Ed’s note: This column originally ran in March 2015.
Analysts can condescendingly call it “mid-major” all they want, but the Mid-American Conference has produced its fair share of first-rate basketball talent—particularly since the league’s early ’90s expansion. And so, with the MAC Tournament back in Cleveland this week, it seems a fitting time to go back and give these relatively local legends their due—by foolishly attempting to rank the very best of them.
WARNING: Lists like these are, of course, primarily made to frustrate, confuse, and outrage the reader. Lest it be overlooked, the following rankings are already limited to a specific time frame—1990 to 2015—meaning all-time MAC greats like Wayne Embry, Nate Thurmond, Dan Majerle, and Ron Harper aren’t included. Then we have all the many eligible, deserving players who’ve been reduced to the insulting status of Honorable Mentions, including Joe Reitz, Jimmal Ball, Jerome Tillman, Julian Mavunga, Rian Pearson, Keith Triplett (solely for that wee point shaving scandal), and even recent MAC Player of the Year award winners Al Fisher, Michael Bramos, Mitchell Watt, and Justin Greene.
Gee, I am already starting to hate this whole idea a little bit myself. Nonetheless, it had to be done (in response to the demands of no one). So, for now at least, here are the Top 50 Mid-American Conference Basketball Players of the past 25 years.
50. Julius Brown
G, Toledo: 2011-2015
The only current player on the list, Julius “Juice” Brown has been the Rockets’ on-floor general since his freshman year, racking up more than 680 assists (second most in school history). Along with Rian Pearson, he was instrumental in returning the Toledo program to prominence in recent years.
49. Leon Rodgers
F, Northern Illinois: 1998-2002
The 6-foot-6 Rodgers went from solid to superb in his senior year, averaging 21 points and 9 boards for the 2001-02 Huskies.
48. Ben Reed
G, Western Michigan: 2001-2005
Named to the All-MAC First Team in both 2004 and 2005, Reed is Western Michigan’s all-time leading 3-point shooter and led the Broncos to the Big Dance in ’04. He narrowly edged out former teammate Joe Reitz.
47. Jami Bosley
G, Akron: 1997-2000
At barely six feet tall, this Ohio State transfer proved an unlikely triple threat for the reborn Zips of the late ‘90s, averaging close to 18 points, 4 assists, AND 4 rebounds during his three years in Akron. He edges out scrappy backcourt mate Jimmal Ball, who never quite reached his potential.
46. Nate Huffman
C, Central Michigan: 1995-1997
He only played two seasons in Mt. Pleasant, but the 7-foot-1 Huffman dominated the paint (16 PPG, 10 RPG), eventually making his way to the NBA for a fleeting moment.
45. Romeo Travis
F, Akron: 2003-2007
LeBron’s St. V pal was MAC Player of the Year in his senior season and took the Zips to a school record 26 wins—but a Miami buzzer beater in the MAC tourney kept him out of the Big Dance.
44. Giordan Watson
G, Central Michigan: 2004-2008
Watson was often overlooked on a generally mediocre CMU team, but he was one of the MAC’s most productive little men of all-time, scoring 1,763 points (#4 in CMU history) and dishing out 489 assists (#1 in CMU history, #18 in MAC history).
43. Geno Ford
G, Ohio: 1993-1997
Long before D.J. Cooper, the Bobcats had another brilliant guard in this former “Mr. Ohio,” who not only fed the monster that was Gary Trent, but scored 1,752 points himself—sixth most in school history.
42. John Bowler
F, Eastern Michigan: 2002-2006
Eastern’s steady bigman remains the last MAC player to average 20 points and 10 rebounds in a season, posted during his breakout senior campaign.
41. Demetric Shaw
G, Kent State: 1999-2002
He didn’t score much or rack up assists, but as one of four Kent guards in the Top 50, Shaw made his name on D, winning two MAC Defensive Player of the Year awards– enough to earn him a spot above fellow Flashes and ex-MAC Players of the Year Al Fisher (who only played 2 seasons) and Justin Greene.
40. John Reimold
F, Bowling Green: 2002-2005
Before his brother Nolan got to the Major Leagues, John was the better known Reimold at BGSU, averaging 16 PPG for the Falcons across three seasons and leading the MAC in PPG (18.5) in 2004-05.
39. Zeke Marshall
C, Akron: 2009-2013
He was the key component of a dominant stretch for Akron– not with his adequate scoring and rebounding, but his elite defense as one of the top shot blockers in the country.
38. Xavier Silas
G, Northern Illinois: 2009-2011
A marginal role player for Colorado, Xavier (son of Paul) found stardom after his transfer to NIU, averaging 21 points and 5 rebounds across two seasons and making the All-MAC First Team in 2011.
37. Tamar Slay
G, Marshall: 1998-2002
Though he may have peaked with his All-MAC First Team sophomore season, Slay remained a unique, dangerous weapon his whole career—a 6-foot-8 guard who could score, dish, and rebound.
36. Casey Shaw
C, Toledo: 1994-1998
This steady 7-footer enjoyed a very brief NBA stint not unlike that of Nate Huffman, but as a four year starter for Toledo, Shaw left a bigger collegiate legacy—ranking #7 in school history in points (1,562), #5 in rebounds (871), and #2 in blocks (112).
