Before we start in on this, two ground rules:
Time matters: extra years will add weight to a player's value. Some guys that were great over one or two seasons (think T.J. Warren) didn't make the First or Second All-Century Team in favor of guys that were very good for four.
Winning counts: putting up huge numbers on a bad team doesn't necessarily mean anything. This list is about the guys who did it all, and only two guys on either team didn't win a National Championship.
All right, let's get started.
Player of the Century:
If there’s a perfect comparison for Tyler Hansbrough’s career at Carolina, it has to be what we’ve seen from Tim Duncan in San Antonio (not when he was a Demon Deacon and National Player of the Year). Both of them came onto their new teams (Hansbrough as a freshman, Duncan a rookie) as fully-formed basketball players, nearly achieving their full potential in their first season. Duncan was a First Team All-NBA player in his first season. Hansbrough was a First Team All-ACC player as a freshman and finished second in ACC Player of the Year voting after averaging 18.9 points and 7.8 rebounds per game.
Like Duncan, he stayed with one team for longer than he needed to, finding huge success over a sustained time – particularly late in his career. Duncan won the NBA title last year, which will probably be one of his last, and Hansbrough left UNC after winning a National Championship in his senior year.
Like Duncan, Hansbrough has often been overlooked in the conversations of greatest of all time because of his consistent, unorthodox and at times unexciting play-style and personality. Fans have been drawn to their more dynamic teammates like Ty Lawson, Danny Green (not really that dynamic except for his dunk on Greg Paulus, but he works for both!), and Tony Parker, but both of these bigs were the foundation for their success.
If there’s one clip that defines Hansbrough’s career, it’s the one below. Getting the ball on an ugly offensive rebound with little time left, Hansbrough knocks down a below-the-rim shot to win the game… and then celebrates with the least swag ever.
There were only really two options for this award, though somewhat surprisingly, Roy Williams and Coach K have combined to win just three of the fifteen ACC Coach of the Year Awards since 2000.
They’ve won four National Championships.
That’s where coaches should really be measured. Unlike a player, who can have the misfortune to play with bad teammates, a coach really controls about every aspect of his program. He recruits his players, coaches them up, chooses who gets minutes, implements his schemes and creates the schedule. A good coach should win games, and both of these guys have.
Both of these guys have won… a lot. Since the 2003-04 season, when Roy Williams took over the top spot at Carolina for Matt Doherty, he has gone 308-89 (77.58% win rate, almost identical to Dean Smith’s), won six regular season ACC championships and two ACC tournaments. He has been to five Elite Eights, three Final Fours, and won two National Championships.
As good as Williams has been, though, Krzyzewski has been even better. Since 2000, he’s gone 444-92 (82.84%), won five ACC regular season championships and a crazy nine ACC Tournaments. He, too, has gone to five Elite Eights, three Final Fours, and won two National Championships.
But though Williams has done almost everything Krzyzewski has done in less time, we’re giving the edge to Krzyzewski because of his consistency (he hasn’t missed the NCAA tournament this century, Williams did once), because of his winning percentage, and because Roy Williams’ first national championship came with someone else’s players – of the eight players to score 100 points that season, Roy Williams had only recruited Marvin Williams. It’s still incredible that he was able to win a title against a very good Illinois team, but he didn’t do every aspect of the job like Krzyzewski did in his 2001 and 2010 wins.
And Coach K hasn’t had any major cheating scandals.
This was a close one between Parker and Hansbrough, but in the end I went with Parker for a few reasons. First, Parker was a First Team All-American selection a season ago while Hansbrough was a Second Team pick back in 2006. Both were named Wayman Tisdale National Freshman of the Year, but it’s more impressive for Parker because of the class he entered with. Hansbrough entered school in the very last season before the one-and-done rule was implemented, meaning that top recruits Gerald Green (Ranked #2 nationally by Scout), Monta Ellis (#3), Martell Webster (#4), Lou Williams (#5), Andre Blatche (#6), Andrew Bynum (#9), and C.J. Miles (#10) all declared for the NBA out of high school, leaving just Hansbrough, Josh McRoberts, and C.J. Miles among the top 10 who actually went to college.
Parker had to compete against Andrew Wiggins, a guy who set the record for most points by a freshman at Kansas, Julius Randle and the Kentucky bunch who went to the national championship game, Aaron Gordon, and a bunch more.
