Duke Basketball has had many great players come through the program throughout its storied history. Only a select number of them were honored with their jerseys being retired.
What makes those players standout above the others? Why have some been retired but not others?
While there is no official criteria for retiring a jersey, the Duke Media guide states “a player must achieve at a national level — earn National Player of the Year or National Defensive Player of the Year honors, set an NCAA record, win a gold medal representing his country in the Olympics or earn All-America recognition. What distinguishes Duke’s retired jersey players from many other schools is the main criteria. No jersey will be retired at Duke unless the player has earned his degree.”
Over 30 Blue Devils players have earned All-American honors, including over 20 under Coach K. Of the eight players who have won National Player of the Year, only two have not had their jersey retired (Elton Brand & Zion Williamson).
So we asked you the fans which former Blue Devil, who was recruited by and played for Coach K, deserves to have his jersey retired the most? We limited the choices to non one-and-done players.
To narrow the list down, we first did four separate polls based on the decade they played.
Tommy Amaker was the first National Defensive Player of the Year under Coach K. During his junior season, Duke would reach the National Championship game where they would lose to Louisville. While the #4 would be retired 20 years later for J.J. Redick, Amaker was certainly worthy to have it retired first.
Typically when discussing players who not have their jersey retired, Brand is near the top of those mentioned. He was the ACC and National Player of the Year as well as Consensus All-American in 1999 while leading Duke to the National Championship game against UConn. Brand left after his sophomore season for the NBA where he was selected #1 overall by the Chicago Bulls. Should Duke waive their graduation criteria? If so #42 probably would’ve already been retired.
Jon Scheyer was selected as a Consensus Second-Team All-American in 2010 as he helped lead Duke to the National Title over Butler in one of the most memorable championship games in college basketball history. He was also selected first team All-ACC and ACC Tournament MVP.
This decade was by far the closest in terms of voting. Each player earned All-American honors and won a National Championship. Singler was ACC Rookie of the Year in 2008 and finished in the Top 10 All-Time in Duke history for points and rebounds. Smith was selected as the ACC Player of the Year and Consensus First Team All-American in 2011.
From there, we put the top vote getters from each decade into one final poll:
It’s no surprise that fan favorite and The People’s Champ Nolan Smith won out in the end. He had one of the memorable senior seasons in Duke history. Will we one day see #2 hanging in the rafters in Cameron Indoor Stadium?