There isn’t a collegiate athletic program that’s as universally hated more than the Duke University Men’s Basketball team. That’s not even up for debate. While many of the haters will point to a whole host of reasons for this, the truth is that nobody would be as emotionally invested in hating Duke so much if the program wasn’t as consistently successful as it is, with head coach Mike Krzyzewski leading the program to five National Championships since 1991.
But if there’s one blemish on the program, it’s that the talent to play at Cameron Indoor Stadium hasn’t always translated into NBA stardom. While guys like Grant Hill and Shane Battier enjoyed great success in the NBA, a lot more of the guys to suit up under Krzyzewski might’ve peaked before leaving Durham, North Carolina.
To that end, here are 20 players who were some of the best to play for Duke University, but failed to live up to expectations in the NBA.
The two-time NABC Defensive Player of the Year (2005 and 2006), First-Team All-American in 2006, and John R. Wooden National Player of the Year Finalist in 2006, Shelden Williams lived up to his 5-star billing when arriving in Durham, having his Number 23 retired after four successful years at Duke.
The Atlanta Hawks selected Williams with the 5th overall pick in the 2006 NBA Draft, but less than two seasons later, Atlanta traded him to Minnesota. Over the next two years, Williams spent time on three different teams, before heading to Europe to finish out his career.
You could make the argument that Christian Laettner is the greatest college basketball player of all time; even if you don’t think so, nobody can argue against the fact that he was among the best of the best all time. In addition to leading Duke to back-to-back National Championship teams in 1991 and 1992, he was selected to the hallowed 1992 United States men’s Olympic basketball team (aka “The Dream Team”).
The Minnesota Timberwolves took Laettner with the 3rd overall pick in the 1992 NBA Draft, and while his numbers in the NBA weren’t terrible overall, Laettner’s career included six different teams, six trades, and never spending more than three full seasons anywhere (and a suspension for “smoking” something that wasn’t a cigarette).
One of the first great players under Mike Krzyzewski, Ferry was the 2nd overall pick in the 1989 NBA Draft, but was selected by the Los Angeles Clippers, whom he refused to play for. Ferry instead headed to Italy for a year, before the Clippers cut their losses and traded him to the Cleveland Cavaliers at the start of what would’ve been his rookie year.
Ferry signed a huge deal in Cleveland, but never lived up to the billing of his college accolades. Ferry finished out his career with a three-year stint in San Antonio, picking up a championship ring with the Spurs in 2003.
Unless you’re interested in getting into a physical altercation with fans or alumni of the University of Maryland, don’t bring up the name “Jay Williams” around them. The two-time first-team All-American and two-time college basketball player of the year led the infamous “Miracle Minute” comeback against the Terrapins, in which his Blue Devils erased a 10-point deficit in the last minute of the game. Williams ended up being the #2 pick of the 2002 NBA Draft, taken by the Chicago Bulls.
After an up-and-down rookie season, Williams suffered a series of catastrophic injuries while riding his Yamaha R6 motorcycle, and not wearing a helmet while doing so. Riding said motorcycle was a violation of Williams’ contract with the Bulls, and Williams’ injuries led him to never being the same player ever again.
Nicknamed “The Alaskan Assassin,” shooting guard Trajan Langdon was such a gifted athlete that he was drafted by the San Diego Padres of Major League Baseball in the 6th round of the 1994 MLB Draft, before he even got to Duke. But while playing for Mike Krzyzewski, Langdon was a three-time first-team All-ACC selection.
But after three marginal seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers, who selected him with the 11th overall pick in the 1999 NBA Draft, Langdon spent the vast majority of the rest of his pro hoops career playing overseas.
The consensus National High School Player of the Year coming out of Chicago in 2013, Jabari Parker was part of Mike Krzyzewski’s early dalliances with one-and-done players. Parker became the fifth freshman in Duke history to score 20 points in his first game, and finished the year as a First-team All-ACC selection and the National Association of Basketball Coaches Rookie of the Year.
Milwaukee ended up taking Parker with the 2nd overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft (one pick ahead of Joel Embiid), and while they stayed patient through his two ACL injuries, they eventually let him walk via free agency after the 2017-2018 season.