Their statistics are about the same, but Jabari has a slight edge there, too. Hansbrough averaged 18.9 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. Parker averaged 19.3 and 8.8.
All of these are slight, but it’s all just enough to put Parker over the edge.
Jay Williams, Duke: 1999-2002
Who else could it be? There was a logjam for the Second Team point guard, so much so that we picked three of them and still somehow left off both Ty Lawson and Chris Paul, but there was no question that the 2002 Naismith Player of the Year was the best lead guard in the conference since 2000.
If you want to talk about stats, he had those. Finishing with 2,079 points in just three years, he might still be the ACC’s all-time leading scorer if he’d chosen to return to Duke for his senior year rather than declare for the NBA draft.
Williams racked up trophies in his final season (2002) at Cameron Indoor, delivering on a Preseason ACC Player of the Year prediction by averaging 21.3 points, 5.3 assists, 3.5 rebounds, and 2.2 steals. He swept the National Player of the Year voting, was named ACC Player of the Year and made his second consecutive Consensus First Team All-America.
He had the team success to back those stats and accolades up, too. In his very best season, he and another player on the First Team led Duke to a National Championship in 2001. While he didn’t win Most Outstanding Player, he did lead all players in tournament scoring at 25.7 points per game. Duke finished that season with a 35-4 record.
Just as impressive, though, his worst season in Durham was a 29-5 campaign which ended with Duke being eliminated in the Sweet 16, losing to a Mike Miller-led Florida team who would go on to play in the National Championship game against Michigan State.
He was the type of player that made you think Duke was going to find a way to win every game, even when they were down by ten points with a minute to go.
J. J. Redick, Duke: 2002-2006
Most of the players on this list – whether it be on the First Team, Second Team, or All-Rookie Team – were selected after a bunch of research into their success, statistics, and impact. But Redick was so good that his inclusion here could have just come off gut instinct rather than any real analysis. The way he shot the ball was unlike anything there has ever been in the ACC before or since, bombing thirty-five-footers with no remorse.
The numbers are there, too. When he finished his career, Redick had scored more points than anyone else in the history of the conference. He had made 138 more three-pointers than anyone else in ACC history and 44 more than anyone in the history of NCAA Division 1.
His best season was his senior year, when the 2006 Naismith and Wooden Awards while leading Duke to a No. 1 ranking and finishing second in the country in scoring (behind Adam Morrison). He set an ACC single-season record of 964 points – only Antawn Jamison had ever scored 800 in a season before Redick.
Probably not, but if he was on TV or playing at your school, you wouldn’t want to miss him… just in case he goes for 40 on 13 shots.
Shane Battier, Duke: 1997-2001
I’m about to start getting accused of some Duke bias here. So far it’s been all Blue Devils, but there have only been four National Players of the Year from the ACC since 2000, five Most Outstanding Players of the NCAA Tournament, and two NABC National Defensive Players of the Year. Battier won all three of those between 2000 and 2002 with Duke, and no other ACC guy since 2000 has won two.
Since 1986, only Battier and Anthony Davis have won all three.
Four years at Duke saw him evolve from a guy who averaged 7.6 points per game as a freshman, taking less than one three-point shot per game and making only 16.7% of those shots, to a guy who averaged 19.9 points per game as a senior en route to a National Championship season. But it was on defense that Battier really made his name. Even in the NBA, he was always the best at being a pest and doing the dirty work.
Talked about him above, but forgot to mention that he’s also the ACC’s all-time leading scorer with 2,872 points in his career. That ranks him 13th in NCAA history and the third most points of anyone since 2000 (Doug McDermott and St. Peter’s Keydren Clark both scored over 3,000).
So there’s that.
Shelden Williams, Duke: 2002-2006
Known more for his defensive presence (he was a 2-time National Defensive Player of the Year winner) than his offensive game, Williams was really an all-around player. He scored almost 2,000 points in his career (1,928), and would have made it if he had been able to play a little more as a freshman. He was just the third player in NCAA history to get 1,500 points, 1,000 rebounds, 350 blocks, and 150 steals.
The other two? Tim Duncan and Ralph Sampson.
