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A Lighter Shade of Blue Devil


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.

– Jordi


16 comments on A Lighter Shade of Blue Devil

  1. FYI, two out of three recruits committed to play for Duke next year (Taylor King and Kyle Singler) are similarly melanin-deficient.

  2. All of these theories seem to be rely on the premise that only black athletes are more athletic and can’t cut it in the classroom and that white athletes are oppositely less explosive and more apt to value education over the NBA’s money. also, melanin-deficient is a brilliant moniker.

  3. In response to the previous comment, I understand where that assumption could be assertained, however, I wrote strictly of the Duke program. I know there have been great athletic white athletes in college basketball who left college early, Adam Morrison to cite a recent example. And while still in school, Tyler Hansborough is another great example. However, few of these types of athletes have played for Duke. Duke’s athletes seem to fall into the stereotypes that have worked for their system. And I know there have been brilliant black student-athletes who have succeeded in both academia and athletics. Perhaps Greg Oden or Kevin Durant will be one.

  4. Of those 14 players, only 9 are scholarship players. Davidson, Johnson, Pagliuca, Sutton and Tormey are all walk-ons and are all melanin-deficient. If you look at just recruited players that’s 4/9 that are white.

  5. some players without a melanin deficiency that would still be on the team had they not decided to transfer or leave early:
    Jamal Boykin (left last year after freshman year)
    Eric Boateng (left last year after freshman year)
    Luol Deng (would be a senior)

    also, only 2 out of 6 freshman are currently african american which is the most affcted class by the recent transfers

    not saying this clears them completely, just explaining some of the differemce (especially with boykin and boateng)

  6. Come on. You wrote an entire entry criticizing Duke for not valuing the core athletic principles that to you, must be embodied by The Black Basketball Player. Now you come out with names like Adam Morrison and Tyler Hansborough in your defense? What I find hilarious is that in your post, the name “Josh McRoberts” is entirely absent. Yet he is a MUCH better example of a “great athletic white athlete” than Hansborough, who’s… well, just a great white athlete.

    Duke’s athletes can’t be stereotyped this year the way you wish they could. Jon Scheyer happens to be an extremely solid defender. And McRoberts is the most athletic big man, white or black, that Duke has had in years. And another thing you failed to mention is that FIVE of Duke’s 10 white players (count ’em) are walk-ons who never get into the game. Obviously, they have little to do with their recruiting strategy. Duke’s main rotation includes the 4 black players you mentioned, which include Dave McClure (who, by the way, is mulatto) and 5 white players. And you can strongly argue that at this point in the season Brian Zoubek and Marty Pocius (who are also the only 2 white players that actually fit into any of your stereotypes) are not exactly even in the main rotation.

  7. Just because McBob is tall doesn’t make him a big man; he floats around the perimeter more than any non-Euro player I’ve ever seen. Isn’t his career game in points something like HansTravel’s ACC average?

    Just because McBob can dribble around his back..twice doesn’t make him that athletic. He’s just another goofy melanin-challenged guy to go along with mouth wide-open goofus Scheyer. Did ya hear he was able to score 21 points in 65 seconds mouth agape the entire time during a high school game?

  8. Das silly,
    Im sure like other schools Duke trys to get the best guys on the court that they can get to fit into their system.

    To make this assertion that Duke is only looking for “certain” type of players within what fits their system is absurd.

    To make that statement is an insult to every person of Color that has ever suited up in a Duke Uniform. It ignores alot of jerseys retired in the rafters.

    Perhaps, and this is pure speculation, what you are most uncomfortable with, is the notion that white guys can be successful in basketball. Thats a larger issue than Duke.

    To cite the lacrosse deal makes me smile. Right up there with the Clergy and teachers; Strippers make the best character witness’s in court cases. If you’ve been to a “gentlemans club” as long as you have $$, you can get your itch scratched. Whatever this was… it was about $.

    In closing, its an odd pic you selected and quite ironic. Looks to be circa the 20’s… In the 20’s UNC wasnt known as the Tarheels but rather the “White Phantoms”. And yes the name means EXACTLY what you think it means.

  9. Mulatto????? Unless you are a 60 year old white person from Mississippi, the word you are looking for is Bi-racial.

  10. I see nothing insidious about Duke’s racial composition. As others have pointed out, walk-ons shouldn’t count. Moreover, Duke has always made it a point to recruit kids with strong family support and ability to cut in the Duke classroom. Consider this: When Krzyzewski recruited Sean Dockery out of Chicago, there was a whole brouhaha about him not meeting the academic bottom line (his ACT scores were very low). Most basketball players at D-I colleges would not cut it at Duke. So due to the socioeconomic differences between races in America that also results in differences in academic preparation, Duke is predisposed to attract more white guys. Despite this, Duke has attracted a significant number of black athletes in the last decade. Note also that white athletes from good families might be less disposed to send their children to a “factory”. Of course, the coaching staff tries their best to recruit guys who have the intelligence and willpower to make it academically at Duke. By the way, Sean Dockery made the Dean’s List at Duke.

  11. If a top 10 team in the nation was composed of all black players would there be any talk of racism. No. If a team is looking to run some kind of offense, and is doing a great job of it, it is in no way racist that nine out of 15, walk ons or not, are white. The fact that someone could consider having nine white guys on a team is an act of racism is racism by itself. By saying having 60% white people and 40% black people is racist is not only wrong its ignorant.

  12. This is an idiotic argument. Jamal Boykin and Eric Boateng were the two least athletic Blue Devils before they transferred. 6-10 Josh McRoberts is likely the most. Of the players who see real time, Lance Thomas, Gerald Henderson, Dave McClure and DeMarcus Nelson are black. McRoberts and Greg Paulus and Jon Scheyer are white. That pretty much fits to your calculations. Also, Jon Scheyer is half-Jewish, making the team 1/28 Jewish, a significantly higher proportion than any other team in college basketball. Maybe Coach K hates Arabs…

  13. i think the real crime is that none of Coach k’s big men recieve the coaching to get better when they leave. brand may seem like a success, but he and shelden were the same talent wise coming in when going out. maybe that’s why boateng and boykins left. look at mcrobs too. too scared to play inside. i’m counting the days before lance thomas leaves as well.

  14. Anyone who believes that Coach K and staff don’t recruit African American players for some specific “reason” is very much out of touch with reality! Duke cares about winning and winning with class, period! They don’t care what kinds of players, whether white, black, brown, or blue, as long as they have the skills they are looking for and they are committed to winning. Finally, even if Duke does not like to recruit players who might jump to the NBA early, that is their perogative, not yours! If it just so happens that most of those players are African American, so be it…that does not mean they are racist!

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