How Corey Maggette Helped Introduce a New Era at Duke

Coming out of high school, Corey Maggette was one of the most highly recruited players in the nation. He had his choice of schools, and he made it known early on that he would be looking nationwide. Home states schools such as Illinois and Depaul came after him hard, but he was also getting looks from schools with extremely high academic standards like Duke, Stanford, and Georgetown. Throw in national powerhouses like Kentucky and UConn, and it was a challenging decision for the Chicago prepster.

Ultimately, Mike Krzyzewski found a way to bring Maggette to Durham to suit up for the Duke Blue Devils. Some thought it was a curious decision, simply because the team was returning virtually everyone from a team that finished 32-4 and made the Elite Eight in 1998. Would there actually be playing time for Maggette?

Earning Rotation Minutes at Duke

Maggette was talented enough out of high school to go to certain schools and be the star right away. At Duke, he was seen as more of a role player, especially early in the year. He finished the regular season playing just under 18 minutes a game, but he found a way to score 10.6 points per contest in those minutes efficiently.

Not only were his stats good enough to make the ACC All-Freshman team, but it was clear that his potential would lead him to the NBA eventually. The freshman was one of the most athletic players in the country, and he was able to evolve into a very dependable player during Duke’s run to the National Championship game.

Breaking the norm

In the late 1990s, most top college basketball teams had at least a few players leaving early for the NBA Draft. The most high profile school that still had four-year players only was Duke. As soon as Maggette committed to Duke out of high school, many figured that meant he would spend all four years in Durham.

Duke was favored to win the National Championship in 1999, but UConn found a way to upset the Blue Devils in the Final in St. Petersburg. It wasn’t a magical ending that many thought would happen with such a talented group, but Duke was still a young team only losing a few seniors. A strong sophomore class, along with Maggette, would make them title contenders for the next two years. What Coach Krzyzewski didn’t realize was that he was about to deal with players leaving early.

Maggette joined sophomores Elton Brand and William Avery as the first players to not play all four years at Duke. It was viewed as very controversial at the time, as the prestigious, private school Duke felt that the education they provided outweighed the lure of the NBA. These three players knew that they were going to go in the first round, and passing on millions of dollars was just too much of a risk.

From Villains to Trendsetters

The trio of players didn’t receive a lot of praise from Duke fans and students once they bypassed the rest of their college eligibility. Maggette as a freshman received quite a bit of criticism, especially since he was not even a starter at the college level. There were even people who actively rooted against these three when they made it to the NBA, hoping that it would discourage others from making this decision down the road.

What ended up happening is that these three players became trendsetters not only at Duke but across college basketball. More players than ever are leaving school early if they believe they are an NBA prospect. Just a few years after this trio left early, guys like Jay Williams, Mike Dunleavy, and Carlos Boozer also left with eligibility still on the table.

Fast forward to now, and Duke is one of those schools that continually rely on one-and-done players. The school has evolved into one of the best training grounds for players who picture themselves as NBA All-Stars. Maggette was the original one-and-done at Duke, and a 14-year career certainly proves that he was ready for the biggest stage. Kyrie Irving, Jayson Tatum, Jahlil Okafor, and Zion Williamson are just a few players to follow Maggette’s path since.

Was it the right decision?

For Corey Maggette and Elton Brand, leaving school early to go to the NBA was undoubtedly the right decision. They both went on too long, lucrative careers, and even teamed up at the next level. Avery didn’t find the same amount of success, but it is still hard to argue with a player’s decision when they go 14th in the draft. Today he runs the Big3 tournament and has been on a charitable spree in hopes of inspiring other former basketball players to do great in the world as Kobe Bryant did.

College basketball changed a lot in the 1990s, and it was inevitable that there would be players leaving Duke early at some point. Now that Coach Krzyzewski relies so heavily on NBA prospects who only stay for a year or two, these three will always be remembered for having an impact on taking a chance on themselves to play at the highest level. If Duke never started accepting these types of players, they would have a few fewer banners hanging from the rafters.