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 five 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.