One of the greatest to ever do it, coach Mike Krzyzewski (a.k.a. Coach K) is in his 42nd and final year at Duke University. In 1980, he was unveiled to a room full of skeptical Duke basketball reporters. Back then, he jokingly told them that any player of his would need to be able to spell and pronounce his name in order to graduate from the iconic North Carolinian institution. To be fair, the greatest players Mike Krzyzewski coached could usually spell his name perfectly.
Just over four decades later he is a household name well-known by basketball fans across the world. Much like the greatest players that Mike Krzyzewski coached.
He has coached his teams to 15 ACC tournament championships, 13 regular season championships, 12 final four appearances, 5 national titles, and 1,170 wins as of this writing (most wins by a college basketball coach). While the regular season ended on an “unacceptable” note, Duke’s favorite coach has had a more than an acceptable career.
While Coach K ended up coaching future NBA standouts Kyrie Irving and Jayson Tatum, they were both “one-and-done” in college and did not spend more than a year with Duke.
Of the greatest players Mike Krzyzewski coached, some created history with iconic moments in clutch situations. Some paved the way, while others led with consistency at the top. In one way or another, these young athletes have all achieved greatness.
Let’s get into it.
- College PPG: 19.2
- Pro PPG: 11.1
- Accomplishments: 2x All American, 2x All-American (1985 & 1986), Naismith College Player of the Year (1986)
Johnny was the ultimate scoring guard. In fact, before J.J. Redick, Dawkins was Duke’s all-time top scorer with 2,556 points. He is still the school’s leader in field goal attempts (2,019) and made field goals (1,026). Plus, he still ranks 6th in Duke history all-time in career assists (555).
It is important to note that Dawkins put these numbers up before the three-point line was nationally adopted in 1986, the year of his graduation. Imagine if he actually DID have the 3-pointer advantage. His point total might be astronomical!
After departing Duke, Dawkins played 9 seasons in the NBA. He was drafted in the first round at 10th overall by the San Antonio Spurs. He played for the Philadelphia 76ers (1989-94) and Detroit Pistons (1994-95) before retiring. Yet he still loved the game and wanted to get into coaching. This led him to team back up with Coach K as an assistant coach at Duke from 1998 to 2008.
- College PPG: 19.9
- Pro PPG: 12.8
- Accomplishments: 2x ACC Player of the Year (2005 & 2006), 2x ACC Most Valuable Player (2005 & 2006), Naismith College Player of the Year (2006)
J.J. Redick is still known as one of the best scorers in ACC history. He finished his career with an NCAA record of 457 three-point field goals and shooting 40.6% from the three-point range. Redick is also the Blue Devils’ leader in career free-throw percentage (91.2%), with streaks of 54 and 43 consecutive free throws (#1 and #2 in school history).
Duke’s all-time top scorer also held the ACC record for most points when he graduated (which was later surpassed by Tarheel standout Tyler Hansbrough). Redick put up at least 20 points in a game 70 times and 30 points at least 20 times (both #1 in school history).
In 2006, he won every major national Player of the Year award. While J.J. has recently spoken about betraying Duke, he still remains one of the greatest players Mike Krzyzewski coached. He was a first-round pick in the 2006 NBA Draft, as the Orlando Magic picked Redick at the #11 spot.
Redick would play in the NBA for 16 seasons before retiring in September of 2021. He was often known as a journeyman in the NBA. Yet every team he went to ended up getting a valuable shooter that could go off in games if given the chance. He was known for hitting daggers in college and the same can be said for his NBA career.
- College PPG: 16.2
- Pro PPG: 15.9
- Accomplishments: 2x NBA All-Star (2002 & 2006), Naismith College Player of the Year (1999), ACC Player of the Year (1999), All-NBA Second Team (2006), NBA Co-Rookie of the Year (2000), USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year (1998), First-Team All-ACC (1999)
Elton Brand led the Duke Blue Devils to a two-year stint of 69-6 with two ACC regular-season championships. Elton also led the team to an NCAA Championship game in 1999 as well. While Duke lost to UCONN 77-74 as a Freshman, Brand’s second season was highlighted by National Player of the Year honors.
He led the team with 17.7 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks per game in his second and final season. His amazing college performances made him an easy #1 pick overall in the 1999 NBA Draft by the Chicago Bulls.
In a 17-year career, Elton averaged 15.9 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 2.1 assists in 1,058 games. He played for the Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Clippers, Philadelphia 76ers, and the Atlanta Hawks. Of course, now Brand serves as General Manager for the Philadelphia 76ers. This is a role he has held since 2018.
- College PPG: 15.1
- Pro PPG: 7.0
- Accomplishments: 2x ACC Player of the Year (1988 & 1989), 2x First-Team All-ACC (1988 & 1989), NBA Champion (2003), Naismith College Player of the Year (1989), First-Team All-American (1989), National High School Player of the Year (1985)
Danny Ferry was always a leader. He became the first player in ACC history to compile 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, and 500 assists. As a freshman, he was a crucial part of the 1985-1986 Duke team that went 37-3 and advanced to the National Championship title game, as well as winning the ACC Championship.
