Counting down MSU’s top 50 basketball players all-time: No. 3 – Scott Skiles

This is the 48th in a 50-day summer series, counting down the top players in Michigan State basketball history, as I see them. The criteria is impact and performance at MSU only, professional career irrelevant. Have your own opinion? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

No. 3 – Scott Skiles
Guard, 1982-86, Plymouth, Ind.

The Skinny: Skiles was at his best when he was challenged. That began with coach Jud Heathcote’s recruiting pitch of sorts — that Skiles was too slow and too small, but he’d offer him a scholarship anyway.

Scott Skiles averaged 27.4 points per game in 1985-86, leading MSU to the Sweet 16, where it lost to Kansas controversially, a stalled clock partly to blame.

Good decision.

Skiles brought winning basketball back to MSU for the first time since the 1979 national title. He left as the Spartans’ all-time leading scorer, and remains third, behind Steve Smith and Shawn Respert. If Skiles had the 3-point line available to him all four years, he’d probably still be the school’s top scorer. He hit 25 of 50 3s as a freshman, when the NCAA tested the line in 1982-83. It didn’t return for good until the year after he left.

Skiles’ senior season in 1985-86 is arguably the most impressive season in MSU history. With Sam Vincent in the NBA and new sidekick Darryl Johnson the only other consistent scorer, Skiles averaged 27.4 points and 6.5 assists, leading MSU to a 23-8 record, third place in the Big Ten, and to the Sweet 16, where the Spartans lost the infamous “clock game” to Kansas.

He was the Big Ten’s scoring champion, at 29.1 points per game in conference play, and a first-team All-American by multiple publications.

Skiles’ 850 points as a senior remain the most in season by any Spartan, and his single-season scoring average is third all-time behind Terry Furlow in 1975-76 and Ralph Simpson in 1969-70.

During Skiles’ final year, he scored 40 in win over No. 3-ranked Michigan, besting trash-talking Wolverines’ guard Antoine Joubert. In one three-game stretch, Skiles scored a career-high 45 against Minnesota (on 20 of 28 shooting), 40 against U-M (making 15 of 20 shots) and 36 against Wisconsin (18 of 21).

His .554 field goal percentage in 1986 is the best of any guard to lead MSU in scoring.

Skiles wasn’t just a scorer. He is No. 2 at MSU all-time in assists (seven per game as a senior) behind only Mateen Cleaves, and he’s No. 3 in steals behind Cleaves and Draymond Green.

The Milwaukee Bucks selected Skiles 22nd overall in the 1986. He played a decade in the NBA — his 30 assists in a single game are still an NBA record — and later was the head coach for the Phoenix Suns, Chicago Bulls and Milwaukee Bucks.

Why he’s No. 3: It’s the highest spot available. The debate between Skiles and Steve Smith, however, is difficult. Both carried MSU to needed heights in an era when winning wasn’t an every-year occurence. What gives the nod to Skiles, however slightly, is something Heathcote said recently: He only ever coached two players who could will a team to victory — Skiles and Magic Johnson.

Rank MSU’s top 10 players yourself

Poll results will be updated at Greenandwhite.com.

Previously …
No. 4: Steve Smith
No. 5: Shawn Respert
No. 6: Greg Kelser
No. 7: Johnny Green
No. 8: Mike Robinson
No. 9: Jay Vincent
No. 10: Morris Peterson
No. 11: Draymond Green
No. 12: Terry Furlow
No. 13: Ralph Simpson
No. 14: Julius McCoy
No. 15: Sam Vincent
No. 16: Charlie Bell
No. 17: Horace Walker
No. 18: Kalin Lucas
No. 19: Adreian Payne
No. 20: Drew Neitzel
No. 21: Lindsay Hairston
No. 22: Maurice Ager
No. 23: Paul Davis
No. 24: Andre Hutson
No. 25: Lee Lafayette
No. 26: Gary Harris
No. 27: Darryl Johnson
No. 28: Jack Quiggle
No. 29: Jason Richardson
No. 30: Stan Washington
No. 31: Antonio Smith
No. 32: Eric Snow
No. 33: Chet Aubuchon
No. 34: Mike Peplowski
No. 35: Keith Appling
No. 36: Shannon Brown
No. 37: Kirk Manns
No. 38: Goran Suton
No. 39: Alan Anderson
No. 40: Branden Dawson
No. 41: Bill Kilgore
No. 42: Pete Gent
No. 43: Al Ferrari
No. 44: Ken Redfield
No. 45: Chris Hill
No. 46: Raymar Morgan
No. 47: Kevin Smith
No. 48: Kevin Willis
No. 49: Matt Steigenga
No. 50: Marcus Taylor

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15 Responses to Counting down MSU’s top 50 basketball players all-time: No. 3 – Scott Skiles

  1. avatar Lauban12 says:

    Great series, Grahan. I think you are right to put Skiles in 3rd, but could not have argued however you ranked Skiles, Smith, Respert and Jay Vincent. I think his assist numbers place him slightly above the other 3.

