Who’s Next? The Best Players Not Yet Chosen as ACC Legends


By Shawn Krest

For those of you unfamiliar with the ACC Legends, they’ve been chosen—one for each member school (usually)—every year (almost) since the league expanded in 2004, in basketball and football. The football honorees are recognized at the championship game in December, while the men’s and women’s basketball selections are brought out at the respective ACC Tournaments.

The criteria for selection? Let’s just say it’s flexible.

Speaking with representatives from the league office over the years, I’ve established that they like for the honorees to have represented the school during the years the ACC existed (1953 to present) … even if the school wasn’t in the league at the time. That’s how Syracuse’s Derrick Coleman (the 1990 Big East Player of the Year), Boston College’s Doug Flutie and Pitt’s Tony Dorsett (neither of whom ever played in a conference game in any college conference) have been selected as ACC Legends in recent years.

But even that isn’t set in stone. Virginia’s 2007 Legend, Joe Palumbo, was already in the NFL by the time the ACC was born.

The ACC also wants the honoree to come to the ceremony, which means they need to be alive (obviously) and available. Except Jim Valvano was honored two years ago.

Want to have two Legends one year? No problem: N.C. State did that with Don and Dave Buckley in 2013. Want to have no Legend, because your team isn’t going to be at the tournament? Coleman deferred his induction by a year when the Orange served a postseason ban. Want to honor an announcer instead of a player? Duke did that with Bob Harris two years ago.

In fact, both football and basketball have taken entire years off from even selecting a class, due to HB2 relocations and other issues.

The result is a hodgepodge of deserving players, many of whom are on radio crews and likely to be in the arena for the ceremony, as well as several high-profile omissions.

So, we decided to count down the 25 best players and coaches not yet named ACC Legends. Some were members of the league. Some, like Flutie and Dorsett, were great players from pre-ACC history of current member schools. Some likely have gotten the call every year, only to say they’ve got better things to do than to come accept the honor.

In addition to the league-wide multi-sport Top 25, we also put together top 10 lists for men’s hoops and football for each school, which follow the Top 25.

25. Lamar Jackson, Louisville

(AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

It should be automatic. If you win a Heisman, you’re an ACC Legend. As the starter in Baltimore, Jackson won’t be available in December for the foreseeable future, but he still deserves the honor sooner, not later. Jackson is second in conference history in total offense and rushing touchdowns and among the all-time leaders in passing and scoring.

24. Mike Ditka, Pitt

A Pro Football Hall of Famer as a player and a coach, as well as a college football hall of famer, Ditka would likely give one of the more entertaining acceptance speeches in Legends history. Ditka played exactly one ACC team in college—a win over Duke in 1959—although he played future members Miami and Syracuse.  

23. Jim Boeheim, Syracuse

Photo Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Sure, he’s Mr. Big East, but the grumpy Hall of Famer has already stirred up enough trouble in our league to earn Legend status. He’s also won a national title. Now if only someone at the ACC office with a sense of humor would make him an ACC Legend in 2020 when the tournament is back in Greensboro.

22. Philip Rivers, NC State

Another surefire Legend who’s been busy every December since leaving State, the year he’s selected could set an attendance record just from the members of his immediate family he brings along. He’s the conference’s all-time leader in total offense and passing yardage.

21. Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech

This list is split between basketball or football. It may seem football-heavy now, because the league has had some huge misses on the hoops side that we’ll get to later. For now, the Hall of Fame Hokies is the highest rated former football coach on our list. A two-time coach of the year, he has the third most wins and second most bowl victories in. ACC history.

20. Sonny Jurgensen, Duke

He played in the early days of the ACC, and his passing numbers pale in comparison to those generated by modern offenses, but those are exactly the reasons the Hall of Fame NFL quarterback deserves some recognition.

19. Jameis Winston, Florida State

The second of three ACC Heisman winners, none of whom are currently football Legends. Off-field behavior was not taken into consideration, which helps Winston, but not as much as it’ll help someone else farther down this list.

