Duke basketball is, in a word, detestable. In more words, it’s a heinous violation of everything I like about college basketball.
Coach K brings in a bunch of McDonald’s All-Americans, but instead of setting them loose on the NCAA like my boy Roy Williams at UNC, he turns them into a defensive machine.
Had Josh McRoberts attended a high-tempo basketball power like North Carolina, Louisville, or even Memphis, he might have become one of my favorite college hoops players ever. Instead, he went to Duke. The rest is history.
I was reminded of McRoberts while watching this year’s NBA Draft. The deal sending Jerryd Bayless to Portland from the Pacers had already gone down when the electrifying Ric Bucher broke in with a special report. Someone had been added to the Bayless deal!
My mind was full of possibilities. Was David Harrison headed to the Blazers, or was Stevey Blake going to add some little-needed whiteness to Indiana? No, the great Josh McRoberts was heading to his home state of Indiana. Whoa.
How did a former potential number one overall pick become a throw-in for a team trading down on draft day?
When he was playing high school ball for Carmel High School in Indiana, McRoberts was one of the most highly regarded high school big men in the United States. Rivals.com had him as the top power forward in the class of 2005 (it wasn’t exactly a banner class though).
Overall he was ranked second in the class, above current NBA luminaries like Andrew Bynum, Monta Ellis, and Sweet Louis Williams.
McRoberts played at Duke for two years and was considered a shoo-in lottery pick for most of that time. He got a lot of publicity as a hot prospect during his freshman year, playing the role of Duke’s next generation with Greg Paulus (also of GRW fame) as J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams played out their disappointing senior seasons.
Towards the tail end of Josh’s sophomore year, his stock started pulling a Chris Taft, dropping out of the top fifteen and into second round territory. He still went pro after his second year at Duke, leaving a legacy of leading the Blue Devils to their first one and done appearance in March Madness since 1996.
Greg Paulus and some crazy guy who started a senior night back in the day by hacking Chris Paul right after the tip are my two favorite Duke players of all time. Josh McRoberts comes in a close third. The way he plays is so free-flowing and flexible that he’s almost the anti-Duke player.
Instead of giving up the ball to a point guard after a defensive rebound, McRoberts would push it up the floor and look for a coast-to-coast dunk. He dribbled behind the back in the open floor and fired behind the back passes to finish fast break two on ones.
I’m pretty sure Shane Battier wasn’t rolling like that when he was in front of the Cameron Crazies.
So sure, McRoberts went to Duke, and that’s probably reason enough to hate him and revel in his struggles in his early NBA years. But watch his YouTube highlight reel and tell me he’s not Duke’s answer to Shawn Kemp. I double dare you.
Inside the Numbers
2.5 blocks per game in his last season at Duke
28 career minutes played in the NBA
2 high school All-American awards (Parade and McDonald’s)
37th overall selection in the 2007 NBA Draft