In the spring of 1980, Duke University hired 33-year-old Mike Krzyzewski to be its men’s head basketball coach. By his sixth season, Krzyzewski had the Blue Devils in the national championship game. Duke fell to Louisville, but Devils senior Johnny Dawkins was the 1986 tournament’s leading scorer.
Two years later, junior center Danny Ferry led Duke back to the Final Four in 1988, where it lost to eventual champion Kansas. As a senior, Ferry scored a conference record 58 points in a regular season victory over Miami. Ferry’s Devils again reached the national semifinals in 1989.
The 1990 Duke squad featured senior Alaa Abdelnaby, sophomore center Christian Laettner and freshman point guard Bobby Hurley. This edition made it all the way to the championship game before succumbing the University of Nevada Las Vegas Runnin’ Rebels.
Duke got its revenge on UNLV the following year, upsetting the undefeated Rebels (34-0) in the 1991 semis on the way to capturing the school’s first national title in men’s basketball. Laettner was named tournament MVP, but the most memorable moment was this absurd alley-oop pass and dunk from Hurley to freshman forward Grant Hill:
In 1992, a loaded Blue Devils club trailed Rick Pitino’s Kentucky Wildcats 103-102 with 2.1 seconds remaining in overtime of the East Regional Final. This time it was Hill who threw a spectacular pass to the senior Laettner, who then hit one of the most iconic shots in the history of college basketball:
It was in that moment that college basketball fans around the country came to a stark realization–the Blue Devils always won.
Duke moved on to its fifth consecutive Final Four and eventually defeated the all-freshman “Fab Five” from Michigan to capture its second straight national championship. The Devils reached the Final Four seven times in nine years from 1986 through 1994, cementing Duke as the country’s premier college hoops program.
Three decades later, the Blue Devils remain a perennial powerhouse.
Since the mid 1990s, Duke has added three more national championships and five additional Final Four appearances to its resume. The Blue Devils have also qualified for the NCAA Tournament in 22 consecutive seasons. In fact, they’ve missed the “big dance” just once in the past 34 years, in 1995 when a back injury forced Krzyzewski to step away from the team after 12 games.
Krzyzewski, who’s been part of Team USA since 1979 and is already a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, enters his 38th season with the school as the winningest coach in Division 1 men’s basketball history. Not showing any signs of slowing down, his 2017-18 roster looks as strong as ever.
Gone are the days when seniors like Dawkins, Ferry and Laettner dominated college basketball. The “one and done” phenomenon has taken over, with the best players heading to the NBA after their freshman seasons. The game has changed, and the Blue Devils have adapted.
Duke, which finished the 2016-17 regular season ranked seventh nationally, has four of the top eight incoming freshman in the country.
And if that wasn’t already enough to give the Blue Devils a serious leg up on the competition, now they have a technological edge as well–they’re wearing WHOOP.
“Smart training used to be qualitative, relying on questions such as, ‘How are you feeling?’ or, ‘How’s your workout going?’” Duke athletic trainer Jose Fonseca said. “WHOOP is equipping our program with quantitative data on how our athletes are recovering after practice and training, instilling a culture of performance-maximizing enhancing data that will give us a distinct advantage.”
Armed with elite talent and elite data, the Devils’ reign at the top doesn’t appear to be ending any time soon.