18. Roy Williams, North Carolina

Like the Heisman Trophy, the Hall of Fame should be an automatic qualifier for Legend status. Roy, a three-time national champion and two time ACC  coach of the year, will join former UNC coaches Dean Smith and Bill Guthridge as Legends.

17. Charlie Ward, Florida State

This one is a head scratcher. Ward was Florida State’s ACC Legend in 2008, for basketball, not football. He’s another Heisman winner on this list. He deserves to be the first two-way Legend.  

16. Grant Hill, Duke

Obviously, with a tradition as long and deep as Duke or Carolina’s, there are going to be a few snubs. But Hill is a former ACC Player of the Year, two-time national champion and had one of the most memorable dunks in tournament history, not to mention a long, successful pro career. Plus, among the players Duke has honored instead of Hill are Steve Vacendak, Kenny Dennard and Jim Spanarkel. Nothing against them, except that they’re not Grant Hill.

15. Everett Case, NC State

The father of the ACC has been left out because of the long-standing guideline that Legends had to be alive and present. But now that State has broken that to honor Valvano, it needs to do the same for their coach that dominated the early years of the league. Case was a three-time coach of the year and four-time champion, not bad for 10 years in the league.

14. JJ Redick, Duke

Duke’s all-time leading scorer, Redick’s NBA responsibilities have kept him away from the ACC Tournament. He’s a two-time player of the year, a national player of the year and a two-time tournament MVP. An amazing but hard-to-explain fact: Redick passed Johnny Dawkins, who’s not an ACC Legend, to become Duke’s scoring leader. He then broke Dickie Hemric’s conference scoring record. Hemric is also not an ACC Legend. And the player who broke Redick’s record just over three years later is not a Legend either. And he’s next on the list.  

13. Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina

The wild-eyed, contact-lens-losing Hansbrough has also mostly been busy with a pro career, which explains why the reigning ACC and UNC career scoring leader and UNC’s all-time rebounding leader isn’t yet in the club. But it means the last three players to hold the title of ACC career scoring champ aren’t Legends, and neither is the guy whose UNC record Hansbrough broke, as we’ll see a little later.   

12. Ray Lewis, Miami

The 13-time Pro Bowl linebacker was a two-time first-team All-Big East selection at Miami, but the ACC gets to claim him now. Like Jameis Winston earlier, there is no exclusion for alleged off-field behavior. Lewis went 1-2 against Florida State in his only games against an ACC school, although Miami’s Big East schedule back then looks similar to the current ACC slate, with games against Pitt, BC, Syracuse and Virginia Tech.

11. Bobby Hurley, Duke

If the conference’s scoring leader isn’t a Legend, it should come as no surprise that the all-time assists leader isn’t there either. Hurley’s coaching career has kept him from being free during tournament week to accept his Legends plaque thus far. Maybe when he replaces Coach K at Duke, he’ll be available.

10. Dan Marino, Pitt

A Hall of Famer and nine-time Pro Bowler, Marino retired with virtually every NFL passing record. He played long before Pitt was an ACC team, but he’s on the school’s football Mount Rushmore. His only two college games against ACC schools were a split with UNC.

9. Phil Ford, North Carolina

The greatest Tar Heel of the pre-Hansbrough era, Ford was a two-time first-team All American, the national player of the year, an Olympian and left UNC as the school’s career scoring and assists leader. And like Hansbrough, who passed him on the scoring list three decades later, the current holder of the UNC assists title, Ed Cota, isn’t an ACC Legend.

8. Ralph Sampson, Virginia

Spoiler: If you make a list of the best basketball players in ACC history, that’s basically the top of this Legends snubs list. Sampson was a three-time player of the year, a three-time national player of the year, a Hall of Famer and led the Cavs to a Final Four.

7. Lawrence Taylor, North Carolina

A UNC All- American and ACC player of the year before going on to become the greatest linebacker in NFL history, LT’s off-field behavior ranges somewhere between Winston’s and Lewis’, although he’s been doing it for much longer.

