The Top 10 Duke Stories of 2014

We look back at another big year for the Blue Devil football and basketball programs

The Kids Are All Right

Following the departures of Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood, the Blue Devil coaches knew they needed a huge influx of talent and size. Enter the recruiting class of 2014 consisting of Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones, Justise Winslow, and Grayson Allen which has been the backbone of the 2014-2015 team with Okafor tabbed as the nation’s preseason player of the year, Winslow performing like the team’s best player for much of the early season, and Jones providing clutch performances in the team’s biggest games to date.

Through the first eight weeks of the season Okafor and Jones have made a complete sweep of weekly rookie honors from the ACC - winning every week the team was not idle. Meanwhile, Winslow burst onto the nation scene with some jaw dropping highlights mixed in with a do-it-all skill set that has elevated his team to the highest levels - resulting in a 10-0 start that includes 10 double-digit wins.

As for Allen, the five star scoring guard finds himself behind a trio of former high school all-stars and hasn’t found as much playing time, but sources inside the program remain extremely high on the Florida prospect’s long term impact in Durham.

While the “kids” have done all right early on, it’s a fair question to wonder whether or not their impact will be a building block or just a bridge to the next set of newcomers. Okafor is a lock as the top pick in June’s NBA Draft, with Winslow a likely top 10 overall pick. Jones’ longevity is tougher to project, but you’d be hard pressed to find an NBA Mock Draft that doesn’t have the Duke floor general slotted among the top 25 picks.

Duke rolls over No. 2 Wisconsin on the road

After losing to Mercer and bringing in the nation’s top recruiting class, there were certainly questions of just how much had really changed for Duke this season. That answer may still be months away from being completely clear, but when the Blue Devils went to Madison, Wisconsin to face the second ranked Wisconsin Badgers, we got a pretty good idea of how good the “kids” are.

The Blue Devils won the game by 10, but it was the way in which Duke went about getting the result that had (and has) the fan base believing this team could be Coach K’s best since the 2010 title squad.

It wasn’t that Duke won the game - something that is exceedingly rare for any team to do on the Badgers’ home court, it was the way they did it. Duke posted the most efficient offensive performance in more than a decade by a Wisconsin opponent by shooting 65 percent from the floor, 58 percent from the perimeter, and 72 percent from the charity stripe.

"When those freshmen see that the upperclassmen are setting the table for them, it helps a lot," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "They didn't look like freshmen tonight."

"Yeah I would say they hit some tough shots ... but to have that many do it, that's just not fair," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan deadpanned. "They were lights out."

Duke loses to Mercer

The 2013-2014 Blue Devils weren’t short on talent - boasting the likes of Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood, but the team was definitely short on a lot of ingredients needed for success. The inability to defend, the lack of a true post presence, and general lack of toughness (among other deficiencies) combined to produce a number of ugly performances throughout the season.

While the season ending loss to Mercer was painful, it was hardly unexpected by those who followed the team closely. After all this was the same Duke team that was less than a second from losing at home to Vermont. Some other notable downers from last season included losing a number of streaks established over the years including the preseason tournament winning streak; consecutive weeks ranked in the top 10; and very nearly the consecutive weeks ranked in the top 25.

Throughout the season teams feasted on Duke’s matador defensive approach, though things seemed to be improving as the Blue Devils slugged their way into the ACC Championship round before falling to Virginia. However, the veteran squad from Mercer was neither intimidated nor impressed with Duke’s reputation as the Bears used a 20-5 second half run to earn the program’s biggest victory. It also sent the Blue Devils to a second first round exit in three seasons.

Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood to NBA

While Duke’s 2013-2014 season ended poorly, there were a number of memorable moments provided by a pair of future NBA players. Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood were terrific throughout the season with Parker taking home ACC Rookie of the Year honors and Hood earning second team all-conference honors.

Heading into Duke it was assumed that Parker would be one and done, though the loss to Mercer provided a small glimmer of hope for Blue Devil faithful as Parker told the media his career was “definitely incomplete”.

Parker was coming off a season in which he averaged a team-high 19.1 points and 8.7 rebounds, and was reportedly tight with Duke’s next big time prospect, Jahlil Okafor. However, the Chicago native made his decision relatively quickly and announced it via Sports Illustrated on April 17th.

"Ultimately, I boiled my decision down to two simple questions," Parker wrote. "Which environment -- college or the NBA -- offers me the best opportunity to grow as a basketball player? Which environment -- college or the NBA -- offers me the best opportunity to grow and develop off the court? The answer to both questions is undeniably the NBA."

Hood followed suit a day later via a Duke press release.

The former Mississippi State player who had transferred in a season earlier and then sat out per NCAA rules, ended his Duke career as a team captain who scored 16.1 points per game.

Parker was taken No. 2 overall by the Milwaukee Bucks, while Hood waited much later than anticipated to be drafted 23rd overall by the Utah Jazz.

Andre Dawkins makes it all the way back

Two years ago Andre Dawkins walked away from the game of basketball citing mental exhaustion and a need to properly grieve for the loss of his sister.

The 6-foot-4 scoring guard sat out of Duke’s strong 2012-2013 season which saw the Blue Devils advance all the way to the Elite Eight before bowing out to eventual national champion, Louisville.

“It was fun to watch the team play,” he said. “The guys played really hard all the time and it was fun to watch the guys grow as the year went along.”

Towards the end of that season, Dawkins sat down with head coach Mike Krzyzewski and decided that he wanted to finish what he started at Duke despite being able to transfer and immediately play at any school.

