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The 20 Greatest Louisville Basketball Players Of All-Time

Streeter Lecka

This has become an annual summer debate, but one which I think has some added intrigue now that some modern players are demanding consideration.

Only players who have completed their college careers are considered for this list, which means no Russ Smith or Tim Henderson for now.

1) Darrell Griffith (1976-1980)

Louisville's all-time leading scorer, "Dr. Dunkenstein" led the Cardinals to a 33-3 record and their first national championship in his senior year of 1980. He holds the single-season scoring record with 825 points, and remarkably is the only player in Louisville history to score more than 700 in a season. In 1980 he was the recipient of the John Wooden Award, which is given annually to the best player in the country.

Kentucky's Mr. Basketball in 1976, the Male High product had his jersey retired in a ceremony immediately following the 1980 championship. His road jersey is on permanent display at the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.


2) Wes Unseld (1964-1968)

In 1964, Unseld began his career at U of L where he averaged 35.8 points per game and 23.6 rebounds per game in 14 games with a freshman team. He was a 3-year letter winner, scored 1,686 points in 82 games (20.6 points per game), grabbed 1,551 rebounds (18.9 rebounds per game), led the conference in rebounding in 1966, 1967 and 1968, and led Louisville to a 60-22 record with two trips to the NCAA tournament and one trip to the NIT. Unseld went on to be the first player in NBA history to win both Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player in the same season.


3) Pervis Ellison (1985-1989)

The only player in Cardinal history to total over 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds, "Never Nervous Pervis" Ellison became the first U of L player to be taken number one overall in the NBA Draft when the Sacramento Kings took him with the first pick in 1989. He is Louisville's all-time leading shot blocker, having blocked at least one shot in 130 of his 136 collegiate games, and is also the school's third leading scorer. In 1986 he led the Cards to a national championship, and became the first freshman since 1944 to be named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four.


4) Charlie Tyra (1953-1957)

Louisville's all-time leading rebounder, Charlie Tyra led U of L to its first NIT title in 1956, and was a consensus All-American in both the '55-'56 and '56-'57 seasons. He set the school record for rebounds in a game when he snatched a remarkable 39 against Canisius, and ranks first in made free-throws, second in career rebounding average, fourth in career scoring average, fifth in career scoring, and eighth in field goals made. He's also surely somewhere in the top 10 in manly body hair.


5) Butch Beard (1966-1969)

One of only two U of L players to average 20 points or more in multiple seasons, Beard holds the Cardinal record for points in a conference game with 41 and ranks second on Louisville's career scoring average list. He was a two-time All-Missouri Valley Conference selection, and was an All-American in 1969. Beard went on to play nine seasons in the NBA and coached the New Jersey Nets.


6) Derek Smith (1978-1982)

A starter on the 1980 national championship team and one of 19 Cardinals to have his jersey retired, Smith ranks sixth on U of L's all-time scoring list with 1,826 career points. He was a three-time All-Metro Conference performer, and the league's Player of the Year in 1981. A member of the flashy "Doctors of Dunk," Smith and teammate Wiley Brown are believed by many to have invented (or at least popularized) the high five.


7) Milt Wagner (1981-1986)

A three-time All-Metro Conference selection, Milt "Ice" Wagner ranks fifth (was fourth after finishing collegiate career) in Cardinal history with 1,836 career points, with a 12.7 career scoring average while also averaging 3.0 assists and 2.5 rebounds. He played in 144 career games, second all-time at Louisville, and started the last 111 games he played. He ranks sixth in career assists (432) and seventh in career free throw percentage (.808, 336-of-413).

Wagner helped lead the Louisville Cardinals to the 1986 NCAA Championship along with three Final Four berths (1982, 1983, 1986) and a trip to the 1984 Sweet Sixteen. He helped the Cardinals to a 113-32 record, three Metro Conference regular season titles and two Metro Conference Tournament crowns during his college career. He redshirted the 1985 season with a broken foot.


8) DeJuan Wheat (1993-1997)

Louisville's second all-time leader in scoring (2,183 points) and three-point field goals (323), Wheat also ranks fourth all-time at U of L in assists (498). As a senior, he was named Honorable Mention All-America by The Associated Press, as well as Third Team All-America by the National Association of Basketball Coaches and Second Team All-America by The Sporting News. He led the Cardinals in scoring (17.3), assists (career-high 4.3), steals (career-high 1.94), three-point field goals (career-high 97) and minutes played (34.9 per game) as a senior and had 15 games with 20 or more points. The former Ballard High star helped lead the Cards to the Sweet 16 in 1996 and the Elite Eight a season later.


