Duke Basketball: The 25 Most Influential Blue Devils Players in History

Jason HeimCorrespondent IMay 5, 2011

Duke Basketball: The 25 Most Influential Blue Devils Players in History

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    Fourth all-time in wins. Fifth all-time in National Championships. Second all-time in Final Four appearances. The laundry list of accolades for the Duke Blue Devils basketball program is among the longest of any program in history.

    Few schools have sent more impact players to the NBA than Duke has. Duke basketball counts numerous iconic moments in its annals that rank among the best in college basketball history.

    Impressive records and seminal moments don't create themselves. They are the exploits of a continual line of great players putting their stamp on the school's growing history.  

    Duke has had so many of these players that it's hard to remember or rank all of them. I will attempt to pick the top 25 most influential Duke Blue Devils of all-time. 

25. William Avery

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    25 Nov 1998: William Avery #5 of the Duke Blue Devils in action during the Carrs Great Alaska Shootout Game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at the Sullivan Arena in Anchorage, Alaska. Duke defeated Notre Dame 111-82. Mandatory Credit: Todd Warshaw
    Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

    Accolades: starting point guard on the fated 1999 team; 14th overall pick in 1999 NBA Draft

    Record vs. North Carolina: 4-2

    William Avery's Duke career follows the same pattern as that of Elton Brand. Both left Duke after promising sophomore seasons on one of the best-assembled college rosters ever.

    Avery's name stands as one of the more recognizable in Duke's last 15 seasons, most likely for his work on that '99 team. 

24. Nate James

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    27 Nov 1999: Nate James #14 of the Duke Blue Devils rests on the court during the Wooden Classic against the USC Trojans at the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim, California. The Blue Devils defeated the Trojans 81-68. Mandatory Credit: Tom Hauck  /Allsport
    Tom Hauck/Getty Images

    Accolades: 2001 National Champion; four-year player

    Record vs. North Carolina: 8-3

    Nate James's statistical contributions aren't why he's on this list. His unselfishness and team focus are. In the 2001 season, James willingly gave up his starting spot to freshman Chris Duhon, joining Carlos Boozer, Mike Dunleavy, Shane Battier and Jay Williams in the starting lineup. In doing so, James helped the team win its third National Championship.

    James garnered Third Team All-ACC honors in 2001 regardless. He now sits on the bench as an assistant to Coach Mike Krzyzewski.

23. Dahntay Jones

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    Accolades: the three push-ups he completed after the dunk posted above

    Record vs. North Carolina: 5-1

    Dahntay Jones transferred from Rutgers to Duke and helped to combat the "nonathletic white guy" stereotype that plagued Coach K's team around this time. 

    This filthy dunk showed that Duke could compete athletically with the best teams in the country.

22. Chris Carrawell

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    22 Dec 1998:  Forward Chris Carrawell #23 of the Duke Blue Devils looks on during the Jimmy V Classic against the Kentucky Wildcats at the Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Duke defeated Kentucky 71-60. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Squ
    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Accolades: 2000 ACC Player of the Year; seventh in school history in career blocks

    Record vs. North Carolina: 7-3

    Chris Carrawell was Duke's second-best player in his fantastic 2000 season, averaging 16.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.4 assists while starting all 34 games. 

    The memory of his contributions has faded after 10 years, but being awarded with the ACC's top honor epitomized his tremendous impact on Duke basketball.

21. Jeff Mullins

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    Accolades: 21.9 point career average; four-year player; No. 44 jersey retired; 1964 ACC Player of the Year

    Record vs. North Carolina: 7-0

    Jeff Mullins led Duke to back-to-back Final Four berths in 1963 and 1964, the latter of which was his ACC Player of the Year senior season.

    He remained largely forgotten by much of the Duke fanbase until 1994, when the school finally retired his jersey. He is among the only players in Duke history who can say he went undefeated against North Carolina. 

20. Elton Brand

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    27 Jan 1999: Elton Brand #42 of the Duke Blue Devils tries to guard Brendan Haywood #00 of the North Carolina Tar Heels at the Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, North Carolina. The Blue Devils defeated the Tar Heels 89-77.
    Craig Jones/Getty Images

    Accolades: 1999 National Player of the Year; best player on one of the best teams in college history; led Duke to National Championship Game

    Record vs. North Carolina: 4-2

    Elton Brand has only half a Duke legacy as he became one of the school's first players to leave early, following his brilliant sophomore season. As a result, he doesn't rank highly on Duke's career lists, but there is no doubt that, had he stayed for four years, Brand's 42 jersey would be hanging from the rafters of Cameron Indoor Stadium.

