Why are Blue Devils awesome in college and awful in the NBA?

Here is what Josh Levin says. For the first time in what seems like ages, America's most-hated college basketball team is back in its usual perch. The six years that have elapsed since Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski's last trip to the Final Four are an outlier in his 30-year tenure. Coach K, who has a record 75 NCAA tournament wins, now has 11 Final Four appearances on his résumé, a total that puts him just behind coaching paragon John Wooden.

One overwhelming factor can explain this run of success: talent. Only North Carolina has recruited more McDonald's high-school All-Americans—the first McDonald's team was selected in the late 1970s, just prior to Krzyzewski's arrival—and no team has netted more consensus top-50 recruits in the last decade. Many of these guys have gone on to the pros: NBA franchises have drafted 40 of Coach K's players, and 14 Blue Devils have played in the league this season alone. But when you consider their prep and collegiate accomplishments, these Dukies have made a surprisingly small mark on the NBA. No Duke player from the last three decades has been a core player on an NBA titlist, and just four—Grant Hill, Christian Laettner, Elton Brand, and Carlos Boozer—have played in an NBA All-Star game. (Shane Battier was recently dubbed a "No-Stats All-Star" by Michael Lewis in the New York Times Magazine, however.)

Don't expect any of this year's Blue Devils to change that trend. NBA draft analyst Jonathan Givony has four Duke players ranked in his top 100 prospects, none higher than freshman Mason Plumlee at No. 31. (Leading scorers Kyle Singler and Jon Scheyer are No. 40 and No. 99, respectively; Nolan Smith is not ranked.)

So, what's the explanation for Duke's lack of NBA accolades? While no single answer can account for the careers of Danny Ferry, William Avery, and Shavlik Randolph, I consulted with high-school-talent evaluators, stat mavens, a pro-basketball trainer, and a former Blue Devil on my quest for a grand unified theory. During these conversations I heard eight different theories for Duke's questionable NBA pedigree. (One that should be dismissed out of hand: the school's high academic standards. As a scholastic cohort, Duke hoopsters aren't in the same universe as the rest of the university.) Here's a rundown of the hypotheses.

Coach K's motivational techniques are too masterful. Part of the Krzyzewski mythos is that he is no mere coach. He is a leader of men, a commander so strong and wise that a Duke leadership and ethics institute bears his name. Basketball trainer and ESPN.com writer David Thorpe believes the hype. Duke's hoopsters "are playing for the best motivator in the country maybe in any sport," he says. Thorpe, who has trained ex-Dukies Luol Deng, Chris Carrawell, Brian Davis, and David McClure, believes this can work against Blue Devils players when they leave campus. "In the NBA, nobody cares," Thorpe says. "It's not a place where they're going to … push you every day. It has to come from within."

Thorpe cites Carrawell as an exemplar of this theory. The ACC player of the year in 2000, Carrawell was "a can't-miss NBA guy coming out of high school and college," Thorpe says. After he left Duke, though, the trainer thinks Carrawell got complacent and didn't improve his game enough to impress pro scouts. The consequence: He didn't get picked until the second round and was soon out of the league. Without "Mike Krzyzewski banging on him every day, he was flouncing in the water," Thorpe argues.


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