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Why No Duke NBA Superstars?

Photo © Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

In the FOX Sports list of 25 Greatest NBA players there were no Duke players listed.  

An NBA ranker called the Remix ranked the best 50 players through 2017.  No Duke players made the top 50 and no Duke players were in the 14 who had been cut previously.

Judging the top 50 players from the NBA History site, there were no Duke players ranked.  

In a broad random vote by NBA fans, the only Duke player who ranked was Kyrie Irving at number 66.

Wikipedia selected what they considered the 50 best NBA players ever with a vote by a panel of media members, former players and coaches, and current and former general managers. Obviously, the fifty players had to have played at least a portion of their careers in the NBA and were selected irrespective of position played. Based on this ranking, there were no Duke players in the top 50.

An ESPN panel judged NBA players by two primary criteria: peak performance and career value. Grant Hill was the only Duke  player picked, and he came in at 80th position.

In an NBA ranking system called the SLAM 500, all Duke players with their rankings were: Grant Hill, 98; Elton Brand ranked 177; Carlos Boozer ranked 206; Jack Marin ranked 270; Jeff Mullins ranked 289; Johnny Dawkins ranked 381; Corey Maggette ranked 393; Christian Laettner ranked 409; Luol Deng ranked 418; and Shane Battier ranked at  444.

Another group ranked the universities by how many NBA players they’ve produced. Number 5 was Kansas with  53, including such players as Wilt Chamberlain, Paul Pierce, Danny Manning, Jo Jo White, and Kirk Hinrich.  Number 4 was Duke with 58 including such players as Elton Brand, Grant Hill, Carlos Boozer, Shane Battier, Christian Laettner, and Kyrie Irving.  Number 3 was UNC with 62 players, including Michael Jordan, Vince Carter, Sam Perkins, James Worthy, and Bob McAdoo. Number two was UCLA with 76 players, including such names as Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Kevin Love, Bill Walton, Gail Goodrich, and Kiki Vandeweghe. Resting in the number 1 position was Kentucky with 78 players such as Dan Issel, John Wall, Jamal Washburn, Rajon Rondo, Anthony Davis, Tayshaun Prince, and Demarcus Cousins. Of course, many great players are left out for lack of space.

Of course, your favorites may be left out also:  superstars such as Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Kevin Garnett and Moses Malone went straight from high school to the NBA.  Then there are the individual standout superstars from particular colleges—Magic Johnson from Michigan State, Larry Bird from Indiana State, Stephen Curry from Davidson, Shaquille O’Neal from LSU…we can’t name them all.

But back to Duke—why dozens of NBA players through the years but no true legends…no superstars? Sure, we’ve heard the excuses:  Jason Williams and his motorcycle accident, Bobby Hurley and his auto accident, Grant Hill and his mounting chronic injuries, but that almost sounds like sour grapes.  

 In 2010, commentator Josh Levin said and I paraphrase ‘that anyone would  be a fool to think Coach K wouldn’t have found room for players like John Wall if he’d wanted to come to Durham.’ Levin continues, “Duke has never gotten the guys in the upper slice of the recruiting classes—players who see themselves less as collegians than as free agents en route to the NBA. While Duke leads the NCAA in top-50 recruits, it doesn’t get top 10 recruits in the same volume as North Carolina and whatever school Calipari happens to be coaching at in a given year. And right now this might not be a bad thing for the Duke program…”

Well, Coach K likely was already ruminating about going for the top ranked kids in the nation, because it was in 2010 that he recruited Kyrie Irving and seemed to begin in earnest the drive to attract the very best of the best to Duke. So far, Kyrie seems to be perhaps the most likely to reach superstar status, and there are possibly more. So here’s to the future—may it be increasingly  likely that out of Duke will come players who soar, who become household names, who make bug-eyed fans beg for autographs!

Who said Duke could not produce Michael Jordans?