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Featherston On Retired Jerseys & Standards

Lou Gehrig was diagnosed with ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) on June 19, 1939. Just over two weeks later, the New York Yankees honored their dying slugger by retiring his jersey No. 4 at a July 4 ceremony at The Yankee Stadium as Gehrig delivered his memorable “luckiest man” speech.

As far as I can discover, that’s the first time any jersey number was retired in honor of an athlete, although it’s possible some college football player was honored earlier – that sport had used numbers to identify its performers since Amos Alonzo Stagg first put numbers on his players’ backs at the University of Chicago just after the turn of the century.

Nowadays, retiring athletic numbers is all the rage, although the standards of retirement vary from team to team and school to school. The Yankees have retired 15 different numbers, not counting the No. 42 universally retired by all of Major League baseball to honor Jackie Robinson. On the other hand, West Virginia is just getting around to retiring Jerry West’s No. 44 and Sam Huff’s No. 75 – almost half a century after those two superstars played basketball and football, respectively, for the Mountaineers.

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There are no rules when it comes to honoring athletes.

For instance, Syracuse refused to retire Jim Brown’s No. 44 jersey after the All-American running back moved on to the NFL. Instead, the number was passed on to Ernie Davis, who wore it when he became the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy in 1961. The number was briefly out of service (but not retired) after Floyd Little wore it to win All-America honors in 1966, but the school took it off the shelf in 1975 to help land a heralded prep running back named Mandel Robinson. He flopped, but Syracuse continued to use the honor of wearing No. 44 as a recruiting tool until 1995, when the number again went on the shelf. Two years ago, Walter Reyes, en route to setting the school’s career rushing record, turned down the chance to wear the famous number as a senior, claiming, “I just couldn't picture myself in it.”

No other player will have to make that choice. New Syracuse athletic director Daryl Gross came from Southern Cal, which had a hard and fast rule – the jersey numbers of Heisman Trophy winners are automatically retired. Gross decided to retire No. 44 – in honor of Brown and Little, in addition to Heisman Trophy winner Davis – and the school finally celebrated the famous number – perhaps the most famous number in college football history – at a ceremony last month.

ACC schools have their own standards when it comes to retiring jersey numbers.

N.C. State, with its rich basketball heritage, has retired just one number – David Thompson’s No.44. More than a dozen other jerseys have been “honored” and are hanging from the rafters of the RBC Center, although those numbers at least theoretically remain in use (although it’s hard to imagine anybody these days wearing Ronnie Shavlik’s No. 84 or Lou Pucillo’s No. 78). The Wolfpack football team, which has enjoyed much less national success over the years than the basketball program, has been much more lavish with its honors, retiring eight numbers – most recently Philip Rivers’ No. 17.

North Carolina has tried to avoid any controversy by adopting strict standards for number retirement and other honors.

Unfortunately, that strategy backfired when the Tar Heels first honored 14 players with permanent signs at Kenan Stadium in 1994. The standards adopted somehow left out “Famous Amos” Lawrence, UNC’s all-time leading rusher and the only player in ACC history to rush for 1,000 yards in four straight seasons.

A lot of fans were outraged that Lawrence was ignored while lesser players such as Ethan Horton and Mike Voight (tailbacks whose rushing stats pale compared to Lawrence’s) somehow met the standards. It didn’t help as four other players were added in the next nine years – before the university re-evaluated its standards in 2003 and decided that there was room for “Famous Amos” after all.

The same problems plague UNC’s efforts to honor the many great basketball players in its history.

Anyone who has walked into the Smith Center can’t help noticing the many jerseys hanging from the rafters, flapping in the breeze of the nearby air conditioning vents. There are 40 in all, ordered in three carefully selected rows.

At least that’s the plan.

The trouble is that upon examination, UNC’s rigid criteria turns out to be strangely flexible.

For instance, the front row of seven retired jersey numbers (actually only six retired numbers, since Jack Cobb played before the “White Phantoms” wore numbers) are supposed to honor UNC’s national players of the year.

The trouble comes when you try to define “national player of the year”. That’s no problem for the two Tar Heel players who were the consensus national player of the year – Michael Jordan in 1984 and Antwan Jamison in 1998. And you can certainly make a case for Phil Ford, who split three of the six recognized POY awards equally with Marquette’s Butch Lee in 1978.