6. Johnny Unitas, Louisville

The man who would become the prototype NFL quarterback for future generations played both ways at Louisville, spending time at safety and linebacker, as well as returning kicks. He would go on to make 10 Pro Bowls and win three NFL MVPs.

5. Tim Duncan, Wake Forest

 Photo by Bob Leverone

The quiet big man went on to become the greatest power forward in NBA history, winning five titles in 19 seasons to go with two MVPs and 15 All-Star selections. He also presided over one of the best periods in Wake Forest basketball history, winning two ACC player of the year awards, a national player of the year and three national defensive player of the year honors.

4. Mike Krzyzewski, Duke

CREDIT: Manny Millan (Photo by Manny Millan /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)

Yes, he’s still active, but at some point, you have to top waiting for him to retire and just give him the honor. The Hall of Fame didn’t wait. There are so many stats we could quote, but our favorite is this: He’s won three NCAA titles, nine ACC Tournaments and has a 540-120 record since the last time he was named ACC coach of the year. The guys that actually won coach of the year over that time combined for one national title, four tourneys and a 441-160 record in their award-winning seasons.

3. David Thompson, NC State

Seriously, what’s the point of having a group you call Legends if Thompson isn’t in it. The greatest player (arguably, since ACC fans don’t agree on anything) in conference history, Thompson won player of the year and first-team All-American in all three of his seasons. He invented the alley oop, won the greatest game in basketball history and went on to win the 1974 Final Four.

2. Jim Brown, Syracuse

If the best basketball players, coaches, linebackers and quarterbacks are on this list, why not include the best running back in NFL history too? In addition to being a Heisman finalist at Syracuse, he was an All-American in lacrosse, finished fifth in the decathlon on the track team and was the second-leading scorer on the basketball team. He went on to a Hall of Fame NFL career and remains a community ambassador.

1. Michael Jordan, North Carolina

Maybe with the tournament heading to Charlotte a few times, his Airness will be able to make it to a game to accept his ACC Legend honor, the biggest no-brainer in the history of the award. Before becoming the NBA GOAT and Nike/Space Jam acting superstar, MJ was a two-time All-American, ACC and national player of the year and hit the game-winning shot to give Dean Smith his first national title.  

School-by-school lists

Here are the 10 best football and basketball players at each conference school who have not yet been named ACC Legends

Boston College basketball

  1. Jared Dudley
  2. Craig Smith
  3. Jim O’Brien
  4. Olivier Hanlan
  5. Tyrese Rice
  6. Howard Eisley
  7. John Austin
  8. Reggie Jackson
  9. Sean Williams
  10. Jerome Robinson

Boston College football

  1. Luke Kuechly
  2. Art Donovan
  3. Matt Ryan
  4. Ernie Stautner
  5. Mike Holovak
  6. Andre Williams
  7. B.J. Raji
  8. William Green
  9. Eugene Goodreault
  10. Jamie Silva

Clemson basketball

  1. Larry Nance
  2. Banks McFadden
  3. Billy Williams
  4. Trevor Booker
  5. Skip Wise
  6. Butch Zatezelo
  7. KJ McDaniel
  8. Harold Jamieson
  9. Will Solomon
  10. Choppy Patterson

Clemson football

  1. Frank Howard
  2. William Perry
  3. CJ Spiller
  4. Dabo Swinney
  5. Brian Dawkins
  6. Deshaun Watson
  7. Deandre Hopkins
  8. Keith Adams
  9. Sammy Watkins
  10. Tahj Boyd

Duke basketball

  1. Mike Krzyzewski
  2. Bobby Hurley
  3. JJ Redick
  4. Grant Hill
  5. Elton Brand
  6. Johnny Dawkins
  7. Tommy Amaker
  8. Art Heyman
  9. Kyrie Irving
  10. Steve Wojciechowski

Duke football

  1. Sonny Jurgensen
  2. Ace Parker
  3. Bill Murray
  4. Jamison Crowder
  5. David Cutcliffe
  6. George McAfee
  7. Laken Tomlinson
  8. Conner Vernon
  9. Wray Carlton
  10. Dave Brown

