Four Players Who Improved Their Game Under Coach K | GMTM

Four Players Who Improved Their Game Under Coach K

ByBryan Armetta

Published on Wed Nov 03 2021

|

4 min read

Four Players Who Improved Their Game Under Coach K

College basketball's greatest coach is finally saying goodbye.

Over 46 seasons as a Division I head coach, 41 of them at Duke, Mike Krzyzewski has made his mark on the sport like no other. With five national titles, a litany of future NBA stars, and his tenure coaching USA Basketball, Coach K has shaped countless lives on and off the court. In June, he announced that the 2021-22 season would be his last, prompting an 22As

20Coach
20K
20nears
20the,to
20say
20is
20thank
20you.">outpouring of well-wishes from fans, former players, friends, and even longtime rivals.

Here are four of the players who saw their game improve the most during their time in Durham.

*All statistics courtesy of Sports Reference CBB.

Shane Battier

It's hard to find a player who accomplished more at Duke than Shane Battier. With a National Championship, two Final Four runs, and a Wooden Award win in 2001, the Michigan native quickly became known across the nation for his shooting ability and well-rounded defensive game. However, the Battier that came to the Blue Devils as a highly touted prospect certainly went through some growing pains. In his first year, the young Battier struggled on offense, shooting a paltry .163 from three-point range while averaging just 7.6 points.

Battier's offensive game would gradually progress during each of his next three seasons, culminating in an award-winning, 19.9 points-per-game senior campaign. Even with his subpar freshman percentages, Battier left campus shooting three-pointers at an exceptional .416 rate to go along with a 50

field goal percentage. That level of scoring prowess, complete with an uncanny ability to play perimeter defense, made Battier the sixth overall pick in the 2001 NBA Draft.

Danny Ferry

Unlike many other players who improve by seeing a major jump in minutes, Danny Ferry simply became a better player during his four years at Duke. A much better player.

To be fair to the freshman Ferry, he still played a sizable role for the 1985-86 Blue Devils, averaging just under 23 minutes per game while chipping in primarily on the boards with 5.5 rebounds per game. That year, Ferry made his first of three trips to the Final Four, losing a tight 72-69 game to Louisville in the championship game. In all three appearances on college basketball's biggest stage, he never won a national title.

Despite falling agonizingly short of his team goal, Ferry was a household name due to his outside shooting, rebounding tenacity, and adept passing at 6'10. By the time he was a senior, the Duke legend averaged nearly 23 points per game to go with 7.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists. Ferry even scored 58 points in a game against Miami that December, a single-game Duke record that still stands today.

Christian Laettner

For a brief moment in time, Christian Laettner was the scourge of the college basketball world. Yet the brash, cocky, and straight-up dominant upperclassman America grew to hate started out as a talented but somewhat raw bench player his freshman year. Laettner's emergence onto the national scene wouldn't occur until the 1989 Final Four, when Duke advanced past Georgetown on the strength of his 24 points.

Most impressive about Laettner's four-year run in Durham, aside from two national titles, four consecutive Final Four appearances, and the 1992 Wooden Award, was his consistency scoring the basketball. Each season under the guidance of Coach K, the upstate New York native saw his minutes and points per game increase. This wasn't just a matter of more opportunity. Laettner's career field goal percentage of .574

, along with a .485
mark from beyond the arc, exemplified his deadly accuracy. That level of shooting prowess tended to overshadow his solid rebounding and sneaky-good passing ability as well. By the time Duke's greatest player left college, he had blossomed into an all-around threat and lone collegiate member of Team USA's famed 1992 "Dream Team".

Shelden Williams

Unlike the star scorers that have made up the rest of the list, Shelden Williams made his mark primarily on the defensive end of the court. During his first year in Duke, it was easy to see the potential, with 5.9 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game while averaging under 20 minutes. But the man nicknamed "The Landlord" wasn't just another gritty big man. He owned the paint.

Perhaps the greatest defender in school history, Shelden Williams left Duke as the career leader in blocks and rebounds, along with three ACC Defensive Player of the Year awards. Williams' outstanding career blocks average of 3 is made even more impressive by the fact that he was just 6'9, tall but certainly not imposing height. With senior season marks of 18.8 points per game, 10.7 rebounds and 3.8 blocks, Williams took his game to a new level while on campus, evolving from a defensive-first supporting player to an all-around star. Still, the soft-spoken center's numerous achievements were often lost in the shuffle by virtue of playing alongside J.J. Reddick for all four of his seasons at Duke.

While younger fans may not remember him after a so-so NBA career, Williams had a historic run at Duke. The key to his success under Coach K? Bringing the energy.

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