Correction: when we listed Christian Laettner and Bobby Hurley, we meant to put Grant Hill there too but forgot. Obviously he’s one of Duke’s very best players, no worse than Top Three and arguably the best. So let’s just amend this and make it the Top 21.
With the Krzyzewski era over, it seems like a good time to rethink the Top 20 Duke players of all time.
Most of us aren't really qualified to do this simply because we lack the personal or historical perspective to do it. We’re pretty sure no one reading this saw Bill Werber at Duke, since he graduated in 1930, and not too many can remember the great Dick Groat, who finished in 1951 and who is now 92.
And then there are the guys who played at Duke in the Bubas era, in the 1960’s, when the program was still segregated.
Duke had Art Heyman, Jeff Mullins, Jack Marin, Bob Verga and Mike Lewis, among others, during the Bubas years. During the same time, guys like Cazzy Russell, Dave Bing, Walt Hazzard, Elvin Hayes and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar played at other schools around the country.
Then in the 1970s, you had Mike Gminski, Jim Spanarkel, Gene Banks and Kenny Dennard.
Only then do you get to the rather lengthy Krzyzewski era, which really you could subdivide in any number of ways. Forty-two years is a long time.
What surprised us is how many guys we had to leave off, including Billy King, Dennard, Tate Armstrong, Mike Lewis, David Henderson, Mark Alarie, Shelden Williams, Marvin Bagley, Jayson Tatum, Paolo Banchero and so many others.
All that said, here’s a stab at the best players in Duke history, listed but not ranked.
- Dick Groat: anyone who leads the nation in scoring and assists is, by definition, great
- Art Heyman: really he was the guy who helped kick Duke into Final Four team.
- Jeff Mullins: He was just a shade behind Heyman and no one surpassed his intensity until Christian Laettner showed up.
- Gene Banks: perhaps the most important player in Duke history other than Heyman, Banks was the first great African-American player to enroll at Duke, paving the way for players like Johnny Dawkins, Grant Hill and Zion Williamson.
- Mike Gminski: Duke’s first dominant big man, he arrived in Durham at 16 and was a huge (no pun intended) success.
- Johnny Dawkins: Mike Krzyzewski’s first great recruit, Dawkins was instrumental in getting Coach K’s program off the launching pad.
- Tommy Amaker: an uncannily smart point guard and a superb defender, Amaker was a perfect complement to Dawkins and helped Duke to the 1986 title game.
- Danny Ferry. Coach K’s first great stretch-four, Ferry had an amazing four-year run as a Blue Devil.
- Christian Laettner: he needs no introduction. Laettner remains one of the most iconic players in NCAA history.
- Bobby Hurley: a terrier of a point guard, Hurley still holds the NCAA assist record he set 30 seasons ago.
- Grant Hill. Possibly the greatest player ever at Duke.
- Trajan Langdon: the Alaskan Assassin was a superb three point shooter and a very solid all-around player.
- Chris Carrawell: a very unusual player, C-Well just got it done, and it didn't matter who he was up against.
- Elton Brand: the burly New Yorker had a tremendous two-year run in Cameron before becoming one of Duke’s first early departures to the NBA.
- Shane Battier: in many ways the perfect Duke player, Battier led Duke to the 2001 national title.
- Mike Dunleavy: he came to Duke as a very slender freshman and left as a polished, 6-9 forward who enjoyed a long NBA career.
- Jason Williams: simply a brilliant talent who could take over a game in a heartbeat, as we saw at Maryland in the Miracle Minute.
- JJ Redick: the greatest offensive force in the history of Duke and, arguably, the ACC.
- Jon Scheyer: constantly underrated, his move to point guard in his senior season helped Duke to the 2010 national title. We used to watch him and marvel how long he went between mistakes. Simply brilliant.
- Tyus Jones. Every bit as smart a point guard as a freshman as Scheyer was as a senior.
- Zion Williamson. The guy lit the basketball world on fire at Duke. His games against Kentucky and Virginia will be talked about for years to come.