Jay Bilas became the first California to be a starter on Duke teams that were actually good. He came in with Mark Alarie, both about 6-8, 215. Bilas was considered a mobile big, with some perimeter skills. But after their freshmen seasons Duke decided that Alarie was the more mobile, the more skilled and Bilas became an under-sized center.
Well, under-sized vertically. But Bilas became a fierce weight-room warrior, bulking up to over 250 pounds, the better to go up against Brad Daugherty, Chris Washburn and the like.
And he paid a price, developing knee problems that led to surgery and cost him the first six games of his senior season, 1986.
Despite playing out of position, despite the injuries, despite playing with scorers like Alarie and Johnny Dawkins, Bilas still accumulated 1,062 points and 692 rebounds at Duke. Bilas averaged 10.1 points and 6.0 rebounds in 1985, his best statistical season.
It was six seasons before Duke had another Californian, two actually, both post players. Cherokee Parks and Eric Meek were Duke’s only recruits in the high school class of 1991 and they certainly worked out better than the Goetsch/Gray tandem.
Parks was from Huntington Beach. He may be have had the best career of any native Californian at Duke. He was a key contributor off the bench for the 1992 title team and started his final three seasons. Parks was second-team All-ACC in 1994, averaging 14.4 points, 8.4 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game for Duke’s NCAA-runners-up.
Parks was the first Duke Californian to make All-ACC.
He repeated as second-team All-ACC in 1995, leading Duke with 19.0 points, 9.3 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game.
Parks ended his Duke career with 1,643 points, 874 rebounds and 230 blocks. He ranks fourth in Duke career blocks.
Parks was selected by Dallas as the 12th pick of the 1995 draft and played nine undistinguished seasons in the NBA, still the best career of any California-born Duke player.
Keen observers will no doubt note that 1995 was the-season-we-don’t-talk-about, Duke going 13-18 with Krzyzewski on the sidelines the second part of the season.
Interestingly, three of Duke’s 1995 starters were from California. After coming off the bench for three seasons, Meek-a native of Escondido--started in 1995, posting a decent 10.3/8.3 stat line.
And then there was freshman wing Ricky Price, who averaged 8.1 points per game.
Price had one of the stranger career arcs in Duke history. He averaged 14.2 points per game as a sophomore, making third-team All-ACC. His buzzer-beater at Maryland enabled Duke to make the 1996 NCAA Tournament, starting a streak that shows no signs of ending.
Krzyzewski also consistently praised Price as the team’s best defender.
All-America accolades and the NBA lottery loomed for the athletic 6-5 native of Gardena.
It never happened. Price’s shooting percentage plummeted to 39.4 percent as a junior. He missed the first semester of his senior year due to academic malfeasance and never got back into Krzyzewski’s good graces. He averaged only 2.7 points per game as a senior.
What might have been.
If Price never lived up to his potential, he at least had more individual success than Chris Burgess, a 6-10 center from Irvine. Burgess joined Elton Brand, Shane Battier and William Avery in a much-hyped class, one that produced consensus national players of the year in Brand (1999) and Battier (2001).
Many thought that Burgess would be the signature player of that group. He was considered the top player in the prep class of 1997 at one time, although doubts were being expressed by the time he graduated. His controversial father Ken Burgess aggressively promoted his son, while some subpar performances began to crop up.
Still, he was a top-10 prospect.
Brand started off 1998 like the proverbial house on fire but broke a foot midway through the season. Burgess got a shot at replacing him but did not impress. It didn’t help that he shot 33.8 percent (26-for-77) from the foul line for the season.
He got more chances as a sophomore and had a 15-point, 16-rebound game against Fresno State in the Great Alaska Shootout. But after Duke lost to Cincinnati in the title game, Krzyzewski decided that Battier’s talents meshed better with those of Brand and Burgess became a reserve. He averaged a modest 4.9 points per game in two years at Duke.
Burgess transferred to Utah after the season, the first Duke player from California to transfer.
But hardly the last.
Burgess started an ominous trend but Duke did hit the Cali jackpot one more time.
DeMarcus Nelson came to Duke in the same class as David McClure. Duke also signed Shaun Livingston but he went directly to the NBA, the only high-school-to-NBA-Duke signee, at least until the NBA amends its early-entry rules.
Nelson was a strong, athletic power forward. Unfortunately, the Elk Grove native was 6-3, which made him an ACC wing. But he was a standout stopper and developed sufficient perimeter skills to become a first-team All-ACC player by 2008, his senior year, the same year he was named ACC defensive player of the year. Nelson tied Kyle Singler for the team lead in rebounds in 2008, 5.8 per game, making him the shortest player to lead Duke in rebounding in the ACC era.
Nelson went undrafted but signed with Golden State. The Warriors tried to make him a point guard, an experiment that ended after he had played 13 games.
Nelson has spent the past decade plus making a decent living in assorted Euro leagues.
Then came the drought.
Duke got a combined 3.5 seasons from Jamal Boykin (1.5), Taylor King (1.0) and Derryck Thornton (1.0).
Boykin and Thornton became solid college players at their second schools. Boykin was named second-team All-PAC-10 at California in 2010 and had 13 points and 11 rebounds in Cal’s NCAA-Tournament loss to Duke that season. Like Nelson, Boykin has had a long career outside the country, not just Europe but also Japan and New Zealand.
What about Marvin Bagley, you may ask.
Well, what about him?
Bagley is a native of Tempe, Arizona. He played his final season of high school in Chatsworth, California at Sierra Canyon School. But that makes him a Californian in the same way that R.J. Barrett’s year at Montverde makes him a Floridian.
That is, not at all.
So, that brings us to Cassius Stanley, who attends Sierra Canyon but actually seems to be from California, Chatsworth to be clear. That’s the hometown of Scott Goetsch, which is about where we came in. Hopefully, Stanley will be more productive at the collegiate level than Goetsch and will write a new narrative in which Duke recruits from California are standouts not might-have-beens.
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