June 21, 2024

Tennessee Volunteer basketball Mount Rushmore

While basketball season on Rocky Top might be over, staff writer Dalton King decided to reflect on the program’s all-time great player by creating a Mount Rushmore of Tennessee basketball.

Photo obtained via creativecommons.org. No changes made.

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We all know football dominates the Southeast, especially here at Tennessee.

But that doesn’t mean that Tennessee is short of all-time college basketball greats.

So I have decided to create a Mount Rushmore of Volunteer basketball greats. I guess you could just watch the ESPN 30 for 30 on the first two, but I hope you enjoy my list, starting with one of the greatest duos in college basketball history.

1. Bernard King (Forward: 1974-1977) 

Yes, the Bernie part of the famous duo, “The Ernie and Bernie Show”. (No, not the segment on Sesame Street)

King became a legend on Rocky Top from the very start, scoring 42 points against Wisconsin-Milwaukee in his debut (record for most points in a debut).

King was more than a star at Tennessee. He was a national fixture for college basketball. In all three seasons as a Volunteer, King was SEC Player of the Year, an All-SEC first-team selection, and an All-American.

In 1977, he shared the conference player of the year honors with teammate Ernie Grunfield. (Both the United Press International and the Associated Press gave the award. King won UPI’s twice and AP’s once). He and Ernie’s electrifying play revolutionized basketball at the University of Tennessee.

By his junior season, the Brooklyn-native was a Consensus All-American in college basketball and headed off to the NBA. King finished his Volunteer career with the program record for points per game average in a single season (26.4 in 1975) and overall career (25.8), records he still holds today.

The New Jersey Nets selected King with the No. 7 overall pick in the 1977 draft. In 14 NBA seasons, he was a four-time All-Star.

His greatest years in the NBA came as a New York Knick, where he played from 1982-1987. In 1985, King won the scoring title, averaging 32.9 points per game.

On Feb. 13, 2007, King became the first Tennessee men’s basketball player to have his jersey retired and hung in the rafters of Thompson-Boling Arena.

King was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013. He is the only Tennessee men’s basketball player in the Hall of Fame. He is truly the greatest basketball player to ever dawn the orange and white.

2. Ernie Grunfield (1973-1977) 

The Ernie part of “The Ernie and Bernie Show”.

In four seasons as a Volunteer, Ernie became the all-time leading scorer at Tennessee and the second-leading scorer in SEC history with 2,249 total points.

Grunfield was selected on the All-SEC first team four times, the All-American first team twice, and won SEC Player of the Year his senior season.

In 1976, Grunfield became Tennessee’s first olympian, helping the United States win the gold medal in Canada. 

His final year on Rocky Top was arguably his best. While leading the SEC in scoring, Grunfield was the driving force behind a 22-6 Volunteer squad that won the SEC Championship.

After graduating from Tennessee, Grunfield was drafted No. 11 overall in the NBA Draft by the Milwaukee Bucks. In his nine-year career, he averaged just 7.4 points per game.

While teammate Bernard King was a more flashy, physically dominant player, it does not make Ernie any less of a star. There would be no dominant duo of “Ernie and Bernie” if not for Ernie’s leadership on and off the court.

Ernie’s No. 22 jersey was retired a year after King’s in 2008. He is now the General Manager for the Washington Wizards.

3. Allan Houston (1989-1993) 

Allan Houston overtook Grunfield as the all-time leading scorer in program history with 2,801 career points. That’s really all you have to say to include a guy on a Mount Rushmore of a program, but Houston’s accomplishments do not stop there.

Houston was a two-time All-American and a four-time All-SEC selection.

At the conclusion of his college career, his 2,801 career points ranked No. 12 in NCAA history and was only second to basketball legend Pete Maravich in the all-time SEC ranks.

Houston was one of college basketball’s greatest three-point shooters. His 346 career three-pointers  landed him as the all-time leader in the SEC and sixth all-time in NCAA history at the time.

After graduating from Rocky Top, Houston was drafted by the Detroit Pistons with the No. 11 overall pick in the 1993 NBA Draft.

Houston continued his prolific scoring in the NBA. During his 12-year career, he averaged 17.3 points per game and appeared in two All-Star games.

In his time with the New York Knicks  from 1996 until 2005, Houston became the franchise’s fourth-leading scorer, trailing Hall of Famers Patrick Ewing, Walt Frazier, and Willis Reed.

Today, Houston is the assistant General Manager for the New York Knicks and is the GM for their D-League affiliate.

The Volunteers retired Houston’s No. 20 jersey on March 6, 2011. His place on Tennessee’s Mount Rushmore is certainly warranted.

4. Chris Lofton (2004-2008) 

The man who broke Allan Houston’s three-point record, the 6-foot-3 guard that hit a 30-foot jumper over 6-foot-9, future NBA star Kevin Durant to send a game to overtime, Chris Lofton, is without a doubt the most electrifying player in program history. 

Lofton’s trigger-happy play catapulted Tennessee into of the best eras in program history, leading the Vols to a No. 1 ranking in 2008. 

For those of you who didn’t get to see Lofton play, I know this is a lofty comparison, but Lofton was essentially a poor man’s Steph Curry.

Okay I’ll calm down now… but Chris Lofton was crazy good.

Early in his senior season on Rocky Top, Lofton passed up Allan Houston to become the Vols all-time leading three-point shooter.

A month later, he passed up Pat Bradley of Arkansas (who broke Houston’s SEC record) to take the title as the SEC’s all-time leading three-point shooting, a record he still holds today by 64 shots.

Lofton was an All-American in all four seasons and won SEC Player of the Year in 2007.

Despite his masterful college career, Lofton never found his way into the NBA. Instead, his entire professional career has been played overseas.

Lofton bravely fought testicular cancer in 2007 and won. While his No. 5 jersey isn’t retired yet, I fully expect the program to honor him once his pro career ends.

He is truly a Tennessee great and one of the program’s greatest athletes of this century.

Featured image courtesy of U.S. Department of the Interior

Edited David Bradford

Dalton, a firm believer that sporting events are best spent on Twitter, is an Assistant Sports Editor for TNJN and a sophomore studying Journalism at the University of Tennessee. Two of his favorite pastimes include beating his roommates at 2k and remaining in awe of the amount of stories fellow editor David Bradford writes. Twitter: @dk_writes