The select panel of college basketball journalists and broadcasters from across the nation who voted for the 2020-21 Sporting News All-America team mentioned 31 different players in their ballots. That’s how vast the universe of excellent Division I basketball players was this season.
And still, there were five clear masters of that universe.
Iowa center Luka Garza and Illinois guard Ayo Dosunmu both were named on every single ballot. Baylor guard Jared Butler missed by a single vote. Oklahoma State freshman Cade Cunningham missed by three, and Gonzaga wing Corey Kispert was first-team for all but four voters.
Each of our three All-America teams contains exceptional players who accomplished extraordinary things, as did the 16 players who were mentioned but did not make the cut.
But it was obvious who were this season’s best. With that, the 2020-21 Sporting News basketball All-America team:
Luka Garza, Iowa center
6-11, 265-pound senior
Key stats: 23.8 ppg, 8.7 rpg, .550 FG pct.
Defining game: 24 points, 11 rebounds, 10-of-16 shooting in 38 minutes of 73-57 victory at Ohio State
This is Garza’s second consecutive season as a first-team All-America choice for Sporting News. He is the first player to accomplish this since Ohio State center Jared Sullinger, who did it as a freshman (2011) and sophomore (2012). Garza could have chosen to play professionally, given the uncertainty of a 2020-21 season amid the pandemic. But he committed to returning to the Hawkeyes and taking a shot at a Final Four appearance. From a 26-point game in the season opener to a 21-point, 16-rebound effort in the regular season finale against Wisconsin, he has done everything he can. So far.
Ayo Dosunmu, Illinois guard
6-5, 200-pound junior
Key stats: 20.9 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 5.2 apg, .492 FG pct.
Defining game: 31 points, six assists in 77-72 overtime victory over Nebraska
Nebraska finished last in the Big Ten. So why would that be a player’s defining game? Because in Dosunmu’s case, it showed off his best quality: He’s the greatest closer since Mariano Rivera. He always has shown the ability to make big shots, and in that game he rescued the Illini from a listless performance by scoring 15 consecutive points — the last 10 in regulation, the first five in overtime — to save them from a defeat that might have cost them an NCAA Tournament seed line. Dosunmu thought about the 2020 NBA Draft after last season, but he committed to making himself a better 3-point shooter (and thus, a better draft prospect). He jumped from a .296 3-point shooting percentage to .400. He was pushing Garza for SN’s National Player of the Year award until he missed three late games with an injury. But his season was second to no one’s.
Jared Butler, Baylor guard
6-3, 195-pound junior
Key stats: 17.1 ppg, 5.0 apg, .493 FG pct., 2.1 spg
Defining game: 30 points, eight assists, 7-of-9 3-point shooting in 77-69 victory over Kansas
One wonders if Butler would have been able to challenge Garza as player of the year had Baylor not endured a three-week COVID pause in February; the Bears had just climbed to 17-0 after Butler scored 21 in a road win against Texas. But even when he was absent all that time, it was clear Butler was among the country’s very best players: a versatile guard who can play the point and off the ball, who can defend all perimeter positions and who is a punishing deep shooter. He’s taking nearly one fewer shot per game than a year ago but has increased his scoring by a point, because he makes better use of the opportunities presented.
Corey Kispert, Gonzaga guard
6-7, 220-pound senior
Key stats: 19.3 ppg, 4.9 rpg, .550 FG pct., .447 3-PT
Defining game: 32 points, 11-of-15 shooting, 9-of-13 3-point shooting in 98-75 victory over Virginia
Kispert is having an absurdly effective season as a shooter. His offensive rating is 138.5 — the second-highest figure in the nation — and he is seventh nationally in effective field goal percentage (.671). A player who takes nearly half his shots from long distance should not be able to shoot nearly 60 percent from the floor, and yet the numbers are there to prove it. Any one of three Gonzaga players could have been first-team choices, but Kispert’s impact on games is most profound.
Cade Cunningham, Oklahoma State guard
6-8, 220-pound freshman
Key stats: 19.7 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 3.5 apg, .455 FG pct., .425 3-PT
Defining game: 40 points, 11 rebounds, 12-of-21 shooting in 94-90 overtime win at Oklahoma
There might have been some doubt regarding whether Cunningham, USC’s Evan Mobley, Michigan’s Hunter Dickinson or Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs was the nation’s best freshman. But that was before Cunningham conquered the state of Oklahoma with back-to-back wins over the Sooners. Afterward, there was no doubt. He appeared as a first-teamer on 85 percent of the ballots cast for the Sporting News All-America team. Cunningham’s size and shooting touch are what make him a special talent, but what makes him a special player are his orientation toward his team and his eagerness to take on the moment.