Florida State basketball

  1. Sam Cassell
  2. Toney Douglas
  3. Chris Singleton
  4. Michael Snaer
  5. Xavier Rathan-Mayes
  6. Mitchell Wiggins
  7. Dwayne Bacon
  8. Malik Beasley
  9. Solomon Alabi
  10. Jonathan Isaac

Florida State football

  1. Charlie Ward
  2. Jameis Winston
  3. Deion Sanders
  4. Fred Biletnikoff
  5. Walter Jones
  6. Terrell Buckley
  7. Peter Warrick
  8. Corey Sawyer
  9. Jalen Ramsey
  10. Sebastian Janikowski

Georgia Tech basketball

  1. Chris Bosh
  2. Jon Barry
  3. Matt Geiger
  4. Stephon Marbury
  5. Craig Neal
  6. Dion Glover
  7. Derrick Favors
  8. Jarrett Jack
  9. Roger Kaiser
  10. Rich Yunkus

Georgia Tech football

  1. Calvin Johnson
  2. Billy Shaw
  3. Sean Jones
  4. Rock Perdoni
  5. Coleman Rudolph
  6. Willie Clay
  7. Maxie Baughan
  8. Joe Guyon
  9. Craig Page
  10. Paul Johnson

Louisville basketball

  1. Denny Crum
  2. Wes Unseld
  3. Pervis Ellison
  4. Butch Beard
  5. Charlie Tyra
  6. Russ Smith
  7. Reece Gaines
  8. Clifford Rozier
  9. Billy Thompson
  10. Rick Pitino

Louisville football

  1. Johnny Unitas
  2. Lamar Jackson
  3. Elvis Dumervil
  4. Tom Jackson
  5. Otis Wilson
  6. Sam Madison
  7. Brian Brohm
  8. Teddy Bridgewater
  9. Gerod Holliman
  10. Ted Washington

Miami basketball

  1. Shane Larkin
  2. James Jones
  3. Tito Horford
  4. Jack McClinton
  5. Tonye Jekiri
  6. Constantin Popa
  7. Reggie Johnson
  8. Davon Reed
  9. Guillermo Diaz
  10. Lonnie Walker

Miami football

  1. Ray Lewis
  2. Michael Irvin
  3. Jimmy Johnson
  4. Warren Sapp
  5. Jonathan Vilma
  6. Sean Taylor
  7. Andre Johnson
  8. Willis McGahee
  9. Michael Barrow
  10. Ottis Anderson

North Carolina basketball

  1. Michael Jordan
  2. Phil Ford
  3. Tyler Hansbrough
  4. Roy Williams
  5. Vince Carter
  6. Jerry Stackhouse
  7. Larry Brown
  8. Rasheed Wallace
  9. Brad Daugherty
  10. Ed Cota

North Carolina football

  1. Lawrence Taylor
  2. Charlie Justice
  3. Julius Peppers
  4. Amos Lawrence
  5. Natrone Means
  6. Art Weiner
  7. Mack Brown
  8. Gio Bernard
  9. Jeff Saturday
  10. Mitch Trubisky

NC State basketball

  1. David Thompson
  2. Everett Case
  3. Ronnie Shavlik
  4. Tom Burleson
  5. TJ Warren
  6. Nate McMillan
  7. Charles Whitney
  8. Lou Pucillo
  9. Eddie Biedenbach
  10. Vann Williford

NC State football

  1. Philip Rivers
  2. Earle Edwards
  3. Russell Wilson
  4. Koren Robinson
  5. Nate Irving
  6. Mike Quick
  7. Erik Kramer
  8. Sebastian Savage
  9. Bradley Chubb
  10. Manny Lawson

Notre Dame basketball

  1. Digger Phelps
  2. Austin Carr
  3. Bonzie Colson
  4. John Paxson
  5. Orlvndo Woolridge
  6. David Rivers
  7. Kelly Tripucka
  8. Luke Harangody
  9. Pat Connaughton
  10. Moose Krause

