Monday, January 14, 2019

Is Zion Williamson the Best Collegiate Dunker Ever?

By Paul Liacos

Since the beginning of this college basketball season, not one week has gone by without a clip or two of the incomparable Zion Williamson putting on some sort of highlight reel dunk. The replays make their rounds on social media and have reactions along the likes of "OMG" or "This guy is a monster!"

It's can't-miss TV whenever Zion and his Duke Blue Devils hit the floor. He has had an amazing freshman season so far and has all but assured himself as the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.

But amidst the ooohs and ahhs that are provided whenever Williamson throws down one of his thunderous dunks, I couldn't help but wonder if he is the greatest college dunker of all-time. A crazy thought to think considering he's played just about half a freshman season so far, but it absolutely may be accurate.

It also had me thinking of who some of those other great college dunkers were, and where they rank in comparison to Williamson. So I decided to do some research and devise a list of the five best college basketball dunkers of all-time.

5. Jerome Lane (Pittsburgh, PF, 1985-88)

A name that many might not have expected to see so high on this list, but if we are talking about thunderous dunkers that left an impression on the game of basketball, we cannot leave off Jerome Lane. Lane was a 6'6", 230 lb. athletic freak who could play his game above the rim.

An alum of the same high school as LeBron James in St. Vincent-St. Mary of Akron, Ohio, Lane was an absolute monster during his years at Pitt. While he was better known for his rebounding and defensive skill than his offense. When he did decide to throw in a dunk, it had defenders running for their lives to get out of the way.

No better example than the "Send it in, Jerome!" dunk that occurred against Providence College in 1988. Jerome ran the break with point guard Sean Miller and took off from about 15 feet and slammed home one of the most infamous dunks in college basketball history. The main reason being you may ask? He ripped the hoop right off the backboard and completely shattered it!

It was one of the most impressive feats of athletic prowess that the basketball world has ever seen and is still considered one of the greatest dunks in the history of the game.

4. Dominique Wilkins (Georgia, SF, 1979-82)

The man known as the "Human Highlight Reel" was throwing down ridiculous dunks far before he was an NBA all-star for the Atlanta Hawks.

During his time as a Georgia Bulldog, Wilkins was known across the SEC and the entire college basketball landscape as the premier dunker of his time.

If we want to talk about someone that would be the closest comparison to the nastiness and viciousness in which Zion Williamson dunks the basketball it would have to be Wilkins. His ability to throw down thunderous slams and the ease in which he bounced off the floor was jaw-dropping.

It was in college at Georgia where Wilkins first showcased his legendary double-clutch dunk that he would later become famous for in the NBA. He would literally get enough hang time on his dunks that he was able to cock the ball to the side before hammering it home.

When you watch old highlights of him in college, he looks like a man amongst boys out there. He was truly remarkable and not only one of the greatest dunkers, but also one of the great college basketball players of all-time.

3. Michael Jordan (North Carolina, SG, 1981-84)

Before he went on to dominate the NBA, The GOAT himself was one hell of a dunker during his college years at North Carolina.

Jordan was another player who seemed to fly through the air and get more hang time than seemed possible for any normal human being. As we soon found out, Jordan was not normal.

He revolutionized many dunks over his time at North Carolina. He had the infamous "leaner" where he would take off from about 15 feet and lean his body and just float through the air towards the basket. He was also one of the only players to be able to complete a double-clutch that was likely inspired by Mr. Dominique Wilkins himself.

But Jordan's most famous college dunk occurred during the last seconds of a game vs the Maryland Terrapins. He stole the ball at the end of the game and "rocked the cradle" and slammed it home behind him as he flew by the basket, his famous tongue sticking out the whole time. It's one of basketball's most famous dunks of all-time, college or pro.

2. Darrell Griffith (Louisville, SG, 1976-80)

When your nickname is "Dr. Dunkenstein" you better be a tremendous dunker, and Darrell Griffith was certainly that. He was one of the first players that revolutionized the dunk with it being reinstated his freshman season after being banned since 1967 due to the "Lew Alcindor, aka Kareem Abdul-Jabbar" rule.

Griffith was the first guy to bring "style" to dunking amongst the NCAA ranks. He could often be seen throwing down 360s and behind the back dunks during games. His hang-time was absolutely absurd with it being reported that he had a 48" vertical. That's four feet for you wizzes that skipped math class, it's simply unreal.

One of the most impressive facts that I have learned about Griffith was that he wasn't able to palm the basketball, but yet was still able to slam home some of the most impressive dunks in history. Anyone that has tried to dunk on even an 8-foot rim will tell you that it's not easy without being able to palm the ball. I guess when you have a 48" vertical like Griffith did, it isn't too much of an issue.

1. Vince Carter (North Carolina, SG/SF, 1995-98)

If we are talking about hang time and dunking ability, there is no one in the history of the world that had more of it than Mr. Carter.

Sure, he went on to become maybe the greatest dunker in the history of the NBA, but it all started at Chapel Hill where he would do something jaw-dropping almost each and every game.

His dunks became the stuff of legend and he had the whole package, he possessed the entire repertoire of dunks that we had seen from all the other greats on this list, but Carter just did them ... better.

Arguably his most famous dunk came against Virginia where he took off from outside the key and slammed home a two-handed 180 windmill that he dunked behind his head and did it with ease.

I think the thing about Carter that sticks out the most was how easy it looked for him, sure he dunked with ferocity, but it looked effortless the way he would just explode off the floor like he had spring-loaded legs.

There was no one in college basketball at that time that could jump with Carter.

While he may possibly go down as the greatest dunker in the history of the NBA, I think there is no debate that he was the greatest dunker we have ever seen amongst the college ranks.

So, while Zion Williamson is currently the NCAA's dunk king, he clearly has some stiff competition ahead of him if he wants to be considered one of the greatest of all-time.

Knowing that in this one and done era he will be leaving for the NBA after this year, he has half a regular season and an NCAA tournament to prove he belongs on this list. It may sound crazy, but I believe he is completely capable of it.

The one thing I believe he needs to crack this list is his own legendary dunk, a dunk that will forever live in infamy and the replays will be shown for the rest of time. Almost all of these all-time greats have one, and if Williamson can somehow find a way to create his own during the ACC or NCAA tournament, he may be able to cement his place on this list or even challenge the legend that is Vince Carter for the top spot.

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