Top 10 Best Tennessee Basketball Players

Top 10 Best Tennessee Basketball Players

While they have yet to reach a Final Four in the NCAA tournament, the Tennessee Volunteers men’s basketball program has still had some incredibly talented basketball players over the years. From the 1970s all the way up until the last few seasons, these great players span several decades and eras. Below, the ten greatest Volunteers are ranked and discussed.

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

  1. Allan Houston
  2. Bernard King
  3. Chris Lofton
  4. Reggie Johnson
  5. Ernie Gunfield
  6. Tony White
  7. Vincent Yarbrough
  8. Dyron Nix
  9. Dale Ellis
  10. Grant Williams

1. Allan Houston

When it comes to scoring the basketball, no one has ever done so at Tennessee better than Allan Houston, and he deserves the title of greatest player in Volunteer history. In all, Houston scored 2,801 points in his four years on campus, over 500 more than the player with the second most. He also ranks in school history in free throws made (651), field goals made (902), minutes played (4,602), and ranks second in three-pointers made (346). 

Houston also found his teammates from time to time, finishing sixth all-time with 460 assists. All of this scoring led to him being a two-time All-American, and he went on to have a great NBA career. Unfortunately for Volunteer fans, they never made the NCAA tournament with Houston on the team.

2. Bernard King

Much like Houston, Bernard King was a Tennessee superstar who went on to star in the NBA. Unlike most of his peers on this list, Kind only played three seasons of basketball for Tennessee as opposed to the usual four. Despite this fact, he still finished seventh at Tennessee in points with 1,962 and second in rebounds with 1,004. His 59% field goal percentage ranks second at Tennessee, as do his 13.2 rebounds, and his 25.8 points per game is the highest in Volunteer history. 

Incredibly, King was the Southeastern Conference  (SEC) Player of the Year all three of his seasons, and he was a three-time All-American. During his junior and senior seasons, he led the Vols to the Round of 32 in the tournament, but that was as far as they would make it.

3. Chris Lofton

  • Most three-pointers made (431)
  • Fourth-most points scored (2,131)
  • Third-most steals (193)

The first player on this list from the 21st century, Chris Lofton comes in at number three. Lofton ranks fourth all-time in Vol history with 2,131 points, and he is there in large part because he made the most three-pointers in school history with 431. He also attempted a school record 1,021 threes, and that three-point percentage of 42.2% ranks second all-time.

Lofton also was a great defender, as he recorded the third most steals in program history with (193). All of these numbers led to Lofton being named an All-American three times, and he was named the SEC player of the year for the 2006-07 season. During his final two seasons with the team, Lofton led the Volunteers to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament, the farthest they had ever made it in the tournament to that point.

4. Reggie Johnson

  • Fifth-most points scored at Tennessee (2,103)
  • Sixth-most rebounds at Tennessee (920)
  • Third-most field goals made (864)

Another great 1970s star at Tennessee, Reggie Johnson comes in a number four on this list. In Tennessee history, Johnson ranks fifth all-time in points scored (2,103), sixth in rebounds (920), and third in field goals made (864). He also has the third-highest field goal percentage in school history at 58%.

As for his awards, Johnson was a two-time All-American and went on to be a first-round NBA draft pick in 1980. In the tournament, he and Bernard King teamed up in 1977 to lead the Volunteers to the Round of 32, and Johnson led the Volunteers there himself in 1979 and 1980.

5. Ernie Gunfield

  • Second-most points scored at Tennessee (2,249)
  • Third-most free throws made at Tennessee (515)
  • Second-most field goals made at Tennessee (867)

A teammate of Bernard King and Reggie Johnson on the 1976-77 Tennessee team, Ernie Gunfield rounds out the top five. Gunfield scored the most points of the trio, and he currently sits second all-time at Tennessee with 2,249 points. He did so both from the field and at the free throw line, making 867 field goals (third most) and 515 free throws (second most). His 22.3 points per game also rank second in program history behind his teammate Bernard King.

Gunfield won the SEC Player of the Year in 1977 and was a two-time All-American. Along with King (and Reggie Johnson in 1977), Gunfield led the Volunteers to the Round of 32 in the NCAA tournament in 1976 and 1977. The fact that three of the greatest players in school history could not make it past this point illustrates just how hard it is to win in the Big Dance.