9) Junior Bridgeman (1972-1975)

Ulysses "Junior" Bridgeman was twice named the Player of the Year the Missouri Valley Conference, and would go on to have his jersey retired by the Milwaukee Bucks. He earned All-America honors as a senior when he averaged 16.1 ppg and led the Cards to the 1975 Final Four.


10) Rodney McCray (1979-1983)

One of only four U of L players to surpass both 1,000 career points and rebounds, McCray started as a freshman on the 1980 national championship team and was a member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic Team. One of the most exciting players in Cardinal history, he was honored as the Metro Conference Player of the Year as a senior in 1983, and would go on to play ten seasons in the NBA.


11. Billy Thompson (1982-86)

The leading scorer on the 1986 national championship team, Thompson ranks 11th at Louisville in career points, seventh in blocked shots and eighth in rebounds. He is the only Cardinal to rank in the top 11 of each of those categories.


12. Clifford Rozier (1992-1994)

A transfer from North Carolina, Rozier became Louisville's first consensus First-Team All-American since Darrell Griffith when he averaged 18.1 points and 11.1 rebounds as a junior in 1994. He was the Metro Conference's Player of the Year for both the '92-93 and '93-'94 seasons, and recorded 41 double-doubles during his two-year stay at U of L. He is still the last Cardinal to be named a first team AP All-American.


13. Reece Gaines (1999-2003)

Louisville's 4th all-time leading scorer, Gaines remarkably ranks in the top five in scoring, assists, steals, three-point field goals and free throws at U of L. Despite playing with a sub-par supporting cast, Gaines almost single-handedly made Rick Pitino's first two years at Louisville much easier than they could have been. He was a finalist for National Player of the Year as a senior in 2003 when he led the Cards to a Conference USA Tournament championship and a four seed in the NCAA Tournament.


14. LaBradford Smith (1987-1991)

One of the most electrifying point guards in U of L history, Smith's school record of 713 assists may never be broken. He also ranks in Louisville's top ten all-time in in steals (third) and points (seventh), and is the school's all-time leader in career free-throw percentage.


15. Jim Price (1969-1972)

The 1972 All-American led U of L to the Final Four as a senior when he averaged 21.0 points per game. In just three seasons, Price totaled 1,490 points for the Cardinals.


16. Peyton Siva (2009-2013)

The only player other than Patrick Ewing to be named Big East Tournament MVP in back-to-back seasons, Siva also led U of L to back-to-back Final Four appearances, and captured the national championship as a senior in 2013. He heads to the pros as Louisville's all-time leader in steals, and ranks behind only LaBradford Smith in career assists.


17. Herbert Crook (1984-1988)

"Superb Herb" Crook was a starter on the '86 national championship team who was named the Metro Conference's Player of the Year a season later. A fan favorite because of the passion he brought to the game, Crook is Louisville's 9th all-time leading scorer and ranks sixth in career free throws made.


18. Terrence Williams (2005-09)

One of the most explosive players in Louisville history, Williams is the owner of half of the four triple-doubles recorded in U of L history. He ranks third on the all-time Cardinal list in assists, seventh in rebounds and 18th in points. He was a first team All-Big East selection as a senior when he helped lead Louisville to the No. 1 overall seed in the 2009 NCAA Tournament.


19. John Turner (1958-1961)

The star of Louisville's first Final Four team in 1959, Turner still ranks eighth all-time at U of L in both career scoring average (16.9 ppg) and career rebounding average (10.6 rpg).


20. Mike Grosso (1968-1970)

Grosso played just two seasons for the Cardinals, but the record books will forever remember him as one of the greatest rebounders in U of L history. Only Charlie Tyra and Wes Unseld stand above him in the categories of rebounds in a game and rebounds in a season. He earned All-Missouri Valley Conference honors in both his years at Louisville, averaging 15.7 ppg as a junior, and a team-best 18.6 ppg as a senior.


Obviously, this list begs a number of questions, most notably whether or not Gorgui Dieng belongs. In every statistical category other than blocks, Dieng doesn't match up well with the all-time greats, but anyone who watched Louisville play over the past two seasons can tell you how vital he was to a pair of Final Four teams and a national champion.

Let the debate(s) rage.