His senior campaign was a perfect example of his versatility. In 2005-06, he averaged 18.8 points, 10.7 rebounds, 3.8 blocks, and 1.7 steals and Duke went 32-4. Though both he and J. J. Redick were defeated by Glen Davis and Tyrus Thomas’ LSU team in the Sweet 16 (Redick went 3-18), they had been the best team in the country all year.
He was never flashy, but he was great.
The only guy not from Duke or Carolina on either the First or Second Team, Dixon might have ended up being the ACC Player of the Century If not for a Maryland collapse against Duke in the 2001 Final Four (they led by 22 points and lost by 11). That’s how good he was, scoring 2,269 points, 599 rebounds, 371 assists, and 333 steals over four years at Maryland while earning First Team All-America and Final Four Most Outstanding Player honors in his senior campaign.
The dude was just fearless. Check out this play against Georgia Tech, and keep in mind that Maryland was up just two points with thirty seconds to play when he throws this pass.
Ty Lawson, 2006-2009
This was originally Greivis Vasquez’s spot, boosted by the fact that he stayed all four years. As good as he was, though, there was always a sense that so long as Lawson was healthy, Carolina was the best team in the country… and it wasn’t particularly close.
In his junior season, Lawson was the second best point guard in the country (Steph Curry was terrifying opponents so much that a coach decided to double-team him away from the ball), shooting an outrageous 53% from the field and 47% from three.
Vasquez had a longer career and gaudier stats because of it, but you never had the feeling of invincibility you did with Lawson.
Jon Scheyer, 2006-2010
Just as the last spot was nearly Greivis Vasquez’s, it was difficult to decide between Vasquez, Scheyer, and Rashad McCants here. Though Vasquez was actually player of the year in Scheyer’s senior season, the Blue Devil gets the nod because he was the leading scorer on a National Championship team.
McCants was probably a better player, but he only went to Carolina for three years and has admitted that he cheated to stay eligible for so long.
And Scheyer’s presence as the slow but steady lead guard for Duke transformed them as he led the NCAA in assist-to-turnover ratio, earning First Team All-ACC and Second Team All-American honors.
He scored 2,077 points in his career while contributing all four seasons in Durham.
Here’s some textbook Scheyer:
Kyle Singler, 2007-2011
He’s scored more points in the ACC this century than anyone not named Hansbrough or Redick, won a national title, was named MOP, and was a Second Team All-American in 2011. For any other conference in America, that probably would have been enough to land on the First Team All-Century list.
But while Singler was always very good, his ceiling was obvious, and he was probably only the second or third best player on the Duke team that won it all.
Still, his versatility was crucial for a Duke team who often played two or three small guards on the court at the same time. He could guard three or four different positions and spread the floor offensively – a stretch four in college before the term became so popular – and deserves recognition somewhere.
Sean May, North Carolina: 2002-2005
You can’t even find highlights of the 2005 National Championship on YouTube, and that’s a shame. Without May going 10-11 from the field and scoring 26 points (or fouling out Illinois starting center James Augustine in just 9 minutes), Illinois probably would have won that game.
He was great all year, leading the Tar Heels in scoring and earning Second Team All-American honors, but he saved his best for the biggest moment. It was fitting he held the ball as the clock ran out in the 2005 Championship.
Chris Paul, Wake Forest: 2003-2005
Probably would have been Kyrie’s if he had played for a full season, but Chris Paul was terrific in his freshman season, averaging 14.8 points (on just 8.8 shots per game), 5.9 assists, 3.3 rebounds, and 2.7 steals per game.
Marvin Williams, North Carolina: 2004-2005
There were a bunch of good options here (Harrison Barnes, Chris Duhon, Austin Rivers), but Williams gets the nod because he averaged double-digit points and was named ACC Freshman of the Year while helping Carolina to win its first National Championship in a dozen years.
We’ve already talked about Parker, but only one ACC guy, Kyrie Irving (#1, 2011), was drafted in a higher position than Parker and Marvin Williams were.
Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina: 2005-2009
Hansbrough, the number two high school recruit to go to college that season (Josh McRoberts was number one), certainly didn’t disappoint.
Bosh led the ACC in field goal percentage while averaging 15.6 points and 9 rebounds. Originally, he intended to come back to Georgia Tech to continue his education, but was so dominant in his only season that he decided to go pro. He was the fourth overall pick.