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Jim Looks At Duke’s History With Transfers Part II - The K Era

As Duke becomes more flexible about transfers

Duke v Louisville
 INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 31: Seth Curry #30 of the Duke Blue Devils reacts in the second half against the Louisville Cardinals during the Midwest Regional Final round of the 2013 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 31, 2013 in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

A few weeks ago prep star Trevor Keels announced his commitment to play basketball for Duke.

What sealed the deal for Keels?

“Me and Coach K have a great relationship,” Keels told ESPN shortly after announcing his decision. “He was always the same during the process. Straightforward guy. He told me what I needed to hear.”

There was nothing unusual in that statement. We’ve heard something along those lines for 40 years.

Mike Krzyzewski’s first full recruiting class at Duke brought in Dan Meagher, Greg Wendt, Todd Anderson and Jay Bryan.

Only Meagher became an ACC player of consequence.

It’s not like Krzyzewski didn’t aim high. He finished close-but-no-cigar on a number of top prepsters, including Chris Mullin, Bill Wennington, Jimmy Miller, Wayne Carlander and Uwe Blab.

Krzyzewski determined that he had cast too wide a net and needed to compress his recruiting, spending more time on fewer recruits. The personal touch obviously has served him well.

That also explains his reluctance to fully embrace the transfer culture. It took Krzyzewski 15 years to bring in his first transfer and 18 more to bring in his next three.

But, oh what transfers. Roshown McLeod, Dahntay Jones, Seth Curry and Rodney Hood were all significant contributors to really good Duke teams. All four became All-ACC players, all four later played in the NBA. The first three started for Duke teams ranked number one in the AP poll; Hood’s only Duke team topped out at number four. All but Curry were selected in the first round of the NBA Draft. Ironically, the un-drafted Curry has had the best pro career of the quartet.

And yes, none of them played in a Final Four.

And all four became Blue Devils because an unexpected departure left an unexpected opening.

Yes, unexpected departures is a theme of Duke basketball. Over two-dozen players have transferred away from Duke under Krzyzewski’s tenure, which actually isn’t very many for a 41-year career. Some of these transfers were very successful at Duke; Billy McCaffrey made the 1991 All Final Four team.

Others barely registered on the radar screen. Does anyone really remember Andre Sweet or Jordan Tucker in a Duke uniform?

But a deep dive into this subset of the Duke-basketball universe will have to wait. Right now, I’ll ignore all except those that led to openings being filled.

We all remember 1994-95 as a really bad season for Duke. But it didn’t just start with Mike Krzyzewski’s back surgery.

Joey Beard was a 6-9 forward, a McDonald’s All-American. He played sparingly as a freshman in 1994 but that team started seniors Grant Hill and Tony Lang at the forward spots. Beard seemed like a shoo-in for a starting spot in 1995. But he struggled in the preseason and was diagnosed with mono. Krzyzewski committed to starting twin-towers Cherokee Parks and Eric Meek-both seniors-while top-10 freshman Ricky Price looked good at the wing.

Beard left for Boston University.

Krzyzewski only signed one player in the fall of 1994, center Taymon Domzalski, and obviously didn’t spend any time on the recruiting trail after that.

But he pounced when McLeod announced that he was transferring from St. John’s, with two years of eligibility remaining. It helped that McLeod had prepped in Jersey City under Bob Hurley, giving Krzyzewski access to information about McLeod he might not have had otherwise,

The 6-8, 220-pound McLeod had averaged around seven points per game over two seasons. But McLeod blossomed under Krzyzewski’s tutelage. He was named first-team All-ACC as a senior in 1998, when he averaged 15.3 points per game, leading Duke to a 32-4 record and an ACC regular-season title.

McLeod’s best game may have been his Senior Day game against Vince Carter, Antawn Jamison and company from North Carolina. McLeod led Duke with 23 points and the Blue Devils overcame a 17-point, second-half deficit to defeat UNC 77-75.

McLeod averaged 17.5 points per game in four 1998 NCAA Tournament games. He had 19 points and eight rebounds as Duke lost to Kentucky 86-84 in the Elite Eight.

The Atlanta Hawks selected McLeod as the 20th pick in the NBA Draft. Injuries ended his NBA career after three seasons.

No offense to Joey Beard but Duke clearly got an upgrade with McLeod.

Corey Maggette was Duke’s only freshman in 1999 and stunned the program when he decided to become the first Duke player to go to the NBA after one season.

It was too late in the recruiting season for Duke to get anything even approaching a comparable wing talent. Duke went into the next recruiting cycle and found a familiar face popping up.

Duke recruited DahntayJones some out of high school but Maggette’s commitment ended that. Jones was a New Jersey guy and stayed close to home. The 6-6, 220-pounder was Rutgers’ best player as a sophomore in 2000, averaging 16 points per game. But Rutgers was an NIT program and Jones stated publicly that head coach Kevin Bannon wasn’t helping him get better.

He wanted more. Jason Williams was one of Jones’ best friends in high school and helped seal the deal.

Jones had to sit out Duke’s 2001 NCAA title season but did contribute in practice. He started immediately in 2002, developing a reputation as a defensive stopper and averaged 11 points per game, as Duke won the ACC Tournament.

Duke lost Williams, Carlos Boozer and Mike Dunleavy to the NBA Draft after that season and Jones emerged as Duke’s best player in 2003. He improved his 3-point shooting from 23 percent to 40 percent and led Duke with 17.7 points per game. He even moved to power forward at midseason when Krzyzewski wanted to add Daniel Ewing to the starrting lineup.

