Back in 2004, many members of the media dutifully reported the lack of African-Americans on the Houston Astros post-season roster. The Astros roster was discussed as an oddity and a possible harbinger of times to come as the percentage of African-Americans in major league baseball has steadily decreased. A little more than two years later another racial anomaly is occurring, this time in a sport more predominantly populated by African-Americans.
As of January 23rd, African-Americans comprised nearly 63% of all players on teams in the ESPN/USA Today Top 10 Men’s College Basketball Rankings. The average roster had 15 players, nine black and six white. Number ten Duke University, however, currently has ten white players and four black players. Why does such a prestigious college basketball program vary so much from the norm?
Like the Astros in 2004, the racial composition of the Blue Devil basketball team could be a strange coincidence. Perhaps for reasons unknown many of Duke’s most recent African-American recruits have opted to attend other universities or entered the NBA draft, such as current LA Clipper Shaun Livingston. One can also assume any lingering racial effects from last year’s lacrosse team legal accusations have not endowed the university to the national African-American community. But that might only explain a lack in the most recent recruits.
Perhaps the “Duke philosophy” is to blame. Under Coach K the Blue Devils’ style of play has not been marked by athleticism. Duke players are rarely the flashiest or the most high-flying. The “Dukie Way”, correctly or incorrectly, could be personified in recent grad J.J. Redick – a player with good fundamentals, decent to above average defensive skills, and a wicked jump shot. All qualities of the stereotypical white all-star college basketball player. Quite possibly, the Duke recruiting staff has become too enamored with these attributes and negated or lacked emphasis in other more athletic facets of the game.
Another possible explanation for the Blue Devils unusual racial make-up could be a cautiousness by the recruiting staff. With the current NBA rule stating players must be a year removed from high school prior to entering the NBA draft, many interested players, such as Ohio State’s Greg Oden and Texas’ Kevin Durant, are playing at the college level until they are draft eligible. By the numbers, most of the these players have been African-American. Coach K and his staff may be only interested in players they can assume will be at the university for at least three to four years. This has been the standard at Duke. Rarely do players leave early, with NBA players Elton Brand and Corey Maggette being notable exceptions. Perhaps there has been a conscious decision by the Duke recruiting staff to avoid players who might leave college early and to favor roster cohesion over “renting” a player for a chance at a national title.
Now I am not trying to stir up any racial discord or push for any affirmative action or congressional investigation, but I think the racial composition of the Duke Blue Devils’ basketball team is highly unusual. Especially when the university boasts of its 11.5% freshman African-American enrollment as higher than other “highly selective private universities”. Duke may be above their average with African-Americans in the classroom, but it doesn’t show on the basketball court.