By Ryan Lack
Quick Slant: The assertion that Duke makes great college players but falls short of producing NBA-level talent is completely false.
It’s NCAA Tournament time and while we’re all filling out our brackets based on half-informed opinions, and even sometimes based on logos or mascots, I got to thinking about the various programs and how under or overrated they are. One running theme from the last decade+ concerns Duke University. Coach K is an indisputable college basketball legend, not to mention the gold medals he’s won leading Team USA in the Olympics, but one point of criticism he always gets is that he doesn’t produce a lot of NBA players.
To be honest, I always accepted this assertion about his program as true. I mean, look at all of the players that have been great at the collegiate level at Duke and never panned out in the league. Now, to be clear, I’m not talking about NBA all-stars. All I’m looking at is current NBA roster players here. With that in mind, I took a look at some of the other storied programs known for producing some NBA greats and some average players. What I expected and what I found were surprisingly, and completely, contradictory.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the top college teams and their current NBA roster representatives:
- Kentucky: 19 active roster players
- Kansas: 16 active roster players
- UNC: 14 active roster players
- Texas: 11 active roster players
- Connecticut: 11 active roster players
- UCLA: 10 active roster players
- USC: 10 active roster players
- Florida: 10 active roster players
- Arizona: 9 active roster players
- Ohio State: 7 active roster players
- Washington: 7 active roster players
- Cincinnati: 5 active roster players
- Syracuse: 4 active roster players
- Michigan State: 4 active roster players
- Louisville: 4 active roster players
- Memphis: 4 active roster players
- Stanford: 4 active roster players
- Michigan: 3 active roster players
- Indiana: 2 active roster players
And how many does Duke have? 20. That’s right, more than any other program. While UK is notorious for pumping out great NBA talent across the last few years – they had six players go in the last draft including Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist going 1-2 (first time ever for a pair of teammates) and Terrence Jones, Marquis Teague, Doron Lamb and Darius Miller following – Duke has been steady, producing a few each year.
The reasons for the flood of new talent from these two schools is likely two-fold: first, the barrier to entry is at an all-time low at the NBA level and, second, the one-and-done rule is bringing in otherwise draft-worthy players to these schools and quickly cycling them out. In other words, many of these kids wouldn’t even have gone to UK, for instance, had the one-and-done rule not been implemented by the NCAA back in the 2006-07 season.
Here’s the list of NBA Dukies:
- Shane Battier
- Carlos Boozer
- Elton Brand
- Luol Deng
- Chris Duhon
- Mike Dunleavy
- Gerald Henderson
- Grant Hill
- Kyrie Irving
- Dahntay Jones
- Corey Maggette
- Josh McRoberts
- Miles Plumlee
- Shavlik Randolph
- J.J. Reddick
- Austin Rivers
- Kyle Singler
- Nolan Smith
- Lance Thomas
- Eliot Williams
As a self-admitted Duke hater, I suppose it’s fair to say I was among the group of people unwilling to acknowledge the program’s success beyond the college hardwood because … well, because I hate successful things and people. It’s actually a deep-seeded resentment, but I digress.
As fans, we love to hate success. We hate Duke. We hate UNC. We hate UK, and Kansas, and many others. We love the underdog – Gonzaga, Butler, VCU, George Mason and a slew of others. And fans of the clubs aside, let’s all just agree that no matter where you’re from you hate the Yankees. They don’t call it the Evil Empire for nothing.
Regardless of hate or the perpetuation of broadly accepted falsehoods, Duke is an underrated and, perhaps, an undervalued program.
Sure, you might be saying: But, Duke is always highly ranked, always in the National Championship conversation. How can you say they’re underrated?
Look, we can agree they get their due in the national rankings and in the lip-service from the talking heads, but generally speaking they get no credit as a complete program. By that I mean, one of academic integrity, athletic excellence, and professional athlete production. Before doing the research, like many others, I honestly thought Duke does everything collegiate well but doesn’t take it to the next level. And damn, was I wrong.