Heisman Hoopsters

Heisman Hoopsters

It takes a special physical talent to win a Heisman Trophy. 

Sometimes that talent reaches beyond the confines of college football and into other athletic pursuits. 

There’s a long list of past Heisman winners who played at a high level in multiple sports. Some so brimmed with talent, they may have turned out to be just as famous had they never strapped on a helmet.

Basketball often lured Heisman winners away from the gridiron. With March Madness now in full swing, let’s take a brief look at some of the top hoopsters in Heisman lore.

Nile Kinnick — The future Hawkeye led his football team to an undefeated season as a senior in high school, but he also scored 485 points for the basketball team, helping them advance to the district finals. At Iowa, he played football, basketball and baseball as a freshman and was the hoops team’s second-leading scorer as a sophomore. He then gave up basketball to concentrate on his studies…and football.

Tom Harmon — Harmon was an all-conference basketball player and three-year letterman at Horace Mann High in Gary, Ind. He also lettered in basketball at Michigan. He was inducted into the state of Indiana’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 1992.

Tom Harmon, Michigan Basketball
Tom Harmon, Michigan Basketball

Glenn Davis — Perhaps the finest all-around athlete ever to play at Army, Davis earned a letter in basketball as a guard for the Knights.

John Lujack — Lujack lettered in four sports at Notre Dame, including basketball.

Doak Walker — The legendary Walker also lettered in basketball for SMU.

Dick Kazmaier — According to Kazmaier, he had a better year freshman year in basketball at Princeton than he did in football. He was relegated to the bench in subsequent years, but he would not be stopped when he stepped on the gridiron.

Paul Hornung — Hornung averaged 6.1 points per game as a sophomore for the Irish basketball team, but he gave up the sport to concentrate on his school work.

Joe Bellino — Bellino was the star of Winchester High’s basketball team, which won the Massachussetts state title during his sophomore and junior seasons. The squad’s 55-game win streak was snapped during his senior year. He later lettered in basketball for the Midshipmen.

Ernie Davis — Davis played basketball as a freshman at Syracuse. He put up impressive numbers, with 10.2 points and 9.6 rebounds per game. He once pulled down 18 rebounds against Canisius.

Terry Baker — Baker is the answer to one of the great trivia questions in sports, as the Oregon State star remains the only player to win a Heisman and appear in an NCAA basketball Final Four. Baker averaged 13.4 points per game as a senior point guard and was named national Sportsman of the Year by Sports Illustrated.  He also led the Beavers to the Elite 8 as a junior.  Despite his football prowess, Baker always said that basketball was his true love.  The video below shows Baker playing in the Final Four.


Steve Spurrier — Spurrier was all-state in four sports, including basketball, coming out of Science Hill High in Johnston, Tenn.

Charlie Ward — Ward is the only Heisman winner to play in the NBA. At Florida State, Ward was the point guard on the Seminoles team that advanced to the Elite Eight. He still holds FSU records for career steals (236), steals in a game (9) and ranks sixth all-time in assists at 396. He joined the basketball team just 15 days after winning the Heisman Trophy in December of 1993. He started 16 games at the point guard position that year and averaged 10.5 points and 4.9 assists for the season. He was selected in the first round (26th overall) of the 1994 NBA draft by the New York Knicks and played 11 seasons in the league.