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Best Players to Wear Each Number in UConn MBB History: 0-15

Rob Joyce
April 08, 2020 - 4:40 pm
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The Final Four was supposed to be last weekend, putting a cap on the 2019-20 basketball season. Obviously that isn’t happening, and the sports world needs to fill the void somehow. We’ve run through a few historic UConn-related items over the past month, and it continues this week with the start of a new project: naming the best player to wear each jersey number in men’s basketball history.

The Athletic ran a similar project last week, with UConn writer Charlotte Carroll making an excellent list for the women’s basketball program (we agreed with all of them, except maybe one). We’ll divvy up the men’s team over the next three weeks, starting with numbers 0 through 15.

0/00 – Cliff Robinson: Phillip Nolan started a trend in 2013, as four players since have worn “0”, something never done at UConn. Before Nolan, the only player to do it wore “00” in Robinson, a two-time All-Big East selection who helped lead the Huskies to the 1988 NIT title as a junior. A second-round selection in the 1989 NBA Draft, Robinson wound up scoring 19,591 points in his NBA career.

 

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\Photo Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

 

1 – Christian Vital: His college career abruptly ended, a disappointment given how well he and the team played down the stretch. But it doesn’t take away from what was a very good collegiate career. The All-AAC First Team selection was second in the conference in scoring this year and first in steals, ending his career starting 100 consecutive games. He’s 10th all-time at UConn in scoring (1,783 points), second in made threes (265) and third in steals (215).

 

2 – DeAndre Daniels: After a quiet freshman season in which he only scored 3.0 points per game, Daniels was a key contributor over his final two seasons in Storrs, averaging 12.1 as a sophomore and then 13.1 as a junior, helping the Huskies to the 2014 national title. That includes a memorable performance in the 2014 Sweet 16 win over Iowa State, in which Daniels scored 18 points in the second half, finishing with 26 in the 81-76 victory.

Jalen Adams also wore No. 2 for the first half of his career – hitting that three-quarter court shot against Cincinnati – before switching to No. 4 for his final two seasons. And the current No. 2., James Bouknight, is off to an excellent start to his collegiate career.

 

3 – Caron Butler: Our first number that could potentially spark debate, Butler gets the edge over Charlie Villanueva and Jeremy Lamb. All three spent two years in Connecticut, with Butler’s accomplishments overshadowing the rest. The 2002 Big East Player of the Year and an All-American, he averaged 18.0 points per game for his career, scored 1,136  and still sits 42nd all-time in scoring. For context, everyone above him on the list played either three or four years.

A two-time NBA All-Star, Butler spent 14 seasons in the NBA, going to two All-Star games.

 

4 – Ben Gordon: One of the two faces of the 2004 national championship team, Gordon is seventh all-time in scoring (1,795 points) at UConn. A two-time All-Big East performer, Gordon did his best work in the postseason. He made the All-Big East Tournament team in all three of his collegiate seasons, including a legendary 2004 performance in which he scored 81 points in just three games. He set the program record in the NCAA Tournament with 36 points in an Elite 8 win over Alabama.

Honorable mentions for No. 4 go to Jeff Adrien and Jalen Adams.

5 – Marcus Williams: Williams is among the best true point guards in UConn history, at least from a classic definition of the position. He wasn’t a big scorer – in three years he only reached 627 points – but he was a heck of a distributor. His 7.3 assists per game is far and away the most in school history – Doron Sheffer is second at 5.5 – and his 510 total is eighth (while he played 70 games, everyone else in the top-10 played at least 102).

Others to wear No. 5 include Niels Giffey and Daniel Hamilton.

Nos. 6-9: Five men’s players wore numbers 6-through-9 in the 1940s. The most notable of those was No. 9 Walt Dropo. The first true star at UConn, you probably know him better as the former American League Rookie of the Year with the Red Sox. In Storrs, the Moose from Moosup left as the all-time leading scorer in basketball, averaging 20.7 points a game in three years by scoring 848 points in just 41 games.

10 – Earl Kelley: A major presence in the 1980s, Kelley sits 19th on UConn’s all-time scoring list, with 1,592 points, and only 11 players got to 1,000 points faster than Kelley’s 63 games. The New Haven native was the Big East’s Rookie of the Year in 1983 and a two-time All-Big East performer in his four years. For his career he averaged 16.9 points and 4.1 assists per game.

11 – Doron Sheffer: This is the first real test. Sheffer, Jerome Dyson, Ryan Boatright and Hilton Armstrong all had very good UConn careers. Armstrong only had one really good year, garnering All-Big East honors and winning Defensive Player of the Year in 2006, so he’s out. While Boatright (1,786) and Dyson (1,630) both scored more points, we give the nod to Israeli-born Sheffer.

The 1994 Big East Rookie of the Year, Sheffer was part of a core that won three straight Big East regular season titles and the ’96 conference tourney title. His 559 assists are fifth all-time, while his 5.5 assists per game sit second. All that makes Sheffer the best No. 11 in UConn history.

 

12 – Taliek Brown: With apologies to Andre Drummond, an All-Freshman performer in his lone year with the Huskies in 2012, this is a point guard’s number in Storrs. Taliek Brown, Kevin Ollie and AJ Price were all multi-year starters who achieved success. But we give the nod to Brown, the heartbeat of the early-2000s teams who captained the Huskies to the 2004 national championship.

A four-year starter, Brown is the program’s all-time assist leader (722), and although he wasn’t a big scorer (7.8 points a game for his career) nor a big shooter (17 career made threes), his 35-footer late in double overtime of the 2002 Big East Final against Pitt will be remembered forever. After a pro career overseas, he’s now on Dan Hurley’s staff.

 

13 – Shabazz Napier: Chris Smith has been the school’s all-time leading scorer since 1992... but he isn’t the best No. 13 in UConn history. Shabazz Napier started his career averaging 7.8 points off the bench in winning a national title with Kemba Walker in 2011. He got better each year, and by 2014 did his best Kemba impression by leading the underdog Huskies to another championship.

A consensus All-American in 2014, he was the NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, averaging 21.1 points in the Huskies’ six wins. He’s the only UConn player to sit in the top-five in both points (1,959; fourth) and assists (646; third).

14 – Karl Hobbs: The former assistant graduated in 1984 as the school’s all-time leader in assists, and his 534 is still sixth. He also scored an even 900 points in his Huskies career, including his junior year in which he averaged 11.8 a game. After his playing days he went into coaching, spending a combined 12 years in two stints as an assistant under Jim Calhoun and Kevin Ollie, helping the Huskies win the 1999 and 2014 national titles.

 

15 – Kemba Walker: In the discussion as the greatest player in program history, there’s no doubting Walker went on the greatest postseason run at UConn. The All-American averaged 25 points per game in 2011 and was somehow even better in March.

In the Big East Tournament, in which he led the Huskies to five wins in five days, he averaged 26 points, 6.4 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 2.8 steals per game, highlighted of course by his ankle-breaking game-winner against Pitt – the last of three game-winners that came inside the final five seconds that season. In the NCAA Tournament he averaged 23.5 points, 6.0 rebounds and 5.7 assists, as the Huskies won the national title and closed the year winning 11 consecutive elimination games.

Kevin Freeman, meanwhile, wore No. 15 for his first three seasons (he wore No. 33 in 1999-00). Playing the second-most minutes in program history, Freeman was a starter on the 1999 national title team in that more popular No. 15.

Next week we’ll be back with numbers 20 through 35. Stay tuned!