|#1 Emeka Okafor – (2001-2004)
by Peter Bard
As good as Ben Gordon was for UConn, this is an easy choice. These two had concurrent UConn careers, and there was never any question as to who was the better or more important player.
Gordon made a significant impact as a freshman, finishing second on the team in scoring with a combination of slick shooting and aggressive playmaking. UConn fans were excited about his future. Meanwhile, Okafor was already a household name, making national headlines with his shot-blocking prowess.
In 2003-04, they provided the best inside-outside duo that we’re ever likely to see at UConn, combining for about 36 ppg. However, on the other side of the ball, Gordon was merely serviceable, while Okafor was winning his second-consecutice National Defensive Player of the Year award.
Okafor remained the more impressive talent in the summer, going ahead of Gordon in the NBA draft, and then topping him for the NBA Rookie of the Year in 2004-05.
Okafor certainly rates better in UConn lore than Gordon. Gordon, at best, is the third-best shooting guard in UConn history, easily ranking behind Ray Allen and Richard Hamilton. Okafor is the best UConn center ever, and it’s not close.
In conclusion, while Gordon was an excellent player who certainly deserves to be in this Elite Eight, there is a reason that it’s Okafor whose name is all over the record books.
Career Points: 1426
Career Rebounds: 1091
Career Assists: 81
Career Steals: 91
Career Blocks: 441
|#2 Ben Gordon – (2001-2004)
by Tyler Wilkinson
Emeka Okafor blossomed into a great player. Ben Gordon came that way. Gordon was UConn’s second leading scorer as a freshman (behind Caron Butler). In fact, Gordon outscored Okafor all three years they played together – culminating with Gordon averaging 18.5 per contest as the duo captured UConn’s second national championship in 2004.
For as much attention as Okafor received, it was often Gordon’s responsibility to lead the team when Okafor was unable to remain on the court. Prone to foul trouble and a nagging back injury, Okafor played (a kinda shocking) 180 minutes less than Gordon in ’04. That’s the equivalent of four and a half games that Gordon handled matters without the big man in the paint.
The real evidence for Gordon over Okafor came in the 2004 Big East Tournament. With Okafor battling injuries, Gordon exploded. In the quarterfinals against Notre Dame, he scored 29 points and added 8 rebounds. The following night against Villanova, Gordon again scored 29, this time with 6 rebounds. Finally, with a title on the line, Gordon scored 23 and again grabbed 8 boards, sealing a UConn victory.
After his legendary performance in Madison Square Garden, Gordon averaged over 21 points per game in the NCAA Tournament – including a 36-point outburst in the Elite Eight against Alabama. Emeka Okafor, if you’re wondering averaged 13.5, although his heroics against Duke in the Final Four make his prior numbers almost irrelevant.
A vote for Ben Gordon is a vote for consistency and reliability. Playing alongside Okafor his entire career has cast a veil over how amazing Ben Gordon truly was. It’s time to give him the respect he deserves.
Career Points: 1795
Career Rebounds: 415
Career Assists: 437
Career Steals: 125
Career Blocks: 19
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