clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

A Look Back At Duke Legend Gene Banks

Dick Groat, Art Heyman, Johnny Dawkins and Gene Banks are arguably the four most important players Duke has ever had.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Virginia v Duke
The Cameron Crazies, as we now know them, really came to prominence during the Bill Foster era when Gene Banks thrilled the crowd.
Photo by Lance King/Getty Images

A lot of people wouldn’t believe it if you told them but Duke basketball hasn’t always been this juggernaut.

When Bill Foster took the job, Duke was half a decade removed from the Bubas era and struggling.

College basketball, particularly in the south, had finally desegregated, but Duke had not adapted to an integrated ACC very quickly.

Foster took over a program that had passionate fans but poor facilities and mediocre players.

Art Heyman was out of basketball and Jeff Mullins was winding down with the Golden State Warriors.

NC State was not far removed from a two year, 57-1 run with a national championship, and UNC was near its peak under Dean Smith.

Maryland had Lefty Driesell who was one of the ACC’s best-ever recruiters.

Duke was more or less on life support. The teams were courageous but athletically limited.

That began to change when he recruited Jim Spanarkel and a year later Mike Gminski. A year after G-man came, things changed in a big way: Gene Banks committed to Duke.

When Banks was being recruited, it was really under the radar. Recruiting was a limited passion then and only a handful of people wrote about it or worked as recruiting analysts.

So when he announced for Duke in 1977, it came as a real stunner. No one saw it coming.

Imagine Zion Williamson committing to Wake Forest and you get a rough idea.

Banks was in a class with Albert King and Magic Johnson and he was seen as the best of the three.

It wasn’t nearly as celebrated when Kenny Dennard chose Duke but the North Carolina native played with passion as did Banks and they jolted Duke into a new orbit.

This article calls Banks the Zion of his day which is not far off. Banks played with a verve that no one else had then and few have today. He could stand on the out of bounds line and throw a pass, without moving his feet, from the baseline to a streaking teammate for a no-dribble layup.

It really was spectacular.

If you ever see any old film, you’ll see most of the court moving fairly normally and Banks just....bouncing.

He didn’t move like a normal player.

He was the change agent for Duke basketball. People didn’t think Duke could compete at the highest levels anymore and had frankly given up.

Banks changed that. He and his teammates helped make Duke a fresh face. The 1978 team was the greatest joy ride in Duke history.

It also may have made an impression on the young Army coach, Mike Krzyzewski, who would turn up in Durham a few years later, a complete unknown, and seen as a major gamble by A.D. Tom Butters.

Who knows? The point is that Banks was a hugely important figure in Duke basketball and until Williams came along, no one has come close to matching his immense charisma. This article does a nice job of reflecting that.

If you're going to shop Amazon please start here and help DBR
DBR Auctions|Blue Healer Auctions| Drop us a line