19. Dick Groat

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    Accolades: 1952 National Player of the Year; No. 10 jersey retired

    Dick Groat set a NCAA single-season scoring record—839 points in 1952—while starring for Duke on the baseball diamond as well as on the hardwood. Groat was drafted to play in both the NBA and MLB and did so in both, finding ultimate success with baseball.

    He was one of the first big stars of the Tobacco Road rivalry with North Carolina. His 48 points in the 1952 contest still stands as the most points scored ever in a game against the Tar Heels. 

18. Carlos Boozer

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    CHICAGO - NOVEMBER 27: Carlos Boozer #4 of the Duke Blue Devils celebrates during the ACC/Big Ten Challenge against the Iowa Hawkeyes at United Center in Chicago, Illinois on November 27, 2001. The Blue Devils won 80-62.   (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Accolades: 2001 National Champion; three-year starter

    Record vs. North Carolina: 10-1

    Carlos Boozer has enjoyed a strong career in the pros, preceded by three strong years at Duke. Boozer honed his post game on a stacked college team, with starters Mike Dunleavy, Jay Williams, Shane Battier and Chris Duhon.

    Boozer was a key part of two Final Four teams and became one of the more recognizable Blue Devils of the last 20 years. 

17. Steve Wojciechowski

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    Accolades: 1998 National Defensive Player of the Year; eighth all-time in Duke history for steals and assists; four-year player 

    Record vs. North Carolina: 2-7

    Steve Wojciechowski is the iconic relentless, Coach K era player. Duke's trademark defensive floor slap: Wojo authored it.

    For that, and his service as an assistant coach, Wojo makes the list of most influential Blue Devils ever.

16. Gene Banks

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    Accolades: 1978 ACC Freshman of the Year; eighth all-time in scoring in school history; game-winning shot in 1980 game vs. North Carolina

    Record vs. North Carolina: 6-7

    Gene Banks owns one of the landmark moments in the storied Duke-North Carolina rivalry: a buzzer-beating shot in Mike Krzyzewski's first game against North Carolina in 1981. The shot (and the earlier buzzer-beater to send the game into overtime) sent the Cameron Indoor crowd into a frenzy and ushered in a new era for Duke basketball and the Tobacco Road rivalry.

15. Kyle Singler

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    INDIANAPOLIS - APRIL 05:  Kyle Singler #12 of the Duke Blue Devils celebrates their 61-59 win against the Butler Bulldogs during the 2010 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball National Championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium on April 5, 2010 in Indianapolis, In
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Accolades: 2010 National Champion; 2010 NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player; 2008 ACC Freshman of the Year; fourth all-time in school history in scoring; sixth all-time in school history in rebounding; ninth all-time in school history in blocks; four-year starter

    Record vs. North Carolina: 5-4

    Kyle Singler was one of the most hyped Duke prospects in recent years when he committed in 2007. He hit the ground running for the Devils in his freshmen year, starting and averaging 13 points per game. He gradually took on a bigger role in each successive year in Durham.

    Singler leaves as one of the most successful and beloved Duke players ever.  

14. Tommy Amaker

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    Accolades: four-year starter; third all-time in Duke history in assists and steals; 1987 National Defensive Player of the Year

    Record vs. North Carolina: 3-6

    Tommy Amaker set several Duke records that have since been surpassed. Amaker became one of Coach K's proteges, joining the Duke coaching staff before moving on to Seton Hall, Michigan and now Harvard.

    But Amaker's claim to Duke fame came in his 1984 freshman season, when Duke upset No. 1 North Carolina in the ACC Tournament.

    Amaker stands as one of the all-time good guys and workman-like players in Blue Devils history.  

13. Chris Duhon

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    CHAPEL HILL, NC - FEBRUARY 5: Chris Duhon #21 of the Duke Blue Devils celebrates after beating the University of North Carolina Tar Heels with his final shot on February 5, 2004 at the Dean E. Smith Center in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  (Photo by Street
    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Accolades: second all-time in assists in school history; first all-time in steals and minutes played in Duke history; 2001 National Champion; 2001 ACC Freshman of the Year; four-year player

    Record vs. North Carolina: 9-2

    Chris Duhon contributed immediately upon arriving in 2000. At first, he backed up Jay Williams at the point, then moved into the starting lineup at point when Carlos Boozer went down with an injury. Duhon played well in the new lineup and had a significant impact on the 2001 National Championship run.

