player of the year. Two other Sooners were, however: Blake Griffin in 2009 and Buddy Hield in 2016. Those latter two former Sooners were also No. 1 overall NBA draft picks.
There have been quite a few great Oklahoma players from the past, including the aforementioned, but the greatest of all-time, in my opinion, was Wayman Tisdale. In addition to his exceptional basketball skill and ability, he also had an all-world smile.
Tisdale is Oklahoma’s career scoring leader with 2,661 points in three seasons and a 25.6 scoring average. He also holds the record for most points in a single season. Tisdale’s 932 points in 1985 and 919 in his sophomore year in 1984 stand No. 1 and No. 3 on that list. Trae Young’s 876 in 2018 ranks as the fourth best.
Tisdale was a three-time First-Team All-American and three-time Big Eight Player of the Year.
After three seasons at OU, Tisdale went on to star in a dozen seasons in the NBA.
Wayman Tisdale was and is the greatest Oklahoma basketball player of all-time. If any former Sooner deserves to be included among ESPN’s greatest 64 players in college basketball history it should be Tisdale. Hands down.