Pitt basketball

  1. DeJuan Blair
  2. Jerome Lane
  3. Brandin Knight
  4. Vonteego Cummings
  5. Steven Adams
  6. Sam Young
  7. Aaron Gray
  8. Sean Miller
  9. Julius Page
  10. Brian Shorter

Pitt football

  1. Dan Marino
  2. Mike Ditka
  3. Larry Fitzgerald
  4. Darrell Revis
  5. Curtis Martin
  6. Reuben Brown
  7. Aaron Donald
  8. Chris Doleman
  9. Tyler Boyd
  10. James Conner

Syracuse basketball

  1. Jim Boeheim
  2. Carmelo Anthony
  3. Sherman Douglas
  4. Billy Owens
  5. Rony Seikaly
  6. Tyler Ennis
  7. Laurence Moten
  8. Roosevelt Bouie
  9. CJ Fair
  10. Hakim Warrick

Syracuse football

  1. Jim Brown
  2. Ernie Davis
  3. Dwight Freeney
  4. Donovan McNabb
  5. Larry Csonka
  6. Marvin Harrison
  7. John Mackey
  8. Jim Ringo
  9. Al Davis
  10. Tim Green

Virginia basketball

  1. Ralph Sampson
  2. Malcolm Brogdon
  3. Olden Polynice
  4. Cory Alexander
  5. Othell Wilson
  6. Barry Parkhill
  7. Joe Harris
  8. Mike Scott
  9. Sean Singletary
  10. Justin Anderson

Virginia football

  1. Shawn Moore
  2. Matt Schaub
  3. Ronde Barber
  4. Aaron Brooks
  5. Chris Long
  6. Thomas Jones
  7. Jamie Sharper
  8. Heath Miller
  9. Anthony Poindexter
  10. D’Brickashaw Ferguson

Virginia Tech basketball

  1. Malcolm Delaney
  2. Erick Green
  3. Zabian Dowdell
  4. Jeff Allen
  5. Eddie Lucas
  6. Jamon Gordon
  7. Deron Washington
  8. Coleman Collins
  9. Larry Cooke
  10. Seth Greenberg

Virginia Tech football

  1. Frank Beamer
  2. Michael Vick
  3. Deangelo Hall
  4. Eugene Chung
  5. Lee Suggs
  6. Kevin Jones
  7. Bryan Randall
  8. Duane Brown
  9. Tyrod Taylor
  10. Kam Chancellor

Wake Forest basketball

  1. Tim Duncan
  2. Chris Paul
  3. Muggsy Bogues
  4. Dickie Hemric
  5. Jeff Teague
  6. Rod Griffin
  7. Charlie Davis
  8. Al-Farouq Aminu
  9. Darius Songalia
  10. Skip Prosser

Wake Forest football

  1. Riley Skinner
  2. Aaron Curry
  3. Ricky Proehl
  4. Alphonso Smith
  5. Chris Barclay
  6. Brian Piccolo
  7. Bill George
  8. George Coghill
  9. Calvin Pace
  10. Michael Campanaro

Former teams/multiple teams basketball

  1. Len Bias, Maryland
  2. Juan Dixon, Maryland
  3. John Roche, South Carolina
  4. Frank McGuire, North Carolina, South Carolina
  5. Joe Smith, Maryland
  6. Steve Francis, Maryland
  7. Grady Wallace, South Carolina
  8. Tom McMillan, Maryland
  9. Albert King, Maryland
  10. Steve Blake, Maryland

Former teams/multiple teams football

  1. Bill Dooley, North Carolina, Wake Forest, Virginia Tech
  2. Gary Collins, Maryland
  3. Dickie Harris, South Carolina
  4. Vernon Davis, Maryland
  5. Alex Hawkins, South Carolina
  6. EJ Henderson, Maryland
  7. Dave DeCamilla, South Carolina
  8. Scott Milanovich, Maryland
  9. Tom Brown, Maryland
  10. Jim Tatum, Maryland, North Carolina