He also had one of Duke’s iconic dunks, posterizing Virginia’s Nick Vander Lan.

Jones averaged 15 points and 7 rebounds as Duke repeated as ACC Tournament champions.

Jones’ college career ended in a Sweet 16 loss to Kansas. Jones led Duke with 23 points in a 69-65 loss and averaged 24.7 points per game in the 2003 tournament.

Jones also was a first-round draft pick and played 624 NBA games in parts of 14 seasons.

Krzyzewski’s third transfer is a member of basketball royalty. Elliott Williams moved into the starting lineup late in his freshman season of 2009. But the athletic wing transferred back home to Memphis, partly to be closer to his terminally ill mother, partly because he wanted a bigger role than he was going to get in a program that returned Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith for 2010.

Seth Curry announced that he was transferring from Liberty at almost the exact time. Despite being the son of former NBA star Dell Curry and the brother of Davidson All-American Stephen Curry, Seth was ignored by the big boys while playing at Charlotte Christian High School.

That includes Duke.

So, he went to Liberty and averaged 20.2 points per game, the highest freshman scorer in the NCAA.

Curry had no shortage of suitors this time around. But Krzyzewski wrapped him up in a matter of days.

Like Jones, Curry sat out an NCAA title team, this one in 2010. Unlike McLeod and Jones, Curry came to Duke with three years remaining. He was good in 2011, better in 2012 (13.2 points per game) and outstanding in 2013. Curry led Duke at 17.5 points per game in 2013 and this was a 30-6 team that advanced to the Elite Eight.

He did this while battling a leg problem that kept him from practicing most of the season.

Curry was third-team All-ACC in 2012 . The coaches voted Curry first-team All ACC in 2013, the media second team. He was named second-team All-American in 2013 by the Sporting News.

Curry averaged 13.2 points in 106 games at Duke and carried on the family tradition of elite 3-point shooting. He connected on 42 percent from beyond the arc.

Only Christian Laettner and Trajan Langdon rank ahead of Curry.

J.J. Redick? He hit 40.6 percent.

Curry went undrafted but worked his way up through minor league stops in such locales as Santa Cruz and Erie and now ranks as one of the best 3-point shooters in NBA history.

That 2013 Elite Eight team lacked one thing, an outstanding small forward.

Michael Gbinije could have been that player. The consensus number 28 player in the prep class of 2011, the 6-7 Gbinije played only 111 minutes in 2012 and transferred to Syracuse, where he eventually became an All-ACC player.

His departure opened a slot filled by Rodney Hood, who was the consensus number 27 Player in the 2011 class.

Hood was a 6-8 lefty from Meridian, Mississippi, who stayed close to home and played at Mississippi State. He averaged 10.3 points per game as a freshman but decided to leave after Rick Stansbury was dismissed as head coach.

Duke faced fierce competition from Ohio State but prevailed. Duke appealed to the NCAA, asking for Hood to be declared eligible for the 2013 season. Had that appeal been approved, Hood would have joined a loaded team that included seniors Curry, Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly.

But the appeal was denied.

Still, Hood had an outstanding 2014 season, averaging 16 points and 4 rebounds per game. He was voted second-team All-ACC. But he shot poorly in Duke’s NCAA Tournament loss to Mercer and ended his college career without a single NCAA Tournament win.

Hood declared for the draft, the only Duke transfer to leave early for the NBA and the first to only play one season. He was picked 23rd by Utah. He averaged 14.7 points per game for two teams in 2018, the highest single-season NBA average for any Duke transfer.

But injuries have stalled his once promising career.

Up to this point Krzyzewski was batting a thousand. But Duke hasn’t had an impact transfer since Hood. Sean Obi came from Rice, after averaging 11.4 points and 9.3 rebounds per game in his only season there. Like Jones and Curry, Obi made contributions to a national title team-this one 2015—while practicing as a redshirt. But he developed knee problems and barely played at Duke in 2016 and sat out the entire 2017 season. He transferred to Maryland as a grad student and again barely played in 2018.

The NCAA instituted the so-called grad-student transfer rule in 2011. This allowed players who had graduated to transfer to another school without sitting out a season. Duke requires grad-student transfers to actually have the academic profile to get into Duke, which has limited Duke’s success in this area. Patrick Tapé was the first for Krzyzewski. The 6-9 center transferred from Columbia for the most recent season but played only 45 minutes in 10 games.

Back problems did not help Tapé’s chances of cracking the rotation.

Tapé entered the portal at the end of the season and ended up at San Francisco, joining Obi in what used to be an unusual club, someone who played at three different schools.

That sort of thing will likely become more common. Terms like “wild west” or “speed dating” have been used to describe the new transfer environment.

We all know what they say about old dogs and new tricks. But Krzyzewski has been able to navigate the dangerous shoals of one-and-done and he seems to have accepted a new reality in which a lengthy courtship simply isn’t possible in this environment.

New assistant coach Nolan Smith is 32 and a vocal advocate of increased freedom for student-athletes, including the freedom to change schools without penalty.

In the past few days Krzyzewski has added a pair of grad student transfers, Bates Jones from Davidson and Theo John from Marquette. Both are big men who almost certainly won’t start next season but could both provide valuable depth and experience.

Note that Jones comes from a family that has contributed a football star and a women’s soccer star to Duke, while Duke assistant Chris Carrawell helped recruit John when Carrawell was an assistant at Marquette.

So vetting may still be a thing.

Will the old dog completely discard the old ways?

Stay tuned.