    Watching Skiles beat Michigan was so exciting. Watching him get his revenge on Indiana and Purdue was breathtaking.

  2. avatar Leesburg says:

    Scott is number one with me, as I recall, he was also Jud’s favorite. Never saw anyone before or after with his drive and determination going after loose balls. It would have been great had he had the 3 point shot available. the Georgetown no look pass is still my favorite play.

  3. I agree with you Leesburg. Every early November just before out first game I You Tube that pass to Larry Polec and just smile and reminisce. Graham, great job on this series as I’ve looked forward to it every morning for the past 2 months. Maybe rank the top 20 hoops teams next summer??

    • avatar Spartan 81 says:

      I think he is doing top 50 football players unless he changes his mind,.

      When this is all over could you reveal who #51 was that just missed the cut, curious if it was AJ Granger?

  4. avatar Spartan 81 says:

    I remember watching the Great Kansas Train Robbery when the clock malfunction cheated Skiles 86 team out of a Final Four. Someone painted on the glass window of the Bookstore on Grand River “State got the shaft.

  5. avatar AASparty says:

    yeah, Skiles took a team of nobody’s to the brink, pretty impressive…

  6. avatar Steve Sheridan says:

    It depends on your criteria for the “best.” Scott was a better pure better basketball player than Mateen, but over all for importance to the program, Mateen has to be ranked ahead. But in any case, they were both great. Pound for pound, Skiles was the best college player I have ever seen.

  7. avatar jerseyjohn says:

    I cried the night we got screwed in Kansas city. It was one of my first introductions to the corruptness of sports. It continued five years later against Georgia tech.

  8. avatar Hawks22gk says:

    The 86 game is the first sports memory of my life. Dad yelled and screamed at the TV “start the clock start the clock!” ugh. Not yet 5 years old at the time and it still pains me.

    Also a story that should be mentioned about skiles is that he wanted to fight Shaq, when he was a teammate in Orlando. Back in the days when Shaq was not only a monster but also fast. Maybe not the smartest guy in the world, Skiles, but as ferocious as they come.

  9. avatar Spartan Pride says:

    Skiles will always be a Spartan legend for the way he almost singlehandedly knocked the wolver-rateds off their high horse in ’86

  10. avatar Steve Sheridan says:

    Graham- you could start another one: The ten most memorable plays in MSU Basketball history (or at least in the modern era):

    I would rank the top 5
    1. Magic game ending slam dunk to Kelser in the Nat’l Championship game.
    2. Cleaves return to the floor after the ankle sprain in the Nat’l champ. game
    3. Magic’s return to the floor vs. Ohio State after the ankle sprain, saved a trip to the NCCA Nationship game for the Spartans
    4. Scottie Skiles wrap around pass to Larry Polec was it against Georgetown or Washington in the NCAA tourney. Sweetest pass ever!
    5. Respert kissing the Spartan S at center Court at the end of his senior season

  11. avatar Chad Douglas says:

    Skiles did not have the surrounding cast like Magic and Cleeves! No disrespect to the other highly skilled players who played with Skiles! But Magic had Kelser, Jay Vincent. Cleeves had Peterson, Hutson , Bell, Granger. He was a true coach on the floor! I was blessed to see every home game his senior season. It was amazing how he was involved in most every conversion of a bucket. Setting up , penetrating and creating high percentage shots for others! Loved his intensity and tenacity! Watching him direct every offensive possession verbally was awesome in small Jenison Fieldhouse. He truly made Barry, Daryl, Larry , Vernon , and Carlton better players and the most overachieving team in Spartan Basketball history. I fondly remember how he took responsibility for not putting the Kansas game away at the free throw line! The best competitor that I have ever seen wear a spartan uniform! That includes all sports! I loved watching him in warm ups draining long distant jumpers and the officials watching in amazement!!

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