Little college basketball stars

Compiled by Bret McCormick, The Herald, Rock Hill, S.C.

Winthrop's Keon Johnson is one of the best players in the country at any size, but certainly is one of the top-five statistically in the sub-set of players that are 5-foot-9 or shorter. Johnson topped 1,000 career points this season and should finish his career as one of the top Eagles' men's basketball scorers in program history. (Photo courtesy of Winthrop athletics)

There are 58 NCAA Division I men's basketball players that play at least two percent of their team's total game minutes. These visualizations and graphics will tell you everything you need to know about these special players that compete in a game that's always favored height.


Where do players 5-foot-9 and shorter play?

The I-95 corridor through Washington, New Jersey and New York has the greatest concentration of 5-foot-9 and shorter players in NCAA Division I men's basketball. Click on the icons to see which players suit up in which parts of the country.

The conferences with the highest number of players shorter than 6-feet tall

Eleven of the 13 teams in the Southland Conference have a player shorter than 6-feet tall that contributes to his team. The SWAC has the highest percentage of teams with players in that category, at 90 percent (9/10).

Players 5-foot-9 or shorter sorted by school year

Only 15.5 percent of the 58 NCAA Division I men's basketball players 5-foot-9 or shorter are freshmen. Is that a statistical anomaly or evidence of a future trend?

Number of teams per conference with a player shorter than 6-feet tall

The smaller conferences have higher numbers of players 6-feet tall or shorter. The Southland Conference had the most teams with a player in that category, while none of the Colonial Athletic Conference's 10 teams had a player shorter than 6-feet tall that contributed.

Little legends

Calvin Murphy, Earl Boykins, Isaiah Thomas, Muggsy Bogues, Shawnta Rogers and Spud Webb are six of the best players 5-foot-9 and shorter to ever play college basketball. Five of the six went on to successful NBA careers too. Learn more about these legends by clicking on the photos.

Campbell coach Kevin McGeehan talking about 5-foot-9 and shorter players, like his standout  freshman, Chris Clemons: “Usually those kinds of guys have grown up with the ball in their hands. They sort of figure them out based on size early, so the experience of having the ball in your hands and making decisions your whole life lends itself usually to being a really good basketball player. I think that’s the foundation of what a guy like Chris (Clemons) or Keon (Johnson) has, Number One.”

The intersection of percentage of total minutes played and assists per game for players 5-9 and shorter

Many of the 5-foot-9 and shorter players fall into two categories: scorers and table-setters. The scorers - obviously - are score-first guards. The table-setters look to get others involved, and usually have elevated assist and - for some reason - steal numbers. Only one player, Felder, clearly fits into both groups, illustrative of how good a player he is for Oakland.

3-pointers made by players 5-9 and shorter

Winthrop junior Keon Johnson is one of the top 3-point threats in the country, especially among the shorter sub-set. Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey said this when asked about specific skills that Johnson has developed to cope with his size:

“When you’re small like that you have to be able to shoot, not only shoot but with range. That sometimes negates the size and length advantage that you play against. And because he can shoot at such distance.”

Steals per game by players 5-9 and shorter


Top scoring NCAA Division I men's basketball players in the country 5-foot-9 or shorter


Oakland's Kahlil Felder having a huge season

One name you keep seeing in these statistical visualizations is Kahlil "Kay" Felder, from Oakland University, in the Horizon League. Felder has been in the top-three in the country in scoring per game and assists all season.

30-point games against great competition

Felder scored 38 points against Washington in December, before torching Michigan State for 37 in the next game. Felder also scored 30 on Virginia.


Johnson's importance to Winthrop's NCAA tournament hopes are demonstrated by the amount of time he spends on the floor.

Winthrop's Keon Johnson one of the best little guys

Keon Johnson is listed at 5-foot-7, but he is more likely around 5-foot-5. That hasn't stopped him from becoming a 1,000-point scorer in his junior season at Winthrop. He's got the longest active streak of double figure scoring games in the Big South, at 20. Visit heraldonline.com to see a video of Johnson talking about how his short stature motivates him on the court 


A few notes:

1) Information came from NCAA.com, the various college's athletics web sites and also KenPom.com. That site only includes data from games played against Division I competition.

2) Stats are current as of Wednesday afternoon, Jan. 13.

3) All photos came from the particular school's sports information directors; huge thanks to them for their help.

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