When Corey Maggette arrived on Duke’s campus for his freshman year, many basketball fans were excited to see what the talented wing player could do for an already loaded team. Even though they were returning virtually everyone from a year ago, he was skilled enough to make the rotation as a freshman. There was also an expectation that he would be a role player his first year, and then become a star each year after that.
Before his arrival, no Duke basketball player had left early for the NBA Draft. This had some to do with the fact that it was not quite the norm it was across college basketball, but it also had to do with the program and the college itself. Not only was Duke arguably the most dominant program in the 1990s but getting an education at the prestigious school was considered a huge deal as well.
As many expected, Maggette was able to find a role with Duke despite being the youngest player on the team. He had some ups and downs during his freshman year, but in the potential made NBA scouts salivate. He already had an NBA-type body, and many predicted that he would have more success in the NBA than in college. They just did not expect the NBA to be so close.
Maggette did not make the leaving school decision by himself, as Elton Brand and William Avery left Duke the same year as sophomores. They were criticized at the time by a lot of people who did not understand just how much money was promised to the trio as professional players. Getting extra years as a professional just made financial sense, and they already had plenty of success at the college level. Leaving after a loss in the National Championship seems extremely difficult to fans, but there is never a guarantee they would match or exceed those expectations the following year.
No one can predict how things would have played out for Maggette if he stayed in college longer. On the one hand, he may have been able to move up in the draft a few spots, but it would have put off his professional career by a few seasons as well. Considering the injury issues he had throughout his career, there is no guarantee that he would have stayed injury-free at Duke. A severe injury at Duke could have derailed his career and hurt his career earnings significantly.
These days, it is hard to imagine that any good player would receive backlash for leaving school early. Seemingly every year, at least one or two freshmen commit to Duke and leave after one year. It is viewed as a stepping stone to the NBA, and players have said it is the best way to get prepared for the next level. A lot has changed in two decades, and looking back, Maggette was one of those players ahead of his time. Not only did he play basketball a different way than most freshmen, but he showed that he was ready to play the best of the best after just one season in Durham.
Over twenty years later, the super sub freshman for the 1998-1999 Duke team still ranks as one of the most well-rounded athletes the school has ever seen. In a different era, he had the opportunity to be one of the all-time greats for Duke. Instead, he took his own path, becoming the first of many players to leave Durham after one year for a sizeable payday from the NBA.