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Greatest College Basketball Teams:  Spotlight 1999 Duke

The 1999 Duke Blue Devils basketball team went 37-2, defeating opponents by an average of 24.6 per game, the largest victory margin in Duke history.  Unfortunately for Duke, the Blue Devils ran into another great team in the National Championship Game, the 1999 Connecticut Huskies, and lost by three points, 74-77. 

All nine of Duke's scholarship players on the 1999 team were McDonald's or Parade All-Americans in high school.  At one point in their careers at Duke, four of the starters on the 1999 team would be named college All-Americans.  All of those players came to Duke to play for the Blue Devils' Hall of Fame coach, Mike Krzyewski.  Coach K was named National Coach of the Year in 1999 for the sixth time (he has since been named National Coach of the Year three more times).  The 1999 Duke team was the fifth Duke team to play in the Final Four in the 1990s.  "He's a great teacher and a great guy, and that's someone I wanted to be around," sophomore point guard William Avery said. "I knew coming to Duke, I would have a chance to play for a national championship every year."

The 1999 Blue Devils were led by 6'8' sophomore center Elton Brand.  Brand averaged 17.7 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game during the 1999 season.  He shot 62 percent from the floor.  His career field goal percentage of 61.2 percent is second all-time among Duke players.

Brand started playing basketball as a 10-year old.  'He wakes up basketball and he sleeps it,' his mother said.  In high school, Brand averaged 41 points and 20 rebounds per game.  He led his team to two state championships.  In addition to being a great basketball player, Brand was also an excellent student.  He ranked in the top 10% of his high school class at Peekskill High School.

Brand was an All-American and National Player of the Year in 1999.  'Elton Brand is so unique in college basketball,' UConn assistant coach Tom Moore said.  'Not a lot of teams have that true low-post answer where you can basically throw it in to him any trip.  When you need to stop a run, it's comforting to know you have a big guy with those hands he has.  He can seal off his man, gather the ball and then make a strong attack of the basket.  If he's single-covered, it seems to me if he gets the ball 10 times, he's going to score or get fouled eight or nine times.'

After the 1999 season, Brand left early for the NBA.  He was the number one pick in the NBA draft.  In the NBA, Brand is a two-time All-Star who averaged 20.3 points, 10.4 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game during his first nine years in the league.

Brand's inside dominance was supported by the outstanding outside shooting of senior shooting guard Trajan Langdon.  Langdon averaged 17.3 points per game and shot 44.1 percent from three-point range.  Langdon is second all-time at Duke in career three-pointers made (342), three-pointers taken (802) and three-point shooting percentage (42.6 percent).

Langdon was named to the All-American team for the second year in a row in 1999.  "He is as pure a shooter as I've seen in college basketball," Temple coach John Chaney said after seeing Langdon go 5 of 6 from three-point range against his team in an NCAA Tournament game.

Langdon went to high school in Alaska, where he set the all-time Alaska career high-school scoring record with 2,200 points and was named Alaska high school player of the year three years in a row.  At Duke, his Alaskan heritage and great shooting touch earned him the nickname the 'Alaskan Assassin.'

Langdon was the 11th pick in the first round of the 1999 NBA draft.  In three years in the NBA, Langdon averaged 5.4 points per game and shot 39.6 percent from three-point range.

Supporting Brand inside was 6'8' sophomore power forward Shane Battier.  Battier averaged only 9.1 points and 4.9 rebounds in 1999, but he won the first of three National Defensive Player of the Year awards in a row.  He also set the Duke record for drawing the most charges in a season with 36.  In 2000 and 2001, Battier was named an All-American.  In 2001, Battier was named National Player of the Year.

Battier grew up in a suburb of Detroit.  He led Detroit Country Day School to three consecutive Michigan state high school basketball championships and was named Mr. Michigan Basketball his senior year.  Like Brand, Battier was an excellent student in high school.  Battier graduated with a 3.96 grade point average.

Coach K said Battier was 'one of the most fundamentally sound defensive players to ever play at Duke.  He's been attentive every second of his career.  Even as a freshman, his mind never wandered. He gave me every second. That's one reason he's been such a good player, because of his attention to detail."

'When you can succeed when [opponents] are always giving their best shot, it makes it that much more fulfilling [to win],' Battier said.  'We never played a game where we tried to save anything.'

Battier was the 6th pick in the first round of the 2001 NBA draft.  In his first seven years in the NBA, Battier averaged 10.3 points and 4.8 rebounds.

Junior 6'6' small forward Chris Carrawell averaged 9.9 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game in 1999.  He was named an All-American in 2000, but wasn't taken until the 2nd round of the NBA draft.  He has never played in the NBA.

The last starter, although never named an All-American, was perhaps the most important player on the 1999 Duke team.  Sophomore point guard William Avery averaged 14.9 points and 5 assists per game for the Blue Devils in 1999.  Avery started every game and played the most minutes of any Duke player. 

