The rafters of Cameron Indoor Stadium are a prized possession for Duke, filled with accomplishments of special teams and players. Fans look up and can remember the cherished history of Blue Devil basketball.
Prior to the jerseys of Grant Hill, Christian Laettner and JJ Redick, Dick Groat’s No. 10 was the first to be retired in Cameron Indoor, sitting alone for 28 years before Mike Gminski’s No. 43 joined him.
Groat was a two-sport athlete that revolutionized sports in many ways and put Duke basketball and baseball on the map. He passed away Thursday morning at the age of 92 due to complications from a stroke.
The Wilkinsburg, Pa., native arrived at Duke in 1949 and was lured by the stadium, then known as Duke Indoor. Although it is one of the smaller arenas in today’s college basketball landscape, it was considered very large for a basketball stadium at the time.
“When I first walked into Duke Indoor Stadium, you had never played anywhere growing up like this. No one had a palace to play basketball in like this arena,” said Groat in a 2014 interview with GoDuke. “It was something very special and I really enjoyed playing in the Indoor Stadium. Because of television coverage it has become a place where so many people want to see a game. It is really a very special place.”
He was a two-time All-American in both basketball and baseball in 1951 and 1952. On the court, Groat steadily increased his average points per game with the Blue Devils, eventually averaging 26 points per game in his senior year. Groat’s career average of 23 points per game is second in Duke history, just behind Art Heyman’s 25.1 clip.
Moreover, in his final home game for the Blue Devils, Groat scored 48 points against North Carolina in what is still the highest mark against the Tar Heels by a Duke player.
“I started shooting and it seemed like everything I shot went in the basket,” said Groat about that day. “Shooters know when they get that hot hand…Once you get going, it seems like everything would go down. It's a wonderful feeling.”
The 6-foot guard won the 1952 National Player of the Year and was inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.
“The world has lost a tremendous sports ambassador and a wonderful human,” said current Duke head coach Jon Scheyer. “He starred in multiple sports and excelled on the biggest stages, while always representing himself and his organizations in the most dignified way. The sports world is a better place because of Dick Groat.”
He was equally as phenomenal at baseball, leading the Blue Devils to their first College World Series trip in 1952. Groat had a collegiate batting average of .375 and was inducted into the National College Baseball Hall of Fame in July 2011. He was offered by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1951 after his junior year, however, he wanted to finish his senior year at Duke and signed with them in June 1952.
“The sports world lost a legend and the country lost a true American hero today,” said baseball head coach Chris Pollard. “Dick Groat was a special talent in both basketball and baseball, but an even better human being. All of us who have followed in his footsteps at Duke, are better for the path he paved.”
Groat was also drafted in the first round by the NBA’s Fort Wayne Pistons, but had to juggle classes as he came back to finish his degree at Duke. He recalls not practicing in his first season and just playing professional games on the weekends. Nevertheless, due to his time in the military and financial reasons, he chose to continue with professional baseball rather than basketball.
“Basketball was the sport that I loved, but it was baseball where I knew I would make a living,” said Groat.
His success did not stop in college, as he was a five-time MLB all-star and won two World Series championships, one with the Pirates and the other with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Groat’s legacy is undeniable, and his impact on the university in both basketball and baseball is unprecedented. It is evident that Duke holds a special place in his heart, even if he was hesitant to attend at first.
“[My dad] said to me ‘Christ, Richard — you didn't even want to come down here and now you don't want to leave,’” said Groat. “Duke was a very special time for me.”
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Ranjan Jindal is a Trinity first-year and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.