“The Blueprint 2 homie, follow the moves…you put on two tube socks you couldn’t walk in my shoes…”
Jay – Z – Diamond Is Forever
William Michael Krzyzewski took over a struggling Duke University Men’s Basketball program 29-years ago, and while he has had the success of 3 National Championships, and 10 Final Fours…there is a stigma that goes along with being a Duke Blue Devil.
I’ve always been a fan of basketball, and teams that play the game the “right” way. In my youth I watched John Chaney, and Mark Macon of the Temple Owls play so well that they were ranked number 1 in the nation during the 1987-88 season. The other team that intrigued me was the Bruins of UCLA, as they had the prestige of the NCAA record books, and the allure of Southern California…so in 1992 when Christian Laettner hit the game winning shot off a Grant Hill pass in my hometown Philadelphia, something changed and I became a Duke fan.
There were two problems with my being a Blue Devil fan…first and foremost everyone where I lived was either a UNLV or Michigan supporter, or both…because in my community, it was easier to identify with Larry Johnson, and Chris Webber, than Brian and Grant Hill. The other obstacle is/was that no one from Duke ever did anything worth mentioning in the NBA…and this argument has been carried on in barbershops, on basketball courts, and living rooms across the country.
In my opinion, the players from Duke should be discussed in categories, instead of labeling them all as a disappointment. The way I see things, they can be organized as follows: bust (Alaa Abdelnaby, Trajan Langdon, Shelden Williams), all-star (Grant Hill, Elton Brand, Carlos Boozer), solid (Johnny Dawkins, Christian Laettner, Mike Dunleavy Jr., Corey Maggette, JJ Redick, Dahntay Jones, Luol Deng) tragedy (Bobby Hurley, Jay Williams)
I have my stance, but I never played in the ACC, nor did I attend the university on tobacco road, so instead of going any further with my theory…I asked a few former Dukies why their program consists of equal parts hearsay, judgment, love and hate?
Can Duke players make it within the NBA game?
“In college you know we have so much of a team concept, and everything is really about the team. In the NBA its more about individuals…so when we play our defense, that’s team defense, when we play on offense you get an open shot, you set a pick, you’re focused on a team. When you get to the league, it’s more individual…can I iso this guy…and a lot of our players aren’t those players. It’s a system, and also you know besides North Carolina…it’s not a ton of players from Arizona, Kentucky, or from any other premier powerhouse every year that has ten players doing it, you know what I mean? You know with the high school exodus, guys were coming out of high school…so you know North Carolina with MJ, and those guys, Sam Perkins…getting to the championships all those years, other than that…there isn’t too many other powerhouse collegiate programs that have ring after ring, and players. In the league it’s not like those players are translating into top-notch pros also. And you know UCONN…they have some players in the league too…”
What do you think about Gerald Henderson Jr.?
“I saw the Georgia Tech game. That was the game he played really well…he had like 25 points. He’s comfortable in the system, you know finding his way, and learning, and growing as a player. I think he’ll do well [in the league] too. You have Dahntay Jones out in Denver…he’s playing well, and I think he’ll be in the same type of mold or better, he has that same athleticism.”
Is it easy to pick on Duke because it’s an elite program?
“Oh yeah! Other schools have some of the same traits, same stories, but it’s easy to pick on Duke. For one a lot of people don’t like Duke, you know what I mean? Our mantra was hated by few, loved by many, but respected by all. That was our manta…let’s go get it! So Coach K will get the best out of his players in a team concept.”
What ever happened to William Avery?
“Was he cold or what? That was my roommate…that was my dog. You’re right…you got another one for your list.”
What do you say to the fact that people believe Duke players never develop as great NBA players?
“I think the average fan doesn’t realize that 80% of the league, it’s all about being in the right situation. I think Elton [Brand] is exactly right…if you made the league then you panned out, you panned out as a basketball player. So the fact that we have whatever…13, 14, guys in the league is a testament not only to the talent level we’ve had, but the development program that Duke has had in place…I mean I don’t buy it. We’ve had too many good players, especially within the last 7 or 8 years, starting with Elton, that have been a major role…have had major roles on great teams…Grant Hill, Elton, Corey Maggette…there’s a long list of guys, and I don’t know what the numbers are, but I know as of last year I think our salaries…we’re all signed for whatever [laughs]…you know Boozer is an All-Star…Olympic guy, we’ve had a lot of guys that have had a lot of success in the league. I think in the 90’s there…unfortunate things happened with Bobby and his accident. You know people pick on Christian [Laettner]; he was so good in college, that unless he was the next Larry Bird…I mean people forget…Christian average double figures many years. He averaged 18 a game his rookie year, he was an All-Star in Atlanta, I mean the guy played for 13 or 14 years, I don’t buy any of that stuff, and I think Elton is right on…when you’ve had success, I don’t want to say people get sick of you, but you become a target of scrutiny, and I think that’s what happened with Duke a little bit.”
How is Coach K?
“I think Coach K gives us a lot of freedom. I know when I was there, I got to do what I wanted on the court in terms of playing offense…taking shots, I think the locker room atmosphere, how people talked to each other is definitely different from the NBA. I think that was probably the biggest adjustment, because…everything…Coach K is so hands on, whether if it’s meeting with a player an hour after practice, or have a 3-hour team meeting, I mean everything is just very detailed…you don’t have the time in the NBA to do that with 82 games, so I don’t think it’s because Duke plays as a team that guys get to the NBA and are like oh my gosh what do I do? It’s just a different system and it takes some adjusting to do.”
Why do you get so much of that Duke hate?
“I think that the only explanation is that I went to Duke. Maybe early on in my career…my freshman and sophomore year I acted like a bit of a jerk on the court…but let’s say I went to Texas or Florida, 2 elite programs, 2 great programs…their programs have had a lot of success within the last 10 years, I don’t think that I would be a name. So I think that it was a gift and curse, because I made a name for myself…I became a household name in college basketball, but also there was a lot of negative attention and scrutiny, so it went both ways.”
What are your thoughts on Duke players in the league?
“The focus is on us because we are so successful. Guys have had different stories, different routes, people have had career ending injuries, and sometimes it’s not the right situation, but we’ve had a lot of guys stick around and play key roles on teams. We have guys that have had success in this league…Elton, Corey Maggette, Mike Dunleavy plays well in Indiana, Christian had a cool career…he didn’t have a stellar career, but few people have a stellar career. Before Grant [Hill] got hurt he was having an awesome career. It’s just the right situation, at the right time.”