As our editorial team was brainstorming content for the Sweet 16 games this Thursday and Friday we realized that most of us had some kind of attachment to at least a few of the squads represented. Most of that attachment goes back to who we grew up rooting for as kids (check out Austin Burton’s favorite Washington Huskies of the past 25 years). For me, after Temple and Boston College (my alma mater), I loved Duke. A lot.
I’m pretty sure it started when my Dad took me to see Duke play at the Palestra in Philly against one of the Big 5 schools in the era before the Blue Devils started dominating college basketball. I attached myself to some of those Duke squads that were around pre-Christian Laettner title runs and obviously, being a kid, was more than happy when the program really took off a short time later. They lost me a little with the J-Will/Will Avery/Greg Paulus teams, but I will always support Duke.
Here are my Top 10 Favorite Blue Devils of the Last 25 Years:
10. Robert Brickey/Phil Henderson – Brickey and Henderson get one entry in this list because they were two of those guys on those old Duke squads I remember seeing play as a kid. They were both tough wing players and Brickey was one of the best dunkers in all of college basketball. At the time, that was good enough for me.
9. Bill McCaffrey – A lights-out shooter from Allentown, Penn., McCaffrey only played two years at Duke before transferring to Vanderbilt. He won a title in his sophomore year in 1991, going for 16 against Kansas in that championship game. I always wished he had stayed in Durham; he would have been a serious weapon in 1992 and 1993.
8. Jon Scheyer – As a white shooting guard, Scheyer had the unenviable job of stepping in for J.J. Redick as a freshman four years ago as a true freshman. He wasn’t and isn’t Redick, but his game evolved so drastically that I can’t help but back him – he’s willed himself into becoming one of the best players in the country and a potentially valuable NBA prospect.
7. Chris Collins – My high school basketball years overlapped with Collins’ Duke career and I looked at his game as the much better, elite Division I version of mine – semi-slow, spot-up shooter who would make you pay dearly if left alone. Threes for days.
6. Steve Wojciechowski – Wojo was Greg Paulus before there was a Greg Paulus. Every single non-Duke fan absolutely despised him – which made me like him even more. Plus he looked just like Sully, one of my college roommates. Sully, not a Duke fan, did not always think it was very funny when we’d have a few beers in us and we’d started calling him “Wojo” and telling him to slap the floor. Good times.
5. Roshown McLeod – A transfer from St. John’s, McLeod was from Jersey City, N.J., and brought tons of swagger and toughness to the Blue Devils. He went to battle on defense, could knock down mid-range jumpers, had a great scowl, and may have been a pioneer for athletes pounding on their chest to show their heart after big plays.
4. Trajan Langdon – The “Alaskan Assassin” owned one of the purest shooting strokes I’ve ever seen – which made him awesome. What he didn’t seem to have though (other than quickness) was a real killer instinct. All that got him was millions and superstardom playing professionally abroad.
3. Christian Laettner – God damn, Laettner was an unbelievable college basketball player. He is one of only four players in history to play in four consecutive Final Fours and the only player to start in all four (of which he won two). He owns the record for most points scored, the most foul shots made and the most games played in the NCAA Tournament. He took home pretty much every player of the year award in 1992, was the ACC Male Athlete of the Year twice, and the ACC Player of the Year once, just to name a few of the accolades. Forget any “Best Player in Duke History” debate, it’s not that crazy to make the argument that he’s in the discussion of the “Greatest Player in NCAA History.”
The guy was just a cold-blooded killer. I was at the fabled East Regional Final game against Kentucky, right behind the basket where Laettner hit “The Shot.” 10-10 from the field, including that bucket. Just amazing.
2. Bobby Hurley – THIS was devastating to me. Duke had won back-to-back titles, and even though they lost Laettner and guys like Brian Davis and Thomas Hill, they still had Hurley and Grant Hill. Chip No. 3 in a row, right? Not so much. A freshman Jason Kidd destroyed Hurley and Duke to end their run … and I was crushed.
One of my favorite Hurley memories was being at the game before that Duke/Kentucky game in ’92, when the Blue Devils matched up with a Seton Hall team that featured Danny Hurley as its starting point guard. Bobby had been killing every PG in front of him all season long and he could have clearly done the same to his brother that night. But he didn’t. Danny was nice, but he wasn’t Bobby. Bobby held back and distributed to his teammates and still figured out a way win the game without killing his brother. I always thought of that as being a truly admirable thing.
One of the great thrills of my professional career was when we were putting together the very first issue of Dime years and years ago and I had the chance to drive to Jersey City and spend the day with the Hurley Brothers. Great basketball players and great guys.
1. J.J. Redick – If Collins was my dude when I was in high school, Redick was the UBER-Collins, a jump-shooting anomaly who somehow could not be stopped by any player or any team in college basketball. He arrived at Duke with his high school coach in Virginia telling us about how Redick would routinely go entire two-hour practices without missing a single shot, and left as Duke’s all-time leading scorer and was the ACC’s all-time leading scorer for a minute until he was passed by Tyler Hansbrough.
I realize that Redick drew the ire of Duke haters on a Laettner/Paulus/Wojo level simply because he couldn’t be stopped. By his junior year, Redick games were appointment viewing for me. And it may sound weird, but for a guy like me who prides himself on his jumper, watching Redick fly off screens to rain murder on college double- and triple-teams always made me really happy.
I can’t tell you how disappointed I am that his NBA career hasn’t been better (so far), but I still believe that he will be a very good player in the League at some point. Every team can use another shooter, and if he can land in the right situation, who knows what can happen.
Also, the Jersey Shore hair doesn’t help.
Honorable Mention: Grant Hill, Thomas Hill, Marty Clark, Chris Carrawell.
(NOTE: There’s a difference between “favorite” and “best.” That’s why no Elton Brand, Corey Maggette, Shane Battier, etc.)
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