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Andy Wittry | | April 16, 2020

15 historical men's college basketball players who'd fit well in today's game — and why

Watch full game: Michigan State, Magic Johnson beat Indiana State and Larry Bird for the 1979 title

Have you ever watched, read or heard about a historical college basketball great and wondered how their game and skill set would've translated to today's game?

I went through the official NCAA men's basketball record book and identified players from the last 40 years who would've fit perfectly in today's "positionless" game — and why.

The common thread among most of these players is that they were great 3-point shooters, often in an era where the 3-point line was relatively new to the game or they played a position that wasn't traditionally expected to provide consistent 3-point shooting.

Here are some men's basketball players who would've fit perfectly in today's game.

Darrin Fitzgerald, Butler

Years active: 1983-87

The 3-point line was implemented sport-wide for the 1986-87 season so you might be surprised to learn that the NCAA Division I record for threes made per game in a season was set in 1987.

Butler's Darrin Fitzgerald made 5.64 threes per game — 158 threes in 28 games — that season, which is almost 0.70 more than the second-best average. In fact, only Steph Curry — ever heard of him? — has made more 3-pointers in a season and it took Curry eight additional games at Davidson in 2008 to make just four more threes than Fitzgerald.

Just imagine the 3-point totals Fitzgerald could put up if he played 40 games in a season.

Steve Kerr, Arizona

Years active: 1983-88

Speaking of Steph Curry, it is fitting that one of the best shooters ever is, well, coached by one of the best shooters ever. Curry was lighting up opponents from deep long before the Golden State Warriors hired Kerr but the former Arizona Wildcat ranks fifth all-time in single-season 3-point percentage.

Kerr made 57.3 percent of his 3-point attempts in 1988, 114-of-199 to be exact. No one else in the top 25 all-time attempted more than 159 threes in a season or made more than 86 threes. Kerr also holds the record by making at least one 3-pointer in 38 consecutive games in a season.

Kerr made the Final Four and won five NBA titles, so it's not as if he sharpshooting wasn't appreciated or utilized, but imagine the value of a high-volume, 57-percent 3-point shooter in today's game.

Tony Bennett, Green Bay

Years active: 1988-92

Sticking with title-winning coaches, Tony Bennett, now of Virginia but formerly a player at Green Bay, holds the NCAA record for the highest career 3-point percentage: 49.7 percent, among players with a minimum of 200 3-pointers made and at least two 3-pointers made per game.

In 118 career games, Bennett was 290-of-584 from deep.

Tony Bennett: Nobody does it better.

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Bo Kimble, Loyola Marymount

Years active: 1985-90

Kimble led the country in scoring in 1990, when he averaged 35.3 points per game and scored 256 more points than the country's second-leading scorer. The 6-4 guard made 92 3-pointers that season, while taking more than six per game and making 46 percent of them.

Kimble seems made for today's game: a hot-shooting guard with some size who could defend (2.9 steals per game in 1990) and rebound (7.7 rebounds per game in 1990). Loyola Marymount holds the top two single-game point totals in NCAA history —186 points and 181 points, both against Alliant International — so Kimble would've thrived in the modern era that emphasizes pace and space, and interchangeable, switchable wings.

Dennis Scott, Georgia Tech

Years active: 1987-90

This list has lots of guards and wings, but if we're being honest, they've always had value as 3-point shooters since the 3-point line was added to the college game. Maybe their shooting abilities would just be more in vogue today.

But players like Dennis Scott, the former Georgia Tech star who stands at 6-8, were definitely before their time.

Scott ranks 15th all-time in NCAA history in 3-pointers made per game for a career with 3.55 threes per game. None of the 14 players ahead of him are taller than 6-5 and all but three are 6-3 or shorter.

Scott ranked among the top 10 scorers nationally in 1990 at 27.7 points per game and he made 137 3-pointers that season, which is tied for 21st all-time on the single-season 3-pointers made list. He made 42.2 percent of his threes in his career, including 47.1 percent as a freshman, while averaging as many as 6.6 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.8 steals.

If Scott played college basketball today, imagine the damage he could do as a lethal stretch-four in pick-and-pop sets, or even as a modern-day center who would force the opposing center to guard him all the way out to the 3-point line.

MORE: Every Final Four MOP from 1939 to present

Christian Laettner, Duke

Years active: 1988-92

Laettner was one of the best college players ever, a member of the exclusive 2,000-point and 1,000-rebound club, and the architect of some of the biggest March Madness moments ever. At 6-11, Laettner was a force inside as he averaged 21.5 points as a senior and as many as 9.6 rebounds per game as a sophomore.

But he also developed into a dangerous 3-point shooter in his final year in Durham.

As a senior, he shot 55.7 percent from deep (54-of-97), which is the 13th-best single-season 3-point percentage in NCAA history.

Think about the impact Laettner could have today as a true inside-out presence who could make more than half of his 3-point attempts.

