A few weeks ago, we got a comment from a writer who had created a "Marquette Top 100 Players of All Time" list. We pursued, and invited John Pudner, a 1988 grad, to do a few guest columns for Cracked Sidewalks during December, otherwise known as "Cupcake Season."
Today, Pudner explains his math, then gives us #76-100. Tune in later this week for the next quartile, and, of course, feel free to leave comments, arguing Pudner's calculations.
Marquette's 100 Greatest Players
By John Pudner
In ranking the Top 100 Marquette players of all time, I had to flash back to my freshman Spring semester. I thought I’d gotten pretty dominant on the rec center court. At the same time I was critical of our varsity team, which had “only” made the NIT – not enough for us fans who had been spoiled by an NCAA title seven years earlier.
My illusions of grandeur were quickly destroyed when five of the varsity players - Mandy Johnson, Robert Hall, Herb Harrison, Willie Hines and Tom Copa – called “next” game and beat us 16-0 by ones in about 4 minutes. Mandy could steal it from us before our first dribble hit the floor, and Tom (who we considered a “slow” 6-foot-10 center) was too fast to let us get our shot off. But while Mandy slips into my Top 100 at No. 94 and Copa is higher up the list, my point is that even players like Robert, Herb, Willie and the other 500+ MU players who don't make the list are AWESOME. The top 100 are truly significant in the history of our great University.
The following are the players I rank as the 76th through 100th “greatest” players in Marquette history. I will first explain the three categories in which I awarded from 0 to 15 “greatness points,” before adding the three figures to rank these players.
1. STATISTICAL CATEGORY. The first number is the “statistical” number that represents the points, rebounds, steals, blocked shots and assists the player put up at Marquette. If I had based these rankings purely on the numbers, 3-year stars Don Kojis and George Thompson would rank at the top of the list, followed closely by 4-year stars Jim McIlvaine and Tony Smith. This system may be the simplest – a center who scores 15 points and grabs 8 rebounds a game, is going to rank ahead of a center who averages 10 points and 4 rebounds over the same number of games. There are certainly many great, steady performers who would have made this top 100 if I had based this purely on stats, but I weighted two other categories as equally important.
2. DOMINANT PLAYER CATEGORY. The second number measures how “dominant” a player proved to be. Based on this category, the guys who dominated in the NBA, led by Dwyane Wade, Maurice Lucas and Doc Rivers, would rank at the top, followed by the other 27 Marquette players who went on to play in the NBA. Next by this ranking are the players who were drafted but didn’t make their NBA team, and those who played in Europe or the CBA. If the Detroit Pistons decided Dave Erickson looked good enough at Marquette to be drafted in the 4th round, then he obviously had some real ability to dominate – so he makes the list at No. 35.
3. POSITIVE IMPACT CATEGORY. The third number represents how much “positive impact” the player had on Marquette’s program, and this category requires the most explanation because it is the most subjective. Some starters from weaker Marquette teams are not in the Top 100 even though they have better stats than Terry Sanders (ranked #93). However, those starters would have been reserves as well behind the backcourt of Wade-Diener (2003). Sanders played key roles on those Final Four teams, drilling these great guards day after day in practice and filling in when they needed rests or got in foul trouble, but the only year he started was the year after Wade graduated – so he would have probably scored 200 more points if he wasn’t stuck behind Wade for two years.
Based on this third criteria, Bo Ellis is clearly the greatest player in Marquette history. Only Bo was a star on the 1974 National runner-up as a freshman AND a star as a senior on the 1977 National Championship team. He was the most important player in Marquette history. Behind him would be Terry Rand, who took a mediocre program in 1955 and carried MU to a 22-game win streak, and their first Top 10 ranking and Elite 8. After that, I give credit to players who helped get teams to the Final Four (2003), Elite 8 (8 teams), NIT title (1970), then Sweet 16 (1979, 1994), as well as players who were part of teams that won at least 2/3rds of their games.
Four other players make the list for having a positive impact either BEFORE or AFTER they were done playing. I gave points to Raymond Eckstein (#95) for what he did 60 years AFTER playing for Marquette - contributing $51 million to the school last year. Jack Nagle (#96) gets credit for coming back after his playing days to coach Marquette to its first Elite 8, and then serving as President of the CBA to put Marquette in the middle of the basketball universe. On the other hand, 6-foot-4 prep star Nick Williams (#100) gets credit for his impact BEFORE playing his first game at Marquette. Granted I’m biased living in Alabama, but I believe Nick Williams may have opened a Southern recruiting pipeline for Tom Crean by signing with Marquette after winning the Alabama state title as a junior last year. And then there is William Gates (#79) …
The greatest subjective boost the program has gotten beyond championships is from Gates.
How do you measure the impact of the movie “Hoop Dreams” against wins and losses?
Early in the movie – which Roger Ebert ranked as the best movie of the 1990s and I consider the best movie ever – we see Gates as a prep sophomore leading his team in the playoffs. When watching Gates exploding down the court, then defying gravity and twirling 360-degrees in the air to softly bank a shot off the glass, we would all assume he would end up piling up his “greatness points” for big numbers for his future statistics at Marquette and in the NBA.
And then Hoop Dreams becomes a tragedy. A knee injury and other personal developments keep Gates from his greatness on the courts at Marquette and the NBA. However, how much did it help the program for kids to watch Coach Kevin O’Neill refuse to give up on Gates, as he gives Gates’ family straight talk in their inner city home in Chicago? How much did it say to potential Marquette recruits who are so often discarded by programs to watch how O’Neill and Marquette took care of Gates, keeping him on scholarship even while going to the Sweet 16 with him unable to play in 1994?
Our friends at that other Catholic school with the gold helmets can cry when Rudy gets on the field to tackle the Georgia Tech quarterback in his last game. The best cry I get when watching a movie is when Gates in the gold Marquette jersey at the conclusion of the film while his voice over says, "People always say to me, 'When you make it to the NBA, don't forget about me.' Well, I should have said back, 'If I don't make it to the NBA, don't you forget about me.'"
William Gates had a strong freshman campaign at Marquette, starting 17 games including a 23-point performance to beat St. Louis in the tournament. When Ronnie Eford (1,400 points, 150 3-pointers, 500 rebounds) arrived on campus the next year to team up with the great Tony Miller and Robb Logterman (1,200 points) in the backcourt, Gates role diminished.and ultimately he never realized his dream of making the NBA, .
Still, his place in history will be immortalized in Hoop Dreams long after most NBA stars are forgotten, and for that he belongs on the list of the greatest Marquette players of all time.
John Pudner, Journalism ’88, was Editorial Editor and then News Editor for the Marquette Tribune. He was named top sports news writer in Virginia in 1991 while working for the Charlottesville Observer and wrote a weekly column on his rankings of baseball pitchers for the New York Post before leaving journalism for a career in politics and government affairs.