The San Diego State Aztecs men’s basketball team has a long and storied history, dating all the way back to the 1920s. They’ve seen some great players come and go over the years, and we’ve decided to take a look at the 10 best in program history. From national champions to record-breaking scorers, these are the top 10 greatest San Diego State Aztecs men’s basketball players of all time. Read on to find out who made the list.
1) Michael Cage
Michael Cage was an integral part of the San Diego State Aztecs men’s basketball team from 1982-1986. He led the Aztecs to three NCAA Tournament appearances and the 1986 National Invitational Tournament (NIT) championship. His career statistics are impressive; he ranks first in total rebounds (1,283) and is second in scoring (1,778 points).
Cage was an elite rebounder and a dependable scorer for the Aztecs throughout his four year career. He was a three-time All-Western Athletic Conference (WAC) selection, a two-time All-District 8 selection, and a two-time All-American. He also earned several honors throughout his career including being named the WAC Player of the Year in 1985, to the NIT All-Tournament team in 1985, and the Most Valuable Player of the 1986 NIT championship.
The highlight of Cage’s career came in the 1986 NIT Championship game when he recorded a double-double with 22 points and 12 rebounds. With this performance, he became the only San Diego State player in history to record two consecutive double-doubles in the NCAA and NIT tournaments.
Cage is one of the most decorated players in San Diego State basketball history and undoubtedly deserves his place on this list. He left an impressive legacy at San Diego State and was inducted into the San Diego State Athletics Hall of Fame in 2009.
2) Gino Torretta
Gino Torretta is one of the greatest San Diego State Aztecs men’s basketball players of all-time. Torretta had an impressive career for the Aztecs from 1993-1997, playing in 122 games and averaging 12.2 points and 3.8 rebounds per game. He was an integral part of the 1996-97 team that earned the school’s first NCAA tournament victory in 25 years. Torretta was a two-time all-Mountain West selection and two-time All-American, as well as being named to the Academic All-America Hall of Fame. He also received the Wooden Award, John Wooden Player of the Year Award and the Frances Pomeroy Naismith Award.
Torretta ended his career with 1,638 career points and 545 rebounds. He still holds the SDSU single-season record for field goal percentage at 60.7%, as well as the single-game record for three-pointers made in a game with nine. After his college career, he played professionally in Europe before joining the NBA’s Golden State Warriors and Seattle SuperSonics. He is still remembered fondly by San Diego State fans and is considered one of the greatest Aztecs basketball players of all time.
3) Malik Pope
Malik Pope is one of the greatest San Diego State Aztecs men’s basketball players of all time. He is a forward/center who played three years with SDSU from 2014-17. He was ranked as a top-30 recruit out of high school and was named Mountain West Freshman of the Year in 2015. In his three years at San Diego State, Pope averaged 11.4 points and 7.4 rebounds per game.
Pope was a major contributor to the Aztecs making three consecutive NCAA tournament appearances from 2015-17, with the team reaching the Sweet 16 in 2015. He was also instrumental in helping the Aztecs to an outright Mountain West Conference regular season championship in 2016 and shared conference tournament titles in both 2015 and 2017.
Pope’s athleticism, shooting ability and defensive prowess made him one of the most complete players in the conference during his time at SDSU. During his junior season he shot over 50% from the field and averaged 14 points and 8 rebounds per game while being named All-Mountain West Honorable Mention. He finished his career at SDSU with 1,103 points, 708 rebounds and 62 blocks in three seasons.
4) Kawhi Leonard
Kawhi Leonard is undoubtedly one of the greatest San Diego State Aztecs men’s basketball players of all time. The San Diego native spent two seasons in San Diego, leading the team to back-to-back Mountain West Conference regular season and tournament titles, as well as two NCAA Tournament appearances.
As a sophomore in 2011-12, Leonard averaged 15.5 points and 10.6 rebounds per game while being named Mountain West Player of the Year, MWC Defensive Player of the Year, MWC Tournament MVP, First Team All-Mountain West, and NCAA Regional All-Tournament Team. He finished his college career with 829 rebounds, which ranks seventh in school history, while his 1,086 points ranks 28th.
Leonard was selected 15th overall by the Indiana Pacers in the 2011 NBA Draft and subsequently traded to the San Antonio Spurs. In six seasons in San Antonio, he won two NBA championships and was named Finals MVP twice. He then joined the Toronto Raptors and won another championship in 2019.
Kawhi Leonard is a five-time All-Star and three-time All-NBA First Team selection. He has also been named NBA Defensive Player of the Year twice and won the NBA Sportsmanship Award in 2019. He is one of the most decorated players in San Diego State basketball history and is one of the best players in the NBA today.
5) Chase Tapley
Chase Tapley is one of the all-time greats for the San Diego State Aztecs men’s basketball program. A four-year starter, Tapley was a key member of two Mountain West Conference tournament title teams (2011, 2012), two regular season championship squads (2010, 2012) and was named All-Mountain West first team in 2011 and second team in 2012.
Tapley made an immediate impact as a freshman during the 2008-09 season, appearing in all 33 games and leading the Aztecs with 64 3-pointers. Tapley continued to improve each year and by his senior season, he had become one of the best players in the MWC, averaging 13.5 points, 4.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.3 steals per game. He finished his career with 1,213 points and 255 3-pointers, both ranking in the top 10 in school history.
