Every MVC School's Most Famous Basketball Alum
For today’s article, I will look at every school’s most famous basketball alum. To be eligible for this list, you have to have played for the basketball program at a current MVC school. That is pretty much it. This isn’t necessarily a list of every school’s best basketball player ever, although many of the folks on this list are their school’s best basketball player ever. This is a list of the MVC players with the most name recognition. I’ll also add a little note onto the end of each blurb about other famous alums from each school. So let’s jump in.
10. Lewis Lloyd, Drake Bulldogs: Drake has been getting a lot of love on this site lately, but they will come in last on this particular list. That isn’t to say Lewis Lloyd wasn’t a stud basketball player for Drake. The Philadelphia native graduated from the same high school as Wilt Chamberlain before starting his college career at the New Mexico Military Institute. He played for Drake for two seasons from 1979 through 1981 averaging 30 and 26 points per game as Drake made it to the NIT his senior season. Drake had only one other postseason appearance between Llloyd’s 1981 team and the 2008 NCAA Tournament team. He won the MVC Player of the Year award both years at Drake and his number is retired for the Bulldogs. Lloyd was selected in the fourth round of the NBA draft and ended up playing seven seasons in the NBA, the majority with the Houston Rockets. He also played for Golden State and Philadelphia. He played in the 1986 NBA Finals for Houston although they lost. His decent, albeit unremarkable NBA career is what made him stand out amongst other Drake alums for the purposes of this list. As a millennial who grew up in Des Moines, I knew about Lewis Lloyd. Lloyd died in 2019 at age 60. -Other Notable Drake Alums: For this author, the most noteworthy Drake alum of them all is golfer Zach Johnson who won the 2007 Masters and 2015 US Open. Former Dallas Cowboys kicker Billy Cundiff is a graduate of Drake’s non-scholarship football program. The original host of the “Tonight Show”, Steve Allen, attended Drake but did not graduate. Same for actor Jeremy Piven of Entourage fame.
9.) Alfredrick Hughes, Loyola Ramblers: Hughes was a 1985 NBA first-round draft pick out of Loyola who had a short NBA career. To me he is most notable for being 13th all-time on the NCAA basketball career scoring list. Hughes averaged at least 25 ppg every year from his sophomore year on and was the Midwest Collegiate Conference Player of the Year three times. He was an All-American his senior year when his Ramblers finally broke through and made the NCAA Tournament. They beat Iona and SMU before losing to Georgetown in the Sweet 16. Loyola wouldn’t make the NCAAs again until their Final Four run in 2018. Hughes only played one NBA season, but spent several years playing in basketball’s minor professional leagues. I have to admit , I struggled picking Loyola’s representative. I considered LaRue Martin, who was the #1 pick in the NBA Draft in 1972 and is considered by some to be the worst #1 pick in NBA history but he played 4 years in the NBA and has had a good post basketball career. I also considered Vic Rouse who is best known for hitting the game winning shot in the 1963 NCAA Championship game. But ultimately settled on Hughes because of his top-15-all-time NCAA scoring mark. I also considered a member of the 2018 team, but no one single star stood out on that team. If you really wanted to stretch it…..you could say Sister Jean was the big star of that team. -Other Notable Loyola Alums: Loyola is the alma mater of several actors you’ve probably heard of. Most notable among them is Bob Newhart. Along with Newhart Bill Murray’s brother Joel, Jennifer Morrison from the show Once Upon a Time and Leslie David Baker (aka Stanley from The Office) are also Ramblers. There are several more actor you may have heard of, but those were the ones that stood out to me.
