Weighting historic greatness is a tricky exercise, even in hindsight. There have been dozens of truly memorable stars and individual seasons over the past decade, there’s no defined way assign value and everyone’s memories tend to work a little differently as time goes on. That being said, as our All-Decade team aimed to honor players who put together the best college careers, this list shifts the focus to memorable single-season play. Predictably, there’s a good deal of overlap there. But in selecting this list, a bit less weight was placed on tournament results, and more emphasis was given to memorable performances, prolific statistical output, and individual influence on a given season.
1. Anthony Davis, Kentucky, 2011–12
Stats: 14.2 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 4.7 BPG
Gifted with superb length and coordination, shot-blocking instincts and skill around the basket, Davis accomplished just about everything possible in his brief stop at Kentucky. He provided an ample defensive backbone for a historically successful, championship-winning group that finished with a record 38 wins while losing just twice. The Wildcats had a wealth of talent, but Davis was the glue that pulled them together, covering for mistakes and wiping away opponents’ best efforts with his presence. He won just about every honor in the process, including the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player and the Wooden and Naismith Awards, and led the country with an absurd 186 blocks—more than a vast majority of entire Division I teams. His 9.93 win shares stand as the the top single-season mark of the decade. Perhaps most impressively, Davis imparted his will on games and led Kentucky in scoring despite using just 19.3% of offensive possessions, the fifth-best mark on the team. We may never see another college star couple low maintenance and high impact to such powerful effect, nor while exacting such lofty results in the process. His points per game are far from the entire story, and Davis’s lone college season remains the pinnacle of efficient dominance.
2. Zion Williamson, Duke, 2018–19
Stats: 22.6 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 2.1 SPG, 1.8 BPG
No recency bias here: Williamson’s brief stay at Duke produced the most statistically dominant college season in the modern era, one that was loudly hyped, but perhaps not properly appreciated in the moment. Safe to say, Williamson was a force of nature like we’d never seen, coupling an almost inhuman mix of strength, explosiveness and touch with an infectious joy and feel for the game. His play translated from the highlight reel and into just about every metric thinkable: he owns the highest single-season box-plus minus score on record (20.0), shot a ridiculous 74.7% on two-point shots (and a respectable 33.8% from three), and singlehandedly turned Duke into must-see television. While the Blue Devils fell short against a deeper, more experienced Michigan State team in the Elite Eight, it’s hard to dock Williamson too much, particularly given the prolific way he closed the season returning from an injury, and the fact that Duke lost just three games with him in the lineup. Zion burned as bright as any star in the history of the college game, and ought to be remembered as such. Save for the missing hardware, his case is as prolific as it gets.
3. Kemba Walker, UConn, 2010–11
Stats: 23.5 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 4.5 APG, 1.9 SPG
The final third of Walker’s junior year at UConn has become the stuff of legend. The Huskies struggled to a 9–9 conference mark, tied for ninth in a deep Big East, relying heavily on a handful of underclassmen to support their star. With a series of fearless performances, the shifty junior guard carried his team to eleven straight wins, the Big East tournament title, and an NCAA championship. Draining a slew of memorable, clutch shots in the process (including a buzzer-beating winner against Pitt), Walker was named most outstanding player in both tournaments, played more total minutes than any Division I player this decade, led the NCAA in win shares, and averaged 23.5 points (fifth in the country), 5.4 rebounds and 4.5 assists on the year. His 130 points in five Big East tournament wins in a five-day span was the most by any player in any conference tournament in 15 years. On whole, Walker’s season wasn’t historically prolific, but he carried the heaviest load through a grueling stretch, was at his best when it mattered most, and came out as a champion, a folk hero of sorts, and a lasting part of the college hoops lexicon.
4. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin, 2014–15
Stats: 18.8 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 1.5 BPG
Kaminsky’s senior-year stats are made all the more impressive by the fact his Wisconsin team operated at a mind-bogglingly slow pace (finishing 346th out of 351 D-I teams in adjusted tempo out of, according to KenPom data). The Badgers also posted the highest adjusted offensive efficiency mark in KenPom history in the process, riding the sweet-shooting seven-footer to a final mark of 36–4 and comfortably taking Big Ten regular-season and tournament titles. They exacted revenge on Kentucky in a rematch of the previous season’s Final Four before falling to Duke in the title game. The late-blooming Kaminsky peaked in full, dominating inside the paint, capably spacing the floor for teammates, and proving a devastating fit within Bo Ryan’s methodical offense. It was perhaps the most dominant year from a ‘stretch’ big in recent memory, as the centerpiece of a historically good group, and perhaps underappreciated in hindsight.