The former Mr. Basketball for the state of Louisiana back in 2000, Chris Duhon paired with Jay Williams to help Duke University win the 2001 National Championship over the University of Arizona. When Duhon left Durham two seasons later, he was Duke’s all-time leader in steals (300) and minutes played (4,813), and second in assists (819).
The Chicago Bulls selected Duhon in the second round of the 2004 NBA Draft, and as a reserve player for the majority of his time in Chicago, Duhon never scored more than nine points per game on average in Chicago. Before the 2008 season, Chicago traded him to New York, and after the 2012-2013 NBA season, Duhon was out of the NBA.
Gerald Henderson Jr.
A two-year starter during his three years in Durham, Gerald Henderson left Duke University after earning Third-Team All-American and First-Team All-ACC honors in 2009 (and a disappointing exit in the Sweet 16 of the 2009 NCAA Tournament). After his junior season, Henderson left for the 2009 NBA Draft, in which he was taken 12th overall by the (then) Charlotte Bobcats. Henderson averaged less than 10 points per game his first two years in Charlotte, and prior to the start of the 2015 season, was traded to Portland as part of the deal to bring Nicolas Batum to Charlotte.
Miles Plumlee, the oldest of the three Plumlee brothers, originally intended to play basketball for Stanford University, before the coach at the time (Trent Johnson) left the job. That’s when Plumlee changed his mind and committed to Duke, where he’d go on to play in 135 games over four seasons.
Though Plumlee ended up going in the first round of the 2012 NBA Draft (26th overall to the Indiana Pacers), he had multiple stints as a rookie with Indiana’s Developmental League team (the Fort Wayne Mad Ants), and they dealt him after just one season there to the Phoenix Suns. Over the next four seasons, Plumlee has played for four teams (including Phoenix).
After older brother Miles Plumlee ended up committing to Duke University, younger brother Mason Plumleee followed suit, actually rotating in and out of games together with Miles during their time at Duke. Mike Krzyzewski lauded the skillset of the younger Plumlee, calling him a savvy, competitive big man who with the skillset of a guard.
The Brooklyn Nets took the younger Plumlee with the 22nd overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, and though he earned NBA All-Rookie first team honors after this first NBA season, Brooklyn dealt Plumlee to the Portland Trail Blazers after his second year in the league. Less than two years later, Portland then flipped Plumlee in a deadline deal to the Denver Nuggets.
Mike Dunleavy, Jr.
Most people knew exactly what they were getting with Mike Dunleavy, Jr.: the son of a heralded coach with an off-the-charts basketball IQ and a sweet shooting stroke. In the 2001 NCAA Championship, Dunleavy hit 3 three-pointers that helped Duke seal the win against the University of Arizona.
After being taken with the 3rd overall pick in the 2002 NBA Draft (ahead of guys like Amar’e Stoudamire and Caron Butler), Dunleavy enjoyed a 15-year NBA career, but it was spread out over six teams, and largely as a reserve-caliber shooting specialist.
Most people forget that New Jersey-native Dahntay Jones spent his first two years of collegiate basketball playing for Rutgers University, before relocating down to the state of North Carolina. In his first two seasons at Duke, he he earned All-ACC Honorable Mention honors, followed by First-team All-ACC honors.
The Boston Celtics took Jones with the 20th overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft, but dealt him in a draft night deal that brought them Kendrick Perkins. Jones played 14 years in the NBA, but across eight different NBA teams, and two different stints in the NBA’s Developmental League. In 12 of his 14 years, he averaged less than 10 points per game scoring.
A “throwback” four-year player in an era where one-and-done guys were becoming the norm, guard Nolan Smith started the majority of games from his sophomore season onward, helping Duke win the National Championship in 2010 (his junior year). As a senior, Smith was named a consensus first-team All-American and the ACC Player of the Year.
After leaving Duke, the Portland Trail Blazer selected Smith with the 21st pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. But in his second season with Portland, Smith was sent down for a stint with the Idaho Stampede of the NBA’s Developmental League, and by the Fall of the same year, he headed overseas to play in the Croatian League.
