The Players Who Took Style to Another Level in College Basketball

  • Pete Maravich

    The Pistol dropped buckets, broke hearts, and would’ve killed YouTube had something like that existed when he was going to LSU from 1967-70. He also changed the game with his iconic mop of brown hair, and especially his long, shaggy socks. Stance would’ve been all over that back in the day.

    Pete Maravich Pistol Pete LSU college
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  • Patrick Ewing

    Ewing changed the game from a defensive standpoint, goaltending all kinds of shots in his Nike Dynasties on the way to devastating the Big East at Georgetown and frightening every lane-driving guard into meek submissions during the early ’80s. He also wore a tiny, fitting T-shirt beneath his uniform because the big fella insisted he could never keep warm. He birthed a generation of ballplayers who could never handle the cold.

    Honestly, there are a lot of players who should get credit for keeping the T-shirt alive in college ball. Everyone from Shaq to Kenny Anderson to O’Bannon to even my personal favorite, Khalid El-Amin, wore the oversized shirt with style and swagger, even if it looked super uncomfortable at times. It’s something that’ll probably never come back but when it was here, it was everything.

    Patrick Ewing college Georgetown
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  • The Fab Five

    C’mon, did you really think we wouldn’t end up here? Black kicks — the iconic Nike Air Force Max — with the black socks, with the hip-hop attitude and street games to boot? It wouldn’t have worked if they weren’t super talented…and they were, with three players who eventually put in crazy work in the L. They scared people. They scared the establishment. And over 20 years later, they are still the first thing you think about when you mention swag in college basketball.

    Juwan Howard, Jalen Rose, Chris Webber
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  • UNLV

    UNLV’s teams in the late ’80s and early ’90s were absurdly talented, and outside of UCLA’s run under John Wooden back in the day, I’m not sure any time has dominated the college game the way those Runnin’ Rebels squads did. At one point, they won 45 consecutive games before losing a shocker to Duke in the NCAA Final Four in 1991. At the center of it all was Larry Johnson, whose swagger and confidence and IDFWY attitude came to define these squads. They were good, they broke rules, and they knew it, and they dared you to care. Add in a fantastic coach — RIP, Jerry Tarkanian — who wasn’t afraid of ever going toe-to-toe with the NCAA and the establishment — and you have the recipe for something memorable.

    Larry Johnson UNLV
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  • Lew Alcindor

    He was such a beast that he literally changed the game. They basically outlawed dunks in college ball for almost a decade because Alcindor — he eventually changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, but I suspect you know that — was just so dominant.

    How can you have a list about style and swagger in the college game and not include the guy who was so good at the most stylish part of basketball that they had to name a rule after him?

    Lew Alcindor
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  • Allen Iverson

    Yes, there was the crossover, which he learned at school from a walk-on player. You could see the beginnings of it at times during Ivey’s electrifying two years with the Hoyas. But, the Answer also impressed with his footwear, most notably the “Concord” Air Jordan XI that came to define his time in college. A perfect mix of style, swagger, and game.

    Allen Iverson Georgetown Air Jordan 11 Concord
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  • Mike Bibby

    At Arizona, Bibby was a freshman starter on one of the best teams of the past 20 years. That ‘Zona squad from ’96-97 knocked off three No. 1 seeds and had the best backcourt I’ve ever seen. Three guards — Bibby, Jason Terry, and Michael Dickerson — went on to become first-round picks, and the amazing part about that was the fourth guy (Miles Simon) was the best of ALL OF THEM in college.

    But what Bibby will always be remembered for was being the one guy to rock the classic Nike Air Foamposite One. Scottie Pippen had turned the shoe down, and even the rest of ‘Zona’s starting lineup was too scared to wear them on the floor. Bibby was never that, though.

    Brian Bahr/Getty Images
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  • Kentucky

    Kentucky’s national championship squad in 1996 was nicknamed “The Untouchables” because, well, this team had 11 future pros on it. Yeah, no one was messing with that squad. But as good as they were, what we remember most fondly about them? The unis. Prior to that year, the ‘Cats had been wearing shorts given to them by Converse, tiger-striped joints that made them standout no matter where they played. But the ’95-96 team went to a different level when they came correct in the faded denim fabric uniforms. They even had shoes with some denim intertwined.

    For a fanbase so obsessed with their patented royal blue colors, it was somewhat surprising to seem them latch on and celebrate the denim. The rest of the country, however, had no problems. Just stupid dope.

    Jeff Sheppard Kentucky
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  • The Doctors of Dunk

    Darrell Griffith and the rest of Louisville’s “Doctors of Dunk” squad brought style back to the game with highlight-reel plays and fast-break buckets during the late ’70s. Griffith was rocking with a 48-inch vertical leap — plus the nickname Dr. Dunkenstein — and the team was so exciting they still claim to be the first college squad to become their own brand. Not UNLV. Not the Fab Five. It was all about the Doctors of Dunk.

    Griffith got so involved he even wore doctor smocks around school. Swag.

    Darrell Griffith dunk Louisville
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  • Julius Erving

    The epitome of style. Dr. J terrorized opponents at UMass and he did it all with the high-top Cons, the well-kept afro, and, of course, the dunks. When people talk about both on-court and off-court style in today’s modern game, they almost always have to mention Erving as one of the founding fathers. In fact, I dare you to find an article that doesn’t credit the man who averaged more than 26 points and 20 rebounds per game in two seasons in college ball.

    Julius Erving college UMass
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  • Pete Maravich Pistol Pete LSU college
  • Patrick Ewing college Georgetown
  • Juwan Howard, Jalen Rose, Chris Webber
  • Larry Johnson UNLV
  • Lew Alcindor
  • Allen Iverson Georgetown Air Jordan 11 Concord
  • Jeff Sheppard Kentucky
  • Darrell Griffith dunk Louisville
  • Julius Erving college UMass

College ball will never be quite as lit as the NBA is when it comes to swagger and style, but that’s expected. Outside of dancing Cinderellas, there isn’t enough space for individualism and creativity, the type of stuff that makes the NBA so much fun to watch and follow. The NCAA won’t allow it. Their loss.

With that being said, we’ve still had a few brave soldiers make a difference over the years, players who pushed style to another level, who showcased their potential as eventual style icons, who took the vanilla that the powers that be love to push so much and added a little sugar, a little spice.

From Allen Iverson to J.J. Redick to UNLV to Pistol Pete, we’ve had trendsetters bucking the usual for years in college basketball. It wasn’t always sneakers. It wasn’t always uniforms. It wasn’t always style. Sometimes it was something as simple as UCLA’s Charles O’Bannon rocking the oversized white T-shirt beneath his jersey. Individual creativity is something we all sport in 2015, and it’s directly inspiring everything going on in pop culture right now. From the style trends of the moment to the music coming from cats like Kanye West to sports and athletes turning on the media, it feels like this year is shaping up to be one for the ages if you’re into seeing old regimes die and new ones flourish.

With the NCAA Tournament set to tip off later this week — well, officially it’ll be tonight — we’re going to take it back and show you how the game has evolved over the years. From the days of dad shorts and ugly jump shots, here’s a look at the Players Who Took Style to Another Level in College Basketball.

Follow Sean on Twitter at @seanesweeney

image via Doug Pensinger/Getty Images