Avery left early for the NBA and was the 14th pick in the first round of the 1999 NBA draft.  He played three seasons in the NBA, averaging 2.7 points and 1.4 assists.

Duke's top reserve in 1999 was 6'6' freshman forward Corey Maggette.  Maggette averaged 10.6 points and 3.9 rebounds per game in just 17.7 minutes. 

Like Brand and Avery, Maggette left early for the NBA draft at the end of the 1999 season.  Maggette was the 13th pick in the first round of the 1999 NBA draft.  In his first 10 seasons in the NBA, Maggette has averaged 16.3 points and 5.1 rebounds.

Duke's bench also had three big bruisers who had significant playing time:  6'10' Chris Burgess (5.4 pts., 3.9 reb.), 6'10' Taymon Domzalski (3.8 pts., 3.0 reb.) and 6'6' Nate James (5.0 pts., 2.6 reb.).  Nate James was described by coach Mike Krzyzewski as so muscular 'It looked like he just walked out of a boiler room.'  Reflecting on his time at Duke, James said 'It was a dream come true.  I came to Duke to win.'

After losing to eventual National Champion Kentucky in the Regional Finals in the 1998 NCAA Tournament 86-84, Duke was on a mission in 1999.  Duke started the season ranked number one in the nation and won their first five games by an average score of 103 to 69.

On November 28, 2008, Duke faced number 15 Cincinnati.  Cincinnati pulled off the 77-75 upset.  Later in the season, Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins was asked about Duke's weaknesses.  'Weaknesses?' Huggins answered.  'Not that I can find.  One thing, they don't have a lot of depth at the guard positions.  If someone could get one of those two guys [Langdon or Avery] in foul trouble, that could maybe cause some problems because they're basically a man to man team and they're not going to go into a zone to protect those guys.  Plus, you have to keep them out of transition and play very well in the half-court game.  They're just so good in transition.'

After the Cincinnati loss, Duke won the rest of their regular season games'24 in a row.  The Blue Devils extended the streak to 27 after winning the ACC Tournament.

Virginia's coach Pete Gillen lost to the Blue Devils three times:  115-69, 100-54 and 104-67.  Duke is like Noah's Ark,' Gillen said.  'They have two of everything.  Duke's ridiculous.  When I coached at Xavier, we played Kansas the year they won the NCAA title [1988], Duke's better.  We played Michigan the year they won [1989].  Duke's better.  We played Arkansas the year they won it [1994].  Duke's better.'

In the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Duke dismantled Florida A&M, 99-58.  Six Duke players scored double figures.  'The reality of tonight was we got whipped.,' said Florida A&M's coach Mickey Clayton.  'They handed it to us.  Duke was very obviously the better team.' 

In the second round, Duke pounded Tulsa, 97-56. The Blue Devils had two 13-0 runs early in the game and built up a 30 point halftime lead.  Tulsa coach Bill Self had only two words to describe Duke:  'They're awesome.'

In the third round, Duke beat SW Missouri State 78-61.  Langdon led all scorers with 24 points.  'I thought we did a pretty good job on Brand, but that left Langdon open,' SW Missouri State coach Steve Alford said.  'He's a great shooter and he made all of his shots.  I think that was the difference.' 

In the Regional Finals, Duke beat Temple 85-64.  Langdon led all scorers with 23 points.  He was 5 of 6 from three-point range.  Chris Carrawell had seven assists.  'I didn't see any weakness at all on the court,' Temple's Mark Karcher said about Duke after the game.  When asked what advice he would give to Duke's final four opponents, Temple coach John Chaney said, 'I hope they believe in the Lord.'

Duke was a heavy favorite to dominate the final four and win the National Championship.  Prior to the final four, Kansas coach Roy Williams said 'To me, Duke is the best team I've seen in 25 years of being a college coach.'

The final four was being played in St. Petersburg, Florida, the same site where Duke lost to Kentucky in the Regional Finals the year before.  Duke forward Shane Battier said, 'Last year when we came here we had no idea what we were doing.  We were just a bunch of kids running around.  Coming here means a lot more this year.'

In the semifinals, number one Duke brought its 31-game winning streak against number two Michigan State and its 22-game winning streak.  During the regular season, Duke defeated Michigan State 73-67. 

In the semifinal game, Duke started off well against the Spartans, taking a 17-8 lead.  Duke stretched the lead to 32-20 at halftime.

In the second half, though, Michigan State mounted a comeback.  Elton Brand picked up his fourth foul with 10 minutes to go.  When Brand left the game, Michigan State pounded the ball inside and cut the Duke lead to 51-48 with 8:33 left.  Trajan Langdon then hit his only three pointer of the game to extend the Duke lead to 54-48.  With 7:09 left, Michigan State's Morris Peterson made a layup to cut the lead back to 54-50.  But William Avery nailed a three-pointer over the outstretched hand of Mateen Cleaves and Duke hung on for a 68-62 win. 

'We cut it to three, and their All-Americans stepped in,' Michigan State's coach Tom Izzo said.  'Trajan Langdon hit a three pointer.  That was a critical, critical shot.  Then Avery hits a three.  That's why their the team.'