8.) Bryce Drew, Valparaiso Crusaders: Bryce Drew has accomplished quite a bit on and around the basketball court, but he is most famous for one single moment. Drew was Indiana Mr. Basketball in high school, and had a great career playing for his father at Valpo. He won the MCC Player of the Year award twice and still tops the list for career assists at Valpo (and is second in points behind Alec Peters). He was drafted in the first round of the NBA Draft and had a six-year NBA career for the Rockets, Bulls and Hornets. After his professional career ended, Drew became a DI coach. He was head coach at Valpo for five very successful years before three less successful years at Vanderbilt. He is currently the head coach at Grand Canyon. All that said, none of those things are the reason Bryce Drew is on this list of famous (ish) people. Drew is most remembered for hitting one of the most famous shots in NCAA Tournament history as a player at Valpo. In the 1998 NCAA Tournament, Drew’s 13th seeded Crusaders trailed Ole Miss by two with 2.5 second remaining. Drew’s teammates passed the ball the length of the floor and Drew hit a long leaning three-pointer at the buzzer to win the game for Valpo. The shot has endured as one of the most replayed moments in NCAA Tournament history. Valpo went on to beat Florida State in the next round to get to the Sweet 16. -Other Notable Valpo Alums: Valpo was more difficult to research than any other MVC school. When I finally found their list, I was a bit surprised at the lack of big names. The most famous names I could find were former Pittsburgh Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon and John Lutz from 30 Rock. Valpo fans, am I missing something?
7.) Jackie Stiles, Missouri State (Lady) Bears: This is technically cheating a bit, but I worded the title of this article very carefully so I would be able to include Stiles as the MSU rep. There has not been a men’s basketball player as noteworthy as Jackie Stiles was for the MSU women. She is a member of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame and until very recently was the all-time leading scorer in NCAA women’s basketball history. Stiles’ 3,393 career points (for a career average of 26.3 per game) scored between 1997 and 2001 stood as the all-time mark for career points in the women’s game until 2017 when the record was broken by Kelsey Plum of Washington (and has since been beaten again by Kelsey Mitchell of Ohio State). The Lady Bears qualified for the NCAA Tournament all four years of Stiles’ career, and in her senior year beat Toledo, Rutgers, top-seeded Duke (she scored 41 points in that game) and Washington to qualify for the Final Four which was actually held at the Savvis Center (now Scottrade Center) in St. Louis and hosted by the Missouri Valley Conference. How cool is that? Her professional playing career was shortened by injury, but she has had a good coaching career as an assistant at Missouri State and now Oklahoma. -Other Notable Missouri State Alums: MSU has had a boatload of Major League Baseball players come out of their stellar program. There were a few noteworthy names but the biggest was Ryan Howard of the Philadelphia Phillies. The other most recognizable names (to me at least) were Kansas City Royals owner David Glass and actor John Goodman of Roseanne fame.
6.) Nick Nurse, Northern Iowa Panthers: Nick Nurse, more than anyone else on this list, is famous in spite of his time as a college basketball player not because of it. That isn’t to say that Nurse wasn’t a good player at UNI. The Iowa native played from 1985 to 1989 and remains UNI’s all-time three-point percentage leader. Nurse, who was teammates with Greg McDermott for three years, was never the star of the team at UNI, though, and never more than the 4th leading scorer. He was part of the build up to UNI’s first NCAA season, but graduated in 1989. That was one season before the Panthers made the dance and beat 3rd seeded Missouri in the first round (although Nurse did serve as a student assistant with that team). After graduation Nurse almost immediately went into coaching, and the story of how he got where he is is fascinating. At age 23 he became the youngest head college basketball coach in the country when he took over the Grand View University (NAIA) Rams for two seasons before becoming an assistant at South Dakota for two years. Nurse then went overseas to become a head coach of the British Basketball League. For 11 years he coached four BBL teams in Birmingham, Manchester, London and Brighton and wont two championships. In 2007, Nurse returned to the US to coach the Iowa Energy, the new NBA D-League franchise in his home state. He coached four years with the Energy, winning the D-League in 2011, and then two years with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, winning the league in 2013. In 2013, Nurse was hired as an NBA assistant with the Toronto Raptors. After five years as an assistant, he was promoted to head coach in 2018. In his first season he guided the Raptors to their first ever NBA Championship. He was named NBA Coach of the Year the following season. For those who lost track, Nurse went from UNI, to Grand View, to South Dakota, to Europe, to the D-League, to NBA Champion over 25 years. Nurse is also the current head coach of the Canadian National Basketball team. What a crazy run, and he is only 53 years old. There is still more to come. -Other Notable UNI Alums: Interesting fact, no UNI alum has played a single minute in an NBA game. If this list had been written three years ago, the Panthers’ rep would probably have been Ali Farokhmanesh because of his famous shot. The most famous Panther overall is probably NFL MVP and Super Bowl Champion Kurt Warner. NFL running back David Johnson is also a former Panther. Beyond that, there isn’t much.
