Villanova basketball has been a very successful program over the years. Those great teams were powered by great players. Some of those great players came in with low expectations and other with big expectations and all the hype. In this article, I will share my thoughts on the best player and best recruit in Villanova basketball history.
Ever since I was a youngster I was a Villanova basketball fan. I learned of the 1985 team and the history of Big 5 basketball from my pops - the smartest man I know in sports. Herbert Hoover Bosman, my pops, is not a sports analyst or writer. He is a hardworking man, a good man and a great person. He taught me how to be a man even though I wasn’t his son biologically. He always taught me to be better than him through countless talks of sports. He loved Big 5 basketball and he played at Simon Gratz. His high school coach at the time was the legendary John Chaney. Pops talked about how former NBA player Fred Carter was a lights out shooter in high school, how Earl “The Pearl” Monroe was the man and how my uncle, Edward Johnson, was one of the top players in the city and could have been a great NBA player.
My pops talked about a lot of Villanova players but the player he says was the best was Howard Porter (6-8, 220, 3 time All-American, Forward). Porter led Villanova to the 1971 Championship game against powerhouse UCLA and was named the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament after scoring 25 points in the final game. His career averages in three college seasons at Villanova were 22.8 points 14.9 rebounds shooting 73 percent from the line and 49 percent from the field. Porter was an absolute stud and his mark on Villanova basketball is still remembered. Porter played seven seasons in the NBA. In 1971 he played for the Chicago Bulls. Later in his career he played for the then New Jersey Nets, New York Knicks, and Detroit Pistons. His best season came in 1976-77 when he averaged 13.2 points and 5.9 rebounds for the the Detroit Pistons.
Paul Arizin is another name that comes up among people discussing All-Time Villanova greats. I remember hearing pops talk about Arizin as a Philadelphia Warrior and how good he was. He was only 6-4, 190 and he would have been a small guard if he played today but back then he was considered a small forward. Though he became a legendary player for Villanova, Arizin never made his varsity basketball team at LaSalle College High School and graduated just before NBA great Tom Gola. Arizin was noticed by Wildcat Coach Al Severance while playing in a recreational league. He was asked to join the Varsity team at Villanova which he did in 1947 - and the legend started. In 1949 something special happened against the Naval Air Material Center. Arizin scored 85 points - a record total for a Villanova player which still stands today. I don’t care who you are - just like Wilt Chamberlain's 100 points, it is phenomenal for one player to score that many points - especially at 6-4, 190. In 1950 he was named college player of the year leading the nation in scoring with 25.3 points. It would be a dream for me to see a Big 5 player lead the nation in scoring! Over his career, Arizin averaged 20.1 points per game and hit a tremendous 89 percent from the free throw line. He was also Villanova’s first 1,000 point scorer. Arizin would continue his career in Philadelphia after being chosen 3rd in the NBA Draft by the Philadelphia Warriors. He was a 10-time NBA all-star, an All-star game MVP, an NBA champion, an NBA Hall of Famer, and one of the NBA’s 50 greatest players.
In 1981 there was a very special Villanova recruiting class that called themselves “The Expansion Crew” and all went on to become Villanova legends. Ed Pinckney, Gary McLain and Dwayne McClain. Pinckney was a 6-9, 240, talented, power forward. Pinckney was a commander inside with a heart of gold. His toughness was priceless and his consistency showed throughout his Villanova career averaging 14.4 points, 8.6 rebounds. 1.9 blocks and 1.5 steals per game while shooting over 60 percent from the field in 4 years at Villanova. 6-0, 180 pound, PG Gary McLain was a natural floor general who knew how to run a team. He was recruited by several big-time programs before committing to Villanova. Dwayne McClain was a 6-6 slasher who would dunk on you if you got in his way. Known as “D-Train”, McClain was a force with the ball in his hands averaging 12.4 points and 3.5 rebound per game while shooting over 57 percent from the floor. The Expansion Crew would go on to win the 1985 National Championship against powerhouse Georgetown (led by Hall-of-Famer and now Hoya Head Coach, Patrick Ewing). Pinckney was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player scoring 16 points and grabbing 6 rebounds in a title game which was considered one of the biggest upset in college basketball history. All three of them were drafted - Pinckney by the Phoenix Suns with the 10th overall selection of the 1985 NBA draft would play a 12-year career in the NBA with 7 teams. McLain was drafted in the 7th round by the New Jersey Nets but never played for them. McClain was drafted in the second round by the Indiana Pacers and later found success in the NBL (National Basketball League) in Australia. In 105 games he averaged 25 points nearly 7 rebounds and 5 assists in the early 90s. He was also MVP of the CBA (Continental Basketball Association) all-star game and named to the Sydney Kings 25th anniversary team.