But how does UNC get James Worthy as national player of the year in 1982? According to the NCAA record book, Virginia’s Ralph Sampson was the unanimous player of the year that season, winning all six recognized awards.

As it turns out, Worthy’s only national player of the year award was a selection as co-player of the year (sharing with Sampson) by the Helms Foundation – the same group that awarded UNC its bogus 1924 national title. It also turns out that the only player of the year honors won by UNC’s other three front-rank players were also bestowed by the Helms Foundation – to Jack Cobb in 1926, to George Glamack in 1940-41 and to Lenny Rosenbluth in 1957.

Now, as I said, there are no rules when it comes to honoring players. UNC has every right to use any criteria its wants to honor its stars. Whether or not Rosenbluth or Worthy won a legitimate national player of the year award or not, they were both great players and deserve recognition. I would hope that if they played at Duke, their numbers would be in the rafters too.

My problem is UNC’s inconsistency in using the Helms Foundation as a criteria for retiring numbers, while not using other valid, but unofficial player of the year awards to retire the numbers worn by Kenny Smith and Jerry

Smith, a consensus first-team All-American in 1987, is on the second row of honored (but not retired) jerseys. But he was the Basketball Times national player of the year in 1987. Stackhouse, a consensus first-team All-America pick in 1994, is on the third row, despite being picked as the national player of the year by Sports Illustrated.

Now, neither Basketball Times nor Sports Illustrated is source recognized by the NCAA – but neither is the Helms Foundation. If UNC’s policy is, as the school claims, based on “objective criteria” then why is a Helms player of the year worthy of a jersey retirement, while a Basketball Times or Sports Illustrated player of the year is not?

I don’t mean to criticize Carolina’s policy – the school has a great basketball history and a lot of great players to honor – but I hope those Duke fans who are asking for “an objective criteria” will see the problems that such a policy creates. By adhering to what appeared to be a rational selection policy, UNC kept its greatest modern tailback from behind honored at Kenan Stadium for almost a decade. And its basketball policy has relegated Charlie Scott and Larry Miller to the second rank of Carolina stars – a crime in the book of anybody who has followed UNC basketball for the last half century.


The question is: Is Duke’s policy any more rational?

Duke has retired 11 jersey numbers (for male players), but has no “honored” jerseys as N.C. State and North Carolina have adopted. The number is either retired or nothing.

The school also has no carefully defined objective criteria for earning retirement. Over the years, the policy – and the standards – have changed.

Dick Groat’s No. 10 was the first number retired at Duke at a ceremony on May 1, 1952.

Groat’s credentials are strong. He was a consensus first-team All-America in both basketball and baseball as a senior and Duke and earned Southern Conference player of the year honors in basketball in both his junior and senior seasons. He also won one national player of the year award – the same Helms Foundation Award that carries so much weight in Chapel Hill.

A decade after Dick Groat left for the Pittsburgh Pirates (after a brief stop in the NBA), Art Heyman closed out his career at Duke by becoming the first player in ACC (or before that, the Southern Conference) history to be the consensus national player of the year. He didn’t have to rely on the Helms Foundation (although he won that too) – he won the NCAA-recognized AP, UPI, U.S. Basketball Writer and The Sporting News awards.

But Duke didn’t retire Heyman’s No. 25 jersey. And in the ensuing years, the school didn’t honor Jeff Mullins, Jack Marin, Bob Verga or Mike Lewis – who were all All-Americans under Vic

What the public didn’t know was that athletic director Eddie Cameron refused to authorize Bubas to retire any jersey numbers. Cameron believed that Groat deserved the singular honor of being Duke’s only athlete with a retired number. As long as he reigned at Duke, he blocked any more retirement ceremonies.

Bubas refused to take the issue public, but after Heyman scored 40 and pulled down 24 rebounds against North Carolina in his final home game, the Duke coach made his feelings clear.

“Everybody talks about how great Dick Groat was,” Bubas said after the game. “Groat was a great player. I guarded him. But Heyman is bigger and stronger. He’s got to be the best player ever to put on a Duke uniform.”

But his number 25 was not retired. Instead, the number was passed on to Gary Melchionni, Mark Crow, Greg Wendt and eventually Thomas Hill. Mullins’ No. 44 was worn by Pete Kramer, Todd Anderson, Phil Henderson and Cherokee Parks. Bob Verga’s No. 11 was passed down to Edgar Burch, walk-on Jim Corrigan, Doug McNeely and finally to Bobby Hurley.