5.) Hersey Hawkins, Bradley Braves: Chet Walker might have had a better NBA career, but Hersey Hawkins is probably Bradley’s most famous player. Hawkins was a standout player at Bradley in the 80s and went on to have a very strong NBA career as well. He was a 3,000-point scorer for Bradley and was the 4th leading scorer in NCAA basketball history when his BU career ended (he is 10th now). He scored an incredible 36.3 PPG his senior season at Bradley and won numerous National Player of the Year awards. He also played on the last US Olympic team before the Dream Team in 1988, disappointingly winning the bronze. His 12-year NBA career consisted of stints with the Hornets, Sonics, Bulls and 76ers. He was on the All-Rookie team in 1989 and an All-Star in 1991. He played in the NBA Finals in 1996 with the Supersonics. Overall, he played in 983 career games, 90% as a starter, and averaged 14.7 PPG. He is currently the player programs director for the Portland Trailblazers. -Other Notable Bradley Alums: Chet Walker the NBA star is one. Minnesota Twins star Kirby Puckett played at Bradley for one year. Neil Flynn, AKA Janitor from Scrubs, is a BU Brave. Chick Hearn, longtime LA Lakers announcer also went to Bradley. Jerry Krause, architect of the Bulls 90s dynasty, also went to BU.
4.) Jerry Sloan, Evansville Purple Aces: The late great Jerry Sloan, who died at age 78 last year, is basketball Hall of Famer and Evansville’s best-known basketball alum. Probably best known for his 23-year stint as head coach of the Utah Jazz, Sloan also had a robust playing career at Evansville and in the NBA. A native of the hilariously named Gobbler’s Knob, Illinois, and raised on a farm by a single mother, Sloan enrolled at Evansville in 1962. He was conference player of the year twice at UE. Sloan played for Evansville during its run as a Division II basketball dynasty. He led the team to two of their six Division II championships his junior and senior years, finishing a perfect 29-0 his senior season. His Aces beat Southern Illinois in the National Championship game in 1965, and Northern Iowa in the Final Four in 1964. He was the fourth overall selection in the NBA Draft by the Bullets, but was then chosen by the Chicago Bulls in the expansion draft the following season. He played ten seasons in Chicago where he was a two-time All-Star and six-time member of the NBA all-defensive team. His was the first number retired by the Bulls. After an injury forced his retirement from basketball, Sloan initially took the head coaching job at Evansville but withdrew after week and avoided a tragedy as the entire UE basketball team was killed in a plane crash that season. By 1979, three years removed from retirement as a player, Sloan became the head coach of the Bulls for three unsuccessful three seasons. In 1988, Sloan got a second chance to be an NBA head coach and this time it stuck. Sloan coached the Utah Jazz for 23 years and qualified for the playoffs sixteen consecutive years. His teams in 1997 and 1998 were championship quality and made it to the finals only to lose to Michael Jordan and the Bulls. After the Malone-Stockton era of Utah basketball ended, Sloan stayed on and coached several more good Utah Jazz teams ushering in a new era before leaving in 2011 under strange circumstances. He died last year. -Other Notable Evansville Alums: Noted actor Rami Malek, who among other things played Freddy Mercury in the Queen movie Bohemian Rhapsody is a UE alum. Jack McBrayer from 30 Rock fame might be the most appropriate MVC alum that exists.
