I chose three players to represent Duke basketball in three outstanding eras. Obviously, I couldn’t claim they are the best ever to play at Duke. There are just far too many phenomenally gifted players who wore the Blue and White. However, all three served as team leaders. Johnny Dawkins was team captain in 1986, and Grant Hill was team captain in 1994, both as seniors. J.J. Redick was co-captain his junior year (2005) and captain his senior year (2006). Dawkins may have been the premier leader only because he had to lift Duke from being a solid competitor to ranking as one of the top teams in the nation.
These guys also stayed all four years, a fact that’s becoming less and less of a reality among the best players on Division One teams. As players they were very well-balanced. They all were able to play guard, though Hill’s natural position was forward. He played comfortably at guard whenever necessary; and as a sophomore he even played point guard for five games when Bobby Hurley was injured. They could play outstanding defense as well as offense. That is a rare dual gift. Hill was National Defensive Player of the Year in 1993 and Reddick was National Player of the Year in 2006. All three had their jerseys retired at Duke.
The trio could take the ball to the rim or shoot jumpers from all angles. All three players brought supreme confidence to each game. They honestly believed that if the team played at peak efficiency, they could defeat any NCAA team in America on a given night. These three were a major reason their particular teams were premier NCAA competitors.
At 6’2” and 170 pounds, Johnny Dawkins was so good he put up numbers some forwards would be proud of. Dawkins was Coach K’s first blue chip recruit and others followed right behind. Between 1983-86 Dawkins started in all 133 games, compiling 4749 minutes, 2556 points, 536 rebounds, 555 assists, 24 blocks, and 168 steals. His career scoring average was 19.2%. He scored 34 points on two different occasions. His highest rebound total in a game was 13 and highest assist total was 11.
Between 1991-94, Grant Hill was a combo guard/forward. At an athletic 6’8” 225 pounds, he blew competitors away with his leaping ability, speed, and agility. He played in 129 games at Duke and started in 115. It is possible he may have started in every game if he hadn’t suffered some injury every year except his senior year. He had 3922 minutes, 1924 points, 769 rebounds, 461 assists, 133 blocks, and 218 steals.
Hill’s career scoring average was 14.9% His highest numbers in games stood at 33 points, 14 rebounds, and he got 9 assists three times. He apparently didn’t feel very comfortable with the 3-pointer because he was only 5-17 for his first three years. His senior year he hit 39-100.
J.J. Redick was a 6’4” 190 pound guard who played in 139 games and started 134 between 2003-2006. He played 4732 minutes, scored 2769 points, got 375 rebounds, 306 assists, 9 blocks, and 152 steals. His career scoring average was 19.9. He scored 41 twice in his career and 40 once. His highest rebounding game was 3 and his highest assists in a game totaled 8.
It’s a bit challenging to compare these three on a level playing field. First of all, they didn’t play the same number of career minutes. Dawkins and Reddick were surprisingly close—Dawkins, at 4749 minutes, played only 17 more minutes than Reddick. However, probably because of injuries, Hill played a whopping 1827 less minutes than Dawkins and almost that many less than Reddick.
Reddick scored 213 more points than Dawkins but Dawkins had only one year to shoot the 3-pointer—Reddick had four. How many more points would Dawkins have scored with four years shooting 3-pointers? Probably more than 213. Hill scored 1924 total points, approximately 835 less than the other two. The fairest way to compare the three in scoring is through checking percentages. Dawkins scored 50.8% of his field goals and 79% of his free throws. Hill scored 53% of his field goals and 59% of his free throws. Reddick hit 43% of his field goals and 91% of his free throws. So Hill scored the highest percentage of his field goals and Reddick beat the others hands-down in free throw average.
However, Hill far exceeded the other two in almost every other category. He yanked down 394 more rebounds than Reddick and 233 more than Dawkins. At 133 blocks, Hill had 109 more than Dawkins and 124 more than Reddick. At 218 steals, Hill had 50 more steals than Dawkins and 66 more than Reddick. Only in assists did Dawkins exceed Hill. At 555, Dawkins had 94 more assists than Hill and 249 more than Reddick. Obviously, Reddick was thinking a whole lot more about scoring than assisting.
So there you have it—the run-down on three of the top Blue Devil basketball players ever. I can’t pick one out above the rest. Maybe you can. Maybe you have an all-time favorite. I’m content to believe that these three symbolize Duke basketball as well as any who have ever played the game.