It seems like every year, Duke basketball fans go through a period when they think the program is falling apart because of players transferring.
Each season includes a time when message boards run rampant with speculation and rumors about whether a particular player will be a Blue Devil for the following season or if he’ll pack his bags and head elsewhere.
Sometimes, there are truth to the rumors and a player moves on. Other times, it ends up being much ado about nothing.
Yet, when an individual decides to leave Duke and pursue his playing career elsewhere, there is always a vocal group of fans who immediately panic and wonder how the program can move forward. It’s as if every player who has ever left was destined to become an All American if he’d just waited a little longer or if Coach K had figured out how to get him more playing time.
If this were the case, wouldn’t it make sense that the guys who leave would go on to immediate success at the schools they transfer to?
If it’s such a big loss for Duke, one would think that it would be a huge gain for whichever program lands a former Blue Devil. After all, many of these guys are former high school All Americans and four or five-star recruits who were expected to become great players at the college level.
What’s become of the players who’ve left the program after the past couple decades? Have these transfers gone on to greener pastures and greater success?
Let’s look at the numbers.
Eric Boateng – 2006
Transferred to Arizona State after his freshman season.
After playing just 2.5 minutes per game as a freshman at Duke, Boateng transferred to Arizona State, where he played for former N.C. State head coach Herb Sendek. It took a while for the 6’10”, 245-pound center to adjust to the college game and he never quite lived up to the status of being a 2005 McDonald’s All American, but he did have a strong senior year for the Sun Devils, averaging 8.8 points and seven rebounds in 27 minutes per game. He’s bounced around various professional leagues around the world and was last part of a team in Argentina.
Jamal Boykin – 2006
Transferred to California during his sophomore season.
Though he was a fan favorite, Jamal Boykin decided during his sophomore year to transfer back to his home state of California in pursuit of gaining more playing time with a different program. Boykin joined the Cal Bears for the 2007-08 season and immediately became a reliable role player. He was a valuable part of the team as a junior and senior and was known as a tireless worker who would always give 100-percent, a trait that attracted the Duke coaching staff to him when he was in high school. Boykin averaged nearly 12 points and seven rebounds per game during his senior season and his college career ended in the NCAA Tournament in a loss to Duke, who would go on to win the national championship that year. Similar to Eric Boateng, Jamal has bounced around in various professional leagues around the world since graduating from college. He currently plays in New Zealand.
Chris Burgess – 1999
Transferred to Utah after his sophomore season.
Burgess was the prize recruit of a loaded freshman class for Duke and his transfer to Utah is one of the more controversial in Blue Devil history. He was a limited role player during his two seasons in Durham and battled injuries once he transferred to Utah to play for Rick Majerus. As a senior, Burgess finally began to play up to the potential that had earned him the reputation of being the top recruit in the country out of high school. He averaged over 13 points, seven rebounds and shot 66 percent from the field before another injury forced him to miss the remainder of his senior season.
After college, Burgess went on to a lengthy and successful journeyman career of playing professionally overseas. He now serves as an assistant coach on the Utah basketball staff.
Mike Chappell – 1998
Transferred to Michigan State after his sophomore season.
Chappell is one of the more interesting transfers from Duke because he moved on to another elite program and actually saw less playing time than what he’d been getting as a Blue Devil. Chappell was a part of Duke’s incredibly talented teams of 1997 and 1998 and averaged double figure minutes in both seasons. He decided to leave Duke and transfer to Michigan State, where he’d be part of the national championship team in 2000. Interestingly, his most successful season statistically was his sophomore year at Duke, when he averaged seven points in over 14 minutes per game.
Olek Czyz – 2010
Transferred to Nevada during his sophomore season.
In another case of a guy leaving because of a lack of playing time, Olek Czyz transferred to Nevada during his sophomore year. He’d played sparingly as a freshman at Duke and it didn’t look like he had a realistic chance of finding a spot in the rotation. Czyz went on to a relatively productive career with the Wolfpack, averaging 13.2 points and 6.2 rebounds while shooting over 53-percent from the field during his two seasons with the team.
Michael Gbinije – 2012
Transferred to Syracuse after his freshman season.
Despite having great size and physical tools, Michael Gbinije was unable to make any significant impact during his one season at Duke and was little more than a role player for Syracuse last season. He played 14.6 minutes per game last season for the Orange and averaged just 3.4 points while shooting 38-percent from the field. Only a redshirt sophomore, there’s still time to see if Gbinije can develop into the player who showed so much promise coming out of high school.
Taylor King – 2008
Transferred to Villanova after his freshman season.
Sadly, Taylor King became the player that no school really wanted to associate itself with. His long-range shooting ability amazed Duke fans when he started his freshman season, but his lack of hustle and terrible defense put him on the bench in most meaningful situations for the Blue Devils. Unhappy with his role, King transferred to Villanova where he would only last for one season because of a recurring drug problem. The talented forward finished his college career back home in California with Concordia University Irvine and has bounced around in various professional leagues trying to make a career.
Andre Sweet – 2000
Transferred to Seton Hall after his freshman season.
Andre Sweet was suspended for academic reasons just seven games into his career at Duke, so his time as a Blue Devil was over before it ever really began. He played for Louis Orr at Seton Hall and was a serviceable role player during his three years with the Pirates. Statistically, his best season was during his junior year when he averaged 10 points and six rebounds in 32 minutes per game.
Michael Thompson – 2003
Transferred to Northwestern during his sophomore season.
In terms of McDonald’s All Americans, Michael Thompson should probably go down as one of the biggest disappointments in regards to productivity on the floor. However, he graduated with a degree from Northwestern and battled various injury and health issues throughout his college career, including a heart problem that cut his time with the Wildcats short. Still, a five-star center recruit who never even establishes himself as a role player is frustrating for any program, regardless of the reasons for it.
Elliot Williams – 2009
Transferred to Memphis after his freshman season.
It doesn’t seem right to put Elliot Williams in the same category with these other players. He had a fantastic freshman campaign with the Blue Devils and appeared ready to take on a major role for the team as a sophomore. Unfortunately, he left the program after just one year to be closer to home to be with his mother, who was diagnosed with a serious illness. Williams played for his hometown school in Memphis and had a great sophomore season before electing to declare for the NBA. Duke went on to win the national championship after Elliot left, but it would have been great to see him be part of that very special team.
In looking at this relatively large sample size, it’s rare that guys go on to great success after leaving Duke. Typically, they go on to become regular contributors and role players and some are lucky to even be that much.
Interestingly, many of them likely could have found themselves in the same position had they elected to stay at Duke for their entire four years.
I have no problem with guys leaving in hopes of finding playing time elsewhere. It’s a small window of opportunity to play college basketball, and each individual should find a situation that makes him most comfortable and provides the best chance for success.
Still, Duke fans should stop kidding themselves when acting like it’s a potential MVP that’s always transferring. History shows that simply isn’t the case.
When a player leaves, wish him well. Hopefully he goes on to a successful career. Chances are, Duke will be just fine without him.