3.) Doug Collins, Illinois State Redbirds: It takes a lot to get a DI basketball court named after you, but that is what Doug Collins has meant to Illinois State. A man who has played nearly every role available in the game of basketball, Collins was a prolific player at the high school, college, and pro level. He then became an NBA head coach for several teams and has also been an award-winning member of the media. After a successful high school career, Collins ended up playing college ball at Illinois State. His teams weren’t terribly successful at ISU, but in spite of this his ISU Hall of Fame profile calls him the “most decorated athlete in Illinois State history”. He averaged 29 points per game over his career and was a consensus All-American his senior year. He has three of the top four seasons of scoring in ISU history and his jersey was retired after the last game of his senior season. While in college he won the silver medal at the 1972 Olympics, where the US team lost to the USSR controversially when the Russians were given three chances to score the game winning basket in the final seconds following two free throws by Collins that gave the Americans the lead. Collins was the number one pick in the NBA draft in 1973 and went on to have a successful NBA career for the Philadelphia 76ers. He was a four-time All-Star before his career was cut short by injury in 1981. While Collins had a great career as a player, he was likely best known for his coaching. He started in the college game for half a decade before being named head coach of the Chicago Bulls in 1986. Collins coached Michael Jordan and was the last Bulls coach before Phil Jackson. He turned an unsuccessful team around and got them to the conference finals, leaving the Bulls on the precipice of their dynasty. After a five-year absence from head coaching, he became the coach of the Pistons in 1995. He turned a struggling Pistons team around with Grant Hill as his main star. In 1998, he was fired by Detroit and became a basketball analyst on a number of television networks. In 2001, he was hired by the Washington Wizards and reunited with Michael Jordan. He once again improved the team’s record but was fired after two seasons. His final coaching stint was with the 76ers in 2011-2013, who again improved over previous seasons, making the playoffs both years. He resigned in 2013. Collins’ son, Chris, played at Duke and is currently the head coach of Northwestern. In 2007, Illinois State named their court after him. The Redbirds currently play on “Doug Collins Court”. -Other Notable Illinois State Alums: ISU Red probably has the most impressive cadre of famous alums in the MVC, most of whom are actors. The list includes Sean Hayes from Will and Grace, Gary Cole, Jane Lynch, John Malkovich, Laurie Metcalf, Tim Russ from Star Trek Voyager, Craig Robinson (aka Darryl from The Office) and Gary Sinise. Also Michelle Williams, probably the most famous member of the group Destiny’s Child, attended ISU.
2.) Walt Frazier, Southern Illinois Salukis: Frazier is an older player and may not be familiar to a lot of younger fans. But he is one of the better basketball players of all-time and was certainly very famous in his day. He is especially familiar to New York Knicks fans as he led the team to their only two championships in the 70s. The 75-year-old Hall of Famer is currently a broadcaster on the Knicks’ TV network, MSG. Frazier was a multi-sport athlete in high school and was offered football scholarships as well as basketball. He accepted the basketball scholarship to Southern Illinois, believing as a black man in the 1960s he would have a better chance to make it as a basketball player than in the NFL. At SIU, which was Division II at the time, Frazier was one of the best college basketball players in the country. He was an All-American in 1964 and 1965 as a freshman and sophomore. He took the Salukis to the D2 National Championship game in 1965 only to lose to Jerry Sloan’s Evansville Purple Aces. In 1967, Frazier’s senior year, the Salukis passed on the DII basketball tournament with hopes that they would be invited to the NIT. The gamble paid off and SIU received an invitation. They beat St. Peters, Duke, Rutgers and Marquette ‘en route to the title. Frazier was named the tournament MVP. Walt Frazier was drafted 5th overall by the Knicks and was an instant sensation, being named to the All-Rookie team in 1968. He was named an All-Star for the first time in the 69-70 season, and would receive the honor six more times in his career. Frazier scored 36 points and added 19 assists and six steals in game 7 of the NBA Finals that year, leading the Knicks to their first championship. He won another title in 1973, and they remain the only two championships in Knicks franchise history. He went on to play three injury marred seasons in Cleveland and retired in 1980. Frazier and Patrick Ewing are considered by many to be the two best players in Knicks history. His number was retired by the Knicks in 1979, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1987 and was named one of the NBA’s 50 greatest players in 1996. Today, at age 75, Frazier is an announcer for the Knicks’ MSG network and is known for his unique flamboyant style. -Other Notable Southern Illinois Alums: If you don’t think Illinois State has the most impressive alumni list, it is probably SIU. Chris Carr was another basketball player I considered. Beyond hoops, SIU boasts the likes of Melissa McCarthy, Jim Belushi, Dennis Franz, Jenny McCarthy, Bob Odenkirk, Macho Man Randy Savage, football player Brandon Jacobs and baseball player Steve Finley.