6. Tony White

  • Third-most points (2,219)
  • Third-most minutes played (4,034)
  • Fifth-most free throws made (499)

An early 80s star for the Volunteers, Tony White kicks off the second half of this list. White currently ranks third all-time at Tennessee in points scored, finishing just 22 points behind Ernie Gunfield with 2,219 points. White also ranks third in minutes played (4,034), fifth in free throws made (499), and fourth in field goals made (846).

After his senior season in 1987, White was named the SEC Player of the Year, and he was a three-time all SEC team member. As for the NCAA tournament, like Allan Houston, White never got to participate in the event.

7. Vincent Yarbrough

  • Most steals in program history (211)
  • Ninth-most points scored (1,737)
  • Seventh-most rebounds (862)

A terrific all-around player for Tennessee in the late 90s-early 2000s, Vincent Yarbrough ranks seventh on this list. Yarbrough was a tenacious defender, and he racked up the most steals in Tennessee history with 211. He also currently sits ninth in points scored (1,737), seventh in rebounds (862), tenth in three-pointers made (179), and tenth in blocks (131). 

An outstanding SEC player, Vincent was a three-time all-conference member in his four seasons. His sophomore season was his most successful, as he led the Volunteers to the Sweet 16 for only the third time in school history. He also led them to the second round in 1999.

8. Dyron Nix

  • Third-most rebounds (944)
  • Eighth-most points (1,877)
  • Sixth-most blocks (142)

Dyron Nix is one of the greatest big men in Volunteer history. Nix scored 1,877 points (eighth most), grabbed 944 rebounds (third most), and blocked 142 shots (sixth most), all top ten in school history. He also made (412) and attempted (583) the sixth most free throws in Vol history.

In the SEC, Nix was a three-time all-conference member in his four seasons played. As for the NCAA tournament, Nix did not have a lot of success, as they failed to reach the event his first three seasons, and when they finally made it his senior year, they were eliminated in the first round.

9. Dale Ellis

  • Highest field goal percentage (59.5%)
  • Sixth-most points scored (2,065)
  • Eighth-most steals (154)

Another terrific scorer for the Volunteers, Dale Ellis is one of greatest to wear a Tennessee jersey. Not only did Ellis score a lot of points (his 2,065 points scored rank sixth in school history), but he did so efficiently. His 59.5% field goal percentage is the highest ever at Tennessee. He also recorded the eighth most steals with 154.

Ellis was nationally recognized for his greatness, as he was a two-time SEC Player of the Year and a two-time All-American. When it came to tournament success, Ellis led the Volunteers to the Big Dance all four years in school, but they never made it past the Round of 32.

10. Grant Williams

  • Third-most blocks (160)
  • Fourth-most free throws made (501)
  • Ninth-highest field goal percentage (51.6%)

The final player on this list, Grant Williams, is also the player who was at Tennessee the most recently of the top ten. While Williams' 1,629 career points just missed out on the top ten in school history (tenth place is 1,683), he certainly ranks up there in other categories. He recorded the third most blocks in Vol history with 160, made the fourth most free throws (501), and had the ninth-highest career field goal percentage (51.6%). 

Williams achieved his many impressive stats despite him only playing three seasons and leaving for the NBA afterwards. As for his accolades, Williams was a two-time SEC Player of the Year and a first-team All-American in 2019. That same year, he led the Volunteers to the Sweet 16 after they lost in the second round the year prior.

Honorable Mentions

While the players below did not quite make the top ten, they still deserve some recognition as honorable mentions. They are listed in alphabetical order by last name.

  • Tom Boerwinkle
  • Mike Edwards
  • Jimmy England
  • Tobias Harris
  • Ron Slay
  • Gene Tormohlen
  • Paul Walther
  • Ron Widby
  • Carl Widseth
  • Ed Wiener


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

Allan Houston easily deserves the title of greatest Tennessee men’s basketball player of all time. Houston scored 2,801 points during his time with the Volunteers, which are by far the most in school history, as Ernie Gunfield is second with 2,249. Houston also holds the record for most free throws made (651), most field goals made(902), and second most three pointers (346) in program history.