Tim Duncan arrived at Wake Forest as a player who was relatively new to basketball. But he left Winston-Salem as the second-most prolific rebounder in the modern era of college basketball, one of the greatest shot-blockers the sport has ever seen and an all-time great double-double machine. He led the Demon Deacons to their best NCAA tournament seed ever and turned Wake Forest into one of the top teams in the ACC when he was there.
Here's everything you need to know about Tim Duncan's college career at Wake Forest.
The vitals for Tim Duncan
School: Wake Forest
Weight: 248 pounds
Years active: 1993-97
NCAA tournament record: 7-4
Career averages: 16.5 points per game, 12.3 rebounds per game, 3.8 blocks per game, 57.7% shooting
What was Tim Duncan's record in college?
In four years with Tim Duncan, Wake Forest went 97-31, a .757 winning percentage. The Demon Deacons were 26-6 in back-to-back seasons in 1995 and 1996, and earned a No. 1 and No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament.
What kind of prospect was Tim Duncan in high school?
Men's basketball legends like Lew Alcindor, Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing were highly touted high school players before they enrolled at their respective colleges.
Not Duncan. The Virgin Islands native started playing basketball in high school — sometime around 1990 — after a hurricane damaged the pool where he trained as a competitive swimmer, specifically a freestyler, according to The Atlanta Constitution.
"Tim Duncan? I think I was one of two or three people in North America ever to see him play," said his Wake Forest coach Dave Odom. "Tim had no reputation at all when I went to see him. I saw him play on a hard court in the center of St. Croix on a Sunday afternoon against a bunch of basketball ... let's say veterans, and he did very well.
"I tried to put that into perspective — his hand-eye coordination, that he ran well, his other skills. But you don't know about heart and will to win and fearlessness. Those were things we could not know about."
What was Tim Duncan's game like?
Duncan caught chicken pox as a freshman in college, about a week before Wake Forest was slated to play in the Alaska Shootout. He lost 17 pounds and his college career started off on the wrong foot for reasons entirely out of his control. He went scoreless in his first college game, a loss to Alaska in which he was named a starter.
But by January of his freshman year, Duncan ranked in the ACC's top five, or just outside of it, in rebounds, blocks and free-throw percentage.
Observers noted that Duncan wasn't the flashiest or most athletic big man, but man, he was efficient and consistent.
He had 87 career double-doubles in 128 games — almost exactly two-thirds of his games at Wake Forest — and he never shot worse than 54 percent from the field, peaking as a 60-percent shooter as a senior. There's a reason the nickname "The Big Fundamental" was given to Duncan during his basketball career. He had great instincts and positioning, clearing out his defender in the low post to set up an entry feed and doing the same on defense when an opponent's shot went up. He was an active, attentive, relentless player.
"Duncan doesn't just stand in the paint, catch and dunk the ball," wrote the Messenger-Inquirer's Mark Mathis. "He has the up-and-under. He can dip the shoulder and drive. He can step out and hit the 3-pointer, like he did against Louisville."
While he developed into a great jump shooter from the elbow as a professional, Duncan did much of his damage around the basket when he got to college, which makes sense for a 6-10 center who was still relatively new to basketball. But that doesn't mean he wasn't willing, or capable, of knocking down jumpers.
"When he came off the court he asked if I had seen enough," Former Wake Forest coach Dave Odom recalled off his recruiting trip to visit Duncan, according to the Star Tribune. "I told him I hadn't seen many jump shots and things like that, so he went out in the next game and made jump shots turning to his left, and jump shots turning to his right. It was a very nice afternoon."
He was a fluid athlete, something that may have benefited from his days as a competitive swimmer, with strong, but soft, hands.
"They look delicate while still being able to put a basketball in a vise-like grip," wrote the Star Tribune's Jon Roe in March 1996. "Those hands are attached to a person of seemingly similar qualities. He fluidly moves about a basketball court, his face a placid canvas — save for those times when he unleashes a thunderous dunk and emits a roar to let foe and fan know he's going to do everything in his power to help his team win."
He was a great rim protector throughout college, frequently blocking five or more shots in a game, not to mention the shots he altered merely by his presence and reputation. Odom praised Duncan's "uncanny ability and timing on defense."
Duncan's offensive game grew to match his abilities as a defender. As a junior, Odom noted that Duncan was arguably the team's second-best ball-handler against full-court pressure. Not bad for a 6-10 center from the Virgin Islands. Against Kentucky in the Elite Eight in 1996, Duncan was repeatedly a critical player in breaking the Wildcats' press and he'd help get the Demon Deacons into the flow of their offense by receiving passes at the top of the key, before setting up in the post.