    Duhon's defining moment at Duke came in the February 4, 2004 OT victory over North Carolina when he gave his team the lead with a winding, driving layup in the final six seconds.

    Duhon was an integral part of the teams next three seasons and left graduated in the Top 10 in NCAA history in career assists. His imprint on the Duke record book, and the rivalry with North Carolina, is impossible to overstate.

12. Jon Scheyer

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    INDIANAPOLIS - APRIL 05:  Head coach Mike Krzyzewski and Jon Scheyer (R) of the Duke Blue Devils celebrate after they won 61-59 against the Butler Bulldogs during the 2010 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball National Championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium on
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Accolades: 2010 National Champion; 2010 team captain; 10th all-time in Duke history in scoring; 10th all-time in Duke history in assists; seventh all-time in Duke history in steals; four-year starter

    Record vs. North Carolina: 3-5

    Jon Scheyer jumped way up in the Duke annals by being the heart and soul of Duke's first championship in nine seasons. Scheyer displayed strong leadership in willing the Blue Devils to the title.

    His versatility to do whatever his team needed on a particular night made him indispensable to his four Duke teams. His loyalty to Coach K and the program were evident throughout his tenure in Durham.

    Jon Scheyer is truly one of Duke's greats. 

11. Jason "Jay" Williams

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    16 Mar 2002:  Jason Williams #22 of Duke drives to the basket during their game with Notre Dame during the NCAA 2nd round basketball game at the Bi-Lo Center in Greenville, South Carolina. DIGITAL IMAGEMandatory Credit: Craig Jones/Getty Images
    Craig Jones/Getty Images

    Accolades: 2001 National Champion; 2001 NABC and 2002 National Player of the Year; tied for eighth all-time in school history in scoring; fourth all-time in assists; fifth all-time in steals; three-year starter; No. 22 jersey retired by Duke   

    Record vs. North Carolina: 7-1

    Jay Williams made the most out of his time at Duke. In three years, he achieved a smattering of awards and career marks while looking like the next great NBA point guard. He was instrumental to the 2001 National Championship team, which was only the beginning of his brilliance at Duke.

    Had he stayed for a senior year in 2003, Duke would have made another run at a Final Four appearance and he'd be in the Top 2 in three separate statistical categories in Duke history.

    His NBA career was cut off at the knees following a No. 2 overall selection in the 2002 Draft, but memories of him in Duke's royal blue persist. 

10. Art Heyman

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    Accolades: 1963 National Player of the Year and ACC Player of the Year; 1963 NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player; three-year starter  

    Record vs. North Carolina: 5-1

    One of the defining events in the North Carolina-Duke rivalry dates back to 1960 when, after committing to North Carolina, Art Heyman reversed course and chose Duke. He went on to have a great career that included a Final Four run in 1963.

    One of the reasons that the rivalry remains so heated today is because of a few fights in the early 60s that in which Heyman engaged. Heyman incurred suspensions, ejections and even some stitches as bad blood boiled against the Tar Heels.

    In that senior season, Heyman was named the Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Tournament, despite not playing in the final. His 1,984 points scored were tops at Duke when he left in 1963.

    Hats off to one of the most firmly entrenched players in the Duke-North Carolina rivalry. 

9. Shelden Williams

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    GREENSBORO, NC - MARCH 18:  Shelden Williams #23 of the Duke Blue Devils tries to block Omar Williams #1 of the George Washington Colonials during the Second Round of the 2006 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament on March 18, 2006 at the Greensboro Coliseum i
    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Accolades: 2005 and 2006 National and ACC Defensive Player of the Year; Duke career leader in blocks and rebounds; No. 23 jersey retired; four-year starter

    Record vs. North Carolina: 6-3

    Shelden "The Landlord" Williams is Duke's most physically-imposing and dominant player of all-time. The way that the 6'9", 250 pound forward controlled shots in the key earned him rare back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year awards.

    He has bounced among four NBA teams in his four pro seasons, but he was a mainstay in the Duke paint for four solid years. The memories of his matchups against North Carolina have not faded; his 22 point, 12 rebound, five-block performance in a 2004 overtime victory at the Dean Dome is one of the monumental entries in the rivalry's recent history. 