The truth was, after Verga’s departure in 1967 or at the very least, Mike Lewis’ graduation the next year, Duke didn’t have any more players who deserved consideration – certainly not after Heyman was passed over.

The situation didn’t change until 1980, when Mike Gminski completed his stellar four-year career as the No. 2 scorer and No. 4 rebounder in ACC history.

Gminski had also been the centerpiece of Duke’s basketball revival after a decade-long stretch of mediocrity. He helped the Devils win two ACC championships and return to the Final Four for the first time since 1966. The G-man was an excellent student (a three-time academic All-American) and never caused any trouble – well, HE didn’t, although his old man sparked a bitter controversy with an intemperate letter to the editor of the old Durham Sun.

Gminski’s grateful coach, Bill Foster, wanted to honor his star – and new Duke athletic director Tom Butters, who was not infected by Cameron’s prejudice against jersey retirements, agreed. The G-man’s No. 43 joined Groat’s number in the rafters on Feb. 20, 1980 – just before his last home game, a victory over Clemson.

How, it’s hard to argue against Gminski’s honor, except for those who wondered why he was selected, while Heyman – whose career credentials were so much better – was ignored. Cameron’s role was forgotten by many, who assumed it was Heyman’s abrasive personality. Whatever the reason, it raised the issue of consistency – Gminski was a consensus first-team All-America in 1979 (joining a team that included Larry Bird and Magic Johnson) and a consensus second-team pick in 1980. But nobody – not even the ubiquitous Helms Foundation – picked Gminski as its national player of the year.

So what was Duke’s standard for retirement?

Observers have been trying to answer that question in the quarter-century since. Clearly, the easy answer today is that it’s whatever Mike Krzyzewski wants. The Duke coach has controlled the process since his arrival, honoring seven of his greatest players (Johnny Dawkins, Danny Ferry, Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley, Grant Hill, Shane Battier and Jason Williams). He was also a moving force in getting Duke to go back and finally honor Heyman in 1990 and Mullins in 1994.

And Krzyzewski will decide whether to hang one or two new jerseys in the rafters after this season.


Why – in Duke’s 101 years of basketball history – have 11 players been honored, while so many apparently deserving ones have not?

When you look at the credentials of those that are in and those that are out, a couple of things become clear ... but some things become even more confusing.

First, it’s obvious that earning a degree is an important factor in any selection. While most players were honored at ceremonies before their graduation, all were on track to graduate on time (okay, Christian Laettner missed by one course, which he completed in the first semester of summer school). That became very significant in the case of Jason Williams, who put himself in position to graduate in the summer after his junior year.

Otherwise, he may have found himself in the same situation as Elton Brand.

Duke has produced nine players with national player of the year credentials. One is current senior J.J. Redick, who won the Rupp Award as a junior. We’ll talk about him later. One is Groat, who won the somewhat questionable Helms award. Johnny Dawkins won the Naismith Award – just one, but it was a big one. Danny Ferry split the six major POY awards with Arizona’s Sean Elliott in 1989. Five other players – Heyman, Laettner, Brand, Shane Battier and Jason Williams – have been consensus national players of the year.

All are in the Cameron rafters, except Brand, who in 1999 won every national player of the year award it’s possible to win (except the Francis Pommery Award, which goes to the best player in the country under six feet). But he left Duke after his sophomore season, still far short of a degree. I suspect that if at some point, maybe after his NBA career is over, Brand were to graduate from Duke, his No. 42 jersey (the same number worn by Mike Lewis) would go up in the rafters

That’s because it’s otherwise unprecedented for a national player of the year NOT to be honored.

But that’s about the only criteria that carries automatic retirement:

-- Duke has had 14 consensus first-team All-Americans. Excluding Redick for obvious reasons and Brand for the reasons just discussed, that means that 10 of 12 have had their jerseys retired. Bob Verga (1967) and Chris Carrawell (2000) have not.

-- Duke has had six different players selected as National Defensive Player of the year (Battier was picked three times). Again excluding Shelden Williams, who is still playing, just two of the five (Grant Hill and Battier) have been honored. Tommy Amaker, Billy King and Steve Wojciechowski have not.

