Top 10 Best Houston Basketball Players

Top 10 Best Houston Basketball Players

Houston Cougars basketball has a rich history, full of talented collegiate athletes who have gone on to have successful pro careers. Despite this, Houston has never won an NCAA Championship, but they are constantly seeking out their first. Read below to find out the greatest players to play for the Cougars.

Who Are the Best Houston College Basketball Players of All Time?

  1. Hakeem Olajuwon
  2. Clyde Drexler
  3. Elvin Hayes
  4. Dwight Davis
  5. Otis Birdsong
  6. Rob Williams
  7. Michael Young
  8. Don Chaney
  9. Bo Outlaw
  10. Quentin Grimes

1. Hakeem Olajuwon

The best player in Houston history is undeniably Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon. From 1981 to 1984, there was perhaps no player more dominant in college basketball, as he was the leader of the Cougars’ famed “Phi Slama Jama.” Olajuwon won the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player Award, despite losing in the championship that season. Since then, no player has won that award as a member of one of the three losing teams. Overall, Hakeem led his squad to three Final Fours and two championship game appearances but never earned the title. Still, the big man was the best prospect in 1984 and was selected first overall by the Houston Rockets.

2. Clyde Drexler

  • 1998 Houston Athletics Hall of Honor
  • All-time Houston Steals Leader (268)
  • 1980s Southwest Conference All-Decade Team member

The yin to Hakeem’s yang, Clyde Drexler was a great player for Houston in his own right. While Hakeem dominated down low, Drexler was a phenomenal, high-flying player on the wing. “Clyde the Glide” shot over 50% from the field in all three seasons with the Cougars and averaged double-digit rebounds twice. As great of a player as he was, Drexler’s down moment came in the 1983 NCAA Championship, in which he committed four first-half fouls. He ended the contest with just four points in a 54-52 upset loss to NC State. After that season, Clyde was selected 14th overall by the Portland Trail Blazers.

3. Elvin Hayes

  • 2013 National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Famer
  • 1968 National Player of the Year
  • All-time Houston Scoring Leader (2,884 points)

Like Olajuwon, Elvin Hayes was selected number one overall in the NBA Draft, and his career scoring numbers are remarkable. “The Big E” averaged over 31 points and 17 rebounds per game during his three years with the Cougars and led the club to the Final Four in 1967 and 1968. Perhaps his finest moment came in college basketball’s “Game of the Century” on January 20, 1968, in which Hayes scored 39 points en route to an upset victory over top-ranked UCLA. Hayes is still Houston’s all-time leading scorer and rebounder to this day.

4. Dwight Davis

  • 2006 Houston Athletics Hall of Honor
  • First Houston player to record at least 100 blocks in a season
  • 1972 All-American

Following Hayes’ departure in 1968, Houston missed the NCAA Tournament in 1969, but then Dwight Davis came in and became the new leader of the Cougars. From 1970 to 1972, Houston appeared in the tournament each season, including two Sweet 16 berths in 1970 and 1971. Davis averaged a double-double in all three years with Houston and sits seventh all-time for Houston in scoring. He averaged at least 20 points per game in two seasons. The forward was eventually drafted third overall in the 1972 NBA Draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers.

5. Otis Birdsong

  • 2000 Houston Athletics Hall of Honor
  • 1977 Consensus All-American
  • Second All-time Houston in Scoring (2,832 points)

Otis Birdsong was a one-man star for a Houston team that struggled in the mid-1970s. From 1973 to 1977, Houston failed to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. Birdsong’s best season came in 1977, in which he was the Southwest Conference Player of the Year, averaging over 30 points per game. That year, the Cougars finished 29-8 and were the NIT runner-ups that season. Birdsong was also an incredibly efficient scorer, as he currently sits seventh on Houston’s all-time field goal percentage list (54.7%). The guard was taken second overall in the 1977 NBA Draft by the Kansas City Kings.

