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Andy Wittry | | October 11, 2018

The best college basketball head coaches, based on their college playing careers

These are 5 great players turned coaches in college basketball.

We recently identified the best active college football head coaches based on their FBS playing careers and now we're doing the same for college basketball coaches, which comes with the added challenge of having almost three times as many coaches from which to choose.

To make things more interesting, we decided to name a starting five plus a five-man bench that could reasonably fit well together as a hypothetical team. (Yes, we know our bench is a little heavy on guards but just look at those names.)

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Here are the Division I college basketball head coaches who had the best NCAA DI playing careers.

NCAA Photo Archives Bobby Hurley in 1991.

Point guard: Bobby Hurley

Current school: Arizona State

Alma mater: Duke

Years: 1989-93


  • Two-time national champion (1991, 1992)
  • 1992 Final Four Most Outstanding Player
  • 1993 consensus First Team All-American
  • NCAA Division I career assist leader: 1,076 assists
  • NCAA Division I freshman assist record: 288 assists
  • 14th-best NCAA Division I career assist average: 7.69 assists per game

We could have gone in a few different directions with the starting point guard spot on our hypothetical, star-studded team but we went with the NCAA's all-time assist leader. Hurley led Duke to back-to-back national championships in 1991 and 1992 before having his best individual season as a senior.

The current Arizona State head coach was named the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player in 1992 and he carried that momentum into his final college season, when he averaged 17 points, 8.2 assists, 2.6 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game to earn consensus First Team All-American honors. Hurley was a career 40.5 percent three-point shooter at Duke, allowing him to stretch the floor from the point-guard position.

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NCAA Photo Archives Steve Alford plays in the 1987 NCAA Final Four. Steve Alford plays in the 1987 NCAA Final Four.

Shooting guard: Steve Alford

Current school: UCLA

Alma mater: Indiana

Years: 1983-87


  • National champion (1987)
  • Two-time consensus First Team All-American (1986, 1987)
  • Three-time First Team All-Big Ten
  • 1987 Big Ten MVP
  • Second in school history in career points (2,438)
  • School-record 107 three-pointers in 1987
  • School-record career 53.0 three-point percentage
  • Led the NCAA in free throw percentage in 1984: 91.3%
  • 11th-best NCAA Division I career free throw percentage: 89.8%

Staying with the theme of national championship winners and lights-out shooting, former Indiana guard Steve Alford would be a great running mate alongside Hurley. As a senior, Alford led Indiana to a national title while averaging 22 points, 3.6 assists and 2.6 rebounds on 53 percent shooting from behind the arc in the first year that the three-point line was introduced across the NCAA.

Had the three-point line been added to the college game earlier in Alford's career, he could have potentially joined – or rather, invented – the 50/50/90 club, meaning he could have shot at least 50 percent from the field, 50 percent from three-point range and 90 percent from the free throw line.

Alford led the NCAA in free-throw shooting as a freshman (91.3%) and he shot well above 50 percent from the field in his first three seasons, while also handling an increasing usage on offense: 59.2 percent on 9.3 field-goal attempts per game as a freshman, 53.8 percent on 13.5 attempts per game as a sophomore, 55.6 percent on 16.3 attempts per game as a junior.

St. John's guard Chris Mulling shoots over North Carolina's Michael Jordan

Small forward: Chris Mullin

Current school: St. John's

Alma mater: St. John's

Years: 1981-85


  • Member of Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame
  • 1985 John R. Wooden Award winner
  • 1985 consensus First Team-All-American
  • Three-time Big East Player of the Year
  • School's all-time leader in career points (2,440), free-throw percentage (84.7%) and free throws made (682)

Mullin is the only three-time Big East Player of the Year in the history of the conference and as a senior, he won the John R. Wooden Award, the UPI Award and U.S. Basketball Writer's Award for national player of the year, named a consensus First Team All-American and he was the leading scorer in the 1985 NCAA Tournament.

He is St. John's all-time leading scorer with 2,440 points, in addition to setting program records for career field goals, steals and free throw percentage. Mullin's most efficient offensive season came in his junior year when he averaged 22.9 points on 57.1 percent shooting on 14.6 field-goal attempts per game, while shooting 90.4 percent from the free-throw line.

Danny Manning led the Kansas Jayhawks to a national championship.

Power forward: Danny Manning

Current school: Wake Forest

Alma mater: Kansas

Years: 1984-88


  • 1988 national champion
  • 1988 Naismith College Player of the Year, John R. Wooden Award winner, NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player
  • Two-time consensus First Team All-American
  • Three-time Big Eight Player of the Year
  • 10th-highest career point total in NCAA Division I history: 2,951 points
  • Member of NCAA Division I 2,000 points & 1,000 rebounds club
  • Tied for 9th in NCAA Division I history for career games played: 147 games

Ever heard of "Danny and the Miracles"? No, it's not the name of a band from the '80s but rather the nickname for the Danny Manning-led Kansas Jayhawks that went 17-10 in the regular season in 1988 before catching fire to win the national championship.

Manning, who's Kansas' all-time scorer and rebounder, was the consensus national player of the year as a senior, a two-time consensus First Team All-American and three-time Big Eight Player of the Year. As a senior, Manning averaged 24.8 points, 9.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.9 blocks and 1.8 steals on 58.3 percent shooting.

