Used to be that Duke was seen as the school that got the most out of guys in college but couldn't prep prep stars for the NBA. Grant Hill was the exception; Christian Laettner also was exempted for those who didn't have their blinders on.
But beyond that? Nothing, really. A bunch of underachieving NBA afterthoughts, those Dookies. Or so many thought.
Since Coach K is putting three more proteges into the NBA this Thursday night -- Kyrie Irving, plus Nolan Smith (at left) and Kyle Singler (right) -- Dan Wiederer of the Fayetteville Observer did some fine research recently and looked at who Duke has put into the association in the past two decades.
Duke is truly one of the most proficient schools at not only sending guys to the top level, but having many of its former players have a decent, if not exemplary, amount of success once they establish their NBA careers.
Wiederer points out that Krzyzewski has had 33 of his players drafted in his 31 years at Duke. Despite the fact that Hill, Laetnner, Carlos Boozer and Elton Brand are the only four players who've made an All-Star Game, that's mighty impressive. And the All-Star stat is a bit misleading, too.
For context, consider this breakdown. Since 1992, 147 different players have played in the NBA All-Star game. The school that has had the most all-stars in the last 20 years is North Carolina, proudly able to claim seven all-stars: James Worthy, Michael Jordan, Brad Daugherty, Jerry Stackhouse, Rasheed Wallace, Vince Carter and Antawn Jamison.The Duke star ≠ NBA star issue stems from the fact so few Duke players that get drafted to lottery teams have come up short. Jason Williams' career abruptly ended because of a motorcycle accident; Cherokee Parks was considered a stiff of the highest order; Trajan Langdon could never develop his shot in the NBA as he could in college; Shelden Williams clearly hit his peak while at Duke.
Sure, that gives Tar Heel fans some local bragging rights. But behind UNC, Duke is one of eight schools that has had four of its former players reach all-star status in the last 20 years. The other programs able to make that claim: Georgetown, Connecticut, Alabama, Kentucky, Georgia Tech, Michigan State and UCLA.
But for every one of those lottery busts, Wiederer correctly points out that second-round picks like Boozer and Chris Duhon have had buoyant NBA careers. And there's something to be said for a guy like Luol Deng, who so frequently gets forgotten in this conversation.
The other trump card Duke haters point to is undeniable -- Devils don't win NBA titles. But even if that's still the case now, Duke's winning ways have pretty clearly embedded themselves into a number of teams that made this year's playoffs.
A pretty great stat, and I wouldn't have guessed UCLA at the top of that list, though it's not surprising it's there.
Duke bashers often like to mention the manner in which NBA championship glory has evaded former Blue Devils. Of Krzyzewski's former stars, only Danny Ferry has won an NBA championship ring. And Ferry claimed his jewelry as a seldom-used reserve with the San Antonio Spurs in 2003. Meanwhile, since 1980, rival North Carolina has had 11 players combine to win 25 NBA championships. It's no wonder Tar Heel fans love to bring that trivia up as often as possible.
Looking at this past season's data, Duke has far more to boast about. The 2010-11 NBA season started with 12 former Blue Devils on active NBA rosters, putting Duke behind only UCLA (13) in that category.
As for this year's Draft, there's an interesting wrinkle with the Blue Devils. Ironically, Duke could become the first team in 23 years to not have a player from a national title-winning squad (2010) picked in the first round. If Smith and Singler get their names called by NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver instead of the Almighty David Stern, that means it's the second round and Duke's 2010 title becomes all the more ... impressive?
Unlikely? Bolstering to Coach K's already-sterling legacy?
It's unlikely this year's triumvirate of Blue Devils will reach multiple All-Star games and change the casual basketball fan's perspective of Duke players in the NBA. But the ignorance to Duke alumni persevering with long careers at the NBA level speaks to just that -- the casual basketball fan's continued hatred and bias toward the most polarizing college basketball team. Long after the Duke jerseys are disposed of, the connotation still lingers, sometimes incorrectly.
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