During his junior year, Ferry averaged 19.1 points per game and led the team in scoring, rebounding, minutes, free-throw percentage, and blocked shots. It was no surprise that he won MVP of both the ACC Tournament and NCAA East Regional that season.
In his Senior year, Ferry helped Duke advance to the Final Four and led the ACC with a 22.6 scoring average. He also holds the record for most points scored in a single game for Duke with 58 points against Miami in the 1988-89 season.
Ferry went on to be the #2 pick in the 1989 NBA Draft by the Los Angeles Clippers. After refusing to play for the Clippers, he moved to Italy for a season where he averaged 23 points and 6 rebounds per game. A year later, Ferry was traded to Cleveland where he spent a decade of his 13-year NBA career.
Ferry retired after winning the NBA Championship with the San Antonio Spurs. Of course, this leader could not just walk away completely. That led Ferry to become a front office executive. He’d serve as VP of Basketball Operations for the Spurs at one point before going on to become the GM for the Atlanta Hawks & Cleveland Cavaliers.
- College PPG: 13.9
- Pro PPG: 4.5
- Accomplishments: 2x NABC Defensive Player of the Year (2005 & 2006), 2x First-Team All-ACC (2005 & 2006), First-Team All-American (2006), USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year (2005)
Sheldon Williams may not have won a championship with Duke, but the big man was as dominant as it gets. Williams is the all-time leader in blocks for the Blue Devils with 422 to his credit. In his final season at Duke, be blocked a total of 137 shots, which is the most blocks in a single season.
The record for second and third-most blocks per season also belongs to Sheldon Williams. In fact, Williams shares the most blocks in a single game with Cherokee Parks with 10 blocks in total.
Due to his impressive college career, he was selected by the Atlanta Hawks with the 5th pick overall in the 2006 NBA Draft.
After stints with the Sacramento Kings, Minnesota Timberwolves, Boston Celtics, Denver Nuggets, and the New York Knicks, he signed a 1-year contract with then-French League Champions Elan Chalon in 2012. Then in 2013, he signed with Tianjin Ronggang of China.
He may not have had much success as a pro, but Sheldon Williams is one of the greatest players Mike Krzyzewski coached.
- College PPG:16.1
- Pro PPG: 7.5
- Accomplishments: Third-Team All-American (1986), First-Team All-ACC (1986), Second-Team All-ACC (1985)
Mark Alarie was a major element in the revitalization of Duke basketball under Coach K. Another member of the famous class of ’86, Alarie was one of the most consistent and reliable players for the Blue Devils as they rebuilt their championship program.
He averaged double-figures from day one, in all 4 years of his collegiate career. This ended up making him Duke’s #5 all-time leader in scoring (2,136) and #6 in minutes played at Duke (4,042).
Alarie is a two-time First-Team All-ACC selection and was an All-American in his final season at Duke. Alarie was drafted 18th overall by the Denver Nuggets in the 1986 NBA Draft.
Sadly, Alarie was forced to retire at age 27 due to recurring knee injuries. However, it seems basketball prowess runs in the family as his daughter Bella would eventually play basketball at Princeton. Then went on to be selected 5th overall by the WNBA’s Dallas Wings in the 2020 WNBA Draft.
- College PPG: 13.6
- Pro PPG: 8.6
- Accomplishments: 3x NABC Defensive Player of the Year, 2x NBA Champion (2012 & 2013), 2x All American, NCAA Championship Winner (2001), Naismith College Player of the Year (2001), Wooden Award (2001), Final Four Most Outstanding Player (2001)
Shane Battier’s stat line wasn’t the most impressive, but his contributions to Duke’s success are undeniable. Always fighting for loose balls, putting his body on the line to take charges, Battier often made the difference. Especially in Duke’s 2001 title run. Shane was never known as a major offensive force, as he was best used as a major defensive asset.
Battier finished as Duke’s all-time leader in charges taken (111), #2 in steals (266), and #3 in blocks (254). A defensive standout, he ended up winning the NABC Defensive Player of the Year award 3 times. The Blue Devils won 131 games with Battier, more than any other Duke player.
He would go on to be drafted 6th overall in the first round of the 2001 NBA draft, by the then-Vancouver Grizzlies (now Memphis Grizzlies). Shane was traded to Miami 5 years later and won 2 NBA Championships with the infamous James, Wade, & Bosh-led Miami Heat.
After 13 seasons in the NBA, Battier retired in 2014. He would retire being known as one of the best defensive players in NBA history who would break his own back if it meant he could help his team win. That’s a teammate everyone wants to have.
- College PPG: 19.3
- Pro PPG: 9.5
- Accomplishments: NCAA Championship Winner (2001), Naismith College Player of the Year (2002), Wooden Award (2002), ACC Rookie of the Year, NABC Player of the Year (2001)
Jason Williams was the ideal guard, being able to hurt you with his scoring as well as playmaking abilities. As a sophomore, Williams led Duke to an NCAA Championship, earning NABC Player of the Year honors. In his junior season, Williams won each of the National Player of the Year awards.
