Cincinnati Basketball: Ranking the top 5 players of all time

Former Cincinnati Bearcats and current West Virginia Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins recently featured the top players from their previous teams in 10 different categories.

More:Bob Huggins’ dream team consists of former UC Bearcats Martin, Van Exel, Bobbitt and Fortson

I’ve been on the Bearcats Beat for 35 days now. What could be nicer than stirring the pot and changing jobs in my first month than making a list that probably no one will like and that definitely everyone will disagree with?

In honor of Huggins’ list, here is my list of all-time UC basketball players as the starting XI:

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Middle: Kenyon Martin (1996-2000)

UC's Kenyon Martin throws his arms in the air to win the crown at the start of a game against Louisville at the Shoemaker Center.  Martin did this at home before every game.

Martin is arguably the most versatile Bearcat of all time and my choice for the pillar inside. The 6-foot-9 sporting wonder arrived on campus as a lanky, raw project and was named a 2000 Holz and Naismith Prize winner. Fast, explosive, and dominant on both ends of the court, Martin was the best player on a team prepared to take a deep run in the NCAA tournament before heading into Cincinnati’s first game in the 2000 Conference USA tournament Broke his leg. Martin averaged 11 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 1.2 steals, and 2.5 blocks per game, and retired as a program leader on field goal percentages (0.586) and blocks (292). UC withdrew Martin’s No. 4 jersey on April 25, 2000, two months before Martin was No. 1 in the NBA Draft.

Award: None.

Power Forward: Danny Fortson (1994-97)

Danny Fortson

Before there was Martin, there was Fortson. Aptly named Fortson was a fortress – a strong and immobile presence – for Huggins’ Bearcats in the mid-1990s. The Pennsylvania native, Sports Illustrated cover man, who stood 6-foot-7 and weighed at least 260 pounds, combined sheer physicality with a gentle shot to lead UC to consecutive Conference USA championships in 1996 and 1997. Fortson was a consensus-based All-American team in 1997, averaging 21.3 points and 9.1 rebounds at 62% shooting before becoming the 10th overall winner in the NBA draft.

Award: Gary Clark, Pat Cummings and Jason Maxiell.

Little striker: Jack Twyman (1951-55)

October 29, 1960: Cincinnati Royals basketball player Jack Twyman poses before an NBA game against the St. Louis Hawks in St. Louis.

I’m only 34 so unfortunately I never saw Twyman play. But while I was watching games at the Shoemaker Center, I noticed Twyman’s No. 27 jersey hanging on the rafters. Twyman, who like Fortson played his high school ball in Pittsburgh, was the first great player in program history with an average of 24.6 points and 16.5 rebounds as a Bearcat. The 6-foot-6 forward led Cincinnati to a third place in the NIT in 1955 when the NIT was the most notable postseason tournament.

Award: None.

Protect: Nick Van Exel (1991-93)

March 28, 1993: University of Cincinnati and University of North Carolina in NCAA tournament play.  Nick Van Exel # 31 of UC drives the track against George Lynch # 34 of Northern Carolina.

In two seasons in Cincinnati, Van Exel solidified himself as the second best security guard to ever put on a Bearcats uniform. With Van Exel on the starting line-up for the 1991/92 season, UC went 29: 5, won the Conference USA tournament and advanced to the Final Four, where it lost to Michigan and the “Fab Five”. In his second and final year as a starter, Van Exel led Cincinnati with 18.3 points and 4.5 assists per game as the team reached the Elite Eight 27-5 before falling to eventual champions North Carolina in extra time . Van Exel was a finalist for the Wooden Award and became Cincinnati’s all-time leader in three-point field goals (147), attempts (411) and percentages (0.358). While those records have fallen, Van Exel’s legacy and mark on the program hasn’t.

Award: Jarron Cumberland, Sean Kilpatrick, Steve Logan and Deonta Vaughn.

Point Guard: Oscar Robertson (1957-60)

February 22, 1959: Oscar Robertson, University of Cincinnati Basketball

As if there was another option here. Michael Jordan is the best player to ever touch a basketball. But Robertson is on the shortlist of players also being talked about as the greatest of all time. The 6-foot-5 guard revolutionized the game, averaging a school record of 33.8 points per game over its three seasons, the third highest in college history. Robertson also won the national title, was named All-American, and was named College Player of the Year in each of his three campaigns. Robertson led Cincinnati to a 79-9 record during his career, and despite missing a national championship, he remains the greatest player in program history. Robertson is Cincinnati basketball.

Award: None.

Sixth man: Melvin Levett (1995-99)


I could have gone in any number of directions here, but Levett just seemed the best fit. While Robertson is the greatest player in programming history, Levett is hands down the most exciting. Nicknamed “The Helicopter” for his soaring over-the-top acrobatics, Levett was always good for instant insults and getting the crowd up and running.

Award: Ron Bonham, Darnell Burton, Damon Flint, Herb Jones, Roger McClendon and George Wilson.

After compiling this list, I reached out to Cincinnati’s head coach, John Brannen, to gather his thoughts. His answer:

“There would be no coaching in this team,” he said. “I would just sit down and enjoy watching it like everyone else. I would get up, clap a bit, take a break here and there, give them a break. Otherwise, I’ll enjoy it.” show like everyone else. “

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