-- Duke has had 12 players selected as ACC player of the year. Again excluding Redick and Brand, that means that eight of the other 10 have been honored.

One of those has to be explained. Steve Vacendak was a second-team All-ACC pick in 1966, while teammates Bob Verga and Jack Marin were first-team selections. But Vacemdak was the key to holding off N.C. State in the ACC Tournament title game and most of the voters waited until after that game to cast their ACC player of the year ballots. In a widely split vote, the three Duke players were the top vote-getters, but Vacendak somehow won the award.

The other ACC player of the year who was not honored is Carrawell, who led Duke to a 15-1 ACC record in 2000 when he was also a consensus first-team All-American.

-- Duke has had an NCAA record nine 2,000-point scorers. Again excepting Redick, five of the first eight are honored in the rafters. Fifth-place Mark Alarie, sixth-place Gene Banks and eighth-place Jim Spanarkel have not.

If you look at scoring average instead of total points (which is fairer to the guys who played in the freshman-ineligible era), just six of the top 10 players on the list have been honored. Tenth place J.J. Redick is one, but also missing are third-place Bob Verga, fifth-place Randy Denton and ninth-place Jim

-- Duke has won three national titles and played in 14 Final Fours.

The best players from the national title teams have been generously honored. Laettner, Hurley and Hill were the key players on the back-to-back champs from 1991-92. Battier and Jason Williams were the stars of the 2001 national title team.

Nine of the other 11 Final Four teams have featured honored players. One of the two exceptions is 2004 – which will be remedied when Redick is honored. The other is 1966, when Verga, Marin, Vacendak and Lewis were the key players on a third-place team (Quick trivia: Who was the fifth starter in 1966? A: Junior forward Bob


Looking at the previous section, a couple of startling omissions emerge. I wanted to take a closer look at players who might be deserving of a spot in the rafters – if not as retired jerseys, maybe as “honored” jerseys. For the moment, I’m going to ignore Brand since he hasn’t graduated. Personally, I think the degree requirement is a good one.

One other note: I’m going to take a page from baseball historian Bill James and try to judge players on what they actually did – not what they might have done in a different time and place. Such speculation is interesting and is fun to debate, but it’s ultimately something we can’t know. To take an example from the DBR message boards that I’ve seen recently, I agree that in the modern era with the 3-point shot and freshman eligibility, Bob Verga might very well have scored 3,000 career points ... but he also might have turned pro after his sophomore season. We don’t know how he would have fared against the wave of African-American players who have changed the athletic standards of the game. In short, we only know what Verga did – we can never know what he might have done.

That said, let me suggest that Duke take a long look at the following players:

-- Bill Werber: Duke’s first All-American in 1930, it’s hard to tell at this distance how great a player he was. He was merely a Helms [retroactive] All-American and was beaten out for NCAA-recognized consensus honors by a couple of guys named John Wooden and Branch McCracken.

Werber was also first-team All-Southern Conference in 1929 and 1930, when he twice led Duke to the finals of the Southern Conference Tournament – the first time the Blue Devils made it that far and a massive achievement in a league that included most of the modern ACC and SEC. In 1929, Duke beat Alabama, UNC and Georgia before losing to N.C. State in the title game. A year later, the Devils beat LSU, Georgia Tech and Kentucky (one season before Adolph Rupp took over the program) before losing to Alabama in the finals.

Like Groat, Werber was also a baseball star, a shortstop/third baseman who signed with the Yankees, but got stuck behind Frankie Crosetti and Red Rolfe in the farm system of that powerhouse team. He was traded to the Boston Red Sox, where he had four very good years for a bad team (he was 12th in the 1934 MVP vote), then went to Cincinnati, where he became a key player on a Reds’ team that won pennants in 1939 and 1940 – winning the World Series title over the Tigers in 1940.

Werber was the Reds’ starting third-baseman and the team’s leadoff hitter. As such, he became the answer to a trivia question in 1939, when the Reds played the Giants in the first televised Major League baseball game. Werber, as the leadoff man for the visiting Reds, became the first player to bat in a televised game.

I’m not really sure whether to take Werber’s baseball prowess into account when deciding whether or not he should be honored – although Groat’s two-sport skills played a major role in his selection to be the first Duke player honored with a retired jersey. If Duke did consider baseball in Werber’s case, wouldn’t you also have to look at Bob Gantt, a Southern Conference MVP who led Duke to two Southern Conference titles (including a 22-2 record in 1942) and was also a football All-American?

