Flashback: Duke's Most Important Recruit

This year, Coach K wrote down a list of all the recruits Duke wanted, six in all, and then went out and got each one.  That's remarkable, but there was a time when Duke would not have gotten any attention from any of them.

This year, Coach K wrote down a list of all the recruits Duke wanted, six in all, and then went out and got each one.  That's remarkable, but there was a time when Duke would not have gotten any attention from any of them except in passing. That changed in the '70s with one recruit.

In the '60s, Vic Bubas was a pioneer and to an extent refined recruiting to an art.  He soon began pulling in players from all over the country - Heyman, Mullins, Lewis, Vacendak, Verga, and many others.  But when Bucky Waters took over, the nation was in turmoil, and Duke basketball hit some hard times as well.  In the early 1970s, Duke fell to pretty much the level where Clemson and FSU are now.  Clemson was highly competitive (if corrupt) under Tates Locke, and N.C. State, Maryland, and UNC ruled the ACC. Duke was an afterthought, and after Waters resigned, and a year under assistant Neil McGeachy, and after a bizarre attempt to hire senile Adolph Rupp, Duke was a joke as well.

When Bill Foster came to Duke, he had a mess to clean up. And while he immediately began finding some diamonds in the rough - like Jim Spanarkel and Mike Gminski - he wasn't getting what was believed to be top-drawer talent.

Until Gene Banks, that is.

Recruiting has changed so much that it's hard to believe that a guy who was rated above Magic Johnson in his class (a good argument against rankings) could slip into Durham pretty much undetected, but Duke brought him in under the radar. At that point there was gossip and the Poop Sheet (we think), but no Internet, almost no public discussion of recruiting, and so the courtship was almost unknown until Banks announced, and it was a major shock when a Top 5 recruit signed with Duke, and he was also Duke's first elite African-American recruit.  Duke was really only a few years past the all-white era.

When Banks signed, one observer flatly predicted a national championship.  That wasn't to be, but Duke did make the tournament three years in a row, and made the NIT his senior year.  

After Foster left, Krzyzewski took over, and while he struggled for a year or two, he soon began drawing in significant talent.  And Krzyzewski is the modern era. But who knows what he would have seen in Duke if Foster hadn't brought Banks in? He was a key player and recruit in so many ways at Duke that it's hard to overestimate his importance.  But in many ways he really defined Duke basketball. The flamboyance was not a permanent factor (Banks may have been the most charismatic Dukie in history), but the athleticism, the heart, and the passion became hallmarks of Duke basketball.


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