Duke Blue Devils Nov 24, 2022; Portland, Oregon, USA; The Duke Blue Devils mascot walks the court during a time out against the Oregon State Beavers at Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Duke won the game 54-51. Mandatory Credit: Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Before the Duke Blue Devils became a college basketball powerhouse blueblood in the 1980s and ’90s, they had a rich tradition going back several decades. The Blue Devils were producing greats way before Mike Krzyzewski came along, though things certainly kicked up a notch when he arrived.

Narrowing it down to the 10 best players in the program’s history is tough, and we had to consider not only the stars of the Coach K era but also the ones who built the program beforehand.

Here is our list of the top 10 Duke Blue Devils men’s college basketball players of all time.

10. Art Heyman, small forward/shooting guard

You might not know the name, but Art Heyman played a huge part in Duke’s basketball history. Heyman averaged 25.1 points per game and scored 1,984 points while at Duke, both school records at that time. He was also one of just three ACC athletes to have been elected unanimously to the All-ACC Men’s Basketball team three times. Winner of the AP National Player of the Year award, the ACC Player of the Year award, and the Oscar Robertson Trophy in 1963, his No. 25 has been retired by the school.

9. Dick Groat, point guard

Dick Groat is better known for being a great baseball player, but he excelled at both baseball and basketball while at Duke. While there, he was a two-time Southern Conference Player of the Year, a consensus second-team All-American in 1951, and a consensus first-team All-American in 1952. He was also named UPI National Player of the Year in 1952 when he set what was then an NCAA record with 839 points. His No. 10 is up in the rafters at Cameron Indoor Stadium and in 2007 he was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.

8. Jay Williams, point guard

Before he became better known as a basketball analyst for ESPN, Jay Williams was a star for the Blue Devils. Williams is an NCAA champion, national college player of the year, two-time All-American, ACC Tournament MVP, and was part of the ACC All-Freshman team. Williams also broke Dick Groat’s 49-year-old single-season scoring record. In 2001, he averaged 25.7 points per game.  Williams also set the NCAA Tournament record for three-pointers attempted (66), while also making 132 three-point field goals—good for the sixth-highest total in NCAA history. Williams left Duke scoring over 2,000 points, sixth in the school’s history. His jersey number has been retired and he has been inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.

7. JJ Redick, shooting guard

Like Jay Williams, young basketball fans might know JJ Redick more for his ESPN work, but he was a big-time player for Duke back in the early 2000s. Throughout his Blue Devils career, Redick was named a national player of the year, two-time All-American, ACC Athlete of the Year, and two-time ACC Tournament MVP. He is Duke’s all-time leading scorer with 2,557 points and he holds the NCAA record in free throw percentage. In 2006, Redick broke the record for most points in the season with 964. Redick’s No. 4 jersey was retired at Cameron Indoor Stadium in 2007.

6. Danny Ferry, forward

Danny Ferry made his mark in the late 1980s, leading the Blue Devils to three Final Four appearances while setting various school records. A two-time All-ACC first-teamer, Ferry was named ACC Player of the Year in both 1988 and 1989. He was also a consensus All-American in both years and the Naismith College Player of the Year in 1989. In 2002, he was named to the ACC 50th Anniversary men’s basketball team. He was also the first ACC player in history to collect more than 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, and 500 assists in his collegiate career. Ferry’s number 35 was retired in 1989.

5. Johnny Dawkins, point guard

Johnny Dawkins and Danny Ferry’s careers were extremely similar. Both were Naismith Player of the Year, Consensus first-team All-Americans, and All-ACC first-teamers. Dawkins left as the school’s all-time leading scorer with 2,556 points util JJ Redick broke that mark. He led Duke to the 1986 NCAA championship game but they lost to Louisville. Dawkins’ No. 24 was retired and he was named to the ACC 50th Anniversary men’s basketball team.

4. Shane Battier, small forward

While Shane Battier may get overlooked compared to other Duke stars, he certainly earned his spot here. He led the Blue Devils to two Final Fours, in 1999 and 2001, winning the national title in 2001, and was a consensus national player of the year who also won the Naismith, Associated Press, and Sporting News College Player of the Year awards. He and Jason Williams were one of only two Duke duos to each score over 700 points in a season, doing so in 2001. A two-time Academic All-American, Battier was named to the ACC 50th Anniversary men’s basketball team, and his No. 31 retired by the school.

3. Bobby Hurley, point guard

If there is one guy who epitomizes the heart and soul of those Duke Blue Devils teams of the early 1990s, it is Bobby Hurley. While Grant Hill and Chrisitan Laettner were the stars, Hurley was the true leader. He was a first-team All-American in 1993, went to the three Final Fours, and helped lead Duke to back-to-back national championships in 1991 and 1992. Hurley is also the NCAA all-time assists leader (1,076), and Duke’s single-game assist leader with 16. Hurley’s No. 11 was retired in 1993 and he was named to the ACC 50th Anniversary men’s basketball team.

2. Grant Hill, small forward and shooting guard

Grant Hill was one of the most talented players to ever put on a Blue Devils uniform. He is a two-time NCAA champion, two-time All-American, ACC Player of the Year, and 1993 National Defensive Player of the Year. Hill became the first player in ACC history to collect more than 1,900 points, 700 rebounds, 400 assists, 200 steals, and 100 blocked shots across his college career. But what cemented Hill’s place among Blue Devil fans is the Hail Mary pass to Christian Laettner in the 1992 NCAA Tournament in a win over Kentucky, widely considered by many as the greatest play in NCAA Tournament history. Hill is also an Olympic gold medal winner, a member of the ACC 50th Anniversary men’s basketball team, and has been inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame and Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

1. Christian Laettner, power forward/center

If there is a more polarizing player in the history of college basketball, we’d like to see it. That said, Christian Laettner earned that hate in large part because he was just that good. While Duke fans see him as a hero and one of the best to ever play the game, opposing fans see him as a bully and still hate his guts to this day. However you feel about him, there’s no denying how good he was.

Like Bobby Hurley and Grant Hill, Laettner is a two-time NCAA Champion, National Player of the Year, two-time All-American, ACC Player of the Year, two-time ACC Athlete of the Year, and NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player. He also holds several NCAA Tournament records, including points scored (407), games won (21), and games played (23). In his career, Laettner averaged 16.6 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. He scored 21.5 points per game his senior season. Duke retired his No. 32 jersey and he is enshrined in the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.

Laettner went on to win a gold medal with the 1996 Dream Team as the only collegiate member of the iconic squad.

Most of all, he’ll always be remembered for “The Shot.”

About Stacey Mickles

Stacey is a 1995 graduate of the University of Alabama who has previously worked for other publications such as Sportskeeda and Saturday Down South.