Duke Basketball: The 5 Most Unlikely Success Stories in Blue Devils History
The Duke basketball program has been built with many blue-chip recruits.
Mike Krzyzewski and his assistants recruit many of the best high school basketball players in the country every year and they have had tremendous success bringing many of those players to Duke.
The list of McDonald’s All-Americans that have gone on to successful careers as Duke Blue Devils is quite long.
But there have also been some unlikely success stories in Duke’s history. Many individuals have exceeded expectations and accomplished a tremendous amount during their time at Duke.
The following list looks at the five most unlikely success stories in Blue Devils history.
5. Lee Melchionni
Lee Melchionni arrived as a member of the 2002 recruiting class at Duke, one of the best in school history.
With high school All-Americans like J.J. Redick, Shelden Williams, Shavlik Randolph and Sean Dockery coming to campus, Melchionni was viewed as an afterthought.
Because of Duke’s large recruiting class and a limited number of scholarships, Melchionni initially joined the team as a walk-on. He didn’t receive a scholarship offer from Mike Krzyzewski until after his freshman year.
The 6’6” perimeter-shooting Melchionni spent his first two seasons buried on the depth chart behind guys like Luol Deng and Dahntay Jones.
But when the Blue Devils turned to Melchionni as a junior, he proved he was ready to step up.
Melchionni was a very valuable role player during his final two seasons as a Blue Devil and was a crowd favorite because of his fiery demeanor.
4. Tate Armstrong
Tate Armstrong was a bright spot for Duke during the early 1970s, which is one of the most dreary periods of the program’s history.
When Armstrong became a member of the team in 1973, he was an unheralded recruit from Houston, Texas.
He played a minor role during his first two years as a Blue Devil, averaging 6.3 points as a freshman and 9.7 points as a sophomore. However, Armstrong emerged as a starter in his junior season and his scoring increased dramatically.
He averaged 24.3 points per game as a junior, and was off to a great start in his senior season before being sidelined with an injury.
Armstrong’s final season was cut short because of his wrist injury, but he still turned himself into one of Duke’s most surprising success stories during his career.
3. Chris Carrawell
Chris Carrawell was viewed as the third best player in his class when he arrived at Duke in 1996.
The 6’6”, 215-pound forward from St. Louis, Mo., was ranked behind teammates Nate James and Mike Chappell by most recruiting services.
James had a solid career at Duke, Mike Chappell transferred to Michigan State following his sophomore season and Carrawell became one of the most versatile and successful players in Duke history.
Whether it was playing incredible defense against opposing centers as a freshman, or putting the offense on his back as a senior, Carrawell did whatever was asked of him during his career as a Blue Devil.
He finished his senior season as the 2000 ACC Player of the Year and a first team All-American.
2. Brian Zoubek
Brian Zoubek began his college career as a massive, clumsy 7-footer with bad hands and happy feet. He also had trouble staying healthy.
When he finished his career, he was one of the best rebounders in the country and a key contributor on the squad that won the 2010 National Championship.
Anyone who watched Zoubek as a freshman never would have guessed the same player would eventually get a key defensive stop and make a clutch free throw in the final seconds of the national championship game.
Zoubek did an incredible job of turning himself into a physical player who could play solid defense and attack the glass.
He was never a polished big man, but he carved out a role that would help Duke win a title.
He has the championship ring to prove it.
1. Mike Krzyzewski
There is no more unlikely success story in the history of Duke basketball than Mike Krzyzewski.
Krzyzewski arrived at Duke in 1980 as a young, inexperienced coach who was taking over a struggling program in arguably the best conference in college basketball at that time.
Through his first three seasons, it didn’t look like Coach K would become a Duke success story. When he finished his third year, Krzyzewski had a 38-47 record and many Blue Devil fans were calling for a new head coach.
Fortunately, Duke athletic director Tom Butters stood by Krzyzewski and it ended up being one of the best decisions in the history of college athletics.
The Duke head coach has gone on to become a four-time national champion, Hall of Famer, Olympic gold medalist and much more.