The basketball program of Duke University is known as an NBA factory for producing so many of the league’s greatest basketball stars. The program headed by the legendary coach Mike Krzyzewski has produced over 1,000 NCAA victories and together with those wins came too many basketball stars over the years.
Let’s take a look at the greatest basketball players ever produced by Duke University.
Grant Hill is, without a doubt, the best basketball player to ever come out of Duke University. Hill was the Detroit Pistons’ 3rd overall pick in the 1994 draft and he quickly made an impact. After he was named co-Rookie of the Year in 1995, he was named to the All-NBA team from 1996-2000, including a First Team selection in 1997. Unfortunately, Hill suffered a series of ankle injuries that slowed him down and eventually ended his career. But let us not forget that he averaged 21.9 points, 7.9 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game during his first six NBA seasons with the Pistons. At that time only Oscar Robertson and Larry Bird had posted similar numbers over the same period. If only he wasn’t hurt, Hill would have truly been one of the All-Time greats.
You can make an argument for Christian Laettner to be the best basketball player produced by the Blue Devils. Laettner was college basketball’s best player during the early 90s and he led Duke ( along with Grant Hill ) to back to back NCAA titles in 1991 and 1992. Laettner was so good that he was the only college player who made it to the original Dream Team in 1992. He will always be remembered for his buzzer-beating shot during the 1992 Regional Finals against Kentucky. Known as the Laettner Legacy, he is one of the greatest collegiate players ever even though he didn’t have the kind of NBA career everyone expected.
What he lacked in size, he made up for in heart. Elton Brand stood 6-9 but he played Power Forward and Center. He was the Chicago Bulls’ #1 overall pick in the 1999 NBA Draft and he carried a Chicago Bulls team that was still reeling from the departure of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. The Bulls only won 17 games during his rookie season but Brand averaged 20.1 points and 10.0 rebounds while amassing a 7.5 win share total. Brand would go on to play for four more NBA teams and he would earn two NBA All-Star nominations and an All-NBA Second Team selection in 2006. He finished his career with averages of 18.0 points and 8.5 rebounds per game.
Shane Battier was never an offensive force at Duke but his all-around play made him a favorite in the NBA. Battier was drafted 6th overall by the Vancouver Grizzlies during the 2001 NBA Draft. In the NBA, Battier would become one of the league’s fiercest defenders. He played no-nonsense defense and took the charge on every instance. During his rookie season, he averaged 14.4 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.0 blocks per game. Those aren’t superstar numbers but only 10 other rookies in the history of the league have ever averaged the same numbers during their freshman year. Battier would earn two All-Defensive 2nd team selections and he would win two NBA titles while playing for the Miami Heat. And yes, he did develop into a three-point threat during the latter stages of his NBA career.
The book on Kyrie Irving isn’t closed and he is only starting to earn his stripes in the NBA but there is no question that Irving is one of the most talented players to come out of Duke and is arguably one of its greatest products ever. Irving was the Cleveland Cavaliers’ top draft pick in 2011 and he was supposed to be the heir to LeBron James’ throne. But when James returned to Cleveland for his second tour of duty, Irving became “sidekick”. But everyone will always remember that it was Irving who made the big three-point basket that clinched the 2016 NBA title for the Cavs. Irving left Cleveland for Boston and after one season in Beantown, he took his talents to his hometown Brooklyn Nets where he will team up with Kevin Durant. Irving is one of basketball’s most unstoppable scorers and best ball handlers.
J.J. Redick was one of the best shooters to ever play for Coach K and when he came to the NBA, shooting was his ticket to the big league. Redick was drafted 11th overall by the Orlando Magic in 2006 but it wasn’t until he 7th season with the Magic where he truly lived up to his billing. Since then, Redick has been one of the NBA’s most accurate three-point shooters. He has never been named to an All-Star team in the NBA but he’s set three-point records with the Los Angeles Clippers and Philadelphia 76ers. Redick is set to play for the New Orleans Pelicans this coming season.
Danny Ferry was the 2nd overall pick in the 1989 NBA draft where he was selected higher than Sean Elliott, Glen Rice, Tim Hardaway, Shawn Kemp, and Vlade Divac. He was the most celebrated basketball player from high school in 1985 and he was one of the best college basketball players when he was in Duke. Ferry was the unanimous College Player of the Year in 1989 when he left Duke. But Ferry didn’t want to play for the Clippers who drafted him so he went to Italy to play ball there. Finally, he was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers and he played for the Cavs beginning the 1990 season and was the team leader in games played before Zydrunas Ilgauskas surpassed him. In his 10 seasons in Cleveland, the Cavs made the playoffs a total of six times. He would finish his career coming off the bench in San Antonio where he won an NBA title in 2003.
Born in Sudan and raised in the United Kingdom, Luol Deng was one of Mike Krzyzewski’s best players during the early 2000s. After starring at Duke, Deng was drafted by the Phoenix Suns with the 7th overall pick in the 2004 NBA Draft and later traded to the Chicago Bulls. Deng would make the All-Rookie first team but suffered a season-ending wrist injury. He would make two All-Star appearances with the Bulls as well as a nomination to the NBA’s All-Defensive second team in 2012. After a decade with Chicago, Deng was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers. He would also play for the Miami Heat, Los Angeles Lakers and Minnesota Timberwolves.
Carlos Boozer was another undersized big man who made it in the big league. At 6-8, Boozer played a big man when he was in college. He helped Duke win the NCAA title in 2001 and was selected in the 2nd round of the 2002 NBA draft. When it became clear that he couldn’t dominate the NBA with his inside game, he adjusted his game and developed a consistent midrange shot that enabled him to become a decent NBA scorer. While with the Utah Jazz, Boozer would make two NBA All-Star teams and was even an All-NBA third-team selection in 2008.
Corey Maggette was one of the most athletic players to come out of Duke. He was the 13th overall pick in the 1999 NBA Draft and started his career for the Orlando Magic. When he transferred to the Los Angeles Clippers, he broke out in 2003 after averaging 16.8 points. He averaged at least 20 points per game in two seasons after that before his NBA career slowly faded. Maggette joined the BIG3 league in 2017 and 2018 was named as BIG3 MVP and Captain of the Year after leading the team Power to a 7-1 record.