The word “rookie” is defined as a novice, a beginner, a student, a learner.
The Atlantic Coast Conference has given a rookie of the year award since 1976.
Some years there are numerous worthy candidates, meaning some outstanding players did not win the award.
Other years the league had more modest contributors.
Some times the award presaged a great career; think Ralph Sampson, Michael Jordan, Mark Price, Chris Bosh or Chris Paul.
Other times it presaged a good career, Duane Ferrell or Greg Buckner.
Other years we got Martice Moore, Chris Williams or Ed Nelson.
But implicit in the term is the suggestion of growth, improvement over the years, freshmen turning into sophomores, sophomores turning into juniors, even juniors turning into seniors, as quaint as that notion might seem these days.
And a quaint notion it is. These days rookie of the year is followed shortly after by NBA draft.
Duke has had an interesting relationship with the rookie of the year award, dominating the early years and recent years, with not much in between.
In Mike Krzyzewski’s first 31 years at Duke he had exactly two winners of the award. And it’s not like he wasn’t recruiting elite talent.
Freshmen were eligible for varsity college basketball competition at various times during World War II and the Korean War.
And not without some success. Dickie Hemric averaged 22.4 points and 18.6 rebounds per game as a freshman at Wake Forest in 1951-’52 for example.
But freshmen became ineligible after the Korean War, a state of affairs that lasted for two decades, two decades in which college basketball grew in popularity.
The rules changed again, with freshmen becoming eligible in football and basketball beginning in the 1972-’73 season.
There were skeptics. But freshmen like Maryland’s John Lucas (1973), Wake Forest’s Skip Brown (1974), North Carolina’s Walter Davis (1974) and Clemson’s Skip Wise (1975) demonstrated that freshmen could play with the big boys. In fact Wise was voted first-team All-ACC in 1975, Maryland’s Brad Davis second team, while North Carolina’s Phil Ford won the Case Award as the ACC Tournament’s top player.
Wise belied his last name by rashly giving up his college eligibility after one year to join the ABA’s Baltimore Claws, a team that never actually played a regular-season game. Wise had significant drug-related problems and played only two games in the ABA.
But none of these players won the rookie of the year award. For some reason the ACC didn’t bother to select a rookie of the Year until 1976. Duke hadn’t had much luck with true freshmen up to that point. Edgar Burch was the most successful, averaging 6.8 points for Duke in 1974 and then disappearing.
But Duke hit the jackpot once the ACC started presenting the award, with three consecutive winners, Jim Spanarkel (1976), Mike Gminski (1977) and Gene Banks (1978); Gminski shared the award with NC State’s Charles “Hawkeye” Whitney.
And that was it for a generation. Mike Krzyzewski took over for the 1980-’81 season but did not produce an ACC Rookie of the Year for his first two decades and only two in his first 31 years at Duke.
Of course, he recruited great players. But it still was a league of veterans. Wise would remain the only freshman to make first-team All-ACC until 1990 and one of only five until 2006.
What accounts for the drought?
to be continued...