To celebrate SLAM’s 30th anniversary, we’re spotlighting the 30 most influential men’s college teams from our past 30 years. Stats, records and chips aren’t the main factor here, it’s all about their contribution to the game’s cultural fabric.

For the next 30 days—Monday through Friday— we’ll be unveiling the full list here. We’ve also got an exclusive retro collegiate collection, out now, that pays homage to each squad’s threads. Shop here.

With the hardwood as their canvas, the 2019 Duke Blue Devils painted a masterpiece that will be remembered for generations to come. 

Legendary head coach Mike Krzyzewski and his staff painted the first stroke by recruiting one of college basketball’s greatest freshman classes; No. 1 RJ Barrett, No. 2 Zion Williamson, No. 3 Cam Reddish, No. 17 Tre Jones and No. 41 Joey Baker. As soon as the five top-ranked 18-year-olds stepped foot on campus, the entirety of the basketball ecosystem zoomed in on Durham. 

Under the leadership of Coach K, the Blue Devils were loved and feared. They would rip teams apart inside the storied Cameron Indoor Stadium, where it was standing room only and thousands of blue-painted ‘Cameron Crazies’ would scream, jump and chant endlessly. And when they went on the road, the squad always dressed for the occasion in their all-black unis, a nod to the opposing team’s ensuing “funeral”. Every possession was an opportunity for showtime, with high-flying, thunderous dunks and defense-freezing dimes becoming the norm rather than the exception. 

And for much of the season, Duke prevailed: they finished their campaign with 32 wins and just six losses, though their championship hopes were squashed by Michigan State in the Elite Eight. 

Williamson was the main star who adorned the vast Durham sky. The freshman forward was a force of nature whose gravity-defying athleticism and boundless energy transcended the sport itself and left Twitter spinning with highlights. The Salisbury, N.C. native’s mere presence was enough to elevate Duke to new heights, bringing an unseen national spotlight down onto Tobacco Road. 

But Duke was far from a one-man show. Alongside him stood RJ Barrett, a lefty Canadian sensation whose silky-smooth scoring touch and explosiveness made him one of the nation’s most exciting prospects. Together, they formed one of Coach K’s best tandems that brought nothing but hope to the legions of Duke faithful. 

Reddish dazzled with his shot-creating prowess, while Tre Jones anchored the backcourt with his poise and playmaking ability. Meanwhile, Javin LeLaurier often sent shots flying to the third row on one end and cleaned up dump-offs in the paint on the other. 

Together, this cohort of bucket-getting artists produced scenes that have been stamped in the minds of basketball aficionados. Mesmerizing—Williamson bolted and elevated to send De’Andre Hunter’s corner three deep into a sea of staggered Virginia fans. Breathtaking—Barrett finds Reddish between the legs for a triple to tie the game against Louisville after being down by 23 points. Picturesque—Williamson spins 360 degrees in the air and hammers it home, everyone around freezing still. 

Duke’s 2019 squad exemplified what Duke basketball has come to mean—a cultural phenomenon, an eternal love-or-hate relationship. But this season was also unique: every game felt like an ethereal experience, the truest showing of pure talent and unrivaled chemistry, all backed by arguably the greatest basketball coach of all time. This squad, in all its glories and shortcomings, might have been the ‘Dukest’ Duke team to date. 

Five years since 2019, the tears, screams and memories have yet to fully escape the creaking wooden doors of Cameron Indoor Stadium. And much like the most beautiful and coveted of paintings, the 2018-19 Blue Devils’ story perhaps will remain timeless.

Photos via Getty Images.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here