Certain positions in sports carry a level of cachet that hover above the rest. Some examples: the shortstop for the New York Yankees. The quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys. The star player on the Los Angeles Lakers.Athletes who fill these roles receive an extra dose of pressure and attention. College basketball has its prestigious positions, too. Whether it’s because of a coach, a system or a history of greatness, certain roles take a special kind of person to fill.
Here are some college hoops examples.
Slashing swingman: North Carolina Tar Heels
A dominant wing scorer always seems to reside in Chapel Hill. A relatively popular basketball icon started that trend: Michael Jeffrey Jordan.
Since the Jordan era, the Tar Heels have churned out several outstanding slashers that have had an affinity for getting buckets. Jerry Stackhouse, Vince Carter, Antawn Jamison, Rick Fox and Harrison Barnes all come to mind. Justin Jackson, perhaps the most underrated player on the 2015-16 Tar Heels, could join that class this season.
Wings with size that can shoot, pass, dribble and defend are scarce these days; they’re also in high demand at every level of basketball. North Carolina has produced several successful shooting guards and small forwards over the years, and it’s been a huge reason for the program’s success.
Point guard: Duke Blue Devils
The irony about this year’s Duke squad: they’re loaded, but their one potential question mark is at point guard. Throughout the Coach K era, however, the Blue Devils always seem to have a great floor general.
Point guard is arguably the most important position in college basketball, and Duke’s emphasis on recruiting that spot is no accident. The Blue Devils have had some greats cycle through Durham: Bobby Hurley, Jay Williams, Greg Paulus, Jon Scheyer, Kyrie Irving, Tyus Jones. The list goes on and on. Mike Krzyzewski was a point guard during his playing days at Army, and he demands plenty out of the position. Lead guards generally develop quite well when they attend Duke, and they always have a major spotlight shining on them.
All-around big man: Kentucky Wildcats
John Calipari has had an excellent run coaching big men in Lexington. DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns are likely to be perennial NBA All-Stars for the next decade, and each thrived as a big man at Kentucky.
Throw it all the way back to the Sam Bowie era, and these Kentucky bigs share several common traits. All are enormous men that check multiple boxes on the basketball court; Cousins, Davis, and Towns are good shooters, passers and ball-handlers for their size.
The Wildcats were ahead of their time; bigs who are capable of contributing on the interior and the perimeter are immensely valuable these days. It’s hard to argue with Kentucky’s track record.
Rim protector: Connecticut Huskies
Emeka Okafor averaged more than four blocks per game in 2003-04, and the Huskies won a national championship. Hilton Armstrong and Josh Boone combined to average more than five blocks per game in 2005-06, and UConn has featured dominant defensive centers in Hasheem Thabeet, Andre Drummond and Amida Brimah ever since.
The old Big East was a physical conference, so having a feared defensive presence was a must. Even though the Huskies have moved on to the AAC, Brimah is carrying on the tradition in Storrs. He averaged almost five blocks per 40 minutes last year. We’ll see if more dominant shot-blockers come to play for Kevin Ollie in the coming years.
Captain: Michigan State Spartans
Michigan State doesn’t typically feature the caliber of raw talent as the powerhouses above, but it always has great leadership. A star player that can rally his teammates around him has real value, and several Spartans have fit that bill over the years.
Most recently it was Denzel Valentine. Before Valentine it was Draymond Green. Then there was Morris Peterson, Drew Neitzel, Kalin Lucas and of course, Magic Johnson. Michigan State recruits players that have winning backgrounds, and that often translates to the college level. Tom Izzo is a great leader himself, but it doesn’t hurt to have another respected voice in the locker room.