Drew Timme, Gonzaga center
6-10, 235-pound sophomore
Key stats: 18.9 ppg, 7.1 rpg, .654 FG pct.
Defining game: 25 points, six rebounds, 11-of-15 shooting in 102-90 victory over Kansas
Timme scored in double figures in every game where it was even marginally necessary; the only time he fell short was in a 112-67 victory over Dixie State. He’s an extremely efficient offensive player who recorded the highest offensive rating of any player in the category who used at least 24 percent of their teams’ possessions. He ended the regular season converting at least two thirds of his shot attempts in seven of the final eight games.
Evan Mobley, USC center
7-0 210-pound freshman
Key stats: 16.1 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 2.9 bpg, .582 FG pct.
Defining game: 20 points, 11 rebounds, six blocks in 76-65 victory over Washington State
Mobley may be the most promising NBA prospect in college basketball: He has the size and timing of a dominant shot-blocker and the dynamism of an elite perimeter defender. The versatile offensive player is developing as a long-distance jump shooter, but is lethal on 12- or 15-footers. His defense of the lane was essential in the Trojans’ statement-making road victory against UCLA.
Hunter Dickinson, Michigan center
7-1, 255-pound freshman
Key stats: 14.3 ppg, 7.7 rpg, .596 FG pct.
Defining game: 22 points, nine rebounds, two blocks in 92-87 victory at Ohio State
This hasn’t been the most successful season for college hoops freshmen, and yet here is the No. 43 prospect in the 2020 recruiting class being selected one of the top 10 players in Division I. Michigan needed what he had to offer — a talented big man who is fiercely competitive — and Dickinson needed the stage this team provided. He rebounds fiercely and excels at overpowering defenders. In a league of stellar centers, Dickson managed to stand above most everyone.
Jalen Suggs, Gonzaga guard
6-4, 205-pound freshman
Key stats: 14.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 4.5 apg, .515 FG pct.
Defining game: 27 points, seven rebounds, four assists and three steals in 99-88 win over Iowa
Suggs has operated as Gonzaga’s primary playmaker and also as a wing scoring option. He’s a versatile guard whom coach Mark Few rarely wants to remove from the team’s most competitive games. Suggs could have put up bigger scoring numbers on a team that needed it (he ranks third on the team in shots, well behind fellow All-Americans Kispert and Timme). There’s little doubt he is the Zags’ best pro prospect, and there likely will come a time in March when the Zags need him to be that guy.
Kofi Cockburn, Illinois center
6-10, 295-pound sophomore
Key stats: 17.3 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 1.3 bpg, .660 FG pct.
Defining game: 33 points, 13 rebounds, two blocks, 12-of-15 shooting in 92-65 victory over Minnesota
Cockburn provides the sort of physical force we rarely encounter in college basketball: He is powerful, dynamic, aggressive and emphatic. He defends the lane not so much by swatting every shot in sight but by discouraging opponents from their shots in any proximity to the goal. He is the only Division I player producing more than 15 points a game, on 65 percent or better shooting, while also contributing more than nine rebounds on average.
Quentin Grimes, Houston guard
6-5, 205-pound junior
Grimes’ transfer to Houston has paid off nicely for him. He was expected to be an instant one-and-done star when he enrolled at Kansas, but he lost confidence in his shot and made only 34 percent of 3-point attempts his freshman year. This season, he is up to 38.9 percent and is one of the most important offensive players for the 21-3 Cougars
Trayce Jackson-Davis, Indiana center
6-9, 245-pound sophomore
How good do you have to be to make All-America from a losing team? This good. Jackson-Davis’ dependability as a scorer on a team that lacks another consistent offensive option has been amazing. He scored at least 20 points in 14 games, including 31 in a Maui Invitational victory over Stanford.
Herbert Jones, Alabama forward
6-8, 210-pound senior
Jones is only the fourth-leading scorer on his team, but he served as the foundation of the Crimson Tide’s comfortable victory in the SEC regular-season race. Jones always has been a first-rate defender and rebounder, but he also has made himself into a reliable jump shooter. He was 1 of 14 on 3-pointers last season. This year, it’s 20 of 44.
Davion Mitchell, Baylor guard
6-2, 205-pound junior
Mitchell is one of the top one-ball defenders in college basketball; he would still be invaluable if he couldn’t make a bucket. But he’s also shooting better than 47 percent from 3-point range and averaging 13.8 points and 5.7 assists as Baylor’s primary — but not singular — point guard.
Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Villanova forward
6-9, 230-pound sophomore
Robinson-Earl is a fierce rebounder who not only grabbed more than a dozen in a game four times, but also averages 8.4 per game. He defends so effectively without fouling that he was able to average 34 minutes a game for another Jay Wright Big East champion. Robinson-Earl, at 15.2 points per game, was the leader of a balanced Wildcats attack.