If someone wants to play for this championship, they’d better be wearing a ring.
Well, maybe not when they’re on the court. It’s a figure of speech.
Rings are how we commemorate championships in American sport, and no one was getting into the NCAA Jam tournament conceived by The Sporting News if their school had not won a national championship. There just have been too many great players at too many great programs over the sport’s many decades, so we had to draw the line somewhere. And there still wasn’t room in our 16-team field for everyone who’s known the joy of conquering March Madness.
I mean, when your No. 1 seed line contains four literal and figurative bluebloods, and such names as Jordan, Abdul-Jabbar and Zion, there’s no easy entry to the club.
So what exactly is NCAA Jam? It’s a spin on NBA Jam, a popular video game series that initially was released nearly 30 years ago and remained an integral part of the gaming culture for nearly two decades. It featured two-on-two basketball involving the best NBA players of the day. If you were part of a particular age group and at least peripherally into basketball, you played the game fairly regularly. If you were of a particular age group and obsessed with the sport and the game, you might have played it endlessly, like our managing editor Micah Adams.
So we are bringing it to the college game, and you’re going to help decide the winner with your votes through our various social media channels.
MORE: NCAA Jam tournament is here
We need to hear you.
(And when you’re tapping your keyboards, you can wear as many rings as you want!)
The problem with assessing which teams should be in this field – and which players should be featured for each team – is 2-on-2 is not a common way to play basketball. It usually is something one does by necessity, when only four or five people show up to hoop at the playground or driveway.
So we had to use our imaginations. And, admittedly, we considered players more by what they became at their best as professionals rather than what they looked like in their college uniforms. (Which is how Devin Booker came to join Anthony Davis in representing Kentucky).
Even at that, it was a tricky process.
I mean, there never was any doubt UCLA was going to get a team in this field, and that it would be a No. 1 seed. The Bruins won 10 national championships. Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton were the two greatest player in college basketball history; they ranked 1-2 in my book, “Legends of College Basketball”, which ranked the 100 best players to play the sport at that level. But would we make a team out of two centers, even two with their tremendous versatility as scorers, passers and defenders? Indeed we would.
MORE: Seven super snubs (Shaq/Pistol Pete) from the NCAA Jam field
Would we really ignore that Booker was a complementary player in his one college season at Kentucky but went on to became an All-NBA player and central figure on an NBA Finals entrant? Would we select him over a Hall of Famer like Dan Issel because he might be better suited to the game? Indeed we would.
We chose Vince Carter to join MJ in representing North Carolina, even over James Worthy, Bob McAdoo and Phil Ford. I’m not sure, but it’s possible McAdoo and Ford were excluded because no one was playing any home video game other than Pong when they were active players.
We went big with No. 2 seed Kansas (Wilt Chamberlain, Danny Manning) and small with No. 2 Indiana (Isiah Thomas, Steve Alford).
We were a bit anarchic in these debates but, if you think about it, that’s rather suited to a game in which players can jump four feet over the rim to deliver dunks or reject shots. Because Jordan is half of Carolina’s squad, the Tar Heels will enter as the likely favorites, but I’m going to suggest NC State and David Thompson — who could jump four feet over the rim without any shenanigans from game developers — is a heck of a darkhorse.
We hope, in helping to determine the winner, you have as much fun pondering the possibilities.