Georgetown's Patrick Ewing dunks over a Kentucky defender.

Center: Patrick Ewing

Current school: Georgetown

Alma mater: Georgetown

Years: 1981-85


  • 1984 national champion
  • 1985 National College Player of the Year
  • 1984 NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player
  • Three-time consensus First Team All-American
  • Two-time Big East Player of the Year
  • Member of NCAA Division I 2,000 points & 1,000 rebounds club
  • 22nd-highest career rebound total among NCAA Division I players who started their careers in 1973 or later: 1,316 rebounds

In Ewing's four years playing for Georgetown, the Hoyas earned three No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament and played in three national championship games, winning one in 1984. Ewing is second in school history in scoring (2,184 points) and first in rebounding (1,316 rebounds), blocks (493) and games played (143).

He was named a consensus First Team All-American as a sophomore, junior and senior, as well as earning Final Four Most Outstanding Player when Georgetown won the national championship in 1984. Ewing averaged 15.3 points, 9.2 rebounds and 3.4 blocks on 62 percent shooting in his college career.

Former Duke guard Johnny Dawkins hugs Mike Krzyzewski.

Reserve: Johnny Dawkins

Current school: UCF

Alma mater: Duke

Years: 1982-86


  • 1986 Naismith Player of the Year
  • Two-time consensus First Team All-American
  • Two-time First Team All-ACC
  • Second in school history in career scoring (2,537)
  • 49th in NCAA Division I history with 2,537 career points

There's no doubt that Dawkins could make a very strong case to be the starting point guard for this hypothetical team. The 1986 Naismith Award winner and two-time First Team All-American is second on Duke's career scoring list with 2,537 points.

Dawkins led the Blue Devils to the 1986 national championship game to cap off his national player of the year campaign in which he averaged 20.2 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.2 assists on 54.9 percent shooting.

MORE: Duke's Zion Williamson headlines impact freshmen

Penny Hardaway was a two-time conference player of the year at Memphis.

Reserve: Penny Hardaway

Current school: Memphis

Alma mater: Memphis

Years: 1991-93


  • 1993 consensus First Team All-American
  • Two-time Great Midwest Player of the Year
  • Tied for NCAA Division I record with two consecutive triple-doubles

Penny Hardaway only spent two years at what was then called Memphis State (now Memphis) but he won conference player of the year honors both seasons and he was always a threat to record stats near a triple-double. A physical specimen at 6-7 who was capable of playing either guard position, Hardaway averaged 22.8 points, 8.5 rebounds, 6.4 assists, 2.4 steals and 1.2 blocks per game in 1993, while shooting 58.3 percent inside the arc.

Reserve: Donyell Marshall

Current school: Central Connecticut State

Alma mater: UConn

Years: 1991-94


  • 1994 consensus First Team All-American
  • 1994 Big East Player of the Year
  • Two-time First Team All-Big East selection
  • Tied for the best single-game free throw percentage in NCAA Division I history (min. 18 free throws made): 20-of-20 (100%)

Former UConn forward Donyell Marshall saw significant year-over-year improvement to become the 1994 Big East Player of the Year and a consensus First Team All-American. As a junior, he averaged 25.1 points, 8.9 rebounds, 3.3 blocks and 1.3 steals per game, while shooting 56.8 percent on two-point attempts and 75.2 percent at the free throw line.

He led the Huskies to a 29-5 overall record in 1994 and a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Juan Dixon led Maryland to the 2002 national championship

Reserve: Juan Dixon

Current school: Coppin State

Alma mater: Maryland

Years: 1998-2002


  • 2002 national champion
  • 2002 consensus First Team All-American
  • 2002 ACC Player of the Year
  • Three-time First Team All-ACC
  • 2002 All-NCAA Tournament Team
  • 16th in NCAA Division I history with 333 career steals

As the best player on a national championship team, former Maryland guard and current Coppin State coach Juan Dixon is a must-have for this team. His scoring average jumped from 7.4 points per game as a freshman to 18.0 points as a sophomore, before leading the Terrapins with 20.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 2.6 steals per game as a senior.

He was a dangerous three-point shooter with a career 38.9 clip from behind the arc that peaked at 41.1 percent as a junior. Dixon averaged 25.8 points on 54 percent shooting during Maryland's NCAA tournament run in 2002.

Dan Majerle was an All-American at Central Michigan

Reserve: Dan Majerle

Current school: Grand Canyon

Alma mater: Central Michigan

Years: 1984-88


  • 1987 All-American
  • Central Michigan's only three-time First Team All-MAC selection
  • CMU's only two-time MAC All-Tournament Team selection
  • 1987 MAC Tournament MVP
  • Second in school history in career points (2,055)

Dan Majerle averaged 18.6 points and 6.7 rebounds per game as a freshman at Central Michigan and he only got better. "Thunder Dan" averaged a double-double as a senior with 23.7 points, 10.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.5 steals per game, while shooting 53.9 percent inside the arc and 44.6 percent behind it.

As the head coach of Grand Canyon, he has overseen the Antelopes' transition to the DI level. They've won 71 games in the last three seasons.

Other notables: Damon Stoudamire (Pacific) Avery Johnson (Alabama), Cuonzo Martin (Missouri), Chris Collins (Northwestern).

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