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Jim Sumner Takes A Look At The History Of Duke Recruiting!

Duke basketball recruits nationally as well as any program ever. An academically elite, private institution needs to cast its net wide and Duke has cast it in every place that might result in a catch. Fortunately, Duke's pedigree enables it to go into homes across the country and recruit players whose athletic and academic abilities have enabled it to stay nationally competitive for decades.

DBR has focused a lot recently on players that didn't come to Duke. I thought it would a fun diversion to look at players who did come to Duke, divide them up by states, and see what states have given Duke the most bang for its metaphorical buck.

Some ground rules. No current players. I'm sticking to 1950 and beyond. There are several reasons. Duke's statistical data base doesn't go back much earlier than that, at least with the kind of detail we now have. The game began to change around that time, as the fast break turned those 55-50 games into 75-70 games. Then, there's the establishment of the ACC in 1953. I'm going back a few years earlier than that but hey, it's my musings, so my rules. College career only. What happened or didn't happen in the pros doesn't factor in. Finally, I'm using home state as listed by Duke. Thus, William Avery is a Georgian not a Virginian, Nate James is from D.C. not Maryland.

Some states have given Duke a great player or two but not enough players to make the short list. They include Alaska (Trajan Langdon, Carlos Boozer), Alabama (Tony Lang), Arizona (Mark Alarie), Connecticut (Mike Gminski), Georgia (Avery), Indiana (Jim Newcombe, Bob Bender, Josh McRoberts), Kentucky (Jeff Mullins, Vince Taylor), Louisiana (Chris Duhon), Massachusetts (Rick Katherman), Michigan (Shane Battier), Missouri (Chris Carrawell), Montana (Mike Lewis), Ohio (Bob Fleischer), Oklahoma (Shelden Williams), Oregon (Mike Dunleavy), Washington (Quin Snyder), and West Virginia (Howard Hurt, John Frye). Johnny Dawkins and James lead the D.C. contingent.

Now, with that out of the way, let's go to the envelopes.

Honorable Mention.

TEXAS. Give Bucky Waters credit here. San Antonio's Willie Hodge scored 1,117 points at Duke and was the school's first significant African American hoopster. Then Houston's Tate Armstrong came aboard and averaged 24.2 points per game in 1976, the highest single-season average at Duke between Bob Verga in 1967 and J.J. Redick in 2006. The two Texans were Duke's two leading scorers in 1976.

Mike Krzyzewski's most notable Texans are Thomas Hill and Daniel Ewing. Hill was third-team All-ACC three times and started on the 1991 and 1992 NCAA champions. Ewing was third-team All-ACC in 2005. Add Doug McNeely, Krzyzewski's first recruit in Durham.

CALIFORNIA. It took awhile for Duke to get California right. Bucky Waters brought in guard Jeff Burdette, while Bill Foster tried Steve Gray and Scott Goetsch. Foster's last Duke recruiting class brought in shooting specialist Chip Engelland, Duke's first impact player from the West Coast. Mike Krzyzewski followed with Jay Bilas, a four-year starter. The best Duke player from that state was Cherokee Parks, who started for three seasons and made second-team All-ACC in 1994 and 1995. Ricky Price made third-team All-ACC in 1996, while Eric Meek was a starter in 1995. Chris Burgess had a few moments before moving back west.

ILLINOIS-Mike Krzyzewski's home state has been good for Duke since Vic Bubas brought in players like Hack Tison, Dave Golden, Fred Lind, and Ron Wendelin. Tison was second-team All-ACC in 1964. Larry Saunders was a rare transfer into Duke who started in 1970 and 1971 for Waters. Jeff Dawson averaged 10 points per game as a sophomore in 1971 but transferred back home.

Krzyzewski has brought in eight players from Illinois including Marty Clark, Corey Maggette, and Sean Dockery. The most successful at the college level were Phil Henderson and Chris Collins, who made second-team All-ACC in 1990 and 1996 respectively. Henderson's 18.1 ppg led Duke's NCAA runners-up in 1990.

MARYLAND-Just missed the top five. Bowie's Danny Ferry highlights this group. Two-time ACC Player of the Year, National Player of the Year in 1989, retired jersey, three Final Fours. Ferry's name rarely comes up when discussing the best Duke player ever but he and J.J. Redick are the only Duke players to be named ACC Player of the Year twice. That's pretty rarefied air.