One of the funnier stories from Duncan's college career took place in the first round of the 1995 NCAA Tournament, when Wake Forest earned a No. 1 seed, Tim Duncan jumped for the Demon Deacons and North Carolina A&T "sent out Tyrone Brice, a stocky 6-foot guard who had done the duty once before, against Junior Burrough in a 44-point loss to Virginia back in November." Brice was once slated to attend North Carolina to play fullback for the Tar Heels' football team and he was no match for Duncan on the opening jump.
The Aggies conceded the opening tip and immediately fell back to play defense on the first possession of the game.
What were some of Tim Duncan's best games?
Newspapers during Duncan's freshman season at Wake Forest noted that the 6-10 freshman didn't expect to play a ton in his first year on campus but he was an immediate starter and earned ACC All-Freshman Team honors. Duncan notched double-doubles of 16 points and 14 rebounds against Vanderbilt, 15 and 13 against Cal and 14 and 13 against Georgia Tech in the NCAA tournament.
He had a 26-point, 20-rebound game in a win against Florida State as a sophomore.
Not bad for someone who had only been playing basketball for about four years!
Duncan posted 10 double-doubles as he averaged 17.6 points and 15 rebounds per game in 11 career NCAA tournament games. He had a 22-point, 22-rebound game against St. Mary's in the 1997 NCAA Tournament. Twice he finished two blocks shy of a triple-double — 16 points, 13 rebounds, eight blocks against College of Charleston in his first NCAA tournament game as a freshman and 12 points, 22 rebounds and eight blocks against Oklahoma State in the Sweet 16 as a sophomore.
Duncan was impressive even in games in which the Demon Deacons were eliminated from the tournament:
- 1994: 16 points on 7-of-12 shooting, 15 rebounds, four blocks against Kansas
- 1995: 12 points on 6-of-11 shooting, 22 rebounds, eight blocks against Oklahoma State
- 1996: 14 points on 2-of-7 shooting, 16 rebounds, six assists, four blocks, two steals against Kentucky
- 1997: 18 points on 5-of-11 shooting, 20 rebounds, three blocks, two assists, two steals against Stanford
If anything, Duncan may not have taken enough shots in some of those games.
You can watch the full replay of the Elite Eight game between Wake Forest and Kentucky below.
What awards did Tim Duncan win in college?
Here are some of the awards he received in college:
- 1995 East Regional Team
- 1995 NABC Defensive Player of the Year
- 1996 Midwest Regional Team
- 1996 ACC Player of the Year
- 1996 NABC Defensive Player of the Year
- 1996 consensus First Team All-American
- 1997 ACC Player of the Year
- 1997 NABC Defensive Player of the Year
- 1997 consensus First Team All-American
- 1997 consensus National Player of the Year
What records did Tim Duncan set in college and where does he rank among historical greats?
Here are some of the records he set in college, the statistical categories he led and where he ranks on all-time statistical lists:
- A member of the 2,000-point, 1,000-rebound club: 2,117 points, 1,570 rebounds
- Led the 1995 and 1996 NCAA Tournaments in rebounds per game: 14.3, 13.0 rebounds per game
- Led the 1995 NCAA Tournament in blocks per game: 5.33 blocks per game
- Led the NCAA tournament in rebounds in the 1996 NCAA Tournament: 52 rebounds
- Led the country in rebounding average in 1997: 14.7 rebounds per game
- Second all-time in career rebounds (careers beginning in 1973 or after): 1,570 rebounds
- Second all-time in career double-doubles: 87 double-doubles
- Third all-time in career rebounds in the NCAA tournament (careers starting in 1973 or after): 165 rebounds
- Tied for the third-highest blocked shot average in a single NCAA tournament: 5.33 blocks per game
- Fourth all-time in career blocks: 481 blocks
- Tied for fourth, sixth in NCAA tournament history in blocks in a game: Eight blocks, seven blocks
- Tied for fifth in NCAA tournament history in rebounds in a game: 22 rebounds
- Tied for seventh all-time in most double-doubles in a season: 29 double-doubles
- Eighth all-time in career rebounds in the NCAA tournament: 165 rebounds
- 16th all-time in career rebounds: 1,570 rebounds
- Tied for 18th all-time in most rebounds in a season (since 1973): 457 rebounds
- 19th all-time in career blocked shots average: 3.76 blocks per game
- Tied for 19th all-time in most consecutive double-doubles in a season: 19 double-doubles
- Tied for 20th all-time in highest career rebounding average (careers beginning in 1973 or after): 12.3 rebounds per game
What did people say about Tim Duncan?
