27 January 2012
The 1980's were a golden era of college basketball. They began directly off the heels of the famed Magic v Bird matchup in the 1979 NCAA Championship Game and the list of players who won the annual Nation Player of the Year award during the decade is literally a who's who of college basketball history.
We've already seen what David Robinson did during his trophy run of 1987. We also saw what our beloved Buckeye Dennis Hopson did during his magical '87 season that saw him voted third in NPOY consideration. So how did Hop compare to the rest of the era?
Worthy of recognition, at a minimum.
This is the third of a five-part series documenting the Ohio State career of Mr. Dennis Hopson - and why we should never again see a #32 in Scarlet and Gray.
Quickly, who broke Dan Marino's long-standing, 'unbreakable' single season passing yards record of 5,084 yards this season? The overwhelming answer would be Drew Brees and his 5,476 yards, and that would be correct. But it's easy to forget Tom Brady did as well with 5,235 yards of his own, and of course it doesn't make the record books due to Brees' performance. So are Brady's accomplishments any less worthy because of Brees?
The Ohio State University would apparently say yes.
We've alredy established the one tipping-point to Dennis Hopson's number 32 being honored at the Jerome Schottenstein Center - that being the fact that he wasn't named National Player of the Year at any point during his Ohio State career - one requirement that OSU has to receive that honor. If that were added to his résumé after his 1986-87 season it's a slam dunk that he would have been honored somewhere between Gary Bradds' January ceremony of 2001 and Jim Jackson's less than a month later. But that isn't the case and we're left to guess at his historical value to the University we love.
Keep in mind that some of the most storied college basketball programs in America don't have the same rule when it comes to the retirement of numbers: Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, UCLA, Kansas. Ohio State does, and it has a Buckeye Legand standing on the outside looking in.
Sports, by their nature, make it difficult to compare accomplishments and individual value by any other measure than statistics, but even those comparisons have their limitations due to the fact that each sport evolves over time. So what would Allen Iverson have done face-to-face on any given night against a Bob Cousy? Could Iron Mike Tyson hang with Muhammed Ali? How do we compare how Shaquille O'Neal would have stacked up against Wilt Chamberlin? All questions, while fun to argue for one side or the other, are irrelevant. Each has been honored in their own way and stand tall in the history of their respective sports.
But these very examples speak to one of the greatest characteristics of sports - debate. We'll never know the answer to any of the hypotheticals so we're left to look at statistical analysis while unscientifically taking variables of each players' era into account.
How does Player X compare to Player Y? THAT is the debate we all, as fans, chose to have. It's the backbone of every water cooler talk, online message board, and conversation amongst rivals. Unfortunately some individual institutions, such as The Ohio State University, have chosen a route that eliminates any wiggle room and stears them clear of in-house debate as to which student-athletes deserve to be honored and which do not. They've done so by placing this National Player of the Year tag on the men's basketball program and the right to have a number retired.
So what are we left with as supporters of the program? Statistics. Comparisons. Opinion.
From a statistical standpoint, let's look at how Hop compares to the piers of his time by looking at those who won the NPOY award in each year of the 1980's:
At first glance the list is one of all-time greats, basketball Hall of Famers, and individuals of both NCAA and NBA fame. Sampson, Ewing, and Robinson are among the greatest centers of all-time, on any level, in any era. Michael Jordan is simply the greatest player to ever lace them up, and it's rarely argued. Aguirre put together one of the best NCAA careers we've ever seen, and there isn't one unrecognizable name in the list.
Dennis Hopson's 1986-87 season compares favorably to each and every National Player of the Year award winner of the 1980's. So is he simply a victim of "the rule" at Ohio State? Let's dig deeper into the numbers and see exactly where he stands in comparison to the greatest piers of his era. Ultimately the answer to the question above becomes an obvious one.
We've listed eleven main statistical categories, seven of which Hop ranks in the top-4 against the ten NPOY seasons listed below him.
He was second best in free throws made, third in free throws attempted, and tops in free throw percentage, making more than 4 of every 5 attempts at an 81.4% clip. He ranks second in assists by a wide margin at 3.6 per game, an amazing feat considering the supporting cast he had around him in 1987. He's tops in steals per game at 2.2 and after a stellar 4-year career at Ohio State became the school's all-time leader in the category before Jay Burson, a Buckeye sophomore when Hop was a senior, would eventually break the record.
This brings us to points per game, the crowned jewel of all basketball statistics. During the 1986-87 season Dennis averaged an amazing 29.0 which ranks him tops on the list of all NPOY recipients of his era. The closest to him was 28.2 which was posted by Navy's David Robinson in the same year.
As a reference, the current 2011-12 NCAA leader, through Friday's games, is currently at 24.8 points per game.
Break it down to just Hop v Guards and you'll see Michael Jordan average 5.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 1.6 steals while Johnny Dawkins averaged 3.6, 3.2, and 1.3 in the same categories during his NPOY season of 1985-86. Hopson's 5.7, 3.6, and 2.2 in rebounds, assists, and steals would rank number-one in each category against the two guards on the list. Surprised? You shouldn't be. It gets worse...
Go one step further with the statistics above and combine the ten seasons of the 80's worthy of National Player of the Year into one, and let's compare the main categories of Hop's 1986-87 season to that monster.
Dennis falls short in rebounds and blocks, both big-man friendly numbers on a list full of forwards and centers, but is clearly tops in four important categories versus the ten combined seasons - Points, Assists, Steals, and Turnovers - yet another fact that goes unnoticed by the University.
So where does this leave us? Well, in the same place. Ohio State requires a student-athlete in men's basketball to be named National Player of the Year in order to be considered for retirement of that player's jersey, aside from the honorary retirement of John Havlicek's #5 back in 2005. Dennis Hopson isn't a National Player of the Year. The latter will not change, but can the former?
The Ohio State University has many, many great traditions and currently houses the largest number of sanctioned sports of any university within the NCAA. They have dozens upon dozens of all-americans in multiple sports, and a tradition as a whole that would rival any university in America. That cannot be argued.
It's those facts that make me a proud member of Buckeye Nation, but the rule that allows Lenzelle Smith, Jr. to give his blood, sweat, and tears for the Scarlet and Gray while wearing #32 this season is absolutely misguided. That isn't a reflection on Smith or his abilities, position on the roster, or potential as a Buckeye. Not at all.
Instead it's a reflection of one simple thing -
Based on what Dennis Hopson was able to accomplish during a four-year Ohio State basketball career, coupled with the stats and comparisons above, we should never see the #32 on the back of an Ohio State basketball student-athlete again. That number, and the name 'Dennis Hopson,' should be in the rafters at the Jermone Schottenstein Center.
Numbers never lie.
If you wish to sign a petition on behalf of retiring Dennis Hopson's #32, please do so HERE
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Follow Dennis on Twitter > @DennisHopson