35. Derrick Tarver
G, Akron: 2002-2004
He only played 55 collegiate games, but the versatile 6-foot-4 Tarver left his mark as a scoring machine (21.6 PPG)—routinely putting the other Zips on his back (whether they liked it or not) for 40 minutes as an outside and inside threat.
34. Duane Clemens
G, Ball State: 1996-2000
As great as Bonzi Wells was, he had himself a more than adequate sidekick in the sharp-shooting guard Clemens, who racked up 1,595 points of his own; sixth most in BSU history.
33. Andrew Mitchell
G, Kent State: 1998-2002
Part of a dominant Kent backcourt with Trevor Huffman, Mitchell became a standout his senior year, putting up 15/3/3 on the Flashes’ road to an Elite 8 appearance.
32. DeAndre Haynes
G, Kent State: 2002-2006
Though never a prolific scorer, Haynes was the engine behind the second wave of MAC domination for the Golden Flashes, winning 2006 Player of the Year honors and breaking the KSU records for assists (625) and steals (229).
31. Steve Payne
F, Ball State: 1991-1995
Even before the arrival of Bonzi Wells, Ball State was a MAC power thanks in large part to Steve “House of” Payne, who routinely put up 20 and 10 en route to three consecutive First Team All-MAC selections.
30. Chris Williams
G, Ball State: 2001-2003
Had he played more than two years in Muncie, Williams likely could have rewritten the Cardinal record book, as the 6-foot-3 shooting guard piled up a MAC best 24.5 points per game in 2002-03.
29. Leon Williams
F, Ohio: 2004-2008
This Bobcat postman was a 60% shooter and relentless glass eater, ranking #6 in MAC history in career rebounds (1,090)– helping him edge his former teammate Jerome Tillman to make our list.
28. Mike Williams
F, Western Michigan: 2002-2004
This particular Williams was an unstoppable force in the 2003-04 season– dropping 19 points and 7 boards per game, winning MAC Player of the Year honors, and leading the Broncos to a 26-5 record and a NCAA berth.
27. Brandon Bowdry
F, Eastern Michigan: 2006-2011
Improving his numbers every season, the fifth-year senior broke out with a 19.9 PPG, 9.5 RPG effort in 2010-11, putting him fourth in school history in career points (1,856) and second in rebounds (1,007).
26. J.R. VanHoose
C, Marshall: 1998-2002
The seventh best rebounder in MAC history (1,088) also averaged 16 PPG as a four year starter for the since departed Thundering Herd.
25. Lewis Geter
F, Ohio: 1990-1992
Geter was Columbus-born but initially played ball at Nebraska before transferring to OU, where he’d average 20 points and 9 boards on his way to the 1992 Player of the Year honor.
24. Brian Tolbert
G, Eastern Michigan: 1992-1996
Not since George Gervin’s day had EMU seen a scorer like Brian Tolbert (1,726 points rank #4 in school history), who helped lead the Eagles to a stunning win over Duke in the 1996 NCAA Tournament.
23. T.J. Lux
C, Northern Illinois: 1995-2000
The Huskies’ all-time leading scorer (1,996) and rebounder (1,100) made two All-MAC First Teams, impressively sandwiched around a full season missed to injury.
22. David Webber
G, Central Michigan: 1998-2002
He didn’t have his brother Chris’s size, but David Webber could score the rock—once putting up 51 in a single game against Ball State, and graduating as CMU’s #3 all-time scorer (1,774).
21. Javon McCrea
F, Buffalo: 2010-2014
A three-time All-MAC first-teamer and the 2014 MAC Player of the Year, McCrea is also Buffalo’s all-time leading scorer. He’s currently playing pro ball in Germany.
20. Turner Battle
G, Buffalo: 2001-2005
A dynamic guard who averaged roughly 14 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals per game his final three years, Battle finally led the Bulls into MAC relevance and earned himself 2005 conference Player of the Year honors.
19. Greg Stempin
F, Toledo: 1997-2001
The dominating, 6-foot-8 Stempin made the Rockets a perennial contender, scoring 1,705 points across four seasons (#4 in school history) and making three consecutive All-MAC First Teams.
18. Saddi Washington
G, Western Michigan: 1993-1998
Even after knee surgery cost him a full year, the Broncos’ explosive shooting guard bounced back to make two straight All-MAC First Teams, capped by a senior year in which he averaged 22 PPG and put up 24 in an NCAA tourney upset of Clemson.
17. Theron Smith
F, Ball State: 1999-2003
A 16 PPG, 9 RPG powerhouse, Smith’s rise to greatness was derailed by an ACL tear just three games into his senior season—but he still wound up playing a couple years in the NBA.
16. Derrick Dial
G, Eastern Michigan: 1994-1998
Though overshadowed by his pint-sized cohort Earl Boykins, Dial was a huge factor in two EMU NCAA Tournament appearances, averaging 21 points and 7 rebounds his senior year and graduating as the school’s #3 all-time scorer (1,891).