8. Mike Gminski

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    Accolades: 1977 ACC Freshman of the Year; 1979 ACC Player of the Year; 1978 Final Four; fifth in Duke history in points; second in Duke history in rebounds and blocks; No. 43 jersey is retired  

    Record vs. North Carolina: 5-9

    Mike "G-Man" Gminski had one of the greatest four-year careers in Duke history, ranking in the Top 5 in three major categories, all of which he held solely upon graduating. He rivals Shelden Williams as the most prolific center in Blue Devils history.

    Gminski contributed immediately, winning the conference's Freshman of the Year award in 1977 and later the Player of the Year as a junior in 1979. In between, he led Duke to what would be its only Final Four appearance in a 20 year period, the longest drought ever.

    After a strong NBA career, the G-Man returned to Duke to broadcast select conference games.  

7. J.J. Redick

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    WASHINGTON - MARCH 13:  J.J. Redick #4 of the Duke Blue Devils puts up a jump shot over Jeremis Smith #32 of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets during the ACC Tournament Championship Game against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on March 13, 2005 at the MCI C
    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Accolades: 2006 National Player of the Year; 2005 and 2006 ACC Player of the Year; first all-time in Duke scoring and three-pointers made; No. 4 jersey retired; four-year starter 

    Record vs. North Carolina: 6-3

    J.J. Redick, Duke's all-time leading scorer, is arguably the Blue Devil most beloved by fans and despised by rivals. Redick evoked reaction everywhere he went, and no one faced more scrutiny and heckling from opposing fans.

    This is what makes Redick such a gleaming part of Duke history. His team accomplishments are non-existent; Duke disappointed in each of his four years, never reaching a Final Four. 

    No one remembers those early tournament upsets. What remains for Duke fans is Redick, the freshman phenom who could shoot from anywhere on the court and explode for 30 points, as he did against North Carolina in the ACC Championship game. The excitement and vitriol that J.J. brought to college basketball returned to Duke its image as the evil empire, the successful villain that everyone wishes would lose.

    The contribution and memory of Redick go so far beyond stats. They reside in highlights and fan reactions.

    No one who saw him play as a Blue Devil will forget J.J. Redick.

6. Bobby Hurley

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    30 Jan 1993:  Guard Bobby Hurley of the Duke Blue Devils moves the ball during a game against the Maryland Terrapins. Mandatory Credit: Doug Pensinger  /Allsport
    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Accolades: 1991 and 1992 National Champion; led Duke to three Final Fours; 1992 Final Four MVP; NCAA, ACC, and Duke all-time leader in assists; ninth all-time in Duke history in steals; single-game Duke record of 16 assists; No. 11 jersey retired; four-year starter   

    Record vs. North Carolina: 5-5

    Just about the only thing Duke legend Bobby Hurley didn't excel at was beating North Carolina. Two of UNC's signature wins in the rivalry came during Hurley's tenure at Duke.

    Hurley, however, had one of the most prolific Duke careers of any player ever. Twice a National Champion, he led Duke to wins over Kansas in '91 and Michigan's Fab Five in '92.

    Hurley's tenure spanned those of some of Duke's greatest players (yet to come), including Danny Ferry, Christian Laettner and Grant Hill—one the most prosperous times in Duke basketball history.

    He remains the all-time career assist leader in NCAA history, and no one at Duke is within 20 percent of his mark of 1,076.  

5. Grant Hill

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    APRIL 4:  Forward Grant Hill #33 of the Duke Blue Devils drives the ball downcourt during an NCAA game on April 4, 1994 against the Arkansas Razorbacks.  Arkansas won the game 76-72.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Accolades: 1991 and 1992 National Champion; 1994 National Runner-up; 1993 National Defensive Player of the Year; 1994 ACC Player of the Year; sixth in school history in blocks; sixth in school history in steals; ninth in school history in assists; No. 33 jersey retired in 1994   

    Record vs. North Carolina: 5-5

    Grant Hill is the most successful player in Duke history in terms of team achievement. He won National Championships in his first two seasons. Then, after Duke lost main contributors Bobby Hurley and Christian Laettner, led the team back to the title game in his senior year, a loss to Arkansas. 

    Hill's place in Duke history is secure, with Top 10 marks in blocks, steals and assists. His 1994 senior campaign was preceded by a National Defensive Player of the Year award and saw him win the ACC's top honor. 

    What Hill is best known for is his role in Duke's most dramatic and proudest moment ever. In 1992, with a trip to the Final Four on the line against Kentucky, Duke trailed by one with 2.1 seconds left in overtime and a full court to go. Hill, unguarded under his own basket, baseball-threw the ball to the opposite free throw line, where Laettner caught it, faked right and pulled off a spinning fadeaway jumper for the win.