Off the court, Tapley also excelled. He was named the 2012-13 MWC Scholar Athlete of the Year and was selected to the Capital One Academic All-America second team. He was also one of 10 finalists for the prestigious Senior CLASS Award. Tapley was inducted into the San Diego State Athletics Hall of Fame in 2018, cementing his legacy as one of the greatest Aztecs ever.
6) D.J. Gay
D.J. Gay was an integral part of the San Diego State Aztecs men’s basketball team from 2008-2012. During his four years at SDSU, Gay was one of the team’s most valuable contributors, leading the team to three NCAA tournament appearances and two Mountain West Conference championships.
Gay played in 132 career games for the Aztecs, averaging 8.2 points, 3.4 assists and 1.4 steals per game over his collegiate career. He also had the distinction of being a four-time All-Mountain West selection, including being named to the All-MW First Team as a senior. His ability to run the point guard position, while still being able to score and shoot from the outside, made him a key player in the Aztecs’ success during his college career.
In 2011, Gay was selected to the All-District 8 team by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, becoming just the fourth player in SDSU history to receive the honor. As well as receiving many accolades during his college career, Gay was also an exceptional leader and mentor to his younger teammates, setting a positive example for them to follow.
When it comes to all-time greats for San Diego State men’s basketball, D.J. Gay is definitely one of the most important players in program history. His leadership, skill and versatility were essential in helping lead the Aztecs to multiple successful seasons, and he will always be remembered fondly for his contributions to the team.
7) Xavier Thames
Xavier Thames is a San Diego State Aztecs Men’s Basketball great. Thames was a member of the Aztecs from 2011-2014 and won several awards while at San Diego State, including the Mountain West Conference Player of the Year in 2014 and being named to the All-Mountain West Conference First Team in 2014 and 2015. He was also selected to the All-Mountain West Conference Defensive Team in 2013 and 2014.
Thames is one of the most prolific scorers in SDSU history, finishing his career with 1,511 points, good for 14th all-time in program history. He was a reliable scorer, averaging double figures in points during each of his three seasons with the Aztecs. His senior season in particular was special, as he averaged 17.6 points per game, leading the team to a Mountain West Conference regular season title and a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
Off the court, Thames was a leader on the team and was voted by his teammates as the program’s MVP for his senior season. He graduated from San Diego State with a degree in sociology and was drafted in the second round of the 2014 NBA Draft by the Toronto Raptors.
In short, Xavier Thames has established himself as one of the greatest players in San Diego State Aztecs Men’s Basketball history. His scoring ability and leadership both on and off the court make him a top 10 player all-time at San Diego State and an exemplary figure for young basketball players everywhere.
8) Matt Mitchell
Matt Mitchell is a San Diego State Aztecs Men’s Basketball player who has solidified his place as one of the best in program history. The 6-foot-6 forward was a standout on the court, making an impact in every facet of the game. During his time at San Diego State, Mitchell averaged 11.7 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game. He also contributed defensively, averaging 1.2 blocks and 0.9 steals per game.
In addition to his on-court performance, Matt Mitchell was an outstanding leader and teammate. His leadership was especially evident during the 2017-2018 season when he served as team captain for the Aztecs. During that season, San Diego State went 30-2 overall and 18-0 in Mountain West Conference play, ultimately claiming both the regular season and tournament titles.
Off the court, Mitchell was also involved in various community outreach initiatives, such as the San Diego Padres’ “We Play Ball” program, which focused on mentoring young athletes.
Overall, Matt Mitchell’s contributions to San Diego State are invaluable and his legacy will live on for years to come. He is certainly deserving of his spot as one of the greatest Aztecs Men’s Basketball players of all time.
9) Trey Kell
Trey Kell is a former San Diego State Aztecs men’s basketball player. He spent four years playing for the Aztecs from 2015 to 2019. During his career, he was named All-Mountain West three times and was a part of the conference’s all-defensive team in 2018. He is considered to be one of the best players in San Diego State history.
Kell started his college career as a role player, but he quickly developed into one of the team’s leaders. In his first two seasons, he was an important piece of the team’s success as they made the NCAA tournament both times. He was then voted to the All-Mountain West team in 2017 and 2018, averaging 15 points and five rebounds per game. He was also named Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year in 2018.
Kell’s senior season was one of the best in San Diego State history as the team went undefeated in conference play and earned a number 6 seed in the NCAA tournament. He was again voted to the All-Mountain West team and averaged 12 points, five rebounds, and three assists per game. His leadership was a key factor in the team’s success and helped them reach new heights.
Trey Kell is considered one of the greatest San Diego State Aztecs men’s basketball players of all-time and he will go down as one of the best to ever wear the Aztecs uniform. He left an indelible mark on the program and is remembered for his great play on both sides of the ball.
10) Jeremy Hemsley
Jeremy Hemsley is one of the all-time greats in San Diego State Aztecs men’s basketball history. He joined the program in 2015 and played four seasons, earning a spot on the All-Mountain West First Team as a senior in 2018-19.
As a freshman, Hemsley started 25 games and averaged 8.5 points, 2.7 rebounds and 2.6 assists. He improved significantly over the next three years, averaging 16.4 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.2 assists as a senior to become one of the most complete players in the conference.
During his time at San Diego State, Hemsley was known for his ability to get to the rim, play good defense, and make clutch shots when needed. He was a big part of the Aztecs success during his career and was instrumental in helping the team reach the NCAA Tournament in 2017-18.
Hemsley was also a two-time Academic All-Mountain West selection, proving that he was not only an outstanding basketball player but also an excellent student. His skill, leadership, and determination are what make him one of the greatest San Diego State Aztecs men’s basketball players of all time.