15. David Kool
G, Western Michigan: 2006-2010
Living up to his name, Kool took his game to another level each season at WMU, culminating in a 2010 MAC Player of the Year award and a new school record for career points (2,122, #6 in MAC history).
14. D.J. Cooper
G, Ohio: 2009-2013
While never a high percentage shooter, Cooper finished his career as the only player in ALL of Division I history with 2,000 points, 900 assists, 600 rebounds and 300 steals in a career. He also led the Bobcats to a Sweet Sixteen appearance in 2012.
13. Keith McLeod
G, Bowling Green: 1998-2002
Filling the seemingly unfillable shoes of Antonio Daniels, BG’s next NBA-bound sharpshooter was named MAC Player of the Year in 2002, while also surpassing Daniels to reach #2 on the Falcons’ all-time scoring list with 1,895 points.
12. Craig Thames
G, Toledo: 1992-1996
The freakishly athletic Rockets guard earned a pair of All-MAC First Team nods, and his 1,964 career points rank him #2 in Toledo history and #15 all-time in the MAC.
11. Anthony Stacey
F, Bowling Green: 1995-2000
BGSU’s all-time leading scorer is not Keith McLeod, Antonio Daniels, or even Nate Thurmond, but this intimidating fellow—the 2000 MAC Player of the Year. Stacey’s 1,938 points put him at #16 in MAC history.
10. Trevor Huffman
G, Kent State: 1998-2002
The quintessential scrappy Kent guard, Huffman was the choreographer of a team that danced its way to legendary Cinderella status in 2001 and 2002– and he remains the school’s #3 all-time assist man (520) and #1 atop its scoring list with 1,820 career points.
9. Chris Kaman
C, Central Michigan: 2000-2003
It took the stringy-haired 7-footer a couple years to come into his own, but once he did, it resulted in a ridiculous average line of 22 points, 12 boards, and 3 blocks in the 2002-03 season, earning Kaman MAC Player of the Year and a ticket to the front row of the NBA Draft.
8. Devin Davis
F, Miami: 1993-1997
Born in Miami (FL) and starring for Miami (OH), this dreadlocked dynamo earned three All-MAC First Team selections, knocked off Arizona in the 1995 NCAA tourney, and currently stands at #3 all-time among Miami rebounders (1,027) and scorers (1,828).
7. Antonio Gates
F, Kent State: 2001-2003
At 6-foot-5, Gates played like a 7-footer, averaging 18 points and 8 rebounds during two magical seasons with the Golden Flashes—preparing him for a future career catching touchdown passes for the Chargers.
6. Brandon Hunter
F, Ohio: 1999-2003
Despite battling against the likes of Gates and Kaman, OU’s 6-foot-7 postman consistently stole the show—averaging 17 points and 9 rebounds across four years, earning three straight All-MAC First Team nods, and finishing up as the MAC’s #13 all-time scorer (2,012) and fifth greatest rebounder (1,103).
5. Antonio Daniels
G, Bowling Green: 1993-1997
He never reached the NCAA tourney, but the Falcons’ electric guard advanced into a successful NBA career after his insane, POY senior season (24 PPG, 7 APG, 55% shooting!), which concluded with Daniels as BG’s #2 all-time assist man (573) and #4 scorer (1,789).
4. Earl Boykins
G, Eastern Michigan: 1994-1998
The Eagles’ 5-foot-5 point guard never had to stand on anyone’s shoulders, as he ran roughshod over the conference like few before or since. Today, Boykins still ranks as the MAC’s #6 all-time facilitator (624 assists) and fourth greatest scorer with 2,211 career points (paced by a 26 PPG average in 1997-98).
3. Wally Szczerbiak
F, Miami: 1995-1999
The best pure shooter in modern MAC history, Wally World gained plenty of national attention as he put up back-to-back 24 PPG seasons while shooting 53% from the field for the Redskins/Redhawks. The 1999 MAC Player of the Year trails only the great Ron Harper on Miami’s all-time scoring list (1,847), and he’d go on to average 14 PPG across 10 NBA seasons.
2. Bonzi Wells
F, Ball State: 1994-1998
It’d be easy enough to focus on the scoring—Bonzi is the greatest in MAC history after all (his 2,485 career points edging out Boykins, Dave Jamerson, and Ron Harper)—but when you realize that Wells is also the MAC’s all-time leader in steals (347) and Ball State’s fifth greatest rebounder (843) AND assist man (386), it’s hard to imagine anyone has ever done it better.
1. Gary Trent
F, Ohio: 1992-1995
With all due respect to Bonzi, however, one man actually did outshine him during our 25 year window of MAC basketball. In this era, he was a man amongst boys—a beast that was both the unstoppable force and the immovable object—the “Shaq of the MAC.” Ohio U’s 6-foot-8 juggernaut Gary Trent only played three seasons in Athens, but he won MAC Player of the Year honors all three years, averaged an unheard of 23 points and 11 rebounds per game for his career, and still sits in the MAC’s all-time top ten in scoring (2,108) and rebounding (1,050); meaning he might have threatened both records had he not foregone his senior season.