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Devilish Triple Doubles

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Only four guys have ever done it at Duke.

NCAA Basketball Tournament - East Regional - Washington DC
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 31: RJ Barrett #5 of the Duke Blue Devils inbounds the ball in the second half against the Michigan State Spartans during the 2019 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament East Regional Final at Capital One Arena on March 31, 2019 in Washington, DC.
Photo by Lance King/Getty Images

The number 10 is a magic number, a special number. We all learn to count on our 10 fingers. We think in terms of decades, the Roaring Twenties, the Swinging Sixties, as if the world changed dramatically between December 31, 1969 and January 1, 1970. We celebrate birthdays and anniversaries every year but the ones that end in zero seem to be special.

No one ever said “don’t trust anyone over 31.”

This certainly applies to basketball, a sport in which Duke has more consecutive seasons with double-digit wins than anyone else.

Yes, that’s a thing.

Every college basketball game has several players score at least 10 points. Many have at least one player hit double figures in rebounds. Double-figure assist games are rare but they happen. Double figures in blocked shots or steals are very rare in a 40-minute college game.

A special game involves achieving double figures in two positive statistical categories, the so-called double-double, most commonly points and rebounds. Every team, every league keeps count. Mike Gminski holds the Duke career record with 63 career double-doubles, followed closely by Shelden Williams at 59 and Randy Denton at 58, the latter in three seasons. Denton played 84 games, so that’s almost 70 percent of his games with a double-double. Mike Lewis had 21 straight in 1968, 24 for the season, a school record. Marvin Bagley holds the ACC record for freshmen with 22 in 2018.

Wake Forest’s Tim Duncan holds the ACC record with 87, three more than Virginia’s Ralph Sampson. Gminski is sixth. North Carolina’s Billy Cunningham actually had 40 consecutive double-doubles.

So, a double-double is impressive. But especially for the best big men, hardly unattainable.

But add that third positive stat and you’ve got a different story. Duke has only four official triple-doubles, at least that we know of.

The ACC has 32.

About that qualifier. Assists, blocked shots and steals didn’t become official statistics until the 1970s, 1973 for assists, 1977 for blocks and steals. Some triple-doubles have been authenticated after the fact, others certainly are undocumented and uncounted.

So, we just don’t know about Denton or Lewis.

Then what is Art Heyman doing on the list?

I think the late lamented Bill Brill had something to do with this but for whatever reason the ACC decided to experiment with counting assists in the 1963 ACC Tournament.

Heyman was the nation’s best player in 1963. He was 6-5, 205, strong and relentless beyond any rational thought. He was always in attack mode. In his three seasons at Duke Heyman averaged 25 points, 11 rebounds and an astonishing 10.8 free-throw attempts per game.

But Heyman was also an excellent and unselfish passer. I’ve talked a lot about Danny Ferry being the only player to lead Duke (1987) in scoring, rebounding and assists in the same season but I strongly suspect that Heyman would have that accomplishment on his resume in 1962 (his junior year) and 1963 had assists been counted.

Duke opened the 1963 ACC Tournament against Virginia. Duke was very good in 1963; they would finish third in the NCAA Tournament. Virginia wasn’t very good. They finished the season 5-20.

So, it was no surprise when Duke pounded them 89-70. Heyman didn’t shoot well, 7-for-21 from the field. But he added seven foul shots for 21 points, with 18 rebounds and 10 assists.

Jeff Mullins benefited greatly from this generosity, with 29 points. Jay Buckley added 11, Ron Herbster 10 off the bench.

Was this an official triple-double? Well, Duke and the ACC count it as one, so I guess so.

Fast forward to 1978. Gene Banks was a freshman that year, arguably the nation’s best newcomer. Like Heyman, Banks was a triple threat, a scorer, rebounder and passer. Despite playing with teammates like Jim Spanarkel, Bob Bender and John Harrell, Banks averaged three assists per game over his Duke career.

By most standards his game against a bad Lehigh team was fairly ordinary. Banks had 13 points and 12 rebounds. But he added 11 assists for the sixth triple-double in ACC history.

Duke won the game 105-63. Spanarkel led Duke with 20 points, followed by Gminski with 18. Kenny Dennard added 12.

The points-rebounds-assists-triple double isn’t the only way to climb that mountain. Shelden Williams is the best shot blocker in Duke history and still ranks fifth in ACC annals.

Williams came tantalizingly close to a points-rebound-blocked shot trifecta on two occasions. He had 16 points, 11 rebounds and nine blocks in an 80-66 win over Virginia in 2005 and 20 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists the following season in an 84-55 win over Davidson.

He finally broke through later that season. Maryland was the opponent, in Cameron. Williams had 19 points, 11 rebounds and that extra blocked shot, his 10th as Duke won 76-52.

Losing coach Gary Williams gave some insight into what it was like to face The Landlord.

“There is an intimidation factor which I thought took place as the game went on. I thought he had some really great plays off his man, blocking shots and things like that when it looked like we had layups but didn’t get them.”

The phlegmatic Shelden Williams wasn’t as impressed.

“To me, I feel like I could have done a lot better. I didn’t feel I dominated as much as I should have.”

The stats suggest otherwise. The Terps shot 30 percent (19-for-63) from the field.

This remains the only points-rebounds-block-triple-double in Duke history.

Heyman, Banks and Williams accomplished the feat prior to the one-and-done era and all four stayed at Duke for four seasons.

R.J. Barrett became the fourth entrant in Duke’s triple-double club, on February 16, 2019, again in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Barrett had 23 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists in Duke’s 94-78 win over NC State.

Barrett did all this without committing a turnover. Zion Williamson led Duke with 32 points, hitting 12-of-16 from the field.

“It was great my teammates were finishing, so that opened the floor up for me.”

Barrett hit Williamson for a layup with about a minute left for that 10th assist. Unlike other Duke triples, this one took place in the smart-phone era, when many in the stands were aware of Barrett’s stat line and roared accordingly at that 10th assist.

This was Williamson’s last game before injuring his knee against North Carolina.

Shelden Williams isn’t the only Duke player to have some near misses.

Mike Gminski blocked nine shots four times at Duke, once each season. He had 14 points, 12 rebounds and nine blocks against Davidson as a freshman, 15 points, 10 rebounds and nine blocks against NC State as a sophomore, 13 points, nine rebounds and nine blocks against Davidson as a junior.

Duke won all three of these games.

Gminski had one of the best games of his career in the Big Four Tournament as a senior, 26 points, 15 rebounds and nine blocks in a 72-70 win over Wake Forest.

Cherokee Parks had Duke’s first 10-block game, against Clemson in the 1994 ACC Tournament game won by Duke. Parks also had 10 rebounds. But he hit only 4-of-12 from the field and scored eight points, surely the most unusual near miss imaginable.

How about steals?

Kenny Dennard has the only double-digit steal game in Duke history, 11 against Maryland in 1979. Dennard scored 13 points. But his five rebounds and four steals finished off a great stat line but didn’t really put him close to a triple-double.

No other Blue Devil has had more than eight steals in a game.

Any chance for number five this up-coming season?

Well, Jalen Johnson has a reputation as a pretty good passer for a forward and Mark Williams can block shots. But we’re talking about a milestone never reached by Gminski, Ferry, Grant Hill, Shane Battier, some of the most talented and versatile players in Duke history.

If it was easy, everyone would do it.