Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving was named cover athlete of the newest installment of the NBA 2K video game series earlier this month. Way back when, Electronic Arts once carried a college basketball video game, NCAA March Madness (which later changed to NCAA Basketball in 2009), first hitting the shelves with a cover athlete in 1998. Former Wake Forest center Tim Duncan was the first-ever college basketball player to appear on a video game cover. EA Sports halted the NCAA Basketball series after 2010 and it has not been reissued since, leaving a void for many college basketball fans and gamers alike.
As a NCAA Basketball eulogy, I have explored the history of each of the 13 cover athletes that appeared on EA’s college basketball game and decided which players would’ve been on the cover if the series continued. The table below includes each cover man since the first edition back in 1998. The data includes the player’s tournament result and seed, production per game (a simple metric that combines PPG, RPG, APG, SPG and BPG), win shares, whether the player was the conference player of the year, an All-American, or the Naismith player of the year and NBA Draft selection.
As a result of the data, here are my cover athlete requirements:
- Player’s team must win at least one NCAA Tournament game and have a #4 seed or better
- Player must have a PPG+RPG+APG+BPG+SPG (ProdPG) total of 25 or higher
- Player must have a win shares (WS) total of 5 or higher
- Player must be named to at least one of the following: conference POY, All-American, Naismith POY
- Player must be selected in the top 10 of the NBA Draft
With these requirements in place, here are the players that would’ve been cover athletes in recent college basketball video games:
NCAA Basketball 11 – Evan Turner, Ohio State
The 2011 version would’ve been the toughest to sort out. Four players were considered “eligible” for this cover, most notably Ohio State’s Evan Turner and Kentucky’s John Wall. I’ll give the slight edge to Turner, who led the Buckeyes to a Big Ten title, #2 seed and Sweet Sixteen. In his third and final season in Columbus, Turner averaged 20.4 points, 9.2 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game, pulling off the Big Ten POY, All-America and Naismith Award trio.
Also considered: John Wall (Kentucky), Wesley Johnson (Syracuse), DeMarcus Cousins (Kentucky)
NCAA Basketball 12 – Kemba Walker, Connecticut
Few players of the last decade have been as memorable as “Cardiac Kemba.” Carrying UConn to a Big East title with five wins in five days and then a national championship three weeks later, Walker’s 11-0 March/April surely would have been enough to land on a NCAA Basketball cover. Walker tallied 23.5 points per game to go with 5.4 rebounds and 4.5 assists and appeared in each of Connecticut’s 41 games in the 2011 season.
Also considered: Jimmer Fredette (BYU)
NCAA Basketball 13 – Anthony Davis, Kentucky
This one was easy. Davis’ 2012 campaign will go down as one of the most efficient individual seasons in college basketball history. “The Brow” led Kentucky to a near-perfect 38-2 season, capped off with a 67-59 win in the national title game over Kansas. Davis recorded 20 double-doubles, shot 62.3% from the field, blocked 4.7 shots per game and had the highest player efficiency rating in the country.
Also considered: Thomas Robinson (Kansas)
NCAA Basketball 14 – Trey Burke, Michigan
Who could forget Trey Burke’s heroic game-typing jumper against Kansas? It wasn’t Burke’s only highlight of the season, as he was named a consensus All-American and Naismith winner after Michigan’s Final Four appearance. Burke finished first in the Big Ten in 2013 in minutes played, field goals, assists per game and a number of other offensive categories. He was easily the best point guard in college basketball that season.
Also considered: Victor Oladipo (Indiana), Cody Zeller (Indiana)
NCAA Basketball 15 – Andrew Wiggins, Kansas
No other player would’ve been “eligible” for the 2015 cover, making Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins the automatic cover boy. Coming into Kansas, Wiggins held the lofty title as “the next LeBron,” and though he wasn’t always the best player on the court, the Canadian native excelled in his only collegiate season. The All-American averaged 17.1 points per game and was a consistent threat on the floor, with or without the ball.
Also considered: none
NCAA Basketball 16 – Jahlil Okafor, Duke
Duke’s Jahlil Okafor and Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky will go down as one of the better frontcourt matchups in national championship history. Naturally, Okafor and Kaminsky are the two players that are “eligible” to be the NCAA Basketball 16 cover athlete. Even despite Kaminsky’s Naismith award and fantastic season, Okafor’s championship wins out. Okafor led the NCAA in made field goals in 2015, but he could’ve afforded to possess the basketball even more. His incredible mark of 66.4% from the field was highest in D-I, averaging 17.3 points on just 11.1 attempts per game.
Also considered: Frank Kaminsky (Wisconsin)
NCAA Basketball 17 – Buddy Hield, Oklahoma
Yet another two man race came down to Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield and Utah center Jakob Poeltl. Besides being a household name with an inspiring backstory, Hield also guided his Sooners to a Final Four appearance and led the entire nation in scoring in the 2015-16 season. Hield is one of 12 players since 1999 to win conference player of the year, Naismith player of the year, and also be named an All-American.
Also considered: Jakob Poeltl (Utah)
Time will tell if EA Sports ever renews its college basketball series. If it does, though, these seven players should be recognized for their tremendous collegiate careers.