Sean Merriman, web editor, May 29, 2015

Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports
Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

It's one of the hotter debates in sports right now: Is LeBron James better than Michael Jordan?

With Cleveland's sweep over Atlanta in the Eastern Conference Finals, James advanced to his fifth straight NBA Finals. What makes this year's run one of his most impressive is that he is doing it with an injury-riddled team.

We've heard from former Detroit Pistons Bad Boy Bill Laimbeer, who made news on Thursday by saying LeBron "can do more" than Jordan. Even Forbes Magazine did an in-depth piece comparing the two NBA greats.

When comparing the two, there are four categories that seem to come up in every debate: championships, stats, accolades and surrounding talent.

So, this got me thinking about the greatest Big Ten basketball players to ever play the game. I came up with a list of 12 players who could all make a case for being the greatest, and broke down the list into those four categories.

I also asked senior writer Tom Dienhart, senior editor Brent Yarina, and BTN analyst Stephen Bardo for their opinions on the greatest Big Ten basketball player of all time.

Here's what I got.


Steve Alford, Indiana
Calbert Cheaney, Indiana
Mateen Cleaves, Michigan State
Jim Jackson, Ohio State
Magic Johnson, Michigan State
Jerry Lucas, Ohio State
Rick Mount, Purdue
Glen Rice, Michigan
Glenn Robinson, Purdue
Cazzie Russell, Michigan
Isiah Thomas, Indiana
John Wooden, Purdue


Alford: 1
Cleaves: 1
Johnson: 1
Lucas: 1
Rice: 1
Thomas: 1
Wooden: 1


Alford: 19.5 PPG, 3.1 APG, 1.4 SPG
Cheaney: 19.8 PPG, 5.4 RPG, .438 3-point percentage
Cleaves: 12.5 PPG, 6.6 APG, 1.6 SPG
Jackson: 19.2 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 4.0 APG
Johnson: 17.1 PPG, 7.9 APG, 7.6 RPG
Lucas: 24.3 PPG, 17.2 RPG
Mount: 32.3 PPG, 2.9 RPG
Rice: 18.2 PPG, 6.4 RPG, .480 3-point percentage
Robinson: 27.5 PPG, 9.7 RPG
Russell: 27.1 PPG, 8.5 RPG
Thomas: 15.4 PPG, 5.7 APG, 3.5 RPG
Wooden: 12.2 PPG (senior season)


Alford: 2x first-team All-American (1986, 1987), Big Ten MVP (1987)
Cheaney: National Player of the Year (1993), First-team All-American (1993), Big Ten MVP (1993), Big Ten's all-time leading scorer
Cleaves: First-team All-American (1999), Big Ten MVP (1998, 1999), Final Four Most Outstanding Player (2000)
Jackson: 2x first-team All-American (1991, 1992), Big Ten MVP (1991, 1992)
Johnson: First-team All-American (1979), Final Four Most Outstanding Player (1979)
Lucas: National Player of the Year (1961, 1962), 3x first-team All-American (1960, 1961, 1962), Final Four Most Outstanding Player (1960, 1961)
Mount: 2x first-team All-American (1969, 1970), Big Ten MVP (1969, 1970)
Rice: Big Ten MVP (1989), Final Four Most Outstanding Player (1989)
Robinson: National Player of the Year (1994), First-team All-American (1994), Big Ten MVP (1994)
Russell: National Player of the Year (1966), 2x first-team All-American (1965, 1966)
Thomas: First-team All-American (1981), Final Four Most Outstanding Player (1981)
Wooden: National Player of the Year (1932), 3x-first team All-American (1930, 1931, 1932)


Alford: Keith Smart and Dean Garrett
Cheaney: Greg Graham and Alan Henderson
Cleaves: Morris Peterson and Charlie Bell
Jackson: Chris Jent and Lawrence Funderburke
Johnson: Greg Kelser and Jay Vincent
Lucas: John Havlicek and Gary Bradds
Mount: Larry Weatherford and Bob Ford
Rice: Rumeal Robinson and Terry Mills
Robinson: Cuonzo Martin and Matt Waddell
Russell: John Clawson and Oliver Darden
Thomas: Ray Tolbert and Randy Wittman
Wooden: Harry Kellar and Charles Stewart


Stephen Bardo: Jerry Lucas. I'd have to say  Lucas. He was a three-time All American and a two-time Big Ten player of year. He also was a national champion his sophomore year.

Tom Dienhart: Jerry Lucas. He was a three-time consensus All-American, a two-time AP Player of the Year, three-time Big Ten Player of the Year, a two-time Final Four Most Outstanding Player who led the Buckeyes to the 1960 title. Still not impressed? Lucas also won a Gold Medal in 1960 and was an NBA champ with the Knicks in 1973. That makes him just one of seven players ever to achieve all three feats. As a pro, Lucas was voted to the NBA?s 50th anniversary team and was a seven time all-star. The guy?s resume is impossible to ignore.

Sean Merriman: Rick Mount. National championships are important, and Mount didn't win one during his time at Purdue. However, keep in mind that this guy did lead the Boilermakers to their first ever NCAA Tournament appearance, which resulted to a trip to the national championship game, where they lost to one of the greatest UCLA teams ever assembled. He averaged more than 32 points per game en route to being named a two-time All-American and Big Ten Player of the Year. Those numbers are simply unmatched when it comes to the greatest Big Ten players of all time.

Brent Yarina: Glenn Robinson. I wasn't alive for Jerry Lucas and Magic Johnson's Big Ten days, so I'm a little hesitant to go with either of them. The Big Dog is the best Big Ten player I?ve watched, and I'm confident he could rival any player of any generation. The consensus national player of the year and a Big Ten champion in a memorable 1994 season, Robinson averaged 24.1 points and 9.2 rebounds in 1993 and 30.3 and 10.1 in 1994, becoming the only Big Ten player to score 1,000 points in a season. Had he stayed another year, he would be the Big Ten?s all-time leading scorer – assuming he stayed healthy and scored at his 1994 rate.