    Hill and the Devils, of course, went on to win their second consecutive National Championship. This play is a mainstay on the Mount Rushmore of recognizable NCAA Tournament plays. 

4. Johnny Dawkins

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    Accolades: 1986 National Player of the Year; 1986 Final Four; second in Duke history in scoring; sixth in Duke history in assists; No. 24 jersey retired; four-year starter 

    Record vs. North Carolina: 3-6

    The impact of Johnny Dawkins's presence at Duke is beautifully illustrated by the trend on the "Carolina-Duke rivalry" Wikipedia page. Spanning his contests against North Carolina, the team gradually moved from unranked and blown out by the Tar Heels to 15th, then to 16th, then second and finally to first in the nation for Dawkins's final win against UNC. Duke went from doormat to dominant in two short years, largely because of Dawkins.

    His 1986 season was brilliant. He averaged 20.2 points per game and led Duke to a 37-3 record and the National Runner-up. He had his jersey retired in 1986 as Duke's all-time leading scorer at the time.

3. Danny Ferry

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    Accolades: 1989 National Player of the Year; 1988 and 1989 ACC Player of the Year; three Final Four runs; sixth in Duke history in scoring; seventh in rebounds and assists; single-season record holder with 58 points in a game; No. 35 jersey retired; four-year starter  

    Record vs. North Carolina: 5-5

    Danny Ferry's college days at Duke are a much fonder memory than his days as a pro. While at Duke, he led the team to three unsuccessful Final Fours in four years. 

    The 1988 Duke team looked ready to win the title, beating North Carolina all three times. Instead they ran into the Danny Manning-led Kansas Jayhawks in the National Semifinal, who would win the title two days later.

    Ferry never led Duke to the promised land, but his individual achievements in a Duke uniform are almost unmatched. Only J.J. Redick ranks with Ferry in Duke history as two-time ACC Player of the Year winners, and Ferry is one of just nine players to win the National Player of the Year award.

    Ferry's 58 points against Miami on December 10, 1988 still stand as part of the greatest statistical game in Duke history.

2. Shane Battier

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    11 March 01:  Tournament MVP Shane Battier #31 of the Duke Blue Devils celebrates their 79-53 victory over the North Carolina Tar Heels during the ACC Tournament finals at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Georgia.   <<Digital Image>> Mandatory Credit: Craig J
    Craig Jones/Getty Images

    Accolades: 2001 National Champion; 2001 National and ACC Player of the Year; 1999, 2000, and 2001 National Defensive Player of the Year; No. 31 jersey is retired; second in Duke history in steals; fourth in Duke history in blocks; four-year starter  

    Record vs. North Carolina: 8-3

    You won't find many players with a better single season than Shane Battier's 2001, in which he won the National Championship and swept the National, ACC and National Defensive Player of the Year awards. Battier's contributions in 2001 cannot be overstated, though his stats are less than impressive.

    Shane Battier had a greater impact than any of his teammates but never wanted to be the star. He was, by nature, deferential to the players around him. His unselfishness is legendary and epitomizes what the Duke program is supposed to represent. He didn't have a team-first attitude. He had a team-only attitude.

    It isn't often that the players who don't score gobs of points get fair recognition, which is why I make a point to do so here.


1. Christian Laettner

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    DECEMBER 7:  Christian Laettner #32 of the Duke University Blue Devils prepares to shoot a free throw during a NCAA game against Canisius College in December 7, 1991.  (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
    Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    Accolades: 1991 and 1992 National Champion; 1992 National and ACC Player of the Year; four Final Four berths; most NCAA Tournament games played in history; third in Duke history in scoring and rebounding; fifth in Duke history in blocks; fourth in Duke history in steals; No. 32 jersey is retired; four-year starter

    Record vs. North Carolina: 5-6

    Christian Laettner tops the list of most influential Duke players for many reasons: excellence on the national stage; excellence in school lore; and being the answer to the question, "Who took the most memorable shot in college basketball history?". 

    We talked about the play in the Grant Hill slide. Hill threw the pass. Laettner is the one who caught it and drained the shot that sent Duke to its fourth consecutive Final Four.

    That's right: Laettner played in the Final Four every year he was at Duke. 

    Even if Laettner didn't own the greatest single moment in Duke and college basketball history, his statistical achievements are enough to set him at the top of this list. He's in the Top 5 of four major stat categories at Duke. He won a National Player of the Year award.

    Those all speak for themselves. Here's The Shot one more time.