During the 1998-1989 season, Corey Maggette played his one and only season for the Duke Blue Devils. With no Duke basketball player ever declaring for the NBA draft early up to that point, no one could have predicted that this would be his only year in Durham. Many were shocked at the time, but Maggette maximized his short time in college to turn himself into a lottery pick and a 14 year NBA pro. Looking back over 20 years later, the narrative surrounding Maggette has certainly changed.
Duke was one of the only major college basketball teams to recruit four year players only. It is one reason why they were considered by many to be the best team in the 1990s. Sure, players were more than talented enough to leave school early and get drafted. The prestige surrounding Duke University Coach Mike Krzyzewski and the program’s reputation kept kids in school.
That all changed in 1999 when Maggette was one of three players to declare for the draft early. Elton Brand and William Avery, sophomores at the time, also declared early. He was the only freshman of the group, meaning that he would spend just one season coming off the bench on the most talented team in college basketball.
Star high school players typically look to make an immediate impact at the college level from day one. Maggette, who was recruited by virtually every school in the country, could have started for any of those teams. However, he decided that the best move for him was to go to Duke and be part of a team that favored the NCAA title.
Going to Duke meant that he would have to earn every minute, which could lead to some frustrating times. He did have some ups and downs in his freshman season like any young player, but getting a chance to play around great players and enjoy significant exposure turned into a positive for Maggette heading up to the NBA Draft. It was even talked about when the Golden State Warriors picked up Maggette years later in 2008 when they signed the free agent.
Duke received each team’s best shot whenever they took the floor. They were the titans of NCAA basketball the time, which meant a tough challenge every night out. Going through a season like that with a target on their back can now be seen as a positive way to help Maggette evolve as a player.
After the departure of Brand, Avery, and Maggette, the flood gates opened in Durham. Now, no one bats an eye when freshmen leave school early. Krzyzewski actively recruits these types of players, and he has shown that he can win with players who are using college as a brief stop instead of a four-year commitment. Perhaps if rules change the recruiting strategy will change as well, but the last 20 years have been much different than the first half of Krzyzewski’s career from a recruiting perspective.
These days, players go to Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, and other blue blood schools for this same type of challenge. Each coaching staff has a reputation for being top-notch, the teams always play the best schedules, and they get top-level training for the next level. It is just as much about winning in the present as it is preparing for the future.
Ultimately, Duke did end up just short of the National Championship in 1999. They lost to UCONN in the finals, despite solid minutes from Maggette off the bench. Maggette played well enough in big games to show scouts that he could be a significant contributor at the NBA level.
At the time, high school players were allowed to jump from high school to the NBA if they wished. While it did cross Maggette’s mind, it ultimately made the most sense for him to go to Duke first. If for some reason he did not feel comfortable coming out early, staying at Duke for two to four years is a dream for many college basketball players.
What Maggette did is now a blueprint for many top players around the country and denied taking payments and then went on to one of the most successful NBA careers of all time. If all goes according to plan, spending one year playing for one of the premier teams in college basketball is one of the best preparations for professional basketball. If it does not end up working out exactly as planned, spending an additional year, or all four years for that matter. In that case, it is still an excellent opportunity that can allow a person to get their degree and pursue other interests.
The Corey Maggette Duke freshman was raw at times, but just about any fan can see the potential. He eventually evolved into a talented and versatile player capable of playing almost any position. It all started at Duke, as he was able to show he belongs with the best players in the country during his short stint for the Blue Devils. This type of plan is now one of the keys to success for high school seniors making their college decisions now.
In many ways, Maggette set a new trend that normalized the one and done season knowing what is known now. He was not the first to do it, but he was the first to do it at Duke. This plan made the most sense for him, and the Duke program changed forever when he joined his two other teammates in leaving school early.