Black Blue Devils


This article was originally posted on January 5, 2010. Enjoy.
by Rodimus Dunn

So, I was watching the documentary The U the other night, and I was compelled by how Howard Schnellenberger went into the hood areas of Florida to recruit football players for the team.  It was awesome, because not only was that something very few white coaches would have done at that time (maybe ever), it also pulled many of these guys out of their particular situation with the added bonus of supplying these guys with a college education!  I’m not really into lists, but I saw this list of players who went to Miami that did pretty well in the NFL.  Here’s a truncated list (albeit rather extensive):

•    Otis Anderson
•    Jesse Armstead
•    Bennie & Brian Blades
•    Jeff Feagles
•    Bubba Franks
•    Frank Gore
•    Alonzo Highsmith
•    Michael Irvin
•    Edgerrin James
•    Andre Johnson
•    Cortez Kennedy
•    Bernie Kosar
•    Ray Lewis
•    Bubba Mcdowell
•    Willis McGahee
•    Dan Morgan
•    Santana Moss
•    Clinton Portis
•    Ed Reed
•    Antrel Rolle
•    Warren Sapp
•    Jeremy Shockey
•    Duane Starks
•    Sean Taylor
•    Vinny Testaverde
•    Jonathon Vilma
•    Vince Wilfork

At any rate, this got me to thinking about my favorite college basketball team the Duke Blue Devils.  (For full disclosure and transparency, Duke has been my favorite college basketball team for almost twenty years, so I’m a huge Duke honk).  Watching Duke play this year and last year I just knew that they were a good team with no realistic championship capability.  Moreover, I noticed that there was a scarcity of black players.  Now I’m not saying that only black basketball players are of any quality, what I am saying is that for an institution (the NCAA) that has mostly black basketball players (so does the NBA for that matter), it strikes me odd that a quality program, such as Duke has such a small number of basketball players of color {I don’t have exact recent percentages, but the last I saw accurately published was 82% blacks in the NBA and 61% blacks for NCAA basketball, and this was from 1997 data}.  So what follows is my examination of when Coach K lost his eyesight? Or where are all the Black Blue Devils? What happened to the Underground Tobacco Road?
To see if I could quantify any of my hypotheses, I researched the last 15 years of the Duke basketball roster starting with the 2008-09 team.  It was fitting that the last team on the list was the 1994-95 team (the “this year never happened” team which went 13-18 because Coach K was out with health issues). So here are my findings:

  • In those 15 years, there have been a total of 102 black players at Duke (for an average of 6.8/year)
  • In the most recent 5 year span, the average was 5 black players/year
  • In the middle 5 year span, the average was 7.4 black players/year
  • In the most distant 5 year span, the average was 8 black players/year

In these 15 years, there have been 20 Duke players to land on an NBA roster (I’m even counting guys who had very short, middling careers, such as: Roshown Mcleod, William Avery, Daniel Ewing, Shavlik Randolph, Demarcus Nelson, Josh McRoberts)

  • 75% of those Duke NBA players were black
  • In the most recent 5 year span, the black players who have played in the NBA are: Shelden Williams, Daniel Ewing, Demarcus Nelson, and Gerald Henderson
  • In the most recent 5 year span, the white players who have played in the NBA are: JJ Redick, Shavlik Randolph, and Josh McRoberts (Kyle Singler will almost assuredly be added to this list, and probably Jon Scheyer).

If those pieces of information aren’t damning enough, I’ve got some NCAA tournament stats to wow you (Remember all of this data is from Dukies who played between the 1995-96 season through 2008-09 season):

  • # of black players on Duke’s 2000-01 Championship winning team- 9
  • Average # of black players on Duke teams that made it to the Final Four- 7
  • Average # of black players on Duke teams that lose in the Elite Eight- 10 (one team)
  • Average # of black players on Duke teams eliminated in the Sweet 16- 6.5
  • Average # of black players on Duke teams eliminated in the First Round- 6 (in actuality the # should be 4.  The 1995-96 Duke team’s (which had 8 black players) inclusion into the tourney was somewhat controversial, as they were only 18-13 during the season, and 8-8 in conference.  It was regarded as a popularity pick, as they were not a strong team

If even those pieces of information aren’t damning enough, I’ve got some data regarding NBA accomplishments of Duke players (All of this data is from Dukies who played between the 1995-96 through 2008-09 season{the cutoff is at least 50 games played in the season}):

  • # of times a white player from Duke has averaged 20 points/game- 0
  • # of times a black player from Duke has averaged 20 points/game- 11
  • # of times a white player from Duke has averaged 15 points/game- 1
  • # of times a black player from Duke has averaged 15 points/game- 21
  • # of times a white player from Duke has averaged 10 points/game- 6
  • # of times a black player from Duke has averaged 10 points/game- 31
  • # of times a white player from Duke has averaged 10 rebounds/game- 0
  • # of times a black player from Duke has averaged 10 rebounds/game- 10

A few more NBA accomplishments from black Duke grads (the # for all white Duke grads for each of these is 0{once again all of this data is from Dukies who played between the 1995-96 through 2008-09 seasons}):

  • All-Star selections- 4
  • All NBA selections- 2
  • All Defensive Team selections- 2
  • Rookie of the Year Awards- 1
  • All Rookie Team selections- 5
Recruits like this are the real reason Duke doesn’t win the title every year


None of this is data is to disparage white basketball players, or to suggest that black basketball players are better than white basketball players.  What I am suggesting is that Duke teams fare MUCH better when they have a higher percentage of black players on their teams, and that many of those black players have legitimate NBA success.  Despite what the detractors think, Duke still has national cache, and it’s hard for me to believe that such a small number of talented black players would want nothing to do with a school that has the vast majority of its games nationally televised, has a world renowned coach, and makes it to the NCAA tournament perennially, and has clothes/shoes contract with NIKE.  In all honesty, it’s impossible to argue that there aren’t talented black athletes who play for nearby teams such as NC State, Wake Forest, or Clemson that wouldn’t have obviously wanted to play for Duke instead of their current team.  I’m not insinuating that Coach K is a racist, but seriously, this doesn’t make sense to me.  Whatever the current recruiting strategy is, it’s not working very well.  The only 2 white players from Duke who’ve enjoyed even a modicum of success on the next level in the last 15 years are Mike Dunleavy and JJ Redick.  In the last 15 years!
Lastly, it appears that not only is Duke running with significantly fewer black players than they used to, the quality of player that they are recruiting isn’t all that great either.  As previously mentioned, the white athletes that have been on their rosters the last several years just haven’t been NBA quality, by anyone’s measure.  Coach K certainly has two Herculean tasks facing him this decade: acquiring more black talent, and acquiring more talent period.


1 comment for “Black Blue Devils

  1. Kaya
    December 5, 2012 at 9:25 PM

    As a rule, I never get excited about high shcool prospects. To me, they’re nothing until they can prove me something at the next level. As a Duke (and Celtics) fan though, it’s hard not to get excited about Rivers. I hope he does well.

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