Minnesota is known as the State of Hockey. Well, not anymore, it’s the state of basketball. Since the Men’s and Women’s NCAA Basketball Tournaments this season featured two huge stars from the Land of 10,000 Lakes, Jalen Suggs and Paige Bueckers, Minnesota has been at the forefront of the basketball conversation. So, with the Eye of Sauron fixed on Minnesota for the time being, I thought it would be a great chance to remember the greatest players in Minnesota history. A few quick stipulations. First, they either have to have been born in Minnesota, or spent a majority of their childhood in Minnesota. No Gophers, Timberwolves, Lakers, or Lynx stars who don’t actually hail from the state were consider as much as I wanted to slip Mychal Thompson and Seimone Augustus in here. Secondly, we’re going both men’s and women’s players, but just a heads up it’s not going to be even as there are far more men from Minnesota to go on to the pros. That being said we’re taking into account everything from high school, college, and NBA/WNBA careers and will be weighted in the reverse order that I just listed them (I don’t care/wasn’t going to look up what you did in Europe so don’t cry when Ben Woodside doesn’t make the list).
A few honorable mentions before we crack on with the top 20. Sam Jacobson was Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball in 1994, was a huge part of the Gopher’s 1997 Final Four team that must not be named, and was drafted in the first round of the 1998 NBA Draft. If I had counted coaches instead of players I would have added Dave Joerger from Staples who played at MSU Moorhead and was the head coach for the Grizzlies and Kings. The better Minnesotan coach though is John Kundla who coached the Lakers to their first five championships in Minneapolis. But alas this is the best players in Minnesota history, not best people who are involved with basketball in some way. So without further ado, here are the top 20 basketball players from Minnesota.
20.) Chet Holmgren
High School: Minnehaha Academy, 2021 Mr. Basketball
For the last spot on the list I look to the future with a bet that Chet Holmgren is going to be at least a serviceable NBA player going forward. He just won Mr. Basketball, his fourth state title, and is the number one prospect in the 2021 recruiting class according to ESPN and Rivals. Holmgren is said to be following in his former teammate Jalen Suggs’ footsteps and likely to declare his intent on playing for Gonzaga next season. Some think he could potentially be the first pick in the 2022 NBA draft, and if that all happens he will shoot up this list. For now we’ll save the last spot for the unknown potential of a budding superstar named Chet.
19.) Jim Petersen
High School: St. Louis Park High School, 1980 Mr. Basketball
College: University of Minnesota, 96 games, 5.6 ppg, 4 rpg, 1 apg
NBA: Three teams from 1984-92, 51st overall pick in the 1984 NBA Draft, 491 games, 6.9 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1 apg
Most people my age know Jim Petersen as the longtime Timberwolves color commentator. Most forget that the 6’10” St. Louis Park native averaged 5.2 points and 7.2 rebounds in the 1986 NBA Finals for the Houston Rockets alongside Hakeem Olajuwon, losing in six games to the Boston Celtics. Or that he was the fourth member of Run TMC with Golden State. Like most players on this list, Petersen wasn’t the sexiest or flashiest, but he got the job done and was trusted to hold down the fort during some of the biggest games of his career.
18.) Joel Przybilla
High School: Monticello High School, 1998 Co-Mr. Basketball
College: University of Minnesota, 49 games, 9.9 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 3.4 bpg
NBA: Four teams from 2000-13, ninth overall pick in the 2000 NBA Draft, 592 games, 3.9 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 1.4 bpg
Przybilla is the poster boy for what people think Minnesota basketball is. A bunch of seven-foot farm boys who just stand around and block the shit out of any shots around the rim. It’s a miracle he stuck around in the NBA for 13 seasons, but he did mostly play for some pretty bad Bucks and pre-Lillard Trail Blazers teams.
17.) Randy Breuer
High School: Lake City High School, 1979 Mr. Basketball
College: University of Minnesota, 2x First Team All-Big Ten, 119 games, 14.9 games, 6.1 rebounds, 1.5 apg
NBA: Four teams from 1983-94, 18th overall pick in the 1983 NBA Draft, 681 games, 6.8 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 1.1 bpg
Another seven-footer from a small town in Minnesota, Breuer was a force for the Gophers nabbing two First Team All-Big Ten honors before becoming a first round pick. In the NBA he was a key component of the ’80s Bucks teams led by Sidney Moncrief that made the Eastern Conference Finals in 1986.
