MACwood Squares is our summer reading series on the best athletes in Mid-American Conference sports history. This week features Miami. Looking for your MAC school? Consult our schedule for other teams and please submit your nominees as well.
I'm going to keep my first list at four players, and rather than puff up the list, just go deep on this quarter. As always, please fill in any glaring gaps I may be missing.
Ron Harper (1982-86) — Before the advent of the 3-point line in college basketball, Harper still owns the all-time Miami scoring record of 2,377 points, which was a record until Bonzi Wells broke it. (Good thing they didn't have a 3-point line in college: he wasn't so hot in the NBA at it, being just a 29% shooter from it.) He also had 1,119 career rebounds, making him only one of three MAC players in the 2,000/1,000 club. Twice he nabbed MAC Player of the Year, and he still holds the record for points in a MAC tournament game (45). It's kind of hard to argue anyone else since he holds the school record in not only points but also blocks, rebounds, and steals. And then his 15-year NBA career happened, including five championships with the Bulls and Lakers.
As a 6'6" pro he became more guard than forward. Notice how I omitted his assist total (just eighth in school history)? Well, he became a more enlightened passer, racking up 3,900 assists (top 100 all-time) and continued to be a defensive force by by stealing the ball 1,716 times, which is 18th all time. Kind of a nifty career for the man they later called "Hollywood." But they oughta call him "Oxford."
Wally Szczerbiak (1995-99) — For the end of the '90s, the MAC was Wally World's amusement park. Once he was a MAC Player of the Year; twice he was first team, and in '99 he gained a slew of All-American first- and second-team mentions. He's the second-leading scorer all-time in MU history, but his 24.3 scoring average for his junior/senior years combined made him the legendary and memorable juggernaught.
Oh, and it would be criminal to leave out his singlehanded efforts to put Miami in the 1999 Sweet 16: As a 10-seed, Miami upset Washington 59-58 thanks to Wally's 43 points. Against 2-seed Utah, he led a furious comeback to beat them 66-58. Other MAC teams got further or were stronger. There was never a one-man show in the MAC quite like the Miami Szczerbiaks.
And the sensation was taken sixth overall in the 1999 Draft by the Timberwolves, who was notorious for good free throw shooting and getting into fistfights with Kevin Garnett. Perhaps not in that order. He did make an All-Star team and finished his career with 16.5 points per 36 and an 86% free throw percentage.
Ira Newble (1996-97) — He's Ira Newble, and you're not. He also didn't make a big splash when he was with MU, but he did cascade his way into an eight-year NBA career by virtue of being a tall-enough forward and suckered the Cleveland Cavaliers into a five-year deal. Funny end to his career: in 2008 he was part of a three-team trade that sent him from the Cavs to the Seattle SuperSonics; in that same convoluted trade, Szczerbiak went from the Sonics to the Cavaliers.
Wayne Embry (1955-58) — Here's your throwback player that can easily be forgotten. But his scoring was downright Szczerbiakish: 23.1 and 24.9 points, respectively, his final two years. He's second on the rebounds list (just TWO behind Harper) and then became much more in the NBA: Not just a 5-time All-Star with the Cincinnati Royals (now the Sacramento Kings) but also as the first black GM in the pros. He shaped the '90s Cavaliers, for whatever that's worth, and is a Basketball HOF member as a contributor. But a pretty darn good player and ambassador for the sport.
And those are really the four that stand out. You could also go with Fred Foster, Devin Davis, Archie Aldridge, or Eddie Schilling. Even though the teams have been decent in the last decade, there aren't many to pick from, although Michael Bramos had some good years, as did Tim Pollitz. Plus, we'll see how Julian Mavunga finishes his career.
Who are your nominees for Miami's MACwood Squares? Comment below, tweet us at @HustleBelt or submit a FanPost making your case. The final nine will be revealed Friday.