As we edged into the 2021 calendar year there was an unexpected presence atop the roll of ACC steal leaders, a place of prominence not accorded any of Duke’s recent players, no matter how stellar, at season’s end.
Jordan Goldwire, a former reserve guard and modestly-sought recruit, finished ninth in the conference in takeaways in 2020. This year the low-profile Georgian led the ACC with 2.60 steals per outing through Jan. 4 and his team’s first five games.
Goldwire may best be remembered for lifting his team with fervid defense at Louisville in 2019, highlighted by a pair of crucial steals in a stunning Duke rally to victory from 23 point down in the second half.
Even if Goldwire’s leadership doesn’t last until March (or whenever the season ends) the mere prospect of his finishing atop the league’s individual steal list is of minor note. No Duke player has paced the ACC in steals since 1997, when pesky, peripatetic guard Steve Wojciechowski averaged 2.48 per game. Wojo, the current head coach at Marquette, was voted the national defensive player of the year the following season.
Remarkably the 6-2 Goldwire would be only the third Blue Devil to lead the ACC in per-game steals after 6-5 Jim Spanarkel and 5-11 Wojo.
By the way, don’t let anyone get away with telling you steal records reflect all-time marks. Like blocked shots, the stat wasn’t recognized universally by the NCAA until 1976-77. If NCAA basketball life began during the first year of Jimmy Carter’s presidency, well, OK, ’77 qualifies as all-time.
The initial season that steals were officially acknowledged, the leader was perhaps the most worthy modern Duke player not yet honored by having his jersey retired. Jim Spanarkel, a pigeon-tied defensive schemer and the floor leader for Bill Foster’s shockingly unexpected 1978 Final Four squad, set the program standard that year by averaging 2.74 steals.
Spanarkel, a three time All-ACC pick and 1976 ACC rookie of the year, was one of seven players who repeated as the league’s steal leader, along with Maryland’s Johnny Rhodes and Juan Dixon, NC State’s Sidney Lowe and Chris Corchiani, and Wake’s Tyrone Bogues and Chris Paul.
Bogues, Corchiani, Rhodes and Dixon led three times each.
All but Rhodes and Corchiani made first team All-ACC; they each made second team.
Oddly, three players paced the conference the first season their school was in the ACC: FSU’s Charlie Ward in 1992, Tyler Ennis of Syracuse in 2014, and Louisville’s Terry Rozier in 2015.
Ennis was one of five players to pace the ACC in the same season in steals and assists, after NC State’s Lowe (1981, 1983), Wake’s Muggsy Bogues (1985-87), NC State’s Corchiani (1989) and UNC’s Ty Lawson (2009).
No Boston College or Notre Dame player has yet led in steals since the schools joined the ACC in 2006 and 2014, respectively. Of the league’s more or less original members, Virginia (joined Dec. 1953), has gone the longest without a leader. Guard Othell Wilson was the stealer-in-chief in 1982 and 1984.
|MEN OF STEAL
(Listed By Descending Number Of Years Had ACC Leader)
|Yrs||School||Players, Seasons Led|
|9||Maryland||(5) Dutch Morley, 1980; Johnny Rhodes 1994-96; Laron Profit, 1998; Steve Francis 1999; Juan Dixon 2000-02|
|6||NC State||(3) Sidney Lowe, 1981, 1983; Chris Corchiani, 1998-00; Lorenzo Brown, 2012|
|5||Fla. State||(5) Charlie Ward, 1992; Sam Cassell, 1993;Tim Pickett, 2003; Toney Douglas, 2008; Chris Singleton 2010|
|5||Wake||(2) Tyrone Bogues, 1985-87; Chris Paul, 2004, 2005|
|3||Duke||(2) Jim Spanarkel, 1977, 1978; Steve Wojciechowski, 1997|
|3||Ga. Tech||(3) Kenny Anderson, 1991; Iman Shumpert, 2011; Jose Alvarado, 2020|
|3||Syracuse||(3)Tyler Ennis, 2014; Michael Gbinjie, 2016; Frank Howard, 2018|
|2||UNC||(2) Dudley Bradley, 1979; Ty Lawson, 2009|
|2||Clemson||(2) Vernon Hamilton, 2006; Marcquise Reed, 2019|
|2||Louisville||(2) Terry Rozier, 2015; Donovan Mitchell, 2017|
|2||Virginia||(1) Othell Wilson, 1982, 1984|
|1||Va. Tech||(1) Jamon Gordon, 2007|
|1||Miami||(1) Shane Larkin, 2013|