As we continue our celebration of the start of the next decade of college basketball, we look back at the 2010s and the era it was. We saw massive changes in play style, dress and roster building from 2010 to 2019 as the three-point shot became more relevant, shorts got shorter and transfers are all the rage.
But one thing remains constant: if you can hoop, America will notice. This is the first of three Nothing But Nylon All-2010s Teams:
All-Decade First Team
Kemba Walker, Guard, Connecticut (2009-11)
In 2011, Kemba Walker elevated himself to superhuman status in the college basketball world by leading Connecticut on one of the most incredible runs the sport has ever seen. The Huskies won 11-straight games to win the Big East Tournament and NCAA Tournament in a one-month span after closing out the regular season with four wins in its final 11 matchups, a 21-9 overall record and ninth-place finish in the Big East. Walker was the biggest reason for the awakening, averaging 24.6/6.2/5.0 in the two postseason tournaments combined and making huge plays when the Huskies needed it, including his famous “Cardiac Kemba” step back to win against Pittsburgh in the Big East Tournament Quarterfinals that left Gary McGhee sliding on the floor as collateral.
Walker was a great guard before his the finale to end his junior season, though. He was scoring in double figures as a sophomore and filled his role nicely as a freshman. But the run at the end and his entire junior year is what brought him into the national spotlight and launched him into his now-soaring NBA career. It will be a long time until we see a dominant run like Walker had in 2011, if ever, and it is a large part of what holds him as one of the greatest players of the last 10 years.
Russ Smith, Guard, Louisville (2010-14)
The NCAA vacated Louisville’s 2013 national championship, and in the process put a damper on the unbelievable career Russ Smith experienced as a Cardinal. He started as a three-star prospect in the Class of 2010 and only averaged 2.2 points on 5.6 minutes per game as a freshman. He took some major steps forward as a sophomore, increasing his scoring to a double-digit rate and earning a handful of starts in the season. His defense was especially deadly, notching 2.2 steals per contest with a defensive rating of 86.1 for the 2011-12 campaign. By the time he was a junior, Smith was ready to take over on both sides of the ball.
Smith scored 18.7 and 18.2 points per night his junior and senior years, respectively, and kept his steals average above 2.0 both seasons. You won’t find many college basketball players in all of the 2010s who could get to the rim and finish at the tin better than Smith. Then add in that he would lock you down on the other side of the court, heading what was a ferocious Louisville defense that was the best in the nation, according to KenPom’s adjusted efficiency ratings, and you’ve got yourself one of the top hoopers of the decade. KenPom selected him as the 2013 National Player of the Year, a testament to how well advanced stats received him, and the numbers back it up. As a junior, his win shares was a whopping 7.3, meaning it’s estimated that his combined offensive and defensive efforts yielded Louisville 7.3 wins throughout the entire season. It can be easy to forget how prolific Smith was with the mess that circled the Cardinals in the years after the title run, but he is undeniable when you look through a basketball-only lens.
Buddy Hield, Guard, Oklahoma (2012-16)
Buddy Hield was a scorer from the opening tip of his Oklahoma career, posting 12.4 points per game as a freshman while starting roughly half of his team’s contests. Little did Norman know what he would turn into, though, and that would be one of the greatest scorers of the 2010s. Hield was also averaging better than 20 points per night as a sophomore, and by the time he was a senior, his stock and the talent surrounded him had risen to critical mass. With his 28.3 points per outing and 45.7 percent mark from three, Hield helped march the Sooners to their first Final Four since 2002.
It didn’t quite go according to plan from there, but Hield was otherwise brilliant all season long. He scored 30 or more points in 12 different games, including his famous 46-point performance in a 109-106 triple-overtime defeat at Kansas on Jan. 4, 2016, that really notified the nation of just how special he was. In 2016, Hield won the Wooden Award, Naismith Award, USBWA Player of the Year and Sporting News Player of the Year, but most importantly got his team to the final weekend of the season, which was a major reason he cited for coming back to Norman for his senior year. It doesn’t always work out for players when they return to school, but in Hield’s case, it seems to have worked out well.
Doug McDermott, Forward, Creighton (2010-14)
Doug McDermott was perhaps the most consistent player of the entire decade, already putting up 14.9 points per game as a freshman before really turning up his game starting as a sophomore to become one of the most prolific scorers in college basketball history. McBuckets, as he came to be known, amassed 2,569 points combined in his sophomore, junior and senior years, almost 600 more than Oakland’s Travis Bader, who had the second-most over that period. McDermott currently sits sixth in all-time among men’s Division I scorers with 3,150 career points and is one of 10 players to ever reach the 3,000-point mark.
One could also argue that McDermott’s importance for the Creighton program is further proof of his role in the 2010s. The Bluejays played in the Missouri Valley when McBuckets entered school, and while he wasn’t able to get the team to its first Sweet 16 since 1974, consistent tournament appearances, conference success and national rankings helped keep Creighton relevant just in time for the Big East to add it in 2013. Of course, the Big East chose Creighton for reasons outside of McDermott and the state of the men’s basketball program at the time, but would the Bluejays have been selected if they didn’t have McBuckets leading the charge? We can’t know the answer, but it’s difficult to think his existence didn’t help. Enrollment at Creighton has steadily increased since the school switched conferences, and you can’t call that a coincidence. McDermott was a massive part of 2010s college basketball, and his impact was felt well beyond the court.
Anthony Davis, Forward, Kentucky (2011-12)
You have to have made quite the impact on college basketball to be on the all-decade first team with only one season in your collegiate career to consider, and Anthony Davis did just that. The eventual No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft dominated college basketball in the 40 games he played at the level, averaging 14.3 points, 10.4 rebounds and an unbelievable 4.7 blocks per contest, and he swept virtually every award he was eligible for. His advanced stats continue to paint the undeniable picture: an offensive rating of 139.0, defensive rating of 80.7, total win shares of 9.9, 65.4 true shooting percentage, 35.1 player efficiency rating, and 13.7 block percentage. This is all on only an 18.8 percent usage rate, a testament to the depth and quality of that Kentucky team, but also proof of how efficient Davis really was.
Davis was one of the greatest rim protectors college basketball has ever and will ever see, and that consistent control of the lane was the foremost reason why he was impossible for opposition to handle. But he and the entire 2011-12 Kentucky squad have even more meaning to the sport: it was the first time the one-and-done model worked, and it paved the way for Duke, Kansas and plenty of other schools to accept the strategy to varying degrees. If Davis and the Wildcats don’t run through the entire campaign, which included a 24-game winning streak, a final 38-2 (16-0) record and a national championship, with such dominance, who knows how long it would have taken for much of the sport to embrace the one-and-done model, adding further value to Davis’s role in 2010s college basketball.