16.) Kris Humphries
High School: Hopkins High School, 2003 Mr. Basketball
College: University of Minnesota, First Team All-Big Ten, 29 games, 21.7 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 0.7 apg
NBA: Nine teams from 2004-17, 14th overall pick in 2004 NBA Draft, 800 games, 6.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 0.7 apg
More famous for his 72 day marriage to Kim Kardashian than his actual basketball career, Humphries was actually kind of good. It seems like he’s been out of the league forever, but he last played for Atlanta during the 2016-17 season, retiring just under four years ago. Anyways, his place in history will always be as the jackass that didn’t get along with Khloe and made yee-haw Minnesota (AKA Lake Minnetonka, the nicest part of the state) a thing people say.
15.) Devean George
High School: Benilde St.-Margaret’s
College: Augsburg University, 2x DIII National Champion, 2x MIAC MVP, 2x DIII All American, 96 games, 25.5 ppg, 9 rpg, 1.6 apg
NBA: Three teams from 1999-2010, 23rd overall pick in the 1999 NBA Draft, 3x NBA Champion, 630 games, 5.6 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 0.9 apg
Deavean George is one of the only DIII players to ever make it in the NBA. He was a beast at Augsburg and a key member of the Shaq/Kobe Lakers dynasty of the early 2000’s.
14.) Troy Bell
High School: Academy of Holy Angels
College: Boston College, 2x Second Team All-American, 3x First Team All-Big East, 2x Big East Player of the Year, 122 games, 21.6 ppg, 4 rpg, 3.5 apg
NBA: Memphis Grizzlies 2003-04, 16th overall pick in 2003 NBA Draft, six games, 1.8 ppg, 0.7 rpg, 0.7 apg
I’m going to be honest, when I set out to do this I had no idea that Troy Bell was from Minnesota. There are Minnesotan’s who didn’t make the list who had way better NBA careers than Bell, but the reason he’s here is because he balled out in college. At Boston College he was a two-time All American, and twice took home the Big East Player of the Year award. You could make the argument that Bell had the best college basketball career of any Minnesotan in history.
13.) Tayler Hill
High School: South High School, 2009 Miss Basketball
College: Ohio State University, 2x First Team All-Big Ten, 3 Big Ten All-Defensive Team, 132 games, 15.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.6 apg
WNBA: Washington Mystics 2013-18, Dallas Wings 2018-19, 4th overall pick in 2013 WNBA Draft, 145 games, 8.9 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 1.7 apg
His was. two-way force at Ohio State and worked her way into becoming the fourth overall pick. She had a breakout season in 2016 averaging 15.4 points for the Mystics. The one knock is that she’s in a relationship with David Lighty which is unforgivable.
12.) Mark Olberding
High School: Melrose High School
College: University of Minnesota, 26 games, 16 ppg, 8.2 rpg
ABA/NBA: Four teams from 1975-87, 1976 ABA First Team All-Rookie, 946 games, 9.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 2.5 apg
Olberding was a solid contributor to the late-’70s/early-’80s Spurs teams and got to play alongside George Gervin, which is pretty cool. In 1979 the Spurs lost game seven to the Washington Bullets in the Eastern Conference Finals, marking the closes he ever got to playing for an NBA Championship.
11.) Whitey Skoog
High School: Brainerd High School
College: University of Minnesota, 2x All-Big Ten, 65 games, 15.2 points
NBA: Minneapolis Lakers 1951-57, 3x NBA Champion, territorial selection in 1951 NBA Draft, 341 games, 8.2 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.6 apg
Whitey Skoog is the most ’50s white guy Minnesota basketball name anyone could ever come up with. He won three championships with the Lakers and gets pushed out of the top ten because he rode George Mikan’s coat tails to glory.