But Ferry is the only indisputably great Duke player from that state. Jay Buckley started for Duke's first two Final Four teams and made second-team All-ACC in 1964. Chris Redding made second-team All-ACC in 1973 and Steve Wojciechowski made second-team in 1997 and third-team in 1998. Add Brian Davis, Joe Kennedy, John Smith, Steve Vandenberg, and Kenny Blakeney for seasoning.

Now for the top five.


This might surprise people but there's a lot of depth here. In fact, if I placed a higher premium on quantity and a lower premium on super-stars, then North Carolina could have placed third.

The best player from North Carolina was Raleigh's Randy Denton. The 6'11" center joins Art Heyman and Danny Ferry as the only players to ever lead Duke in scoring and rebounding three seasons. In fact, Denton's 12.7 rebound-per-game-average is the highest in Duke history and his 19.7 point-per-game-average is sixth-best. Denton was second-team All-ACC in 1969 and 1970 and first-team in 1971. Arguably the most under-rated player in Duke history.

Three other North Carolinians (no, I'm not calling them Tar Heels), have made All-ACC, Bucky Allen (2nd-team, 1958), Carroll Youngkin (1st-team, 1959), and Jeff Capel (third-team, 1996). Then, there's David Henderson, whose omission from the 1986 All-ACC team has perplexed and annoyed me for more than two decades. Durhamites Brad Evans and Stuart Yarborough started in the early 1970s. Kenny Dennard and John Harrell started for the 1978 team, while Kevin Strickland, Robert Brickey, and Shavlik Randolph have started for Krzyzewski. Bobby Joe Harris and Junior Morgan were standouts in the 1950s.


Star power galore here, but not as much depth as some others. Two retired jerseys, numerous Final Fours. First, there's Grant Hill, two-time first-team All-ACC, first-team All-American, incredible versatility. Then there's J.J. Redick, the leading scorer in ACC history and the 2006 consensus national player of the year.

But there's more. Tommy Amaker was second team All-ACC in 1987 and was national defensive player of the year in 1987. Fellow Virginian Billy King won that award the following year. Hill also won the same award. Imagine that. Three players from the same state, in less than a decade. Then we have Mark Crow, a solid forward in the mid-70s, and guard C.B. Claiborne, Duke's first African American athlete. That's the makings of a pretty good team, lacking only a center. Unfortunately, Mike Tissaw and Crawford Palmer are the best we can do in that category.


Talk about star power. Not one, not two, but three consensus national players of the year from New York. The first was Art Heyman. If you're not old enough to remember Heyman, you missed a killer. Tough, smart, and skilled, Heyman averaged 25 points and 11 rebounds per game over three years, Heyman led Duke to its first Final Four, in 1963. Heyman and David Thompson are the only two players in ACC history to be voted unanimous first-team All-ACC three times. Chew on that awhile.

Then there's Christian Laettner, the leading actor in a number of NCAA dramas.

ACC and national player of the year in 1992 and should have been ACC Player of the Year in 1991. Holds scads of NCAA Tournament records.

Finally, there's Elton Brand, who one-upped Heyman and Brand by becoming ACC and national Player of the Year in 1999 as a sophomore, his final year in college.

But there's a lack of depth that keeps New York from climbing higher. After the Big Three, we are left with Don Blackman, George Moses, Tom Emma, Greg Koubek, and Tim Kolodziej. Worthies certainly, but there's a discernible drop-off.


Dick Groat showed up at Duke in the fall of 1948 and was followed in short order by a host of talented Pennsylvanians. Mike Krzyzewski hasn't recruited a lot from that state but the preponderance of talented players from Pennsylvania in the pre-K era is truly impressive.

Let's start with Groat, a guard who was Duke's first undisputed hoops superstar.

Groat was Duke's first national player of the year. His 1952 scoring average of 26.0 points per game in the third-best in school history, while the 48 points he scored against North Carolina in his home finale in 1952 has been bettered since then only by Ferry.

Harold Bradley continued to mine Pennsylvania throughout the 1950s. A player from the Keystone State led Duke in scoring every season from 1951 through 1956. Bernie Janicki was a 6'3" rebounding machine. He had a school record 31 rebounds in the same game that Groat scored 48 and averaged 15.9 rebounds per game in 1952. Guard Joe Belmont and forward Ronnie Mayer both notched a first-team All-ACC nod and two second-team All-ACC nods. Rudy D'Emilio was first-team All-ACC. Paul Schmidt started for Duke's 1958 team, which finished first in the ACC.