Jay’s most memorable college basketball moment will always be the “miracle minute.” He embodies Coach K’s next play mentality. After being drafted 2nd overall by the Chicago Bulls in 2002, Jay sadly got into a motorcycle accident that would effectively end his playing career.
However, he did bounce back in another venture. Today, Jay is now a successful NBA analyst who credits his perseverance for his physical and mental recovery.
- College PPG: 12.4
- Pro PPG: 3.8
- Accomplishments: 2x NCAA Championship Winner (1991 & 1992), NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player (1992), First Team All-ACC (1993)
Truly a team player, Bobby was not physically imposing, nor did he make highlight plays. He just knew how to win games and help his teammates excel. Duke held a record of 119-26 while Hurley was part of the Blue Devils’ team as a starter. This is a very impressive record, to say the least.
Known for his intensity and tough-mindedness, Hurley went to the Final Four 3 times and led Duke to back-to-back NCAA titles in 1991 and 1992. Hurley remains the NCAA’s all-time assist leader with 1076 assists, and Duke’s single-game assist leader with 16.
While he wasn’t known for his shooting, he finished #6 all-time in Duke’s three-point shooting record book.
Hurley was drafted by the Sacramento Kings as the 7th pick overall in the 1993 NBA Draft. He played in the NBA for 5 seasons before being waived by the Grizzlies in 1999. To this day, Hurley is one of the most underrated yet greatest players Mike Krzyzewski coached.
Bobby could never walk away from the game for too long, which led to his coaching career. He started off small before eventually landing the Head Coaching role at Buffalo University. Today, he’s the head-man in charge of the Arizona State Sun Devils.
- College PPG: 14.9
- Pro PPG: 16.7
- Accomplishments: 7x NBA All-Star, 3x NBA Sportsmanship Award, 2x NCAA Championship Winner (1991 & 1992), All-NBA First Team (1997), NBA Co-Rookie of the Year (1995), NABC Defensive Player of the Year (1993), ACC Player of the Year (1994)
Grant Hill became the first player in ACC history to collect more than 1,900 points, 700 rebounds, 400 assists, 200 steals, and 100 blocked shots. Just one of his many impressive accolades. Grant Hill was widely considered the best all-around college basketball player ever during his collegiate career.
He won back-to-back NCAA titles in 1991 and 1992, and also led his team to a third championship game in 1994 but lost in the finals. However, Hill was still thought to be the best player of the year. Which allowed him to win the ACC Player of the Year award.
The Detroit Pistons drafted him with the 3rd pick overall in the 1994 NBA Draft. For the Pistons, Hill averaged 19.9 points, 6.4 rebounds, 5.0 assists, and 1.7 steals per game, becoming the Pistons’ first rookie since Isiah Thomas to score 1,000 points.
He was named an All-Star 7 times throughout his career. Sadly, he was plagued with injury issues and then had to come back from them for a large portion of his career. This is what led the Pistons to trade him to the Magic in 2000, where he played another 7 years. Grant would then float around as a valuable veteran bench player afterward.
Hill never won an NBA Championship but he is among the greatest Blue Devils of all time. In fact, in 2016, Hill was inducted into the Duke Sports Hall of Fame. This is an honor that only the greatest players are given, proving how impressive Hill was.
- College PPG: 16.6
- Pro PPG: 12.8
- Accomplishments: 2x NCAA Championship Winner (1991 & 1992), 2x ACC Athlete of the Year (1991 & 1992), 2x First-Team All-ACC (1991 & 1992), ACC Player of the Year (1992), Olympic Gold Medalist (1992), Naismith College Player of the Year (1992), NBA All-Star (1997), NABC Player of the Year (1992)
Christian Laettner is the only player in NCAA history to start in the Final Four in all 4 of his college years. He is still #3 in Duke’s all-time points scored (2,460), and total rebounds (1,149).
Almost everyone believes the big man was ahead of his time, as he was shooting with 48.5% accuracy from deep in the early 1990s. He is also Duke’s all-time leader in free-throw attempts (885) and made attempts (713).
He had great seasons often, but 1992 was Laettner’s year as won every player of the year award available.
He’s easily one of the greatest players Mike Krzyzewski coached. His buzzer-beater to win the 1992 Regional Finals against Kentucky will always be remembered by college basketball fans around the world. In fact, Kentucky fans have hated Laettner for years due to this.
He was drafted 3rd overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves in the 1992 NBA Draft. Before he really made it to the NBA, he was selected to be part of Team USA for the Summer Olympics. Yep, Laettner was part of the infamous 1992 Dream Team!
Christian went on to play in the NBA for 13 years. However, he never spent more than 3 seasons with any team and was traded 6 times. Although, his best seasons were with the Atlanta Hawks where they made it to the 2nd round of the playoffs.
The U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame athlete achieved everything there was to achieve at a collegian level.