10.) Rachel Banham
High School: Lakeville North High School, 2011 Miss Basketball
College: University of Minnesota, 4x All-Big Ten, 2016 Big Ten Player of the Year and First Team All-American, 8th leading scorer in NCAA Division I women’s history, 144 games, 21.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 3.6 apg
WNBA: Connecticut Sun 2016-19, Minnesota Lynx 2020, fourth overall pick in 2016 WNBA Draft, 127 games, 4.5 ppg, 1 rpg, 1.2 apg
The Maroon Mamba caught Kobe’s attention after dropping 60 points in a game. The two cultivated a relationship for years to come after words and Banham ended her college career as the second best Gopher Women’s basketball player in history. She’s the 8th leading scorer in NCAAW history and has since had a solid WNBA career.
9.) Khalid El-Amin
High School: Minneapolis North High School, 1997 Mr. Basketball
College: University of Connecticut, 1999 National Champion, 3x All-Big East, 106 games, 15.3 ppg, 3 rpg, 4.4 apg
NBA: Chicago Bulls 2000-01, 50 games, 6.3 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 2.9 apg
Khalid El-Amin is a legend for Minnesota basketball fans growing up in the ’90s. He led Minneapolis North to three straight state titles in 1995, ’96, and ’97. In College Khalid El-Amin led UConn to a National Championship in 1999 as a sophomore. He made wearing super baggy shirts under a basketball jersey cool and along with KG, and the shamed Gopher Final four team that must not be named, were part of a basketball revolution in Minnesota, and made kids like me want to play basketball.
8.) Jalen Suggs
High School: Minnehaha Academy, 2020 Mr. Basketball
College: Gonzaga University, Second Team All-American, First Team All-WCC, 2021 Final Four, 30 games, 14.4 ppg, 5.3rpg, 4.5 apg
Some might say that this is too high for a 19-year-old kid who has one year of college basketball under his belt. To that I say it was a pretty damn good year of college basketball. Suggs is perhaps the Khalid El-Amin for this generation. He led Minnehaha Academy to three straight state titles and was a consensus top-15 recruit who ended up at Gonzaga. Suggs became a household name when he banked in the game winning three against UCLA to send the Zags to the National Championship. Unlike El-Amin, Suggs lost in the title game but does have a brighter NBA outlook. He’s likely to go somewhere between 2-5 in the upcoming NBA draft and is pegged as a budding star for the next decade and a half. If I redo this list in 2035 there’s a good chance Suggs breaks into the top four.
7.) Tyus Jones
High School: Apple Valley High School, 2014 Mr. Basketball
College: Duke University, 2015 National Champion, NCAA Tournament MOP, Third Team All-ACC, 39 games, 11.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 5.6 apg
NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves 2015-19, Memphis Grizzlies 2019-21, 24th overall pick in 2015 NBA Draft, 364 games, 5.8 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 3.6 apg
Tyus Stones rises above the likes of Khalid El-Amin and Jalen Suggs because he won the 2015 National Championship with Duke, but mostly because he was named the Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. Jones turned his one-and-done season into a serviceable NBA career so far as the perfect back-up point guard. He’s still the gold standard for Minnesota men’s point guards until Suggs proves he’s better in the pros.
6.) Coco Miller
High School: Rochester Mayo, 1997 Co-Miss Basketball
College: University of Georgia, 4x All-SEC, 1999 Final Four, 130 games, 16.4 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 3 apg
WNBA: Three teams from 2001-2012, Ninth overall pick in 2001 WNBA Draft, 2002 Most Improved Player, 352 games, 5.8 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 1.4 apg
A dominant player at Georgia and a solid contributor in the WNBA, Coco was just 2% worse than her twin sister.
5.) Kelly Miller
High School: Rochester Mayo, 1997 Co-Miss Basketball
College: University of Georgia, 2x SEC Player of the Year, 4x All-SEC, 1999 Final Four, 131 games, 16.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 4.9 apg
WNBA: 7 teams from 2001-2012, Second overall pick in 2001 WNBA Draft, 2007 WNBA Champion, 2004 Most Improved Player, 364 games, 7.1 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 2.6 apg
Gets the nod over Coco because Kelly was the one who was a two-time SEC Player of the Year and the second pick in the draft. She won a championship and had a slightly better overall career than her sister, but this is about as close as it gets for twins in professional sports.
