Jan 2, 2019; Houston, TX, USA; A general view of a logo on the court at Fertitta Center prior to the game between the Houston Cougars and the Tulsa Golden Hurricane. Mandatory Credit: John Glaser-USA TODAY Sports

Houston Cougars basketball was put on the map way before Hakeem or Clyde showed up in the 1980s. The Cougars basketball tradition has been here for years even if modern college basketball fans have forgotten.

You know the names of Drexler and Olajuwon, but many others make up the storied history of the program, including recent players who have helped return Houston to the top of the polls.

Let’s take a closer look at the 10 best Houston Cougars basketball players of all time

10. Michael Young

While many remember Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon, many forgot that Michael Young was also part of Phi Slama Jama. Young was a third-team All-American and a two-time first-team SWC player. Young’s best year was his senior season when he averaged almost 20 points and six rebounds. He ended his college career averaging 15 points a game for the Cougars and the school retired his number.

9. Bo Outlaw

During his time with the Cougars, Bo Outlaw averaged 14.0 points and 9.1 rebounds per game and led NCAA Division I with a field goal percentage of .684. He was also named first-team All-SWC in 1993. After the 1993 season, he declared for the NBA Draft but wasn’t selected, though he ended up playing for six different teams.

8. Dwight Jones

Dwight Jones played for the Cougs in the early 1970s and led them to a 43-11 record and back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances in two seasons as a starter. Jones, who had 951 points in his college career, was a two-time USBWA All-District VI honoree and earned NABC All-District First-Team honors in 1973. He is perhaps best known as part of the 1972 Olympic team that lost controversially to the Russians. Jones was the leading scorer but was ejected from the gold medal game after an altercation with a Soviet player.

7. Gary Phillips

Gary Phillips was the Cougars’ first All-American in 1959-60 and earned that again in the 1960-61 season. A two-time All-Missouri Valley Conference selection, Phillips finished his college career with 1,452 points. He averaged 18 points and almost six rebounds per game. He went on to have a five-year NBA career that included an NBA championship with the Boston Celtics.

6. Rob Williams

Rob Williams was a point guard for the 1982 Cougars team that went to the Final Four. He averaged 16 points as a freshman, 25 as a sophomore, and 21 points as a junior for the 1982 Final Four team. Williams was named an All-American, 1981 SWC Player of the Year in 1981, and a three-time All-SWC first-teamer.

5. Marcus Sassar

Marcus Sassar is the only Cougars player on this list who recently played for the team. In 2023, Sasser was an All-American, was named AAC Player of the Year, was a Jerry West Award winner, and was first-team All-AAC. As a sophomore, Sasser averaged 13.7 points and 2.6 rebounds per game, helping Houston reach the Final Four. In his college career, Sassar averaged nearly 19 points per game and four assists.

4. Otis Birdsong

Otis Birdsong played an important part in the Cougar teams between 1973 and 1977. In his first year as a SWC player, Birdsong led the league in scoring, finishing eighth nationally averaging 26.1. He was also the first sophomore in the school’s history to register 1,000 career points. Birdsong was an All-American and SWC Player of the Year in 1977 and was also named SWC Player of the Decade for his accomplishments. He left college as the school’s second-leading all-time scorer with 2,832 total college career points and is a member of the College Basketball Hall of Fame.

3. Clyde Drexler

Clyde “The Glide” Drexler was a star with the Houston Cougars before becoming a star in the NBA. Drexler was an All-American, SWC Player of the Year in 1983, and was part of two Final Four squads. Although he was a shooting guard, Drexler was known for gliding across the court and slam-dunking the ball like a center. leaving Houston with career averages of 14.4 points, 3.3 assists, and 9.9 rebounds. He also remains the only player in school history with combined totals of at least 1,000 career points, 900 rebounds, and 300 assists. He’s also Houston’s all-time steals leader with 268. Drexler, who played in three NBA Finals and won an NBA title in 1995, is a member of both the College Basketball Hall of Fame and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (twice thanks to his play with “The Dream Team”).

2. Elvin Hayes

You could make a strong case that Elvin Hayes is the best player in Cougars’ history. Hayes was a two-time All-American and led Houston to the 1967 Final Four. Hayes led Houston in scoring in each of three seasons as well. For his college career, Hayes averaged 31.0 points per game and 17.2 rebounds per game. He has the most rebounds in NCAA tournament history at 222. Most memorably, he was on the Houston team that ended UCLA’s 47-game winning streak in the “Game of the Century.” Hayes is a member of both the College Basketball Hall of Fame and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

1. Hakeem Olajuwon

It was a tough pick between Hakeem Olajuwon and Elvin Hayes for the top spot. You can make a solid argument for both but we went with “The Dream” for several reasons. First, he was an All-American, 1984 SWC Player of the Year, and the NCAA rebounds leader. He was named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player in 1983 despite Houston losing in the title game, which tells you just how dominant he was in the paint. He was also part of the Cougar teams that played in back-to-back NCAA championship games. Olajuwon of course went on to have a stellar NBA career with the Houston Rockets, becoming MVP and winning two NBA titles.

About Stacey Mickles

Stacey is a 1995 graduate of the University of Alabama who has previously worked for other publications such as Sportskeeda and Saturday Down South.