Duke Basketball: Top Five Leaders in Program History
All great teams have great leaders. Actually, all teams have many great leaders.
In order for a team to be successful in any field, whether sports or not, different people will have to step up when the time is needed. But all teams need that one person they look up to, and Duke has Mike Krzyzewski, one of the greatest leaders in college basketball history.
Coach K has recently become a philosopher of leadership, offering insightful quote upon quote on how one can truly be a leader. While he is the unquestioned authority, Coach K does an amazing job of empowering everyone from assistant coaches to players to managers to take command when they are needed. Every player on the team is able to turn into a leader.
But when the players are on the court, they know they have to look to each other as the ones that will truly affect the outcome. Coach K can guide them, but success or failure is always ultimately in the players’ hands.
This is why it is so important that basketball teams have strong on-court leadership. Other players will always listen to a lesson given by a teammate who shows his methods work on the court.
Duke has had many great leaders during the program’s storied history; here is my top five.
5. Steve "Wojo" Wojciechowski
At 5’11”, 180-pounds and lacking explosive athleticism, Steve Wojciechowski was the consummate underdog. Never the most talented offensive players, Wojo became a fan favorite due to his hustle and defense.
He is best known for inventing the floor slap on defense and his iconic hug with Coach K on his senior day.
Wojo was the type of player who today's announcers would describe with phrases like: “He gets the best of his ability.” He worked hard to improve his shooting over his career and became a reliable ball handler late in his career. He always managed to impact the game positively, and his hustle often brought the Cameron Crazies to a frenzy.
Wojo averaged only 5.4 points per game for his career, but he is eighth all time at Duke in both steals and assists and was named National Defensive Player of the Year his senior season. He was the perfect example of a student athlete who announcers loved and casual college basketball fans were always annoyed with.
In other words, he was the Aaron Craft of his time.
After playing, Wojo joined the Duke coaching staff, where he was on the bench for two national championships. He was recently hired as the head coach of Marquette.
4. Jon Scheyer
Jon Scheyer entered Duke as a talented guard with a sweet shot. He had success in his first two seasons at his natural position and would have been just fine staying there. However, when his team needed it, Scheyer willingly switched positions.
With Nolan Smith injured and Greg Paulus benched, Duke had no true point guards handy and turned to Scheyer out of necessity. Scheyer averaged only 1.8 and 2.4 assists in his first two seasons, respectively.
After becoming the point guard mid-season, Scheyer was more of a scorer who dribbled the ball up the court and averaged just 2.8 assists. He focused on his ball-handling and passing all summer, and it paid off.
He averaged 4.9 assists per game in his senior season while also leading the team in scoring. His ability to distribute the ball allowed Smith to hunt shots, and Smith became one of the most improved players in the nation.
Scheyer’s willingness to switch positions set the tone for a roster of players who tailored their games to fit the team’s needs as Duke won the national title in 2010.
Scheyer was just a few years out of school when he was hired as a special assistant coach before last season, having played one season with Andre Dawkins who was still on the team. He was promoted to assistant coach after Wojciechowski was hired at Marquette.
3. Jay Williams
Jay Williams came to Duke with as much as hype as any player Duke had gotten before him. He was ranked No. 3 in his high school recruiting class, per NBCSports, and he was a McDonald’s All-American. Despite the hype, Williams was set to learn the system behind William Avery and ease into a role.
When Avery surprisingly declared for the NBA Draft, Williams’ career path was greatly accelerated.
Avery’s move forced Williams to start from day one, and he learned by going through the fire. His freshman season saw the typical ups and downs of players forced into action too early. Williams scored 14.5 points per game but also turned the ball over an astonishing 4.1 times per contest.
While he struggled at times during his first year, he learned from his mistakes and became one of the best players in the country his sophomore season, helping lead the team to its third NCAA championship.
His savvy on the court carried into academics, as he was able to set a plan that allowed him to graduate in three years and enter the NBA draft with a diploma.
Williams’ best leadership quality was his cool head during tough moments. He spearheaded one of Duke’s most famous moments when he led a 10-point comeback in the last minute against Maryland in a game that single-handedly started a rivalry. He led an even bigger comeback (with much more time left) against the same Maryland team in the Final Four later that year.
2. Bobby Hurley
Bobby Hurley was the epitome of toughness during his playing days. The 6'0" guard from New Jersey told Mike Littwin of the Baltimore Sun that he got tough at a young age playing in rough pick-up games:
"I played on the playgrounds, right there in the projects. There were no refs. There was nobody to stop someone from beating you up."
When he came to Duke, that toughness helped turn the Devils from perennial contenders to back-to-back NCAA champions.
Hurley brought similar leadership and toughness intangibles as Wojo but added natural point guard abilities. He holds a hoard of assist records at Duke. He also garnered All-ACC, All-American and NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player honors.
His leadership on the court helped to mesh the different types of personalities Duke had during the Devils’ first two championships. From the rabid competitiveness of Christian Laettner to the cool of Grant Hill, Hurley kept the team members on the same page on their way to becoming one of the most legendary groups in college basketball.
1. Shane Battier
Toughness. Team-first attitude. Intensity.
Shane Battier mixed all the best qualities of a leader to be at the top of the list. His accomplishments on and off the court are stellar. He even was recently mentioned as a potential candidate for Congress. If he is good enough to help lead an entire state, think of the impact he has on a basketball team.
Battier is basically Duke’s version of the most interesting man on the planet. He was a role player on the 1999 runner-up and a star on the 2001 championship teams. He was a great defender, three times NCAA Player of the Year and the godfather of drawing charges.
He became a great offensive player but had no problem sharing the spotlight with Jay Williams. He is such a great leader that he is referenced in business articles.
Battier has a keen understanding for the game and how to best utilize his skills to help the team. He is a great communicator who connects with people and gets the best out of them.
He is Duke’s greatest on-court leader, and if he wants, he could become one their greatest leaders on the bench in time.