5. Buddy Hield, Oklahoma, 2015–16
Stats: 25.0 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 45.7% 3FG
Hield emerged as a full-blown star as a senior, enjoying a massive uptick in accuracy and putting together one of the most impressive shooting seasons in recent memory. Hield drained threes at a 45.7% clip while attempting nearly nine per game (and shot 50.1% overall) a lethal blend of high efficiency and high volume that’s essentially unheard of at the college level. His transformation into a truly high-end perimeter scorer spearheaded an unlikely Final Four run (before Oklahoma encountered the Villanova buzzsaw) and also gifted viewers with a 46-point performance in a memorable triple-overtime loss to Kansas. As far as pure scorers are concerned, Hield’s season was about as good as it gets.
6. Jahlil Okafor, Duke, 2014–15
Stats: 17.3 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 1.4 BPG
The centerpiece and offensive fulcrum of a title-winning Duke team, Okafor put together one of the more memorable one-and-done years in recent memory, his sheer dominance on the interior proving too much for most teams to handle. Statistically, his case doesn’t hold up as well as some, but the Blue Devils’ egalitarian offensive approach and his individual efficiency buys Okafor some leeway relative to others with gaudier counting stats. While Frank Kaminsky swept the Player of the Year awards, Duke got the last laugh in the national title game, spurred by two late Okafor baskets despite the fact that he battled foul trouble. Few college centers, much less freshmen, have ever been quite as polished as Okafor on the offensive end, and his production coupled with championship results earns him a spot here.
7. Doug McDermott, Creighton, 2013–14
Stats: 26.7 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 44.9% 3FG
McDermott’s final college season served as the culmination of an outstanding career, leading the nation in scoring, winning consensus National Player of the Year, and putting together his third straight consensus All-American campaign. Historic consistency and efficiency made Dougie McBuckets the sport’s biggest star, scoring 20-plus points in all but five games in carrying Creighton to national relevance. While the Bluejays were also subject to their third consecutive second-round tournament exit, McDermott’s individual greatness earns him a well-deserved spot on this list.
8. Jimmer Fredette, BYU, 2010–11
Stats: 28.9 PPG, 4.3 APG, 1.3 SPG
Earning himself membership in college basketball’s heralded first-name basis club, Jimmer sniffed at 30 points per game while leading the country in scoring as a senior, turning late-night Mountain West games into must-watch basketball across the country. Fredette and his scoring outbursts—Jimmermania—became a national story, as he lifted BYU into national respectability in the rankings. Despite battling junk defenses and double-teams all season, he was held under 20 points just three times all season, peaking with a 52-point explosion in the Mountain West tournament. BYU’s season ended with an overtime loss to Florida, and Fredette’s NBA career would be less successful, but it’s hard to forget the mark he left on the college game.
9. Denzel Valentine, Michigan State, 2015–16
Stats: 19.2 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 7.8 APG
Valentine is the only college player on record since assists began being widely tracked to average 19 points, seven rebounds and seven assists over the course of a season. Sprinkle in the fact he shot 44% from three-point range while doing so, and you’ve got a statistically prolific season that holds up against just about anyone. Valentine didn’t add much defensively, but carried a massive workload for the Spartans, who won the Big Ten tournament before a disappointing first-round upset against Middle Tennessee State. But Valentine’s individual efficiency and playmaking earn him a deserving place on this list.
10. Trae Young, Oklahoma, 2017–18
Stats: 27.4 PPG, 8.7 APG, 1.7 SPG
Leading the nation in scoring and assists per game, particularly as playing in the Big 12 and especially as a true freshman, is no small feat. While Young’s Oklahoma team fizzled out hard down the stretch, the workload he admirably carried with dazzling individual play earned him the final spot on the list. Nobody pegged Oklahoma to do much coming into the year, and the Sooners took their lumps, predictably, with little in the way of a malleable supporting cast. But Young, a highly rated but underhyped recruit, accomplished some historic things along the way, with deep shooting range and impressive passing vision helping to elevate his team for the first couple months of the season. There were plenty of guards with better overall careers and who enjoyed more team success, but Young’s insane production and exciting playmaking displays won’t be forgotten anytime soon.