When Tim Duncan enrolled at Wake Forest in the fall of 1993, head coach Dave Odom knew exactly what he would do with the big man from the Virgin Islands.
“I thought he would be the perfect redshirt the first year,” the Tournament Chairman of the Maui Jim Maui Invitational said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “He was thin, had no strength. He did have some innate skills. You can’t sculpt your hands like this kid had – or feet. He had good feet and good hands, but the rest of his body needed a lot of work.”
It sounded good in theory, but Odom, whose hands were tied due to some eligibility issues with other players, played Duncan as a freshman. Wise move. Duncan started slow, progressed quickly, and, by the end of his career, led the Demon Deacons to two Sweet 16s and an Elite Eight.
He even stayed in college all four years – stunning given today’s one-and-done standard.
“Well, because he was a late starter in basketball, he, more than others, needed the four years,” Odom said. “And to his credit, he was smart enough to realize that.”
After graduating from Wake Forest, Duncan, who announced his retirement on Monday, would play 19 NBA seasons, winning five NBA titles and three Finals MVPs. He was also a two-time regular-season MVP and 15-time All-Star.
Duncan could have been the No. 1 pick in the draft in 1995 or 1996 but waited until 1997. The rest is history.
“He decided to stay and come back for his senior year,” Odom said. “I said, ‘Timmy, we’re going to have to have a press conference. They’re going to ask you why you’re coming back here for your fourth year. What are you going to tell them?’ He said, ‘Coach, that’s easy. Why should I try to do today something that I’ll be better prepared to do a year from today?’ Meaning, I need another year of basketball. I need another year of maturation. I want my degree. I can’t do that if I leave now. I’ll be better prepared to play NBA basketball a year from now. I remember the day he said that to me, and I was astounded. I don’t know many adults that could come up with something with that type of introspection.”
Duncan, nicknamed “The Big Fundamental,” dominated the post for the vast majority of his career but still managed to stay effective as the game became more perimeter-oriented. He will go down as one of the greatest players in NBA history, but was he a power forward or center? He played both in his career, but what will he be recognized or remembered as?
“I would not call him a power forward because in today’s basketball vernacular, power forwards step out and shoot threes,” Odom said. “That was not his game. He was a post player who could play the low-post, but he could also play the high-post. He was adaptable. He was flexible. It would be hard to slide him in as the best center of all time. You got Jabbar and Chamberlain and Russell and all those guys. That’s too hard. So from the standpoint of calling him a power forward, fine. But I would say he is truly one of the best three or four post players to ever play the game. I’d be happy with that.”