4.) Dick Garmaker
High School: Hibbing High School
College: Hibbing Community College, University of Minnesota, 2 First Team All-Big Ten, 1955 First Team All-American, 44 games, 22.9 ppg, 7.7rpg
NBA: 4x All-Star, 1956-57 Second Team All-NBA, 13.3 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 2.6 apg
If you split everyone on this list into two teams and had those teams play each other, all in their primes, Dick Garmaker would likely get destroyed by some of the players behind him in the rankings. He’s likely not the fourth best actual basketball player, so why is he here. Garmaker is all the way at number four because of what he did in the early days of the NBA. He was a four-time All-Star a made an All-NBA second team in 1957. Garmaker came into the league just after the Minneapolis Lakers won five championships, but he cemented himself as an early great with his all-around game. Garmaker is unbelievably fourth on the list, but (spoilers) only the second best player from Hibbing, Minnesota. Hibbing is pound-for-pound the greatest talent producing city in the world.
3.) Paige Bueckers
High School: Hopkins High School, 2020 Miss Basketball
College: University of Connecticut, 2021 First Team All-American, AP Player of the Year, 2021 Final Four, 29 games, 20 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 5.8 apg
I get it. She just finished her freshman year of college. No championship, no WNBA accolades, just one year making the Final Four. If her career ended today (knock on wood that it doesn’t) Paige Bueckers probably wouldn’t be the third best player ever from Minnesota. But she’s definitely going to end her career at the top of this list. Bet on it. She was the consensus number one recruit in the 2020 class. Bueckers became the first ever freshman to take home the player of the year honors. And if it wasn’t for a stupid rule, she would have been the number one pick in the WNBA draft, and is almost guaranteed that spot when she’s eligible in 2023. When her career comes to an end sometime in the 2030’s she has a chance to be one of the greatest basketball players of all time, male or female.
2.) Kevin McHale
High School: Hibbing High School, 1976 Mr. Basketball
College: University of Minnesota, 1979-80 First-Team All-Big Ten, 112 Games, 15.2 ppg, 8.5 rpg
NBA: Boston Celtics 1980-93, 3rd overall pick in 1980 NBA Draft, Hall of Fame, 3x NBA Champion, 7x All-Star, 6x All-Defensive, 1986-87 All-NBA First Team, 2x Sixth Man of the Year, 971 games, 17.9 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 1.7 bpg
Most people might be surprised to see Kevin McHale at number two on the list and not at the top. He’s a Hall of Famer, three time NBA Champion, and one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history. A menace on offense and defense, McHale had one of the most diverse assortments of post moves ever seen on the court. He was Larry Bird’s right hand man when battling the Lakers in the ’80s and will always get points for beating the shit out of Kurt Rambis.
All-in-all Mchale had one heck of n NBA career. We went on to both save and then destroy the Timberwolves as a member of the front office. While that doesn’t factor into his demotion to second place, it’s important to note in the history books of Minnesota basketball. McHale has been the gold standard for Minnesota basketball for the last 35 years, but there is one player who finally eclipsed what he accomplished on the court.
1.) Lindsay Whalen
High School: Hutchinson High School
College: University of Minnesota, 3x All-American, 3x All-Big Ten, 2002 Big Ten Player of the Year, 2004 Final Four, 113 games, 20.2 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 5.1 apg
WNBA: Connecticut Sun 2004-09, Minnesota Lynx 2010-18, 4x WNBA Champion, 5x All-Star, 3x All-WNBA First Team, 2x All-WNBA Second Team
Team USA: 2x Gold Medalist (2012, 2016)
Lindsay Whalen is the best basketball player ever from the great state of Minnesota. She’s the greatest Gopher of all time, probably the second greatest player in Lynx history, and anywhere from 10-20 on the list of greatest WNBA players ever. Whalen made women’s basketball appointment viewing in Minnesota in 2004 when she and Janel McCarville led the Gophers to a surprising Final Four berth. She Ranks third all-time in the WNBA in career assists, fifth in games played, 17th in scoring, and seventh in win shares while steering the hometown Lynx to four WNBA Championships. After her playing days were done, Whalen became the head coach at her alma mater, guiding the Gophers to 21 wins in her first season (and only eight in her second, but we don’t talk about that). Whalen has been the face of Minnesota basketball for the better part of the last two decades. Only time will tell if Suggs, Holmgren, or most likely Paige Bueckers will ever get the chance to knock her off the number one spot, but for now let’s marvel at the small town baller turned larger than life figure across these here 10,000 lakes.