-- Bob Verga: I must confess that when I first saw the Verga vs. Jeff Mullins debate on the DBR message board, my first instinct was to say, “Of course Mullins should go in before Verga.” Having grown to maturity in the Bubas era, there was a very clear pecking order in my mind: Heyman then Mullins then Verga then Marin then Lewis then Vacendak. Those were the stars – ahead of such fine players as Jay Buckley, Buzzy Harrison, Hack Tison, Bob Reidy and Denny Ferguson/Ron Herbster (a pair of guards who came in together and will always be linked in my mind).

But when I went back to compare the credentials of Marin and Verga to confirm my memory, I was shocked to see how similar they were. Breaking them down in the three categories that I use to rate players:

1. Statistics: Offensively, there is no difference between them ... almost none at all. Mullins scored a few more points (1,884 to 1,758), but Verga had a slightly better scoring average (22.0 to 21.9) and a slightly better top average (26.1 to 24.2).

Mullins, a forward, had better rebounding numbers than Verga, a guard. We don’t have the assist totals that might balance those numbers out. Mullins’ shooting percentages are slightly better (51.5 to 49.0), but you’d expect that from a player who got more inside shots. Both were great shooters – Mullins from medium range; Verga from long range.

It’s hard to judge them as defenders from this range – I remember Verga as a successful pickpocket, but I believe that Vacendak was the shutdown defender in that backcourt.

2. Awards: Both were three-time first-team All-ACC picks and were the leading vote-getters in their senior seasons. I was shocked to see that Verga was a consensus first-team All-America pick in 1967, while Mullins was merely a consensus second-team pick in his senior season. Verga was also a consensus second-team pick as a junior, so he clearly received more national honors.

Set against that, Mullins was the ACC MVP in 1964, an award Verga twice missed by the barest of margins. As noted above, he finished second to teammate Vacendak in the 1966 vote, then finished second to UNC’s Larry Miller in 1967, despite out-polling the UNC star for the All-ACC team.

Mullins was also the MVP of the 1964 ACC Tournament and of the 1964 East Regionals. Verga matched the latter award in 1966, but even though he averaged exactly 20.1 points in his nine ACC tournament games (actually 22.6 in eight games if you throw out the 21-20 UNC slowdown game in 1966), never won the MVP award.

3. Team success: Mullins played on two ACC championship teams and in two Final Fours. Verga played on one ACC championship game and in one Final Four.

Both played with other fine players. Mullins’ first ACC title and Final Four trip were in a supporting role to Art Heyman, but he was clearly the star of the 1964 team that reached the NCAA title game. Verga got to play two years with Jack Marin and Steve Vacendak and two years with Mike Lewis. I think most would agree that Verga and Marin were the stars of the 1966 third-place team – Verga’s illness during the semifinal loss to Kentucky was the key to that game.

So why is Mullins’ No. 44 in the rafters and not Verga’s No. 11 (well, it is in the rafters, but it’s Hurley’s No. 11, not Verga’s)?

Wow, that’s a tough call.

If the decision between the two was made at the time and not 30 years later, I’d suggest personality might have played a factor. Mullins was the Shane Battier of his day – a quiet, studious young man, whose gentlemanly demeanor stood in sharp contrast to his more rambunctious teammate, Art

Verga was perhaps the most celebrated party animal ever to play at Duke. He was famous for the late nights he spent at the Stallion Club – an all-black nightclub out at the end of Cornwallis Road in South Durham. Remember the scene in Animal House where the Deltas take the girls to see Otis Day at the Dexter Lake Club? That was Verga – except I doubt he let anybody bully him into letting them dance with his dates.

Verga clashed with Bubas on a number of occasions over his night life, yet he dodged the most serious incident in the Bubas era. The Duke coach caught most of his team breaking curfew for a fraternity party on or about New Year’s Day, 1967. Four Duke starters, including Mike Lewis, were benched for a Jan. 3 game with Penn State. Somehow Verga avoided the punishment (the rumor at the time was that he had passed up the fraternity party to visit the all-hours Stallion Club) and teaming with a collection of scrubs, almost single-handedly beat the Nittany Lions, scoring 38 points.