1.) Larry Bird, Indiana State Sycamores: Look, you all know who Larry Bird is. There is a reason the MVC Player of the Year trophy is named after the guy. Larry Legend is one of the greatest basketball players to ever lace ‘em up. Raised in French Lick, Indiana, Bird averaged 31 points and 21 rebounds per game as a senior in high school. Initially enrolled at Indiana, Bird left school after one month in Bloomington, struggling to make the adjustment from the small town of French Lick to the larger campus. Instead, he enrolled at Indiana State a year later and the rest is Missouri Valley Conference history. Bird was a star immediately for ISU Blue, averaging over 32 points a game in his first season as a sophomore. He was the MVC Player of the Year as a junior and a senior as well. Bird’s arrival immediately improved Indiana State’s fortunes dramatically. The Trees were 13-12 in 75-76, but improved to 25-3 in Bird’s first season, losing to Houston in the NIT. The next year Indiana State lost the MVC title game to Creighton in Omaha and won one game in the NIT. As a senior, things would go differently for Bird and the Sycamores. The Sycamores started winning and kept winning. They blew through their schedule, finishing the regular season 24-0 and blowing through the MVC tournament at home. In the NCAA Tournament, Indiana State got easy wins against Virginia Tech and 16th ranked Oklahoma, followed by a pair of two-point wins over 5th ranked Arkansas and 6th ranked Depaul. Bird’s Sycamores met Magic Johnson’s Michigan State Spartans in the National Championship game, which garnered the highest TV rating of a basketball game to that point. Michigan State won, but Bird won the Naismith Player of the Year award. Bird ended up averaging over 30ppg in his Indy State career. He was drafted by the Celtics and he ended up being pretty good in the NBA too. In his rookie season, the Celtics improved by 32 games and Bird was named an All-Star and Rookie of the Year. It was the first of 12 NBA All-Star selections for Bird. Bird won his first NBA Championship in 1981, and would do so again in 1984 and 1986 (and was finals MVP in ‘84 and ‘86). He was the MVP of the league for three straight years in 1984, ‘85 and ‘86. His jersey was retired by Boston, he was on the “50 Greatest Players” list, and he is obviously in the basketball Hall of Fame. He was also a member of the first “Dream Team” winning gold at the Olympics in 1992. He had a very successful coaching run with Indiana from 1997-2000, winning the Coach of the Year award in 1998 after nearly eliminating Jordan’s “Last Dance” Bulls in 1998. The Pacers won the division title in 1999 and 2000 before Bird resigned after three years (as he said he would when he took the job). In 2003 he became the President of Basketball Ops for the Pacers and was named the NBA Executive of the Year in 2012. Today, at age 64, he is still with Indiana in an advisory capacity. Today, the Missouri Valley Player of the Year award is named after Bird. -Other Notable Indiana State alums: John Wooden is not an alum, but coached Indiana State briefly and is probably the second most relevant basketball figure to be mentioned in this list. Beyond that the Sycamores boast Tommy John, who is more famous for the arm surgery he was the first to try than his solid pitching career in the MLB. Wrestler Bruce Baumgardner, one of the best to wear the singlet, is also an ISU Blue alum.
And that is it! The history of the Valley is deep! And this only includes current schools. There are several more iconic names that played in the MVC before their schools left the league. Please let me know if I missed anyone. I always love to learn more about the league’s history.