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Going to school on Tim Duncan

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Was Tim Duncan the best four-year college player?
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Sam Gardner

Sam Gardner is a general assignment writer for FOXSports.com. Originally from Orlando, Fla., he previously covered the Orlando Magic for FOX Sports Florida and has also covered the NBA Finals, Stanley Cup Finals and MLB playoffs. Follow him on Twitter.

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Tim Duncan has built a reputation for being the exception to the rule during his 16 years in the NBA.

A 14-time All-Star, two-time MVP and four time NBA champion who will begin the final leg of a potential fifth championship run in Game 1 of the Finals Thursday against Miami, Duncan has assembled a resume that may make him the best power forward in the game’s history.

And the most remarkable thing about his run has been how unremarkable it has been.

He’s not flashy on the court, where he’s known as the Big Fundamental for his almost robotic style of play. Nor is he showy off the court, where his personality is somewhat dull and his fashion sense — or lack thereof — has been a point of ridicule for years, and with good reason. (Seriously, the guy probably has a drawer full of JNCO jeans at home.)

He’s also something of an oddity in that he went to college for four years, which is hardly a given during his era, which saw the rise and eventual fall of the prep-to-pro movement, and a growing number of one-and-done college products who left school as early as possible in the pursuit of fame and fortune.

Duncan could have had that, but he chose to play all four years at Wake Forest, despite being projected as the No. 1 pick after his junior season, saying, at the time, "I have a strong desire to complete my degree, which I can do next spring, and believe that the additional time spent here will only benefit my development as a basketball player as well."

If there was ever a Tim Duncan thing to say, that was it. And it got us thinking, where does Duncan rank among NBA stars who played four years in college?

Up until 1971, college players couldn’t leave early for the NBA, but there’s a strong case to be made that Duncan, who has career averages of 20.2 points and 11.2 rebounds — in addition to the credentials above — is the best of the four-year bunch since.

It’s tougher than you’d think to come up with candidates to challenge Duncan for that crown, but here are some of the other top contenders with four years of college experience since 1971:

GRANT HILL: Played four years at Duke, where he won two national championships and was a consensus All-American as a senior, in 1994. The Detroit Pistons selected Hill with the third pick in the 1994 NBA Draft, and over the next 18 years, Hill built a successful career, which ended with his retirement on Saturday, at the age of 40.

Unfortunately for Hill, injuries plagued him for much of his career — especially during a painful six-year stay in Orlando — but when he was at the top of his game, he was easily one of the league’s premier players.

STEVE NASH: An unheralded player coming out of high school in Canada, Nash became a star at Santa Clara, and was named West Coast Conference Player of the Year as a senior. The Phoenix Suns selected Nash with the 15th pick in the 1996 Draft, and over the next 17 years, he won two NBA MVP awards, led the league in assists six times while becoming the fourth-leading assist man in NBA history, and set the NBA’s all-time mark in free throw percentage.

Nash hasn't won a championship, but he did advance to the Western Conference Finals four times, most recently with the Suns in 2010.

JOHN STOCKTON: A true ironman and the NBA’s all-time leader in assists and steals — records that will, perhaps, never be broken — Stockton spent his entire 19-year career with the Utah Jazz, where his number is retired and a statue was built in his honor outside the arena.

Stockton led the Jazz to the playoffs in each of his seasons, playing all but his rookie year alongside Karl Malone, and won gold medals at the 1992 and 1996 Olympics. He never won a championship, a distinction he can thank Michael Jordan for, but he did reach the Finals in back to back years in 1997 and 1998. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009, alongside his coach, Jerry Sloan.

PATRICK EWING: The 7-footer, a 2008 Hall of Fame inductee, is considered one of the greatest big men to ever play, and led the New York Knicks to two NBA Finals appearances during his 17 years in the league. He was an 11-time All-Star and averaged 22.8 points, 10.4 rebounds and nearly three blocks per game during his 15 years in the Big Apple. But before he was earning a reputation as one of the game’s all-time elite centers, Ewing was a star at Georgetown, where he appeared in three NCAA championship games, winning one.

DAVID ROBINSON: Known best as The Admiral, Robinson spent four years at the Naval Academy before being taken first overall by the San Antonio Spurs in 1987, though his naval service kept him from playing for the team until 1989.

Robinson would go on to spend his entire career in San Antonio, winning two championships alongside Duncan, before retiring from the game in 2003.

The MVP of the 1994-95 season, Robinson was a scoring champion, a 10-time All-Star and a four-time All-Defensive first team selection. His No. 50 was retired by the San Antonio Spurs, and he was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 2009.

SCOTTIE PIPPEN: Spent four years at Central Arkansas of the NAIA, where he started as a 6-foot-1 walk-on and blossomed into a 6-foot-8 star before being taken fifth overall by the Seattle Supersonics, only to be traded to the Chicago Bulls on draft night in 1987.

From there, Pippen would go on to win six NBA championships and emerge as a star in his own right, despite being constantly overshadowed by Michael Jordan on the Bulls roster. Pippen boasted career averages of 16.1 points, 6.4 rebounds and 5.2 assists and made eight consecutive All-Defensive first teams and three All-NBA first teams. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2010.

KEVIN McHALE: Before becoming a three-time champion with the Boston Celtics, McHale played four years at the University of Minnesota. He was chosen with the third overall selection in the 1980 draft, and over the course of his career, McHale was named to seven All-Star teams, three All-Defensive first teams, one All-NBA first team, and was also a two-time Sixth Man of the Year award winner.

McHale, Larry Bird and Robert Parish (more on him later) made up the original Celtics Big 3, and McHale’s number 32 was retired by the team in 1994. Five years later, he was inducted to the Hall of Fame as a player, with career averages of 17.9 points on 55.4 percent shooting, 7.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game.

ROBERT PARISH: Known best as The Chief, Parish made up another one-third of the Celtics’ legendary frontcourt in the 1980s, winning three NBA championships. He also added a fourth title in his final season, with the 1997 Chicago Bulls, at the age of 43. The NBA’s all-time leader in games played, Parish was selected eighth overall by the Celtics in the 1976 draft, despite playing four seasons in relative obscurity at Centenary, which had been hit hard by NCAA sanctions.

The Celtics retired Parish's famous number 00 in 1998, and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2003, with career averages of 14.5 points — many of which came on his famous high-arcing jump shot — and 9.1 rebounds.

REGGIE MILLER: Before he became one of the most prolific 3-point shooters in NBA history, Miller was a scoring machine at UCLA, where he spent four years and left the Bruins program second in all-time points, behind only Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar).

The Indiana Pacers selected Miller with the 11th overall pick in the 1987 draft, and over the next 18 seasons, all with the Pacers, Miller made 2,560 a record 3-pointers, a mark that stood until 2011. Though he never won a championship, Miller did play in one NBA Finals, in 2000, and in 2012, he was enshrined in the Naismith Hall of Fame.

Tagged: Longwood, David Robinson

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