Duke Basketball: The Most Inspiring Stories in Blue Devils History
Sports constantly offer up stories of inspiration.
Sometimes, it’s an individual accomplishing something that seemed impossible. Other times, it’s a group coming together as a team to meet an insurmountable goal. These stories help create the memories that make it exciting to be a fan of a particular player or team.
Duke basketball has many of these stories.
From personal achievements to team triumphs, the Blue Devils have a rich history of inspirational moments.
The following list features Duke’s five most inspiring stories.
5. Steve Wojciechowski’s Senior Day
On February 28, 1998, Steve Wojciechowski played his final game in Cameron Indoor Stadium. The No. 1 Blue Devils were facing No. 3 North Carolina in the latest installment of college basketball’s best rivalry.
With only 12 minutes remaining in the game, Duke trailed the Tar Heels by 17 points and it looked like it would be a disappointing senior day for Wojciechowski, the senior leader of the team and a favorite of the Cameron Crazies.
However, Wojciechowski and the Blue Devils were not to be denied. The team came storming back behind great scoring efforts by Elton Brand and Roshown McLeod. Wojciechowski only scored one point, but he also contributed 11 assists and his usual stifling defense.
The moment between Wojo and Coach K serves as a picture of the special bond they shared and their incredible passion to succeed.
4. Chris Carrawell
Many people viewed Chris Carrawell as an afterthought of Duke’s 1996 recruiting class.
He was a kid from a troubled neighborhood in St. Louis who struggled with shoulder injuries in high school. He was also ranked lower than Duke’s other two incoming recruits, Nate James and Mike Chappell.
As Carrawell told the Duke Chronicle during his senior season in 1999, many people back home in St. Louis didn’t expect him to succeed at Duke, as a student or basketball player.
He proved all the doubters wrong.
Carrawell finished his career as one of the winningest players in the history of Duke basketball with a 58-6 record in ACC play. As a senior, he was named the 2000 ACC Player of the Year and a first-team All-American.
3. Miracle Minute Against Maryland
Duke’s comeback on the road against Maryland in 2001, known as the “Miracle Minute,” is one of the most improbable comebacks in the history of college basketball.
The Blue Devils trailed by 10 points with less than a minute remaining after the Terrapins had controlled the first 39 minutes of the game.
Then, Jason Williams, who had played poorly up to that point, caught fire and scored eight points in the span of 14 seconds. Maryland failed to convert from the free-throw line in the final seconds and the Blue Devils sent the game to overtime, where they eventually prevailed 98-96.
The comeback elevated the intensity between Duke and Maryland to a new level and cemented Duke’s place atop the list of Maryland’s most hated rivals.
2. Brian Zoubek’s Senior Season
Brian Zoubek arrived at Duke as a seven-footer with two left feet.
He struggled with injuries and turnovers during his first three seasons at Duke, making him a liability during critical moments when the Blue Devils would have benefited from his size.
When Zoubek entered the 2009-10 season a senior, few expected him to be a useful role player and virtually no one expected him to become one of the most valuable players during Duke’s march to the 2010 national championship.
While he would never be confused with Bill Walton, Zoubek carved out a role as one of the best rebounders in the country. His ability to grab offensive rebounds and kick the ball outside to an open shooter became one of the most dangerous elements of the Duke offense.
For people who say Duke doesn’t know how to develop big men, the career of Brian Zoubek is exhibit A of why that statement is false.
1. Nolan Smith
Nolan Smith has national champion DNA. He is the son of Derek Smith, who won the 1980 national championship as a member of the Louisville Cardinals.
Only Nolan was forced to grow up without his father. When he was only eight years old, Derek Smith died from a massive heart attack.
Derek Smith was an assistant coach with the Washington Bullets at the time of his death and many Bullets players made it a point to mentor and look out for Nolan after his father passed away. Nolan formed strong relationships with many of the players, including Johnny Dawkins, who was then a member of the Bullets.
Dawkins would later become an assistant coach at Duke and his relationship with Smith helped lead the talented guard to Duke when he was being recruited out of high school.
Nolan would go on to become an All-American and National Player of the Year during his Duke career. He also helped the Blue Devils win the 2010 National Championship in Indianapolis—the same city Derek Smith and the Louisville Cardinals won the national championship in 1980.
What are some other inspirational stories in Duke history? Leave your stories in the comments section below.