Top 10 Freshman Starter Debuts

When the Blue Devils tip off against Presbyterian on Friday night in the season opener there will be three freshmen starters for only the second time in Coach K’s 34 years in Durham. And when Justise Winslow, Jahlil Okafor, and Tyus Jones take the court, they’ll join only a group of only 25 others who started their first game for Krzyzewski.

Here are the 10 best true freshman debuts in the Coach K era.

1. Kyrie Irving, 2010-2011

17 points, 4 rebounds, 9 assists in 25 minutes

Irving announced his presence to the college basketball world by leading the Blue Devils to a 37 point shellacking of Princeton. Irving and Nolan Smith combined for 43 points and 15 assists as Duke’s starting backcourt and seemed destined to lead the No.1 Blue Devils back to the Final 4 after the program had won the 2010 National Title. Over the next few weeks it would become apparent that the freshman lead guard was the best player in college basketball, but a freak toe injury robbed Duke fans of what could have been an epic season, leaving his career (much like his debut) as the ultimate catalyst for Duke fans to wonder “what if”.

2. Jabari Parker, 2013-2014

22 points, 6 rebounds in 23 minutes

Parker was clearly Duke’s top player from the opening tip a season ago. The 6-foot-8 big forward torched Davidson while playing just over half the game in Duke’s 111-77 season opening win. Parker hit 8-of-10 shots from the field including all of his three pointers. For the season he would average 19.1 points and 8.7 rebounds per game in what was the best cumulative season for a freshman ever at Duke. It was good enough to sweep post season rookie honors, but he finished second in ACC Player of the Year voting before declaring for the NBA Draft in June.

3. Luol Deng, 2003-2004

21 points, 8 rebounds, in 33 minutes

Rated as the number two prospect in the class of 2003 behind a guy named LeBron, Luol Deng gave Coach K his most dynamic player since Grant Hill according to recruiting experts. Dang proved worthy of such high praise by hitting 7-of-15 from the field and 5-of-6 from the charity stripe to help the Blue Devils rally to defeat Detroit in Cameron Indoor. The freshman would go on to be the team’s second leading scorer behind Redick at 15.1 points per game for a team that made it to the Final 4.

4. Shavlik Randolph, 2002-2003

23 points, 7 rebounds in 18 minutes

Believe it or not in a class that included J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams - both players who would have their jersey numbers retired in Durham - the best freshman on the floor against Army that night was Randolph. The Raleigh native showed off a variety of post moves and was effective around the basket against the overmatched Black Knights on his way to a big debut. Randolph would be just as good in the second game, scoring 17 points and grabbing 12 rebounds in 30 minutes against Davidson. He would score in double figures just five more times all season, finishing the season averaging 7.4 points and 3.9 rebounds in 13.5 minutes per night.

5. Cherokee Parks, 1991-1992

16 points, 6 rebounds in 20 minutes

As a freshman on, perhaps, Duke’s best team ever, Parks acquitted himself well against East Carolina. The 6-foot-11 California product probably relished the chance to compete against someone other than Christian Laettner and the Pirates provided that chance. Parks hit all five of his field goal attempts and went 6-of-8 from the free throw line while also collecting three blocks. His aggressive approach also netted him four fouls in just 20 minutes of action. The opener was his second best game of the season behind a 19 points, 8 rebound performance against Clemson.

6. Mark Alarie, 1982-1983

16 points, 5 rebounds in 25 mintues

Joining Johnny Dawkins in the starting lineup, Alarie was Duke’s best post option against East Carolina as the Blue Devils rallied to beat the Pirates by seven in the season opener of the 1982-1983 season. The Arizona prospect shot led the team in scoring (16), rebounds (7), field goals made (7) and attempted (13).

7. Brian Zoubek, 2006-2007

18 points, 6 rebounds in 14 minutes

And you thought Zoubek didn’t figure it out until the latter half of his senior season? That’s mostly correct, but the big center from New Jersey was a match-up problem for Columbia during his first college game. Zoubek shot 4-of-7 from the field and 10-of-13 from the line. After limited action in his second game, Zoubek did manage 17 points and 7 boards in 20 minutes against UNC-Greensboro, but from there his production dropped significantly. From January 10th of his freshman season he scored just six points the rest of the way. Perhaps he was just saving it for the epic 2010 title run?

8. Johnny Dawkins, 1982-1983

15 points, 4 assists in 38 minutes

Dawkins was the recruit that helped jumpstart the Coach K era into high gear. And though his first game was impressive, it was merely a preview of a career that still ranks among the best ever in Durham. But, it was only good enough for second in his class that season as Alarie’s game was more efficient. Still, Dawkins scored in double figures in 27 of Duke’s 28 games that year averaging 18.1 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 4.8 assists in 35.8 minutes per game. It seemed as though the 70-65 win over East Carolina was just the warm-up act.

9. Kyle Singler, 2007-2008

15 points, 7 rebounds, 3 blocks in 23 minutes

Kyle definitely got buckets in his first game as a Blue Devil. He’d get many, many more over the next three years playing both forward positions. In that first game against NC Central, SIngler shot 5-of-7 from the field playing power forward beside Lance Thomas and helped the Blue Devils to an easy 121-56 victory over their guests. Singler would finish the season as the team’s second leading scorer (13.3) and rebounder (5.8) while shooting 46 percent from the field and 77 percent from the line.

10. Shane Battier, 1997-1998

15 points, 7 rebounds in 24 mintues

Battier played alongside Elton Brand and Roshown McLeod on a team that held poor Army to just 9 points in the first half of his debut. Prior to Brand breaking his foot, Battier played small forward almost exclusively before moving over to the big forward position with McLeod. In that first look, Battier hit 6-of-9 from the field and 3-of-3 from the free throw line - leading the team in scoring and rebounding against the Cadets. He started 20 games as a true freshman, averaged 7.6 points and 6.4 rebound but shot only 17 percent from the perimeter for the season. He must have spent quite a lot of time in Cameron after hours as Shane was a career 42 percent three point shooter, making 246-of-592 in four seasons.

Honorable Mention

- Austin Rivers, 2011-2012, 16 points, 2 rebounds in 38 minutes

- Jason Williams, 1999-2000, 13 points, 10 rebounds, 6 turnovers in 36 minutes

- Elton Brand, 1997-1998, 12 points, 3 rebounds in 24 minutes.

- Grant Hill, 1990-1991, 12 points, 3 rebounds in 22 minutes

- Tommy Amaker, 1983-1984, 12 points, 4 steals, in 37 minutes


- Winslow, Okafor, and Jones will become the first trio of freshman to start for Coach K in the season opener since the 1982-1983 season when Dawkins, Alarie, and Bill Jackman opened the season.

- Coach Krzyzewski has started two freshmen in the season opener just three times (1982, 2002, and 2006).

The Devils Den Top Stories