Duke Basketball: The 5 Biggest Underachievers in Blue Devils History
Duke basketball players face a tremendous amount of pressure.
Duke University has one of the elite college basketball programs in the country, and it is led by Mike Krzyzewski, one of the most iconic coaches in all of sports.
For a variety of reasons, many highly ranked players coming out of high school do not respond well to the pressure of playing at Duke. For a program that’s produced so many amazing players, the Blue Devils also have their fair share of players who have been disappointments.
The following list looks at the five biggest underachievers in Duke history.
5. Martin Nessley
Martin Nessley was a McDonald’s All-American in 1983 and arrived at Duke as the first 7-footer in the history of the program.
At 7’2” and 260 pounds, Nessley had the body to become a dominant force in the ACC at a time when Duke was clearly on the rise.
Instead, his career was riddled with injuries, and he only started five games during his entire four years as a Blue Devil. He suffered a knee injury during his sophomore season that really hindered his development.
Nessley averaged only 2.4 points, 2.1 rebounds and 7.9 minutes for his career, making him one of Duke’s biggest disappointments.
4. Shavlik Randolph
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Shavlik Randolph arrived at Duke in 2002 with an incredible amount of hype.
He was a McDonald’s All-American and a hometown kid from Raleigh, N.C., who was intensely recruited by all three schools in the research triangle.
Coming out of high school, he was a 6’10”, 215-pound forward who could score from anywhere on the floor and had all the tools to become a dominant player. Unfortunately, Randolph couldn’t stay healthy once he arrived at Duke.
Between a bout with mononucleosis and a recurring hip injury, Randolph never was at 100 percent during his college career.
He made the surprising decision to leave Duke for the NBA after three seasons, finishing his time with the Blue Devils with career averages of 6.3 points and 4.3 rebounds.
3. Chris Burgess
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Chris Burgess was recruited by some of the best college basketball programs in the country when he was a 1997 McDonald’s All-American and the Sporting News National Player of the Year.
He chose Duke because he loved the history of the program and wanted to play for Krzyzewski. At the time, it looked like the Blue Devils would have one of the most dominant frontcourts in college basketball with the tandem of Burgess and Elton Brand.
Brand lived up to that hype. Burgess never did.
After two seasons of serving as a role player for the Blue Devils, Burgess transferred to Utah to play for Rick Majerus.
Comments later surfaced from Burgess’ father that Chris and his family were unhappy with the playing time he’d received during his two years at Duke and that he didn’t like playing for Krzyzewski.
While Burgess was unhappy sitting on the bench for two years, the Blue Devils posted a 69-6 record.
2. Casey Sanders
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Despite starting in the 2001 National Championship game for Duke, Casey Sanders still underachieved for much of his college career.
He was a 1999 McDonald’s All-American, Mr. Basketball in the state of Florida and part of Duke’s incredible 1999 recruiting class, which included Jason Williams, Carlos Boozer and Mike Dunleavy Jr.
Sanders averaged 22 points, 11 rebounds and seven blocks per game during his senior season in high school and was expected to become a star for the Blue Devils.
His high school success never translated to stardom at the college level.
He scored in double figures six times during his four-year career at Duke and averaged only 10.9 minutes per game. For a player who was so highly touted, Sanders never lived up to the hype.
1. Josh McRoberts
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He was the No. 1-ranked forward in his class, while Tyler Hansbrough was No. 2.
McRoberts was labeled as an incredibly versatile 6’10” forward who had outstanding athleticism and would become a star in college.
He served as a valuable role player during his freshman season and had some highlight-reel dunks, but most of the spotlight on that team went to J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams, two senior All-Americans.
When McRoberts became the go-to guy during his sophomore season, the Blue Devils struggled mightily.
He had decent numbers in the 2006-07 season, averaging 13 points, 7.9 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.5 blocks per game, but the team struggled to a 22-11 record, and he received much of the blame.
His on-court demeanor and visible frustration with his teammates also didn’t do much to help his image with Duke fans.
McRoberts declared for the NBA draft following his sophomore season, leaving a legacy behind at Duke that was only a shadow of what most thought it would be.
What other underachievers have played at Duke? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.