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 Second Team
Jalen Brunson, Guard, Villanova (2015-18)
Brunson was one of the top point guard prospects in the Class of 2015, and he immediately made an impact on a title-winning team. He posted 9.6 points and 2.5 assists per contest as a freshman, starting almost every game in Villanova’s quest for its first national championship since 1985. He played like a veteran alongside actual vet Ryan Arcidiacono, and without his steady play, the Wildcats wouldn’t have seen the heights they did. Brunson stepped up as a sophomore to help massage the lost production elsewhere, averaging 14.7 points and 4.1 dimes per night as Villanova went 31-3 prior to the NCAA Tournament and earned the No. 1 overall seed in 2017.
But Brunson didn’t shine fully until his junior campaign when he was asked to assume the role of the team’s premier player. He did so without issue, with averages of 18.9 points and 4.6 assists each game, plus a 40.8 percent from beyond the arc. The point guard ran the best offense in the nation, according to KenPom’s adjusted efficiency ratings, and took Villanova to the mountain top for the second time in three years. His career true shooting percentage of 62.8 percent is the second-best in Big East history. Not many players in all of college basketball history can say they started on two different championship teams, but Brunson can. The guard cleaned up the 2017-18 Wooden Award, Naismith Award, AP Player of the Year, USBWA Player of the Year, NABC Player of the Year, Sporting News Player of the Year and a whole host of conference distinctions. He is a player who will go down not only in Villanova history, but in the sport’s history as well.
Shabazz Napier, Guard, Connecticut (2010-14)
If you seemingly win a national championship by yourself, you were probably one of the best players of your decade, and Shabazz Napier fits that description. Don’t get me wrong: I am not meaning to insult the rest of the 2013-14 Connecticut Huskies. DeAndre Daniels, Ryan Boatright, Neils Giffey and others were good players in their own right. But Napier carried the run UConn went on at the end of his senior season, winning 11 of its final 13 games, as he showed up in big games and big moments time and time again. He averaged 21.2 points, 4.5 assists, 5.5 rebounds and 2.5 steals in Connecticut’s six NCAA Tournament games, scoring 19 points or more five times. His senior season, and especially his performance in the postseason, will be remembered for a long time in college basketball.
Napier was plenty good before his last college season, though. He was an important role player his freshman year on a team that also won a championship under similar circumstances, just with Kemba Walker as the foremost figure instead. He was averaging double-figure scoring by his sophomore year, and as a junior on a squad that was banned from the postseason because of APR, Napier was the guy already, with a statline of 17.1/4.4/4.6 on what otherwise would have been a tournament team. His senior campaign is what cemented him as a legend, but he was an impressive player well before winning his second national championship.
Jimmer Fredette, Guard, BYU (2009-11)
Jimmer Fredette became a larger-than-life figure at the start of the decade. His incredible shot-making ability captured America and tortured defenses as Jimmer, as the nation affectionately knew him on a first-name basis, would rain threes from the stratosphere without hesitation. The guard put up stupid numbers as an upperclassman, averaging 22.1 points and 4.7 assists per game with 44 percent shooting from beyond the arc as a junior. The next season, he put up 28.9 points and 4.3 assists per contest and assumed an even larger role than before, guiding BYU to its first Sweet 16 in 30 years.
Jimmer-mania took such a stronghold over basketball in 2011 that now eight years later, there is tons of buzz and talk surrounding a potential return to the NBA for Fredette despite his lackluster statlines last time he was in the league. It says something about a player’s mystique and reputation for fans everywhere to be so interested in him when players at a comparable level don’t get the same love. That started in college and still carries today, and when you re-watch his BYU highlights, you can’t help but understand why. There is a warm fuzzy feeling you get watching this kid drain triples from dumb distances, and although his ridiculous shooting is what made him the most unique, he had plenty of other tools in his arsenal. It would be wrong to talk about college basketball in the 2010s without mentioning Fredette.
Zion Williamson, Forward, Duke (2018-19)
We only saw Zion Williamson in college for one season, but that was enough. He lived up to every bit of hype and then some as a freshman at Duke, becoming one of the most dynamic players in the country immediately. His dunks are the top thing that had his lining highlight reels all season long, but Williamson had one of the most well-rounded games in the nation during the 2018-19 season. Offensively, he could post up, drive the lane and shoot – his size and athleticism made him an impossible matchup for all opposing teams – plus he could put the ball on the floor or pass the rock better than many guards. Defensively, he was so long, athletic and quick that he could almost rove around the court and defend more than one player at once. Some of the individual defensive plays he made were jaw-dropping and what made him a generational talent in the college ranks.
Williamson was at the epicenter of a media frenzy that surrounded a hyper-publicized Duke team, fatiguing some people of his name, and understandably so. But the on-court performances he put on night after night were worthy of high praise and wide attention, and his talent is unquestionable. He made moments that will live on for years to come in the sport, and he has to be included when looking back on this decade and the impact he had on college basketball during his time in it.
Frank Kaminsky, Center, Wisconsin (2011-15)
Unlike many of the players on these teams, Frank Kaminsky did not enter college with much hype around him. He was the No. 242-ranked player in the Class of 2011, according to 24/7Sports, and the 7-footer only put up 1.8 points in 7.7 minutes per game as a freshman. It wasn’t until his upperclassman campaigns that Kaminsky broke out, but boy did he ever. As a junior, he averaged 13.9 points and 6.3 rebounds per game on a Wisconsin team that went to the program’s first Final Four since 2000. He only improved as a senior, posting a statline of 18.8/8.2/2.6, sweeping the 2014-15 Wooden Award, Naismith Award, AP Players of the Year, USBWA Player of the Year, NABC Player of the Year, Sporting News Player of the Year, Rupp Trophy, Big Ten Player of the Year and a whole host of other honors.
He helped bring the Badgers back to the Final Four in 2015 and was instrumental in their unforgettable 71-64 victory over previously-undefeated Kentucky in the national semifinal to earn a spot in the championship game. It was revenge for the Wildcats knocking Wisconsin out in the 2014 Final Four in another classic, 74-73, and the most lasting moment for Kaminsky and the entire program in that era. Frank the Tank, as some fans came to know him as, will always be one of Wisconsin’s greatest and an important figure in 2010s college basketball.