The problem with my theory is that the decision to honor Mullins and not Verga was made in the 1990s and not the 1960s. I suspect that Coach K relied heavily on Bubas’ memory in making that choice and I’m loathe to challenge his judgment.

-- Jim Spanarkel and Gene Banks: I recently obtained a tape of the 1978 national championship game and watching it for the first time in quarter century, my first impression was, “Wow, I had forgotten a great player Jim Spanarkel was.”

On the other hand, I still vividly recall the impact on the Duke basketball program when Eugene “Tinkerbell” Banks committed to the Blue Devils.

It’s almost impossible to recapture what that did for a Duke program which had been floundering in the decade since Bubas’ retirement. Keep in mind, the Devils finished last or tied for last in the ACC in four straight seasons before Banks’ arrival.

Bill Foster’s 1977 team appeared to be on the verge of changing that. Senior guard Tate Armstrong, freshman center Mike Gminski and sophomore swing man Jim Spanarkel helped Duke get off to a 10-1 start, including victories over No. 15 N.C. State in the Big Four Tournament and at No. 16 Tennessee (with Bernard King and Ernie Grunfeld). But on Jan. 17, Armstrong broke his wrist during an overtime win at Virginia (that snapped a 27-game ACC road losing streak) and without his scoring punch or ballhandling, the Blue Devils collapsed – losing 10 of their final 13 games.

A number of those 10 losses were excruciating defeats. Steve Gray, a guard from California who possessed wonderful athleticism – he had been a top football prospect on the West Coast – tried to take over for Armstrong, but seemed to possess an uncanny ability to screw up at the wrong moment. He dribbled the ball off his foot to cost the Devils a certain victory against N.C. State in Durham. And three weeks later, Duke had Maryland beat – up three with just seconds remaining – when Gray took the inbounds pass and tried to throw a crosscourt pass that hit the Maryland basket. When James Tillman grabbed the loose ball and went up for a slam dunk, Gray thoughtlessly fouled him, allowing the Terps to tie the game with a three-point play and win in overtime.

Foster was about ready to cut his throat at that point.

“I’m not sure if up to that moment in my life, I had ever felt worse,” Foster told John Feinstein. “All I could think of was ‘What Next?’ One more disaster and I might have been done. I mean really done.”

Instead of a disaster, Foster got a phone call that night from Banks, asking him to come to Philadelphia.

“Coach, I’ve called a press conference,” Banks told him. “I’m going to announce I’m going to Duke.”

You have to understand Banks’ status at that moment to understand what his decision meant to Duke. The 6-6 West Philadelphia star was regarded as that city’s best prospect since Wilt Chamberlain. At the time, he was one of the nation’s three top prospects, along with New York’s Albert King and Michigan’s Magic Johnson. For Banks to pick downtrodden Duke was astounding news. With 48 hours, the school sold out season tickets for the 1977-78 season.

And Banks didn’t disappoint anybody, helping Duke to the ACC championship and the national title game as a freshman. It would be too much to suggest that he led Duke to that success – he and Gminski and Spanarkel were three stars who shared the team’s MVP award. In fact, Spanarkel was the leading scorer on the team (20.8), led the team in assists and averaged more than three steals a game.

The all-star voters at the time understand Spanarkel’s importance to the team. He and Gminski were both first-team All-ACC picks (with nearly identical vote totals), while Banks was the first player picked on the second team. Converse picked Spanarkel as a first-team All-American ... Gminski made the second team. Spanarkel was the ACC Tournament MVP and the MVP of the East Regionals. He and Gminski both made the All-Final Four team.

You’d have a hard time finding anybody who thought Gminski was more valuable than Spanarkel in 1978.

Of course, a year later Gminski became a first-team consensus All-American and ACC player of the year. Spanarkel was a consensus second-team All-American as a senior. Oddly, a year later Gminski was only a second-team consensus All-American as a senior – and he finished second to Ralph Sampson in the ACC player of the year vote.

The problem for Banks is that he never really garnered any national honors. He was a third-team UPI All-American in 1979 and made a handful of teams (but not enough to be consensus second-team All-American) in 1981. He was the No. 6, No. 7 and No. 7 vote-getter in the All-ACC voting his first three years before finally slipping into the first team as a senior.