6. Rob Williams

  • 1981 Southwest Conference Player of the Year
  • Two-time All-American (1981, 1982)
  • Most single-season minutes per game in Houston history (39.0 mpg in 1981)

Rob Williams is one of two Cougars players to rank in the top ten in both career scoring and career assists in school history. Williams was the leading scorer (21.1 points per game) on Houston’s 1982 Final Four squad that included Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler, and Michael Young. However, his best individual season came in 1981, in which he scored 25 points per game and was selected as first-team all-conference. The guard was taken 19th overall in the 1982 NBA Draft by the Denver Nuggets.

7. Michael Young

  • 2004 Houston Athletics Hall of Honor
  • Third All-time for Houston in Scoring (2,043 points)
  • Led Houston in scoring in 1983 (17.3 points per game)

One of the more underappreciated players of the “Phi Slama Jama” era was Michael Young, who led the Cougars in scoring in 1983 and 1984. Young is the only Houston player to start on three Final Four squads and make four NCAA Tournaments. However, Young couldn’t deliver in the 1983 NCAA Championship, like most of the team. The forward averaged over 17 points per game during the first four games of the tournament but scored just six points on 30% shooting against NC State. Young was selected 24th overall by the Boston Celtics in 1984.

8. Don Chaney

  • 1981 Houston Athletics Hall of Honor
  • Member of the 1967 and 1968 Final Four teams
  • Two-time NCAA All-Region selection

The sidekick to the great Elvin Hayes was Don “Duck” Chaney during the late 1960s. Chaney played all 40 minutes in the famed “Game of the Century” and was a huge help for Hayes in ending the Bruins’ 47-game win streak. However, UCLA exacted revenge in that year's Final Four with a 101-69 blowout victory, despite Chaney’s 15 points. Overall, Hayes grabbed most of the spotlight, but the Duck was a critical piece during Houston’s Final Four runs in 1967 and 1968. Chaney was eventually taken 12th overall in the 1968 NBA Draft by the Boston Celtics.

9. Bo Outlaw

  • Led NCAA in Field Goal Percentage in 1992 (68.4%)
  • Averaged a Double-Double in 1993
  • Member of Houston’s Conference title team in 1992

The 1990s wasn’t a great era for Houston basketball, but Bo Outlaw shined on the court regardless. The team’s one appearance during that decade came in 1992, led by the Big Three of Sam Mack, Craig Upchurch, and Bo Outlaw. Bo was a strong wingman who could make his presence felt down low, as he averaged over 11 points and eight rebounds per game on that squad. Houston was a ten-seed in that tournament and lost to seven-seed Georgia Tech in the Round of 64. The following year, Bo improved his averages to 16 points and 10 rebounds a contest, but it wasn’t enough to make the Cougars a tournament team.

10. Quentin Grimes

  • 2021 AAC Tournament MVP
  • 2021 AAC Player of the Year
  • NCAA All-Region 2021

In 2021, Houston appeared in its first Final Four since 1984, thanks in large part to Quentin Grimes. The guard led the Cougars with nearly 18 points per game and was also second in the club in rebounds with nearly six a contest. In the NCAA Tournament, Grimes led the team in scoring in each of the first three contests, leading the team all the way to the Final Four before it would drop to eventual champion Baylor. Grimes then became the 25th pick of the 2021 NBA Draft to the Los Angeles Clippers.

Honorable Mentions

  • Anthony Goldwire
  • Cadillac Anderson
  • Carl Herrera
  • Dwight Jones
  • Gary Phillips
  • Ken Spain
  • Larry Micheaux
  • Ollie Taylor
  • Rickie Winslow
  • Sam Mack


Who is the best Houston men’s basketball player of all time?

Hakeem Olajuwon is one of two Houston players to be selected first overall in the NBA Draft, and he has a strong argument to be considered the best Cougars player ever. In three years, Houston appeared in the Final Four all three times and made two championship game appearances in 1983 and 1984 under the leadership of Hakeem.