Back during some cold winter days, there was a little project in this blog’s old space that went through the ACC’s all-era teams.
First there was 1954-64.
And that was it – mainly because the ACC tournament started, Maryland flamed out, there were bracket projections to do every day and quite honestly it got forgotten about.
Of course, I still have an e-mail from colleague Kevin Brewer with his 1996-2004 team (the 2004 endpoint chosen because it was the final season before conference expansion). So it seemed fair to revisit the subject, even it might come off as something like a lost episode that gets slipped into a DVD set.
Ultimately, those episodes tend to be as forgettable as most things that are “lost.” The first team from this era isn’t forgettable so much as it is predictable.
Seriously, who’s arguing Tim Duncan? Or Jason Williams? Or Juan Dixon? Antawn Jamison was only a three-time all-conference pick. And Shane Battier, well, Battier was just really, really good.
The second team is a little dicier. Julius Hodge is a great player for this exercise, since you can define him as a guard or a forward. In an era short on scoring guards who stuck around, he makes it easier to squeeze in an extra forward at the expense of a solid point guards like Steve Blake or Ed Cota.
That frontcourt is a nice mix. There’s former Wake Forest star Josh Howard, who’s done well for himself in the pros. There’s the underrated Matt Harpring, who had the misfortune of playing in the ACC at the same time as Duncan and Jamison but was really, really good. And there’s Lonny Baxter, who despite “that gun thing” was still a vital piece for Maryland earlier this decade.
The coach of this contingent would be Mike Krzyzewski, who rebounded from his asterisk-marred 1995 leave of absence to take the Blue Devils to the round of 16 every year from 1998 to 2006, collect five straight ACC titles (1999-2003) and win a third national championship in 2001.
So here it is in list form:
G Jason Williams, Duke
G Juan Dixon, Maryland
F Shane Battier, Duke
F Antawn Jamison, North Carolina
C Tim Duncan, Wake Forest
G Trajan Langdon, Duke
G Julius Hodge, N.C. State
F Josh Howard, Wake Forest
F Matt Harpring, Georgia Tech
F Lonny Baxter, Maryland
Coach: Mike Krzyzewski, Duke
And here’s Kevin Brewer’s take on the era – at long last:
PG Jason Williams, Duke: 19.3 points, 6.0 assists, 2.18 steals
SG Juan Dixon, Maryland: 16.1 points, 51.1 2-point shooting, 85.0 free throw shooting, 2.35 steals
F Shane Battier, Duke: 13.6 points, 6.1 rebounds, 57.0 2-point shooting, 41.6 3-point shooting, many charges drawn
F Antawn Jamison, North Carolina: 19.0 points, 9.9 rebounds, 58.3 2-point shooting
C Tim Duncan, Wake Forest: 16.5 points, 12.3 rebounds, 58.8 2-point shooting, 3.76 blocks
PG Ed Cota, North Carolina: 9.1 points, 7.5 assists
SG Joe Forte, North Carolina: 18.7 points, 5.8 rebounds, 81.0 free throw shooting
F Josh Howard, Wake Forest: 13.9 points, 6.6 rebounds, 52.2 2-point shooting
F Julius Hodge, N.C. State: 15.8 points, 6.0 rebounds, 52.0 2-point shooting
F Carlos Boozer, Duke: 14.9 points, 7.2 rebounds, 63.2 2-point shooting
Coach: Mike Krzyzewski, Duke: five ACC titles, three Final Fours, one national title
The first team was all chalk.
Tim Duncan is on the short list of the best players in ACC history. His perfect bank shot, the post moves, it was all there in college.
The same goes for Antawn Jamison. He was a natural rebounder who bounced up and down sort of unnaturally, and he had a special knack for making all types of layins and flip shots around the basket.
Jason Williams was a great offensive player, although his free throw shooting Achilles was his undoing against Indiana in 2002. The perfect complement to Williams, Juan Dixon could shoot and shut down opposing guards.
But the era was Battier’s. He was the ultimate team player when others wanted to showcase THEIR game. He stayed in college for four years when the best players were leaving early for the NBA. Best of all, Battier had no great strengths other than his defense. But he had no weakness. He was good, even very good at everything.
Three excellent forwards lead the second team: Julius Hodge, Carlos Boozer and Josh Howard. Hodge revived N.C. State’s program, leading the Wolfpack to its first Sweet 16 since 1989.
The guards are Ed Cota and Joseph Forte, two good but not great players who wouldn’t have made the second team in any other era. The pair beat out other above average but not special guards: Steve Blake, Chris Duhon, Trajan Langdon and Roger Mason.
Mike Krzyzewski was in the Second Act of his career. Post back surgery, he returned a kindler, gentler coach, a theory greatly informed by his association with Battier, with whom he won another national title.
Krzyzewski mastered the art of winning the ACC Tournament, winning five straight after taking just three through 1998. It is a different dynamic than finishing first in the conference or even advancing to the Final Four.