College basketball is perhaps the most curious sport in which to select an All-Decade team because a large percentage of the best and most influential players only stuck around for 1/10th of it.
We were left to judge whether the impact of one sensational, game-changing player for a single season superseded the performance of excellent — but perhaps not dominant — athletes who contributed for three or four full seasons.
It can be like comparing apples to seashells.
Although there was no formula, we were able to choose a team filled with players whose excellence will linger in the college game for years to come — and who will remain legends forever to the programs fortunate now to call them alumni.
Center: Anthony Davis, Kentucky (2011-12)
Why he’s here: It took a while for Davis to find his niche as a college player. He produced four single-figure scoring games in his first 11 appearances. When it was time to select our mid-season All-America team, we did not include him on the first team — but told everyone to expect he would be Player of the Year in the end. Not only did he manage that, he became Most Outstanding Player at the 2012 Final Four and led the Wildcats to the NCAA championship. Davis continued to evolve as an offensive player even up through that weekend in New Orleans, improving his jumpshot and adding a jump-hook that wasn’t part of his arsenal at the start of the year. His NCAA Tournament was the best any player delivered in the ‘10s.
By the numbers: Davis blocked 29 shots in the 2012 tournament, the second-best total ever.
Power forward: Zion Williamson, Duke (2018-19)
Why he’s here: Williamson introduced himself to the college basketball world with 28 points on 11-of-13 shooting in a 118-84 destruction of Kentucky, and it was clear we’d never seen anything quite like him. He became a phenomenon during his one season with the Blue Devils, to the point it no longer was necessary to use his last name. Williamson shot 68 percent from the field and averaged 22.8 points and 8.9 rebounds, but those numbers do not convey his influence on Duke’s performances. Opponents struggled with how to defend him, and the only game in which he did not register at least 11 points was one in which he was injured after a single minute. All that was missing from his resume was a Final Four appearance, denied by a one-point Elite Eight loss to Michigan State.
By the numbers: After returning from a notorious knee injury last March — an injury that led many analysts to declared that he should stop playing college basketball to protect his NBA Draft status — Williamson showed his commitment by playing 258 of a possible 280 minutes in the ACC and NCAA tournaments.
Small forward: Doug McDermott, Creighton (2010-14)
Why he’s here: As a high school teammate of Harrison Barnes in Ames, Iowa, McDermott was not widely recruited by major programs and signed a letter of intent to play at Northern Iowa. After McDermott’s father was hired at Creighton, however, UNI agreed to release him. He wound up tearing up the Missouri Valley Conference for three years, averaging 14.9 points as a freshman and following that with seasons of 22.9 points per game and 23.2. Those skeptics who contended McDermott’s production was a product of mostly playing mid-major competition in the Valley were proved wrong when Creighton moved to the Big East in advance of his senior season and Doug responded with his best season: 26.7 points per game and 96 made 3-pointers.
By the numbers: McDermott’s career total of 3,150 points ranks No. 6 on the NCAA all-time list. He is one of only 10 players to top 3,000 career points and one of three with 3,000 points and 1,000 rebounds.
Point guard: Shabazz Napier, Connecticut (2010-14)
Why he’s here: Napier was not the most spectacular guard to appear in college basketball this decade, but what a winner he was. Napier was an essential contributor to UConn’s surprising run to the 2011 NCAA championship, never starting but appearing 28 minutes per game in the final three games, and all but carried the Huskies to the title in 2014. He was a consensus All-American in 2014, when he produced 18 points and 4.9 assists. When Kentucky’s heralded Julius Randle struggled to 10 points on 3-of-7 shooting in the 2014 title game, Napier coolly scored 20 and hit 4-of-9 from 3-point range. He never was as spectacular as teammate Kemba Walker was in 2010-11, but Napier’s presence wound up having double the impact — at least in terms of rings.
By the numbers: After becoming a starter as a sophomore, Napier never averaged fewer than 35 minutes.
Point guard: Jalen Brunson, Villanova (2015-18)
Why he’s here: Brunson’s junior season in 2017-18 definitely was the most dominant season of any player at his position this decade, and one would have to reach back at least to Jameer Nelson’s 2013-14 season to find a comparable performance. The difference, of course, being that Nelson’s heart was broken in the Elite Eight and Brunson got to stand on the podium and celebrate a second championship in three years. Brunson averaged 18.9 points and 4.6 assists, but those numbers were diminished by the Wildcats’ abundance of offensive options and capable passers. Everything started with him, but it wasn’t necessary for Brunson to finish it all. When Villanova inverted its offense, he was dominant in the low post. When he remained on the perimeter, he hit .408 on threes.
By the numbers: In 2017-18, Brunson shot 59.9 percent from the field on 2-pointers, converting 184-of-307. He stands just 6-3.
Coach: John Calipari, Kentucky (2009-2019)
Why he’s here: Calipari arrived at Kentucky with the foundation of an excellent recruiting class in place; he’d been working on landing John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Xavier Henry and others while he was at Memphis. All but Henry chose to follow him to UK. They became the first of his 30-win UK teams, but it wasn’t until Anthony Davis arrived two years later that Calipari claimed his first NCAA championship. He insists it was never a plan to rely on elite one-and-done prospects, and many critics insisted he should try a different approach, but it’s hard when even the guys who are not top-of-the-charts prospects blossom and enter the draft, as well. (Goodbye, Tyler Herro!) Calipari kept Kentucky not only relevant, but essential through all that. The Wildcats reached the Elite Eight in 2010, 2017 and 2019, the Final Four in 2010, 2014 and 2015 and the top of the mountain in 2012.
By the numbers: 41.2 percent of Calipari’s 757 career victories to date have occurred at Kentucky.