We all know about California, home of Hollywood, California girls, hearts left in San Francisco.
But Duke basketball’s relationship with California has not always been the stuff of Hollywood dreams. Sometimes. But not always. And not lately.
Californian Boogie Ellis’ recent de-commitment is the latest in a series of short-lived relationships between the Golden State and the Blue Devils.
And it did prompt some speculation about Californians being different from normal folks. I’m not qualified to opine on that subject and the residents of California do have to deal with such natural disasters as earthquakes, fires, avalanches and the Oakland Raiders, the latter for not much longer.
So, maybe we should cut them some slack.
Full disclosure. I do not have the data base to say definitively that pre-ACC Duke basketball never had a California player. I can’t think of any. Duke started playing as Trinity College back in 1908 and my memory doesn’t go back that far. But it’s a long way from California to Durham, especially when you had to take a train.
For the purpose of this survey, let’s assume that Duke basketball started around 1950.
But even then it took awhile for Duke to mine California gold.
Vic Bubas is correctly known for expanding Duke’s recruiting from the east coast, bringing in talent from Kentucky, Illinois, Texas and Kansas. He went as far west as Missoula, Montana, where he reeled in Mike Lewis, one of the best centers in Duke history. Lewis was an All-American in 1968 and led the ACC in rebounding twice.
But Bubas never recruited on the west coast, not successfully anyway.
Bubas’ successor Bucky Waters tried, getting official visits from Bill Walton and Greg Lee, both of whom surprised no one by staying home and casting their lot with John Wooden and UCLA.
But Waters did get Jeff Burdette, Duke’s first ACC player from California, Buena Vista to be exact.
A 5-11 guard Burdette scored 59 career points at Duke, playing on some of the worst teams in modern Duke history.
Bill Foster doubled down with Scott Goetsch and Steve Gray. They were classmates and came in with Jim Spanarkel in 1975-’76.
Goetsch was a post player who came in one year before Mike Gminski, who would have kept better players than Goetsch on the bench. Goetsch averaged 2.0 points and 1.9 rebounds per game over four years.
Gray was a guard, athletic enough to be recruited as a safety by UCLA. And he had his chance, in 1977, when Tate Armstrong went down with a broken wrist at mid-season. But Gray had spectacularly awful turnovers at the end of close games against NC State and Maryland, both of which Duke eventually lost. Transfers John Harrell and Bob Bender became eligible the next season and Gray’s moment had passed.
Gray and Goetsch were joined briefly by Geoff Northrup, a walk-on transfer from California Pomona, A 6-6 forward, Northrup played 44 minutes for the 1977 team, making it the first Duke team to have three Californians.
The next time was the charm, Chip Engelland, a shooting guard from Pacific Palisades. Engelland was the most accomplished member of Bill Foster’s last Duke class, which also included Tom Emma, Mike Tissaw and Allen Williams. Engelland belongs in the discussion of best pure shooter in Duke history, below J.J. Redick but up with Bob Verga, Trajan Langdon, Seth Curry, whomever you come up with. Engelland hit 55.4 percent of the ACC’s 17’9” three-point shots in 1983. Engelland wasn’t much of a defender or playmaker but he totaled 1,025 points in his Duke career before going on to become a shooting coach of rare distinction.
Engelland played his final three seasons for Mike Krzyzewski, that shaky early period when Coach K went 38-47. He was a senior when Jay Bilas was a freshman.
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