Kerry Kittles is another player that earned consideration as the greatest Wildcat of all-time. Kittles was a leader and a workhorse. He could beat you from outside or be a problem taking you inside. He is still the Wildcats' all-time scoring leader with 2,243 points. Kittles had career averages of 18.4 points, 5.9 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game. He shot 47.8 percent from the field, 39.4 percent from the 3 point line, and grabbed 2.3 steals a game. He might be my personal favorite. When I started really watching Villanova basketball was when the Wildcats won the NIT championship in 1994. I saw #30 take over games. Kittles holds 15 Villanova records, was an All-American, a Big East Player of the Year, and a 2-time Robert V. Geasey award winner (given to the most outstanding player in the Big 5). Kerry Kittles played in a very competitive Big East - showing out against such future NBA greats as UConn’s Ray Allen and Georgetown’s Allen Iverson. He led Villanova to the 1995 Big East Tournament Championship and went on to a 9-year NBA career.
This brings us to another recruit who some say is the best Villanova recruit of all time - Tim Thomas. The hype and talent was certainly there. Thomas could do it all and he could have gone straight to the NBA out of High School but chose to play one year at Villanova. I remember watching the 1996 Magic Johnson Roundball Classic - it was my first time really seeing Tim Thomas. I had heard all the the hype about him and Kobe Bryant and, knowing Kobe was interested in both Villanova and LaSalle, I just had to watch. Thomas was amazing - he could shoot from beyond the arc or drive inside and pass like a 1 or 2-guard. Thomas and Kobe really did what they wanted to in that game and the crazy part was you couldn’t tell the difference. They seemed like two guards on the floor. Thomas was like Kobe Bryant at 6’10 as far as offensive quickness and he could shoot like a 2 guard. He skied over defenders for slam dunks - you either got out of his way or got in his way and got the business. In his freshman year he averaged 16.9 points, 6 rebounds, and 1.8 steals per game. He displayed all the god-given talents everyone was talking about. He was named National Freshman of the Year and was the 7th player chosen in the NBA Draft. He played 13 NBA seasons and averaged 11.5 points and 4 rebounds while shooting an impressive 36 percent from the 3-point line for his career and 75 percent from the free throw line. In 55 playoff games, Thomas averaged 13 points and 5 rebounds (shooting 43 percent from three-point range, 46 percent from the field, and 77 percent from the free throw line). If Thomas had Kobe Bryant’s work ethic he would have been an NBA Hall-of-Famer.
I should also mention guys like Scottie Reynolds, John Pinone, Bill Melchionni, Larry Hennessey, Darrun Hilliard, Randy Foye, Daniel Ochefu, and Ryan Arcidiacono - players that are mentioned in greatest ‘Nova player discussions … but, this next guy deserves to be put ahead of the rest.
Pure work and dedication … the work ethic to get better and better … developing from a bench player to a bonafide college star and a leader, Josh Hart represents Villanova basketball in every sense of the word. The last name fits. He was a part of one of the greatest teams in college basketball history in 2016 and in 2017 was a National Player of the Year finalist and won the Julius Erving award (which is given to the no.1 small forward in college basketball). This past season Josh Hart averaged 18.7 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game while shooting 51 percent from the field and 40 percent from the 3 point line. In 2015 he was the Big East Sixth Man of the Year. In 2017 he became the Big East Player of Year.
Another player I have to recognize is NBA All-Star, Olympic Gold Medalist, and Philly native, Kyle Lowry. He played two season at Villanova after being ranked among the Top 30 recruits in the country in 2004. In his last season with Villanova, before entering the 2006 NBA draft, Lowry averaged 11 points, 3.7 assists and 4.3 rebounds (shooting 46 percent from the field, 44 percent from the 3 point line and 78 percent from the free throw line). He was a physical guard that could command a game on offense or defense.
In 2015, Villanova landed 5-star, PG Jalen Brunson (a consensus Top 25 player). To show you how special he is, he led the Wildcats to their first championship since 1985 as a freshman. You haven’t seen a point guard as patient at running a team in a Villanova uniform since Gary McLain. In high school, Brunson was Illinois Mr. Basketball, USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year and FIBA Under-19 World Championship MVP in 2015. This past year he averaged 14.7 points and 4 assists to go with shooting 54 percent from the field, 37 percent from 3, and shooting 87 percent from the line. Entering his junior year, he is not only a leading candidate, in my opinion, to be the Big East Player of the Year but also a National Player of the Year candidate.
In 2016 another prep phenom committed to Villanova - 5-star, big man, Omari Spellman. At 6-9, 269, he can dominate inside and can make you pay if you leave him open outside. The “Elite Beast of the Big East” will suit up this year for his first season as a Wildcat. Omari is rated by 24/7 as the highest rated recruit in Villanova history and Brunson was No.2.
24/7 wasn’t doing ratings back when Tim Thomas came out. If I had to say who was the best recruit in Villanova history, it is definitely Tim Thomas.
As far as selecting the best Villanova player of all-time: Porter, Arizin, Kittles, and Hart all stand out. One thing the others don’t have that Porter does is being a 3 time All-American. Arizin has the honor of being named National Player of the Year. Kittles remains the all-time leader in total points and Hart has that 2016 Championship ring.
At the end of the day, I have to go with Howard Porter - even though Kittles is my favorite and Arizin was certainly close. But nobody was more consistent and dominant in their time than Howard Porter. So there is my answer - you all can have your answer.
Best Player: Howard Porter
Best Recruit: Tim Thomas
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