The 'godfathers of Duke basketball'

In 1984, Coach K took his first Duke team to the NCAA tournament. The Blue Devils were a No. 3 seed. AP Photo/Gerry Broome

Duke assistant coach Jeff Capel remains so in awe of the Blue Devils' 1982 recruiting class that he referred to its members as the "godfathers of Duke basketball."

The legacy of Duke's latest No. 1 overall class, the fifth during coach Mike Krzyzewski's tenure, won't end up being viewed in that way. But these freshmen could redefine what a successful class means during an era in which few classes finish together.

The old standard belonged to Krzyzewski's six-member class in 1982 that included Johnny Dawkins, Mark Alarie, David Henderson and Jay Bilas. They accomplished many of Coach K's "firsts," including their run to the 1986 Final Four. Without them, Krzyzewski's tenure could have ended in an early and unceremonious exit from Durham, North Carolina.

"That was the class that set the template, the model was established," Krzyzewski said. "Not just the caliber of player, but the caliber of person, and that's what we've tried to do over the years is try to replicate that."

Duke's four-member 2014 class -- Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow, Tyus Jones and Grayson Allen -- probably won't be around campus long enough to replicate the career achievements of that 1982 class. They could earn something not even the '82 class did, though: an NCAA title banner.

Capel even told the newcomers that they should go in Cameron Indoor Stadium and take time to sit and observe all of the championship banners. Duke hangs them only for championships, be it ACC regular season or tournament, a Final Four or a national title.

"Everything that we do should be with the mindset of trying to hang your banner," Capel said. "That's the legacy you want to leave here."

Coming onto campus the youngsters have considerable hype that Alarie said his class didn't have. For starters, the Blue Devils join a team with key veterans like senior guard Quinn Cook and junior forward Amile Jefferson in place.

Alarie said his Blue Devils weren't expected to do much when they were freshmen, as they joined a team that won just 10 games the previous season. They were also joining a conference that boasted back-to-back national champions in North Carolina and NC State. This season's team, a potential top-five candidate and Final Four contender, won't sneak up on anyone.

"It's a different pressure that we didn't have," Alarie said. "Media pressures and expectations are far beyond what we ever experienced because it's a bigger deal and Coach K is a bigger deal. They're going to be under the microscope much moreso than we ever were."

There are some built-in advantages that the players didn't have three decades ago. Bilas said the players in the 1982 class knew each other only "by name and reputation." He didn't even know what any of his classmates looked like in the days before the Internet and national AAU tournaments made top players easily accessible.

Dawkins said the foreign tour the Blue Devils took to France in the summer between their freshman and sophomore seasons helped them become Krzyzewski's first ranked team. They ended up being his first NCAA tournament team, too, grabbing a No. 3 seed in 1984.

But the Blue Devils' current class knew each other before arriving on campus. It's part of the reason why Krzyzewski said this class is advanced. Jones, Okafor and Winslow even played together on the under-17 U.S. national team in 2012. Dawkins believes that plays a part in helping a team get off to a fast start.

"People underestimate how important it is for team chemistry," Dawkins said. "For guys to really get along with one another, to trust one another, believe in one another, and those things are developed in settings that are not necessarily on the floor."

Dawkins' class built its chemistry through four years of playing together. It helped Krzyzewski reach his first Final Four and national title game while leaving its own stamp on the program. Dawkins, now the head coach at Stanford, remains the school's second all-time leading scorer with 2,556 points. Alarie checks in at No. 7 with 2,136 points. Henderson and Bilas also topped 1,000 points.

"Never again in my judgment -- unless you allow players to be paid -- will you have players stick around like we did," Bilas said. "We didn't stick around because we were of better character or valued education more than these guys. We stuck around because there wasn't the money. If there was the money, Johnny Dawkins would have had a tough time saying no."

Okafor could have a hard time saying no to the lure of the NBA if he has the kind of season many expect from the No. 1-ranked recruit in the class. Winslow and Jones could face the same stay-or-go dilemma, if not this season, maybe next.

Overall No. 1 recruiting classes tend to disassemble fast. Eight of the past 10 classes had at least one player turn pro after his freshman season. Kentucky's 2004 class of Rajon Rondo, Randolph Morris, Ramel Bradley and Joe Crawford was the last to stay together for even two seasons before Rondo turned pro. (Morris went undrafted after he declared for the 2005 draft but was eventually reinstated by the NCAA since he didn't sign with an agent.)

The 1982 class reshaped Krzyzewski's recruiting philosophy. Now, he's much more specific in the players he targets after casting a much wider net in 1981 and missing major targets like Chris Mullin.

In pursuing Okafor, the centerpiece of this year's class, the Blue Devils' only other offer at that position went to Myles Turner, who signed with Texas. Ever since the 1982 class, Krzyzewski has placed a higher emphasis on watching a smaller pool of players.

"I asked him about that philosophy," Capel said. "He talked to me about when he was a young coach he felt like that might be a mistake he made. He talked about with Dawkins' class like, 'We've got to get this guy. I'm not recruiting anybody else, these are the guys.'"

Attrition makes it difficult to plan from year to year.

"The thing I find uncomfortable is to be able to talk to a recruit now and say this is how it's going to be," Krzyzewski said. "In other words I don't know how it's going to be. ... Our team looks so different than it did from last year and it might be that way the following year."

Krzyzewski teams spearheaded by one-and-done talents haven't fared so well in the NCAA tournament. Jabari Parker was an NBA lottery pick but couldn't lead the Blue Devils past Mercer in the second round. The same thing happened with Austin Rivers in 2012, with Lehigh pulling off the upset. Kyrie Irving, who missed most of his only season at Duke with a foot injury, returned for the 2011 tournament, but Duke lost in the Sweet 16.

Alarie said bouncing back from those kind of disappointments helped define his class.

"Like if Jabari Parker stayed around long enough, he would be able to show that he learned something from [Mercer], he would never let something like that happen again in his life," Alarie said. "That's the luxury we were afforded. We got to feel that and do something about it. That's what building winners is all about."

Or at least, that's what it used to be. Duke's newest class is out to prove there is an updated way, even if these players never achieve godfather status.