“I talked to Coach and we both agreed — we wanted it to be different than it was before, for me to be able to give a hundred percent to the team and not check in and check out from game to game.”

Dawkins returned to Duke as a fifth year senior and averaged 7.9 points per game while shooting over 42 percent from long range. But there were still times where the Virginia native seemed rusty.

Following the team’s loss to Mercer (a game in which he went 0-5 from the field and finished scoreless), Dawkins went underrated by the NBA. However, he continued to train daily at Duke and eventually earned an invitation to compete in the NBA Summer League. From there he continued to improve and was eventually signed as the last player on the 2014-2015 Miami Heat roster.

Since making the Heat, Dawkins has spent time with the club’s D-League affiliate. When he’s been on that level, he’s been spectacular, averaging 25.6 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists in 36 minutes per game, while shooting .528 from the field, .564 percent on 3-pointers and .758 percent from the foul line in eight games. He also recently set the franchise’s single game three point mark by hitting 12.

Rivalry Snow Day

North Carolina got hit with one of the biggest snow storms in recent memory in February with the Triangle getting six inches of snow in only a few hours on February 12th. It was enough to bring life in the Raleigh-Durham area to complete halt.

Traffic, schools, local universities, and similar were all shut down or severely delayed as Winter Storm Pax tore through the Triangle. As the day reached early afternoon, the Blue Devils’ bus to Chapel Hill for the first installment of college basketball’s best rivalry remained parked.

Eventually school and ACC officials determined that the game would be postponed due to weather. The contest was moved to February 20th and provided that vulnerable group of Blue Devils a three game in five day period that included back to back road games against tough ACC competition.

Perhaps the fatigue showed as Duke melted down against the Tar Heels on February 20th, squandering a 51-40 lead with 15 minutes remaining.

Ben Humprheys commits

Football recruiting got a major shot in the arm over the summer when one of the top 180 players in the country regardless of position picked Duke.

Rated as the No. 177 overall prospect and the country’s 12th best outside linebacker, Ben Humphreys picked the Blue Devils over offers from Arizona State, Arizona, California, Miami, Nebraska, Oregon State, Wisconsin, Washington, and several other high majors.

"Right when I stepped on campus, I knew it was the place for me," Humphreys said. "I was planning to take some other trips but I was just talking to my dad the other day and told him I was ready to make my decision.

"I told him Duke was the perfect place for me and I didn't want to visit anyone else. They recruiting me hard from the beginning and I love the coaching staff. They have a great campus, the football program is going in the right direction and it's hard to beat their combination of athletics and academics."

The athlete has the ability to play linebacker or safety at the next level. He played outside 'backer as a junior but will move to safety this coming season. He has good size and plenty of room to add to his 6-1, 205 pound frame. His football instincts are off the charts and he always seems one or two steps ahead of everyone else.

While he’s clearly the jewel of the 2015 recruiting class, Humprheys may have also been the catalyst for other high major recruits to start looking hard at Duke Football. In the class of 2016 the Blue Devils have already landed a pair of four star prospects including the No. 10 TE in the country and the nation’s No. 21 overall wide receiver.

Stadium Renovations Announced

Duke Football has come back to life under head coach David Cutcliffe. After more than 40 years of futility, the Blue Devils have played in three straight bowl games and won 19 games over the past two seasons. In addition the program has created an indoor practice facility, a full field turf practice field, and a new field house.

Now it’s time for Wallace Wade Stadium to get a major facelift.

In September the Duke Board of Trustees approved design and granted construction authorization for the three initiatives, which are being funded entirely by private gifts specifically for the renovation.

The three developments include a new tower to replace the Finch-Yeager Building on the west side of the stadium, a new video board and speaker arrangement to be located in the south end zone as well as concourse enhancements on the North and West Gates of the facility.

In addition, the field is being lowered and the track has been removed from the stadium.

Duke in Sun Bowl

For the third straight season the Blue Devil Football program found itself in the thick of college football’s post season. Following a 9-3 regular season that included a 5-3 mark in the ACC, the Blue Devils were paired against Arizona State in the Hyundai Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas.

The Sun Devils were, arguably, among the toughest opponents of the David Cutcliffe era having been ranked as high as sixth in the College Football Playoff standings midway through the season.

As were the first two bowl games of the Cutcliffe era, the 2014 Sun Bowl was among the most entertaining contests of the bowl season (which has yet to conclude), earning a game rating of “A-“ from the experts at College Football News.

Still, like the other two games, Duke once again came up short in the postseason - a trend the program will be eager to buck in the coming 2015 season.

Bowl games have become an expectation rather than an outlandish dream in Durham, and a winning culture has been established by Cutcliffe.

Crowder Ties ACC Record

Jamison Crowder has been Duke’s most consistent and dangerous receiver for the last three seasons, taking over for the departed Conner Vernon. In the 2014 Sun Bowl Crowder once again took over for Vernon, tying his former teammate as the ACC’s all-time leader in pass receptions with 283.

Crowder recorded 85 catches for 1,044 yards and six touchdowns as a senior after posting 108 catches for 1,360 yards and eight touchdowns as a junior. During those two seasons the Blue Devils won 19 games and Crowder was named to multiple All-American teams by various publications. However, would Duke have reached those heights without the then sophomore going over the middle for a touchdown catch in the 2012 game against North Carolina?

It was that catch in that game that delivered the Blue Devils that much needed sixth win and bowl eligibility for the first time in more than 20 years. Duke built from there, but it was that iconic catch that set the Blue Devils on this run that was unthinkable just a few years ago.

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