Jay Edwards, Indiana

Years active: 1987-89

Until Marquette's Markus Howard came along, Indiana's Jay Edwards held the record for the best 3-point percentage in a season by a freshman at 53.6 percent in 1988. Edwards made 59 of his 110 attempts that season, which is tied for the 23rd-best single-season 3-point percentage ever.

The 6-4 guard averaged 15.4 points per game that season, then had a breakout sophomore season in which he averaged 20 points per game in his final season with the Hoosiers.

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Allan Houston, Tennessee

Years active: 1989-93

Houston ranks 19th on the NCAA's all-time scoring list with 2,801 points, one spot ahead of J.J. Redick and just 49 points behind Larry Bird. He was a lethal shooter at 6-5, making 346 3-pointers in his career.

He averaged at least 20 points per game in all four seasons with the Vols and he never shot worse than 41 percent from behind the arc in a season. A scorer of that size, with that shooting ability, with the ability to also make plays for others (3.6 assists per game in his career), would thrive in any era but just imagine if Houston's career average of 6.4 3-point attempts per game was closer to eight or nine in today's game.

Sean Elliott, Arizona

Years active: 1985-89

Elliott is 47th all-time on the NCAA's scoring list with 2,555 points scored for the Wildcats. He made 140 threes in his career, which made him a dangerous inside-out threat at 6-8, 250 pounds.

He shot a career-high 47.1 percent from deep as a junior and he averaged two made threes per game as a senior.

Elliott was incredibly versatile, averaging 22.3 points, 7.2 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.0 steal per game as a senior, while leading Arizona to a 17-1 record in the Pac-12.

NAISMITH AWARDS: Player of the Year | Coach of the Year | Defensive Player of the Year

Keith Van Horn, Utah

Years active: 1993-97

Van Horn is a member of the 2,000-point, 1,000-rebound club with 2,542 points and 1,074 rebounds for the Utes in his career and he's among the top 50 scorers of all-time in NCAA history. At 6-9, Van Horn was an incredibly tough player to guard as someone who shot as high as 62 percent inside the arc as a sophomore and he was a 40 percent 3-point shooter for his career.

In four years wit the Utes, he made 206 threes and he would've been the perfect stretch-four or modern "five" in today's game.

Steve Novak, Marquette

Years active: 2002-06

Novak was playing in the NBA until the 2016-17 season, so it's not like he's significantly removed from where basketball is today. But he played for Marquette from 2002 until 2006 and his skill set would be perfect in the modern college game.

At 6-10, he was a lights-out 3-point specialist. As a freshman, he attempted 109 threes to just 24 twos.

Novak shot 46.1 percent from three for his career on roughly six attempts per game, including a senior season in which he averaged 17.5 points per game on 8.4 3-point attempts per game.

His career 3-point percentage ranks ninth all-time among players who made at least 200 threes and averaged at least two made 3-pointers per game.

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Lionel Simmons, La Salle

Years active: 1986-90

At 6-7, Simmons wasn't the biggest forward but he put up big stats: 24.6 points, 10.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.9 blocks and 1.8 steals per game in his career. So just imagine the kind of numbers he could put up in today's game where many teams play small-ball with traditionally undersized players in their frontcourt.

Simmons developed a reliable 3-point shot as a junior and senior and he made 41.5 percent of his threes for his career.

He averaged one made three per game as a senior.

Larry Bird, Indiana State

Years active: 1976-79

The 3-point line wasn't in the college game when Bird played at Indiana State but he could've been a prolific scorer in the college game today. In the NBA, Bird shot 37.6 percent from deep in his career as a 6-9 forward.

In three seasons with the Sycamores, he averaged 32.8 points, 30.0 points and 28.6 points per game, respectively, without the 3-point line. Imagine what his scoring averages could've been with a 3-point line.

Bird and Indiana State made the national championship game in 1979, and the big forward who averaged 5.5 assists and nearly eight free-throw attempts per game that season, could've been a force in college basketball today.

Charles Barkley, Auburn

Years active: 1981-84

Barkley may have been the original small-ball center. At just 6-6, Sir Charles was a rebounding machine, averaging 9.6 rebounds per game in his career. Unlike most of the players on this list, Barkley was never much a 3-point shooter (the 3-point line didn't exist in the college game when he played for Auburn and he shot just 26 percent from three in his NBA career), but he nearly averaged a double-double in each of his three seasons in college, while protecting the rim (1.7 blocks per game in his career) and creating for others (2.1 assists per game as a junior).

There's a place in today's game for a player like that.

Xavier McDaniel, Wichita State

Years active: 1981-85

As a senior at Wichita State, McDaniel averaged 27.2 points and 14.8 rebounds per game, plus 2.2 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.0 block. He did all that at 6-7, so while, like Barkley, he wasn't a 3-point shooter, he was a phenomenal rebounder and an efficient interior scorer, which would have a value in small-ball lineups today.

Did we miss any? Send us an email to let us know who should be added to this list.


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