His Wake Forest coach, Dave Odom: "(Tim) has been a delight to have minus the baggage of the recruiting process. So many highly recruited players come in with high expectations because in the recruiting process we coaches tell them they're the greatest thing since whole-wheat bread, then when we get them we hit them with wet dishrag after wet dishrag. Tim has a wonderful naivete. Nobody had to tell him not to dribble; he just doesn't. Nobody had to tell him how to block a shot; he just does. The only guys he had played against were NBA guys who visited (the Virgin Islands) and a bunch of 6-foot island guys."
Odom: "He's made his reputation as a defender and rebounder. That reputation is well deserved. He does have uncanny ability and timing on defense, and there's no one better at the collegiate level. But his ability to play offense has improved measurably. And he's a warrior."
Jeffrey Denberg of The Atlanta Constitution on how Tim Duncan stacked up with other ACC freshmen: "Even before the season began you were introduced to North Carolina freshmen Rasheed Wallace and Jerry Stackhouse. Duke's Jeff Caple (sic) had a good reputation and Maryland's Joe Smith quickly created one of his own. Tim Duncan of Wake Forest? Now, there was a mystery name."
Mark Bradley of The Atlanta Constitution on how former Wake Forest player Chris King, who recommended Duncan to the school's coaches after playing against him in a pickup game: "To his former teammates, he made Duncan out to be the second coming of Bill Walton. Said Wake forward Trelonnie Owens: 'Chris described him to me. You know how guys exaggerate. I just said, 'Well, whatever...''"
Teammate Trelonnie Owens after he went 1-for-9 against College of Charleston in the NCAA tournament: "He's a great player who is still improving ... Tim Duncan is God's gift."
Former Canisius coach John Beilein after a 24-point loss to Wake Forest in January 1994: "Wake Forest's defense was terrific tonight, especially Tim Duncan."
Former College of Charleston coach John Kresse after losing to Wake Forest in the NCAA tournament: "He is a young colt who is good at this stage of his career. He has a bright future ahead of him at Wake and in the pros."
Former Kansas coach Roy Williams, prior to playing Wake Forest in the NCAA tournament: "Duncan has leaping ability, and the desire to go after the ball. (Kansas center Greg) Ostertag can't jump like that."
Former Virginia coach Jeff Jones: "If you don't shoot smart against Tim Duncan, basically you're serving up another block to Tim Duncan."
Former Florida State coach Pat Kennedy after Duncan had a 20-20 game against the Seminoles: "Certainly we came into the game with a great deal of respect for Tim Duncan. Maybe he's not as flashy or athletic as some of the other centers in our league, but boy when Tim Duncan gets you down low he has become a great finisher."
Former Florida State star Bob Sura: "I always said Tim Duncan was the best big man in the league. He's a good foul shooter, good shot blocker, hits big shots and changes a lot of shots inside. He's got everything you want. He's the best."
Former CBS analyst Quinn Buckner: "He is unspoiled. He wasn't one of those kids who was pampered and placed on somebody's All-America list since the day he got out of grade school. He has had to work hard to get where he is because he got started in the sport at a late stage. In that sense, he reminds me of David [Robinson] and Hakeem [Olajuwon]."
Kentucky's Derek Anderson: "They've got a great team, but we've got to know what their strength is, and it's Tim Duncan. If he's not in the game, you've got to shut down their 3s. But if he is, you've got to play the whole team, and he starts them off. He's so young, but he's very intelligent. He's not the type of guy who, if he sees two guys on him, he'll try to barrel over them. He knows somebody is open. He might turn it over, but he will try to get it to that person."
Tim Duncan quotes
Duncan on people's expectations for him: "I could see people didn't expect much of me. Nobody had ever heard of me."
Duncan after Wake Forest trailed College of Charleston 16-4 in the NCAA tournament: "I don't really get nervous. It was just another game."
Duncan on the spotlight: "I enjoy being in the spotlight at times. I like to be where the action is, and I get excited about the challenge of performing when the pressure is on. But I also like to have my private time, and at those times, I'd like to be left alone."
Duncan: "In any game I'll try to go out there and get an edge. I want to try and hurt the opposing team. You go out there and make every little detail count. You try to get a hand on every ball, try to make every shot."
Duncan on his plan against Kentucky in the Elite Eight in 1996: "I want to keep them off their offensive glass, disrupt shots, take away their easy layups. I don't let them get a bunch of easy 2- or 3-foot shots."