Long before Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett stormed college basketball, and even before coach Mike Krzyzewski started to hit Duke's bench, there was Gene Banks.
In the spring of 1977, Banks became the first McDonald's All American to sign with Duke, creating a legacy that propelled the university to the forefront of academic progress.
To date, no college has signed more McDonald's All Americans than Duke. The commitments of high hopes from Vernon Carey Jr. and Wendell Moore Jr. this season would give Duke a total of 78 McDonald's All Americans in 42 years.
While the current stars of Duke rock the nation, Banks first helped to place Duke on the map.
"I had the opportunity to coach Gene in his senior senior year," said Krzyzewski. "I knew for him when Duke recruited him. It was one of the moments in the history of Duke basketball that changed the program and helped change our school.
There were no screening services or mixtapes when Banks was playing. Word of mouth and a mention in Street & Smith's helped players develop a reputation and a mystique.
Nicknamed "Tinkerbell", Banks could dominate both inside and outside. He played with high IQ and intensity. And he attended a meeting at West Philadelphia High School.
"Everyone wanted to see Gene. He was the best, "said Darryl Warwick, the team's playmaker who went by the nickname" City Lights. "
During the 1970s, it was common, especially around Banks High School, to see gang conflicts. The young people were fighting and fighting with their fists or a knife. There would be shots on occasion, although nothing looks like what we see today. But a tacit truce would be observed for a day at each performance of the Speedboys.
"Gang members came to tell me that they would not fight out of respect for what we were doing," Banks said. "And these brothers were serious. Every day they were fighting, but not when we played. "
"Gene could talk about anything to anyone," said Joe Goldenberg, retired coach of West Philadelphia High School. "He was great with people. That's what made it special. "
In 1977, Banks was named to the first American McDonald's team, which also included Earvin "Magic" Johnson, Albert King, Wayne McKoy, Jeff Ruland, Darnell Valentine and Al Wood. Banks was considered the best of the best.
Although there was no McDonald's game in 1977, the team was featured at the Capital Classic in Washington, DC, against a local all-star team. Banks showed why he was considered the best preparation player in the country. He scored 22 points, a high point in the game, and led the McDonald's team to a 112-92 win, winning the MVP of the game.
"I was proud to be a McDonald's All American," Banks said. "I was excited to play with the best players in the country. It meant a lot to me. "
Banks had options to play collegially. UCLA has been considered. The same was true of the University of Pennsylvania and Villanova, two schools close to Banks' home.
Banks said that it was his English teacher at West Philly, William H. Deadwyler Jr., who had suggested Duke. "The only thing I knew from the [Atlantic Coast Conference] was David Thompson, "said Banks. "I saw it on TV. And of course I saw [North] Carolina.
"[Deadwyler] I kept hammering about academics and beautiful buildings. To get it off my back, I chose to go there [for a visit]. "
In the end, it was a dream that drove Duke to the top of his list. One day, Banks followed his mother's advice, entered his room, closed the door, and prayed. In a dream, Banks said to be seen wearing Duke 's blue and white uniform.
His decision to attend Duke was a surprise to others.
"The only thing I knew about Duke was that it was in the CAC and North Carolina," said Clarence "Eggy" Tillman, Banks' second in the field, at West Philadelphia High. "I was very happy for him. I knew it was a very big decision he was thinking about. "
While North Carolina and the state of North Carolina were successful in recruiting African-American players, Duke was behind the trend. C.B. Claiborne was the first black basketball player in Duke. He arrived in 1965 with an "aid grant" and played in the university team from 1967 to 1969.
Don Blackman was the first African-American Duke player to benefit from a scholarship in basketball. He arrived in 1968 and was part of the university team in 1970, but was eventually transferred. Willie Hodge, Edgar Burch, Rick Gomez, George Moses, Ken Young and Harold Morrison all played in the Duke University team before Banks and starting goaltender John Harrell, transferred from North Carolina Central, entered school. in September 1977.
"There were not many blacks [on campus]but it was a small, large group of blacks, "said Banks, who graduated with a degree in history and delivered the opening speech at the graduation ceremony. "I had to reach for others of my race [to achieve]. "
In 1978, Banks was named ACC 's Rookie of the Year and helped Duke reach the NCAA championship game. His aggressive and instinctive play helped change the image of Duke basketball. He did things on the field that we had never seen before at the Cameron Indoor Stadium. He was the first freshman Duke to record a triple-double.
During his career as a duke, hHe averaged 16.8 points and 7.9 rebounds per game, won the first team honors as well as the senior team and the second team honors his first three seasons and has been twice American. He was also voted MVP of the team three times.
Banks, who played six seasons in the NBA and was an assistant coach for three seasons with the Washington Wizards, started a trend at Duke.
"Gene has been a terrific player and one of the most important personalities in the history of Duke basketball," said Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker, a former US player from McDonald's All who starred in Duke. "He helped energize and transform the Duke program through his commitment and his decision to go."
Banks continues to keep pace with the Blue Devils and remains an ardent supporter.
"It's a different time now," said Banks, who was recently named basketball director for Olympia Sports Camp in Muskoka, Ont. "When I'm around them when I attend a few games, I feel welcome. It's home and I'm a big part of what Duke University has become. I realize that. Of course, I am much closer to the elderly [past] players, but the younger ones respect me. I agree with that.
"They have a lot of talent. Coach K played these guys very well and as a team. They have the opportunity to have a fantastic season. It could be very special. "
Banks, meanwhile, appreciates his special place in the history of Duke.
"When you go through it, you do not think about writing history or being a pioneer," Banks said. "I wanted to go to Duke and I wanted to make a difference."
|Player||Year named McDonald & # 39; s All American|
|Boozer, Jr., Carlos||1999|
|Dunleavy, Jr., Michael||1999|
|Ingram, Brandon X.||2015|
|Carter, Jr., Wendell||2017|
|Trent, Jr., Gary||2017|