Duke Blue Devils’ Mike Krzyzewski Reveals His Failed Recruiting of Kobe Bryant from 1996

Published 03/19/2021, 1:47 AM EDT
Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant (24) during the second quarter in game 3 of the first round of the NBA playoffs Friday, May 4, 2012 at Pepsi Center in Denver Colorado. AAron Ontiveroz, The Denver Post (Photo By AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post via Getty Images)


The Los Angeles Lakers walked away with a steal after the 1996 NBA Draft. They traded for the #13 pick Kobe Bryant, who the Hornets didn’t have issues letting go of. The 18-year-old had just arrived from high school after skipping college.

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A few college teams had tried to recruit him, albeit unsuccessfully. Among them was the Coach Mike Krzyzewski– led Duke Blue Devils. In a recent interview, Krzyzewski revealed how he tried to recruit Kobe while also praising the talented high schooler.

He said, “We recruited him, but no one recruited him to any deep level because you knew. I never saw LeBron play in high school, but when I saw Kobe play, he was the best high school player I’ve ever seen. When he walked into a gym, he walked in like Jordan at a high school play. The place stopped.

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“He not only could play the role during the game, he played the role before and after the game. He looked that good, he believed he was that good, and he was that good. But I knew he was never gonna come.”

Would Kobe Bryant have been the number one pick in the Draft if he entered college?

Only three players before Kobe had entered the league straight from high school. Darryl Dawkins and Bill Willoughby from the 1975 NBA Draft, and Kevin Garnett, who was drafted a year before Kobe in the 1995 NBA Draft.

While colleges are becoming less relevant currently, back then, it carried a lot of weight on a player’s resume. So how would Kobe’s career have been had he joined forces with Coach K at Duke?

COLUMBIA, SC – MARCH 24: Head coach Mike Krzyzewski of the Duke Blue Devils watches his team warm up before taking on the UCF Knights in the second round of the 2019 NCAA Photos via Getty Images Men’s Basketball Tournament held at Colonial Life Arena on March 24, 2019 in Columbia, South Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

In the 1996-97 season, the Blue Devils had an off-year compared to their own standards. They won the ACC title but crashed out in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

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The team lacked a scorer, with their best player Trajan Langdon averaging just 14 points per game. Kobe would have easily provided them at least 20-25 points per game, which would have helped them finish much better.

If he would have chosen to go to college, it is unlikely he would stay beyond a season, since he was eager to enter the NBA. Entering the Draft as a freshman from Duke averaging over 20 points per game could have made him the #1 pick in the 1997 NBA Draft.

While this is all speculation, there is no doubt about how Kobe would have set the NCAA on fire, had he chosen to take this route.

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DIVE DEEPER

‘It’s Priceless’: Celtics’ Jayson Tatum Looks Back on His Relationship With Kobe Bryant

6 months ago

January 22, 2014 Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant during the first half in a game between the Miami (Fl) Hurricanes and the Duke Blue Devils (Photo by Juan Salas/Icon SMI/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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Aaron Mathew

1666 articles

Aaron Mathew is a sports analyst at EssentiallySports. A graduate in Mass Media from Xavier’s College, Aaron has been a part of EssentiallySports since May 2020 where he covers both NBA and NCAA basketball news, and has also covered NBA 2K. In the past, Aaron has worked at the Sports Desk of Mumbai Mirror.

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