Michigan State's defense gave Duke a lot of trouble.  Langdon was 3 of 9 from the field, Carrawell 3 of 8, Avery 6 of 14, Battier 2 of 5 and Maggette 3 of 7.  Elton Brand, however, was able to dominate inside.  He had 18 points and 15 rebounds.  'It was real difficult,' Michigan State's Antonio Smith said about trying to stop Brand.  'If he gets it low, he'll score.'  'We had to grind this out, but it was a very satisfying win,' Elton Brand said.
In the NCAA Championship, number one Duke faced off against number three Connecticut.  Duke was favored by 9-1/2 points. 

Duke jumped out to a 9-2 lead, but then UConn senior Ricky Moore drove to the basket and scored 2 of his 13 first-half points.  UConn's double team held Elton Brand to just five points in the first half.  'I never knew where the double team was coming from,' Brand said.  Jake Voskuhl and Kevin Freeman swarmed Brand around the basket.

Nevertheless, Duke led 39-37 at the half.  In the second half, UConn kept on pushing the ball up the floor, creating open looks for star Richard Hamilton.  Hamilton led all scorers with 27 points, including 16 in the second half.  With time winding down, UConn had a 65-59 lead.

Then Elton Brand took over.  He blocked a shot by Hamilton and scored on a fast break to cut the lead to 65-61.  Then he stole the ball from UConn's Edmund Saunders and was fouled.  Brand missed the free throw, but Duke got the ball back and Chris Carrawell scored to cut the UConn lead to 65-63.  Then Brand blocked an outside shot by Khalid El-Amin.

With the score tied at 68-68 and just under four minutes to go, Richard Hamilton hit two free throws to give UConn a 70-68 lead.  On the next possession, Hamilton hit a three-pointer, extending the UConn lead to 73-68. 

Duke scored the next four points, cutting the UConn lead to 73-72, but Khalid El-Amin drove to the basket and extended the UConn lead to 75-72.  With less than a minute to go, Duke's William Avery was fouled.  He hit the free throws to bring Duke back within one, 75-74.  El-Amin drove to the basket again with just 24 seconds left, but missed.

With the clock ticking down'17'16'15', UConn's Ricky Moore said 'I heard Coach K yelling to Trajan, 'Go get the ball and take him.'  I loved that.  Him against me.  All I had to do was get one stop.  I started smiling because I knew he wasn't going to score that basket.'  Langdon tried to spin around Moore, but was called for traveling.  Duke fouled UConn's El-Amin with 5.2 seconds left.  El-Amin hit both free throws, extending the UConn lead to 77-74.

Duke had one last chance to tie the game with a three pointer.  Trajan Langdon drove the length of the floor to the three point line, but fell down and lost the dribble without taking a shot.  UConn's Rashmael Jones picked up the ball and the game was over.

Although he was unable to convert the last two trips down the floor, Langdon played a great game for Duke, scoring 25 points, and hitting 5 of 10 from three point range.  Brand added 15 and Avery 11.

'Twenty years from now, when I'm going bald,' Duke's Shane Battier said after the game, 'I can look back and say I played in one of the greatest championship games ever.' 

'We lost to a great basketball team,' coach Krzyzewski said.  'We were beaten tonight.  We didn't lose.'

Name            Pos  Class  Pts  Reb  Ast
Elton Brand     F/C   SO   17.7  9.8  1.1
Trajan Langdon   G    SR   17.3  3.4  1.9
William Avery    G    SO   14.9  3.5  5.0
Corey Maggette  G/F   FR   10.6  3.9  1.5
Chris Carrawell  F    JR    9.9  4.8  3.3
Shane Battier    F    SO    9.1  4.9  1.5
Chris Burgess    C    SO    5.4  3.9  0.8
Nate James       F    SO    5.0  2.6  0.9
Taymon Domzalski C    SR    3.8  3.0  0.3
J.D. Simpson     G    SO    0.4  0.3  0.2

How would the 1999 Duke Blue Devils team do against the greatest teams of all time?

Billy Packer didn't think much of the 1999 Duke team.  'Do you think for one second,' Packer asked, 'that a Bill Russell [of 1956 San Francisco] or Bill Walton [of 1972 UCLA] would be shaking and saying 'My God, tomorrow I've got to go up against Elton Brand?'  Actually, Brand's years playing power forward in the NBA indicate that he can play quite well against bigger players.  He is one of only four active NBA players who average at least 20 points and 10 rebounds per game (the other three are Tim Duncan, Shaquille O'Neal and Kevin Garnett).  Brand had plenty of help on the 1999 Duke team too.  Power forward Shane Battier was three-time Defensive Player of the Year and 2001 National Player of the Year at Duke.  Shooting guard Trajan Langdon was an All-American and a great outside scorer.  Chris Carrawell, William Avery and Corey Maggette were all solid players as well.  The 1999 Duke Blue Devils would do very well against the greatest teams of all time.

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