Long before the Big East transformed into a football conscious conference, the cornerstones of the league provided Northeast basketball fans with a source of pride and ownership of the collegiate game. A league that oftentimes rendered the Carolina-Duke rivalry secondary by bringing the bright lights and camera crews from the ACC into different backyards like Madison Square Garden, the Capital Centre and the Carrier Dome.
In 1985, the Big East staged its own personal party, sending three teams to the Final Four in Lexington, Ky. As interest grew, and the product proved viable, others wanted a taste, leading to multiple expansions and sadly, a slow and perplexing erosion of its historical
roots. As the “Catholic 7″ readies for next years launch, one of college basketball titans is in the process of being reduced to a fading memory, its soul snuffed out in favor of greed and football. Proximity? Tradition? Common sense?. That was compromised long ago.
Now, it’s all about the Benjamins!
As the curtain draws near on the final conference tournament, it’s time for a trip down memory lane. A tip of the cap to the original pioneers, followed by a standing ovation for the best this mega-conference has ever had the pleasure of calling it’s own.
Big East Dream Team
Pearl Washington, Syracuse, Guard: Washington combined a dazzling array of schoolyard style with efficiency and big game guts during his three seasons with the Orange. A true showman, Pearl is often credited with making the Big East “cool” during its infancy, drawing crowds and TV cameras to the big bubble in Western New York. While his jumper was far from textbook, Washington was money when the game was on the line, combining style and substance. As a result, I’m handing Washington the keys to this historic engine. No question, he’ll hit top speed.
Ray Allen, Connecticut, Guard: A first-team All-America as a junior, Allen’s jump shot remains one of the purest in the history of basketball, at any level. His ability to use screens and work without the ball, combined with powerful rise and quicks made him a nightmare for opposing defenses. If Allen played on lesser teams and was given free reign, I firmly believe he would have sniffed 40 a night and approached “Pistol” Pete territory. Deadly from the line, explosive in the open court and armed with limitless range, he was a true triple threat. A 45-percent career 3-point shooter? Good luck. Oh yeah, and if you bite on the pump fake, expect your center to get posterized.
Patrick Ewing, Georgetown, Center: In a lot of ways, Ewing was like a young Tiger Woods, as players actually feared Ewing. Tall, tough, fluid, and explosive, Ewing played with a ferocity unrivaled by any player I’ve watched at the collegiate level, amassing nearly 500 career blocked shots, not to mention countless pump fakes from players merely hoping to avoid the embarrassment of another emphatic Ewing rejection.
When Ewing laced up his Nikes and his knees were young, he’s in the mix for a spot on the Mt. Rushmore of college basketball’s big men, alongside Mikan, Russell, Wilt, Alcindor and Walton. Sorry Shaq, sorry Hakeem, but in college, there was only one Patrick Ewing.
Chris Mullin, St. John’s, Forward: A gym rat? You bet. An overachiever? Unfair label. While Mullin earned his stripes by going around people rather than over them, his pure basketball talent, his knowledge of the game, his sweet lefty stroke and array of pump fakes and quick hands puts New York’s Chris Mullin in rarefied air. In addition to securing All-American honors three times, Mullin also snagged the prized Wooden Award Trophy in 1985, leading the Johnnies to the Final Four. He could shoot, handle, rebound, dish and yes, even defend. Ask old-timers who read passing lanes better than Mullin, and you’ll get little competition. Imagine if this guy had a three-point line to play with in college.? Look it up kids, he didn’t. The Man.
Derrick Coleman, Syracuse, Forward: It’s easy to submerge yourself with more recent memories of DC, loafing up and down various NBA hardwoods, jacking up lazy 3′s and failing to take care of his body. But that would be a mistake. In a conference built on toughness and rivalries, Coleman stood out, literally, from Day 1. An elite rebounder, Coleman progressed quickly at Syracuse and it was not uncommon to witness this scene: opponent drives the lane and challenges Coleman, Coleman easily swats the feeble shot aside, gains possession, flies up the court, head up in 9 strides before pulling up at the three point line, mixing in a sweet pump fake, followed by a no look pass to a cutting teammate for a wide open jam. On nights when that was too easy, in an effort to entertain himself, he’d test his own range, and let fly a smooth lefty bomb, which he sometimes hit. When you hear the name Derrick Coleman, forget about his professional follies, and pop in an old VHS. He was scary good.
Allen Iverson, Georgetown
Walter Berry, St. John’s
Alonzo Mourning, Georgetown
Carmelo Anthony, Syracuse
Charles Smith, Pitt
Kerry Kittles, Villanova
Richard Hamilton, U Conn
Runner-up: John Thompson, Georgetown: It’s tough to ignore the fact that with the most dominant player of his generation at his disposal, JT reached three NCAA title games — and lost twice. That alone keep him from the top spot.
Brandon Tierney is co-host of the CBS Sports Radio Network morning show with Tiki Barber and Dana Jacobson.