Vic Bubas inherited Doug Kistler from Bradley. The 6'9" forward was named most valuable player of the 1960 ACC Tournament, scoring 52 points to lead Duke to its first ACC title. Bubas brought in such Pennsylvania notables as Jack Marin, Steve Vacendak, Fred Schmidt, Denny Ferguson, Bob Riedy, and Dick DeVenzio. All but DeVenzio started for at least one Final Four team. Duke's 1965 team had six recruited players from the state. Marin was a two-time first-team All-ACC player, while Vacendak accomplished the curious feat of being named 1966 ACC Player of the Year while only being second-team All-ACC.

Pete Kramer was a nice forward for Bill Foster in the 1970s but the key recruit in that decade was Philadelphia's Gene Banks, Duke's first African American superstar and the first Duke player to be voted All-ACC four times, although only 1981, his senior season, saw him voted first-team.

The Pennsylvania pipe-line has run dry in recent years. Billy McCaffrey helped Duke to the 1991 NCAA title but left afterwards for Vanderbilt, while Lee Melchionni was a contributor to some good teams. Still, we talking six All-ACC players from Pennsylvania and that doesn't include Groat, who graduated two seasons before the ACC was formed.

There's not really a great center here, although Kistler could play in a pinch. But Banks and Marin at forward, with Groat, Belmont, D'Emilio, and Vacendak at guard would be a pretty competitive bunch.


Okay, I've heard all the Duke-is-the-university-of-New-Jersey jokes. But bear with me. The Garden State has given Duke two retired jerseys, two players whose jerseys very well could gave been retired, and no fewer than 11 first-team All-ACC designations divided among 7 players.

Let's start with the two jerseys hanging from the rafters, jerseys belonging to the two best point guards in school history. First, we have Bobby Hurley, the leading assist man in NCAA history and the quarterback of two NCAA title teams. First-team All-American, close runner-up for 1993 ACC Player of the Year. Then, a decade after Hurley led Duke to its first two NCAA titles, Jason Williams led them to its third. Williams was a different type of point guard then Hurley, more of a shooter, less of an assist man. But then again, everyone was less of an assist man then Hurley. It's tough to argue with 21 points and 6 assists per game. In 2002 Williams accomplished another difficult feat when he somehow managed to be named national player of the year by everyone who matters without being voted ACC Player of the Year; Maryland's Juan Dixon edged Williams.

As far as retired jerseys are concerned, Bob Verga and Jim Spanarkel lead my think-about-it-guys list, along with Banks and Alarie. Verga was first-team All-ACC three times, consensus second-team All-America twice, and led the ACC with 26.1 points per game in 1967. Give him today's three-point shot and we're talking 30 ppg. Spanarkel was the cornerstone of Bill Foster's rebuilding program, the ACC's first Rookie of the Year, and the first Duke player to surpass 2,000 career points.

But this marvelous quartet barely begins to scratch the surface. We've got 1973 first-team All-ACC guard Gary Melchionni and 1972 second-team All-ACC center Alan Shaw. Their classmate Richie O'Connor might have been the best of the trio but he bailed in the middle of his junior season, while averaging over 15 points per game. Kevin Billerman started at point guard for Duke for three seasons, 1973-75. Bob Vernon started in the late 1950s.

Mike Krzyzewski has had success with New Jerseys players in addition to Hurley. Center Alaa Abdelnaby was a highly-recruited prepster who emerged as a third-team All- ACC player as a senior. Duke has brought in only two transfers in K's tenure but both were New Jersey natives who led Duke to considerable success as seniors, Roshown McLeod in 1998 and Dahntay Jones in 2003. Both were named first-team All-ACC, with McLeod garnering some All-America notice. Although not a native of New Jersey, Luol Deng did play high school ball in the state prior to his single season at Duke.

One certainly could put together a quality team from this group. Have fun establishing a guard rotation from among Hurley, Williams, Verga, Spanarkel, and Melchionni. Spanarkel could play some forward, along with Jones and McLeod, while Shaw and Abdelnaby would man the center spot.

So, there we have it. Arbitrary rules, one man's opinion, but hopefully an informed opinion. Have fun with it.