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Jim Sumner on Duke's Dominance

We are truly thrilled to have Jim Sumner as our first guest columnist. Jim, who is curator of the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame, has offered to write articles on Duke and ACC basketball from time to time on the DBR. Many of you already are familiar with his outstanding articles in Blue Devil Weekly, which, among other attributes, offer historical perspectives on the game and team we love. Welcome, Jim!

The 2000-2001 Duke men’s basketball team enters this season hoping to build on a remarkable four-year run, a run in which Duke has dominated the Atlantic Coast Conference in a manner rarely seen in that conference’s five-decade history. How dominant has Duke been? Most DBR readers known that Maryland ended Duke’s long winning streaks in ACC and Cameron contests but several other remarkable streaks are still ongoing and give further evidence of Duke’s incredible run of success.

This season Duke will attempt to become the first team in ACC history to capture five consecutive regular season titles. The 1963-66 Duke team and the 1976-79 UNC teams also won four straight, although UNC shared the 1979 title with Duke. In March, the Devils will attempt to become only the third team in league history to win three consecutive ACC Tournament championships. North Carolina State won the first three, in 1954, 1955, and 1956, while UNC won three straight from 1967-69. That UNC run is the only time any ACC team has ever won the regular-season and post-season titles in three consecutive seasons. Duke can equal that accomplishment. Should that happen, Mike Krzyzewski may well become the first coach in league history to win ACC Coach of the Year honors three consecutive seasons. Nine times a coach has won that honor in consecutive seasons but never three times running.

Should Shane Battier prove the pre-season prognosticators right and win the league’s Player of the Year honor, he would follow Elton Brand and Chris Carrawell and give Duke three straight winners in that category. The only time a school has won POY three straight times occurred when David Thompson and Ralph Sampson captured it three times, in 1973-75 and 1981-83 respectively. Last season marked only the second time in ACC history that different players from the same school won ACC Player of the Year honors in consecutive seasons. UNC’s Lennie Rosenbluth and Pete Brennan won the award in 1957 and 1958.

To put this in some kind of context, consider some of the other ACC programs.
North Carolina State has one of the proudest basketball programs around, Everett Case, Norm Sloan, Jim Valvano, David Thompson, Tommy Burleson, Rodney Monroe and they haven’t played in an NCAA Tournament game since 1991. Or Maryland, where Lefty Driesell and Gary Williams have coached such standouts as Tom McMillen, Len Elmore, Albert King, Len Bias, Joe Smith, and Steve Francis. Maryland has never played in a Final Four. They haven’t even been to a regional final since the 1970s. Wake Forest has played in exactly one Final Four, that in 1962. Virginia, Florida State, Georgia Tech, and Clemson have all had their moments but seem unable to sustain their programs at the highest level. The ability of Duke, and let’s be honest, our good friends in Chapel Hill, to sustain excellence over decades is truly remarkable.

I’m going to discuss Duke basketball and its attempts to sustain this excellence in a regular column this season. Those of you who have followed my writings in Blue Devil Weekly and other publications know that I am a historian by training and by occupation, not a journalist. I hope to provide a different slant, placing Duke sports in an historical context. I encourage DBR readers to suggest topic ideas, either through DBR or emailing me direct. Time being what it is, I can’t promise to touch on everything but I’ll definitely consider everything. DBR is a fan site and I’m a fan. I’m looking forward to the experiment and hope that I can help enhance our mutual affection for Duke basketball and its distinguished history.

Jim Sumner is curator of the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame and historian at the North Carolina Museum of History. He is a 1972 graduate of Duke University. His email address is