Outside of a football quarterback, there might not be a more important position in sports than a basketball point guard.
The leader. The floor general. The extension of the coach. All clichés, sure. But the point guard position garners a lot of chatter, and rightfully so. Clichés come with that.As you’ll see, all of these players are different. Some are on this list because they were winners. Others, because they were better scorers than everyone else or more skilled passers than the competition. What binds them together: they were undeniably great.
Here are nine of the best college hoops point guards in the last 30 years.
*Note: all of these guys had at least two years of college experience. This wasn’t a rule going in, but no player accomplished enough in one NCAA season to beat out those who made the list.
Gary Payton, Oregon State
‘The Glove’ is Oregon State’s all-time leader in points, field goals, assists and steals – and when a guy like Payton stays for four years, it’s hard to see those records being broken.
He was brilliant throughout his entire career, but was particularly absurd as a senior – GP averaged 25.7 points, 8.1 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 3.4 steals per game on 50.4 percent shooting. The Beavers reached the NCAA tournament in three of his four seasons with the program. Want to know how important Payton was to Oregon State?
After he left, the Beavers failed to reach the NCAA tournament for the next 25 years in a row. And when they finally went dancing in 2016, who was their best player? None other than Gary Payton II, Gary Payton’s son. Really cool stuff.
There was nothing the elder Payton couldn’t do on a basketball court. He was a consensus All-American in 1990 and won Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year honors. Payton may have come before the point guard golden era, but he would have been special regardless of when he played.
Penny Hardaway, Memphis
Like Payton, Hardaway was an all-around gem. His career averages: 20 points, 7.7 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 2.4 steals and 1.3 blocks per game.
You don’t usually cite ‘blocks per game’ when analyzing point guards. But that’s what made Hardaway so special – he was one of the best athletes we’ve ever seen at the position. He made hard plays look easy and extremely challenging ones look routine.
Hardaway was a two-time conference player of the year at Memphis and led the Tigers to the tournament both years. But perhaps more importantly, he helped revolutionize the position. The point guard doesn’t need to be the smallest player on the floor, and after Magic Johnson, Hardaway reinforced that idea – if he can handle the ball and pass like Hardaway can, size can be an advantage at the one spot. Penny’s NBA career was polarizing, but we found out how gifted he was on the college level.
Bobby Hurley, Duke
Hurley is nothing like the two players mentioned above, and that’s what makes this such a fun exercise. Of course, you’d take Payton and Hardaway over him from a pure talent perspective. But if we're judging accomplishments, few have more to boast than Hurley.
Hurley helped Duke win back-to-back national championships and went to the Final Four three times. He’s the NCAA’s all-time leader in assists, with 1,076. He was a first-team All-American in 1993. The list of players who have achieved more on the college level than Hurley is very, very short.
He didn’t always stuff the stat sheet, but as a senior, he put up an outstanding statistical campaign – he averaged 17 points and 8.2 assists while making 42.1 percent of his 3s. Hurley was always a tenacious defender, to boot. Simply put, he’s one of the greatest college point guards ever.
Allen Iverson, Georgetown
Iverson was a joy to watch compete at Georgetown. What he lacked in size, he more than made up for in explosiveness, skill and a relentless style of play. In the rough and tough Big East, Iverson went toe-to-toe with the big boys and usually came out on top.
As a sophomore in 1995-96, AI averaged 25 points, 3.8 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game for the Hoyas, who won the conference. Iverson never reached the Final Four, but he led Georgetown to the Sweet 16 as a freshman and the Elite Eight as a sophomore. Iverson ended his career as the Hoyas all-time points per game leader (22.9).
Jay Williams, Duke
Williams’ NBA career came to a premature end due to a motorcycle accident, but there’s no arguing his excellence as a college player.
Williams was an elite shooter, creator and leader. Need we say more? J-Will won a national championship as a sophomore. He averaged more than 21 points, five assists and two steals per game in his sophomore and junior seasons. Something that’s perhaps overlooked: Williams was an incredible 3-point shooter. In the Blue Devils’ national championship year, he canned 43 percent of his treys on eight attempts per contest. Duke was ahead of the curve in that sense; Williams could shoot with the best of them, so why not let him fire as many of those suckers as possible?
J-Will took home the Naismith in 2002 to top off his college career. He didn’t win quite as much as Hurley did at Duke, but he was more dynamic. He’ll go down as one of the best players in college hoops history.
Jameer Nelson, St. Joseph's
Nelson averaged double-digits in scoring in all four of his seasons, won the Naismith in 2004 and and led the Hawks to one of the most memorable college seasons ever.
That was in 2003-04, when Nelson, Delonte West and the crew threatened to run the table; ultimately, St. Joseph’s would finish 30-2 that year. It started the season 27-0.
Nelson is clearly the best player in program history, holding team records in points, assists and steals. His number was retired just a few weeks after his final college game.
Stephen Curry, Davidson
Steph Curry wasn’t quite Steph Curry just yet at Davidson, but we could see this coming.
As a three-year star for the Wildcats, college basketball had never seen anything like him. Yes, the scoring and playmaking were exceptional – as a junior, Curry averaged 28.6 points and 5.6 assists per game.
But the shooting is what drew eyeballs. A 41.2 percent 3-point shooter in college, Curry averaged a whopping 10.3 deep attempts per game as a sophomore – and made 44 percent of them. Yowza. And these weren’t just your average 3-point tries – you didn’t see Curry spotting up in the corner too often. They were deep, often off the dribble, and most of the time, unguardable.
In 2008, Davidson made it to the Elite Eight as a 10-seed. The Wildcats hadn’t gone that far in the NCAA tournament since 1969. He never made a Final Four, but Davidson won big in Curry’s time there. That’s incredibly impressive.
Jimmer Fredette, BYU
Curry and Fredette’s NBA careers couldn’t have gone differently, but they were comparable in college.
As a senior, Fredette won the Naismith, scoring 28.9 points and dishing out 4.3 assists per game. He’d regularly pull up from well behind the 3-point line and rain fire on helpless defenses; he shot 40 percent from 3 for his career, and like Curry, his attempts were anything but easy.
A few things Jimmer did in his NCAA career: scored 52 points in a game, scored 40 or more points six times, scored over 1,000 points in a season, made almost 300 3-pointers. He’s one of the most prolific scorers in college basketball history.
Kemba Walker, Connecticut
One word comes to mind when discussing Walker: clutch. Kemba was good throughout his Connecticut career, but for a stretch in 2010-11, he was otherworldly.
Walker led the Huskies to the Big East tournament crown and the national championship that season, averaging 23.5 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game as a junior. Late-game heroics came to be expected of Walker by the end of that season, which is the ultimate compliment for the best player on a team.
Walker was the Most Outstanding Player of the 2011 Final Four and a consensus first-team All-American. His ability to create separation – with stepback jumpers and elite ball-handling ability – will always be remembered. Walker was a good player early in his UConn career; by the time he left, he was a legendary one. Anyone who puts a team on his back to win a national championship deserves to be on this list.