Ranking top players in Purdue history: Is Zach Edey the best Boilermaker of all time?

Purdue men’s basketball has had a long list of great players over the years. Joe Barry Carroll was the No. 1 pick in the 1980 NBA Draft and left Purdue as its all-time leading rebounder and second-leading scorer. Terry Dischinger was a three-time all-American and a first round pick of the Chicago Bulls. E’Twaun Moore was the Boilermakers’ third all-time leading scorer before embarking on a 10-year NBA career. Caleb Swanigan and JaJuan Johnson were Big Ten players of the year before becoming first round NBA Draft picks.


There has been some debate of late over which of Purdue’s all-time great players is its best ever. That debate seems to be getting quieter every week this March. Here is a look at the best to ever wear the Old Gold and Black.


1. Zach Edey (2020-24)


For anyone, what Edey has done in his four years at Purdue would be remarkable, but it is especially true for someone who didn’t start playing basketball until his sophomore year of high school. The 7-4, 300-pound Edey was ranked 436th in the recruiting services coming out of IMG Academy. He will finish his Purdue career as its all-time leading scorer and rebounder and as a back-to-back National Player of the Year, the first since Virginia’s Ralph Sampson in 1982-83. If he is the consensus National Player of the Year, he will be the first to repeat that feat since UCLA’s Bill Walton in 1972-73.


Edey’s accomplishments get compared to some of the all-time greats in college basketball. He was the first player since Oscar Robertson (1960) to lead the nation in scoring and lead his team to the Final Four. He was the first player since Lew Alcindor (1968) to score 50 points, grab 35 rebounds and shoot 65% from the field in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. Edey and David Robinson (1984-87) are the only players in NCAA history to get 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, 200 blocks and shoot over 60% for their careers. He is the first player since Larry Bird (1979) to amass 875 points and 435 rebounds in a season.


And, of course, he has led Purdue to its first Final Four since 1980.


If not for the way the NBA has changed in the last fifteen years or so, Edey would not have accomplished all of this because he would have been a high pick in the draft last year. Now, it is uncertain how good of a player he will be in the league as it is currently played. Do not make the mistake of underestimating him though.


2. Glenn Robinson (1992-94)


The Big Dog was a force of nature in his two seasons at Purdue, but the final season was special. Robinson averaged 34.3 points per game and 10.8 rebounds in 1994, leading the Boilermakers to the Elite Eight. A back injury suffered the day before the Regional Final helped to limit his effectiveness in Purdue’s loss to Duke, in which he shot just 6-22. Robinson could score from anywhere on the floor although he was not a high volume three-point shooter. He is still the most recent Division I player to average 30 points and ten rebounds in a season. Robinson was the first pick in the NBA draft in 1994 by Milwaukee and played 11 seasons in the NBA. He finished as the Bucks second all-time leading scorer and won a championship as a role-player with San Antonio in 2005, which was his final season.


3. Rick Mount (1967-70)


Rick Mount played during the three years of eligibility and no three-point line era. Mount could shoot from anywhere on the floor and probably from anywhere in the stands. He finished his Purdue career with 2,323 points, a record that stood until a few weeks ago. He was an all-American in 1969 and 1970 and led Purdue to its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 1969. It was also the Boilermakers’ first Final Four. Purdue lost to the UCLA juggernaut, coached by Purdue alum John Wooden, in the final that season. That was the third of the Bruins’ 15 consecutive titles from 1967-1981. He would probably be even better known to college basketball fans, but had the misfortune of playing at the same time as Lew Alcindor and Pete Maravich. Mount is now 77 years old and still hosts shooting clinics in his hometown of Lebanon, IN.


4. John Wooden (1929-1932)


Before he became a legendary coach, Wooden was an outstanding player. Wooden was a three-time all-American and the leader of Purdue’s only national championship team. That was in 1932, which preceded the NCAA Tournament by seven years and the NIT by six years. That team finished 17-1 overall and 11-1 in the Big Ten. The national championship was awarded by the Helms Athletic Foundation, which was the arbiter of national awards back in those days. 


It is always very difficult to compare players from different eras, but especially from so long ago. For example, in Wooden’s three seasons at Purdue, in which he was an all-American, he averaged 8.9, 8.2 and by the standards of those days, a whopping 12.2 points per game. Those are less than half of what Edey averages now.


Prior to his time at UCLA, Wooden was the head coach at Indiana State, which was then the Indiana State Teachers College. In 1947, he was offered a chance to do what Matt Painter did, which was become an assistant to his head coach at Purdue for a season before taking over. He chose not to do that and became the head coach at UCLA the following season. The rest is history.



Gideon Canice

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