Jahlil Okafor had all the makings of the next great “freak” NBA prospect: someone who stands 6’11 but moves and plays offense like someone half-a-foot shorter. The highly-touted recruit was named both the ACC Rookie of the Year and a First-Team All-ACC selection during his lone season in Durham. Seen as someone who could become a “20 and 10” machine in the NBA, the Philadelphia 76ers drafted Okafor with the 3rd overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. But while nobody questioned Okafor’s ability to score, there were major questions about whether he could play even somewhat passable defense to where he’s not a liability while on the floor.
Unfortunately, those concerns became very evident when he got to the NBA. Less than two years after drafting him, the 76ers openly shopped Okafor as aggressively as possible, eventually trading him to the Brooklyn Nets approximately two-and-a-half years after drafting him.
A proverbial “Swiss Army Knife” wing who tantalized NBA teams that started to seek multi-skilled wing players, Justise Winslow averaged 12.6 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.3 steals in 29.1 minutes per game during his freshman year at Duke. Winslow’s skillset was so coveted that in the 2015 NBA Draft, the Boston Celtics reportedly offered up four first-round picks to move up into position to take him.
While he did fall to the Miami Heat at #10 overall, Winslow’s career has been plagued by injuries and overall inconsistency. During his first three years in Miami, Winslow has failed to crack the 11 points per game scoring threshold, and never averaged more than 5.5 rebounds or 4 assists per game.
Most notably known for being the son of longtime NBA coach Doc Rivers, Austin Rivers was more than just someone trading off the name of his famous father. The five-star recruit from Florida helped the United States win a gold medal at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship in 2010.
After a one-and-done season in Durham, Rivers was drafted 10th overall by the New Orleans Hornets, where he seemingly appeared to forget how to score (and dealt with injuries to boot).
He was dealt twice in a one-week span in 2015, rejoining his father with the Los Angeles Clippers, but was the subject of ample scorn of his teammates, who believe the player was coddled and entitled.
While people might see Luke Kennard as a shoot-first guy that might’ve been slightly over-drafted, most people forget he averaged 19.5 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 2.5 assists per game as a sophomore at Duke, while also shooting just under 44% from three.
In the days leading up to the 2017 NBA Draft, Kennard – who left Duke after his sophomore year – became a hot commodity in NBA Draft circles, leading to him going 12th overall to the Detroit Pistons (one pick ahead of Utah’s selection of Donovan Mitchell).
Despite his high selection in the Draft, Kennard averaged only 20 minutes per game in his one season in Detroit, thanks to then head coach Stan Van Gundy preferring to play veterans, to try and make the playoffs to save his job.
A five-star recruit who started his college basketball career at Mississippi State, Rodney Hood went from being named to the SEC’s All-Freshman team to a second-team All-ACC selection at Duke two seasons later. Hood left Durham after two seasons there, and ended up being taken with the 23rd overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.
Despite respectable stat production in the box scores, Hood has always been seen as a player with the talent to be a serviceable player, but without the mindset or consistency. In five seasons in the NBA, Hood has already been dealt twice.
There was a sizable contingent of folks around the NBA who questioned whether Brandon Ingram should’ve been considered for the #1 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, over Ben Simmons. There’s also a sizable contingent of fans who believe that it’s way too early to call Ingram a bust, considering he’s not even three years into his NBA career at the time of this posting.
But for a guy whom some people hailed as another Kevin Durant, Ingram has been someone who’s only shown flashes of what many believe to be his upside, but never enough on a consistent basis to truly be classified as the star that many people think he could (or should) be.
Honorable Mention: Bobby Hurley
Bobby Hurley is much more of a “What If?” than a “Bust,” which is why he gets an honorable mention here. Something of the “Robin” to Christian Laettner’s “Batman” on the great Duke, Hurley was the point guard for the two-time National Champion Blue Devils in 1991 and 1992. He was a also a member of the USA select college team that infamously beat the Dream Team in a scrimmage prior to the 1992 Summer Olympics.
Hurley was taken 7th overall in the 1993 NBA Draft by the Sacramento Kings, but less than three months into his rookie season, Hurley was involved in a catastrophic car accident when a car blindsided the SUV he was sitting in. Hurley, who was not wearing seatbelt, had suffered what was referred to as “life-threatening injuries.” Though Hurley thankfully survived, his athletic abilities were greatly diminished after that. He played four more years in the league, before retiring in 1998.