ESPN College Hoops 2K5 Is 20 Years Old

With the UConn Huskies going back to back last night, it seems like the perfect time to take a stroll down memory lane. However, I regret to inform you that if you remember playing ESPN College Hoops 2K5, you’re probably getting old as it’s going to be 20 years old later this year.

ESPN College Hoops 2K5 is not the version I remember most fondly — it might not even be in my top 3 for the franchise — but that has more to do with me than anything. At the time, I actually felt like the PS2/Xbox generation had been a disappointment for basketball games. I’m not sure if I’m in the minority on that one or not, but the first couple years of the Xbox 360/PS3 generation felt like such a massive improvement when compared to the PS2 generation.

That said, I still fondly remember ESPN College Hoops 2K5 on the PS2 because Visual Concepts was hitting its stride overall — I just think its NFL games were the star of the show. Still, the pieces were falling into place in most of their sports games, and that could be seen here with VC’s college hoops game.

Looking back, the 2004-2005 college basketball season was the start of the true tyranny of J.J. Redick, and it featured a classic national title game between North Carolina and Illinois (it even helped Marvin Williams get on the cover of College Hoops 2K6). Illinois and UNC both had stacked starting lineups that were full of upperclassmen, and this was sort of the end of that era of “superteams” that would have three or more high-level juniors and seniors that were also legitimate first-round prospects in the NBA.

This was also the year of the Deron Williams, Chris Paul, Raymond Felton point guard trio, which also means it was the season where CP3 punched Julius Hodge right in the balls.

Which is a long way of pointing out that it feels right that some of the biggest selling points of ESPN College Hoops 2K5 were the introduction of the “new” Legacy mode, a really solid head-to-head online mode, and the talent gap feeling more extreme between the best and worst players on the court.

This means I also remember that trying to defend the likes of J.J. Redick and Dee Brown led to me spiking multiple headsets throughout the year. I should explain that I loved using teams with one or two great players, but not on the high-end teams. In this case, I settled on using Marquette, St. Joes, and Gonzaga online.

With Marquette, it was bombs away with Travis Diener and Steve Novak. With St. Joes, it was a year after Jameer Nelson and Delonte West left, and I held on with Pat Carroll bombing 3s while cleaning the glass and swatting shots with Dwayne Jones. And finally there was Gonzaga with Adam Morrison (one year before his true superstar season that would get him drafted top 3) and Ronny Turiaf. The online connection felt great, and this was truly the peak of my early days online play between this game, ESPN NFL 2K5, and Madden 2005. It was also likely the peak of my online rage, and you have to remember this was during the time when most people still used headsets, so many fights were had in those days.

Anyway, the Legacy mode wasn’t actually “new” this year, but it was officially renamed to Legacy mode, and it was really the first year where everything came together for the mode overall. Recruiting was now a full-time job, and that felt especially enjoyable because the goal was still to start from one of the lowly colleges and work your way up to getting to those prime spots at Kentucky, or Kansas, or UNC. You also had way more control over how your players developed based on your practice schedule, and you also had to worry about leveling your own skills up as the coach.

On the court, all the 2K games sort of took on the same look to some extent, so all the cool stuff that was in NFL 2K was mostly found here as well (minus the high-end stuff like a halftime show). You had ESPN broadcasters, the ESPN UI, and you also got tons of 2K cutscenes of fans and cheerleaders, much like you’d get all those cuts of fans and celebrations in NFL 2K. It all worked and was crushing most every sports game in the presentation department even then.

In terms of gameplay, I did not love the feel of this game, and it makes sense because this was the start of both basketball games being made by Visual Concepts (I believe previously Kush Games had more of a role with the college game). I was not in love with how ESPN NBA 2K5 felt either, so it tracks that I wouldn’t love this game in that sense.

How players felt on the sticks was not bad by any means, but it was more the shooting and passing I liked than the feel of players on the court. Regardless, this was actually an important year because this is the first game where 2K simplified their free-throw system and had you just releasing the ball at the peak of the free-throw motion. Even more importantly, this was the first game that had two-button passing, which means you could use the left trigger/L2 to initiate a player’s cut to the hoop as you passed to him. This led to a comical number of alley-oops, but it’s also the origin story for a mechanic that’s still very powerful even in NBA 2K25.

All in all, I spent most of my time either recruiting in Legacy mode or screaming at my TV during heated head-to-head online games, but this was a great end to the PS2/Xbox era for basketball games. It was a forerunner for some of the incredible times ahead, and it’s wild to think that it’s going to be 20 years old later this year.