Spanarkel and Banks rank among the nine 2,000-point scorers in Duke history. Both were major contributors to the revival of Duke basketball in the late 1970s that paved the way for Mike Krzyzewski’s success in the 1980s (hey, at least the kids he first recruited could remember when Duke was good).

Do they deserve to have their numbers retired?

-- Mark Alarie, Trajan Langdon and Chris Carrawell: I group this trio together because they seem to me to be the most deserving of the non-honored players in the Krzyzewski era.

The problem is that Cameron’s resistance to retirement was never an issue with these players. They all played for Krzyzewski at a time when he was honoring players such as Dawkins, Ferry, Laettner, Hurley, Hill, Battier and Williams. You can make a case for all three non-honored players, but unless there’s some behind the scenes machinations that somehow prevented Coach K from honoring a player he thought deserving, then I have to bow to his judgment to honor Dawkins, but not Alarie ... Hurley but not Langdon ... Battier but not

Far be it for me to challenge his opinion. I also understand how difficult it is to go back in history and find the truth. In other places, I’ve made fun of the Helms Foundations 1942 decision to honor UNC’s 1924 team with a national championship. I also believe that most of the really bad mistakes in the Baseball Hall of Fame were made by the Veterans Committee and not by the BWAA voters.

So I’d be very, very wary of trying to rewrite history. In the case of Heyman and Mullins, their jerseys were retired to correct a clear injustice. The only argument with the decision to go back and honor the Bubas stars is whether to draw the line between Mullins and Verga (which I find hard to do) or between Verga and Marin.

Personally, I’d argue for the inclusion of Verga and – if he ever graduates – Brand. I’d like to see some recognition -- maybe “honored jerseys” -- for the next rank of players: Werber, Marin, Spanarkel, Banks, Alarie, Langdon and Carrawell. Maybe the authorities at Duke believe that induction into the Duke Hall of Fame is enough for those former stars. Maybe that’s fair, but I’d like to see them featured a little more prominently.


The final question: Whose jersey goes in the rafters this year?

Well, based on history, it’s as close to a certainty as anything can be, that J.J. Redick’s No. 4 will become Duke’s 12th retired jersey, probably at the Miami game on Feb.19 (I know that’s early, but it’s customary to do it at the next-to-last home game).

He’s already won consensus first-team All-America honors as a junior and is almost certain to become just the third Duke player to win that honor twice (after Dawkins and Jason Williams). He won a major National player of the year award as a junior and is very likely to become just the fifth player in ACC history to do that twice (after David Thompson, Ralph Sampson, Michael Jordan and Jason Williams).

Redick is also likely to wind up as either the No. 1 or No. 2 scorer in Duke history, the No. 1 career 3-point shooter in NCAA history and the top career free throw shooter in NCAA history. He’s been the MVP of the ACC Tournament, the ACC player of the year and was the top scorer on Duke’s last Final Four team.

In short, there’s little to debate – Redick will be the last (male) player to wear No. 4 at Duke.

A more interesting question is whether or not Shelden Williams’ No. 23 jersey also will be retired?

My guess is that it won’t happen this season, but it’s possible that it might be retired next year.

I believe that Williams’ credentials do not yet meet Duke’s (admittedly vague) standards for retirement. He was a second-team consensus All-American last year, when he also won first-team All-ACC honors and was the national defensive player of the year. He’s going to end his career as Duke’s all-time leading shot-blocker, its No. 1 or No. 2 career rebounder and maybe in the top 15 or at least 20 in scoring.

Those are very good credentials, but not better than guys like Verga, Spanarkel, Banks and Langdon.

However, what if Shelden wins consensus first-team All-America honors this season (which is very likely)? What if he beats J.J. Redick (and Adam Morrison) out for a major national player of the year award (not as likely, but possible)? What if he helps Duke win the 2006 national title?

Every first-team All-American off Duke’s first three national title teams has been honored with retirement. If Williams helps the Devils hang another championship banner this spring, I believe we’ll see No. 23 go into the rafters sometime next season – one day when he’s back in Durham for a break in the NBA schedule.

If Duke comes up short of the title in Williams’ senior season then I suspect he’ll be one of those guys – like Verga and Alarie and Spanarkel and Langdon – that we argue about in the coming years.

Of course, it’s not my call to make and when it comes to retiring numbers, Duke has been no more consistent than anybody else.