Taking Back His Name – The Story of Providence’s David Duke

When David Duke Jr. of Providence, Rhode Island was born in 1999, maybe his parents thought history would not remember *that* David Duke, maybe they just didn’t care.

A black kid from the northwest corner of Providence with ancestry in Liberia, and America’s most famous white supremacist. It would be impossible to confuse the two if they stood side by side. And yet, they share the same name, a cruel joke from a cruel universe.

Scrolling through Duke Jr.’s Twitter feed you are barraged with basketball highlights, Rhode Islander pride, and lots and lots of anti-racist activism, as if in some strange way Duke Jr. is atoning for the sins of the evil man that he shares nothing with but a string of letters.

A 5’6″ kid as a freshman in high school, not much more than a role player as a sophomore, and then the victim of a hamstring injury his junior year, Duke’s lifelong dream of becoming a pro basketball player seemed like a longshot.

Duke recovered from that injury, though, and averaged 15 points per game that season, taking his team to the state championship and scoring 26 on a Bishop Hendrickson team that was the Alabama football of Rhode Island high school basketball en route to a win.

That performance earned him his first D1 offer: UMass. Two weeks later, Ed Cooley and Providence offered the hometown kid a scholarship. Kansas, Florida, Virginia, Villanova, and Syracuse were among the 21 schools that ended up offering Duke a scholarship. In the end, though, the hometown kid signed with the hometown coach, and Duke became a Providence Friar.

Since enrolling, Duke has done nothing but impress. He was named co-Big East Freshman of the Year, became the first Providence native to start for the Friars in well over 20 years, and was called by head coach Ed Cooley the “hardest working player in the country.”

Duke even made the Big East’s All-Academic team and helped to lead a charge by the conference’s players to demand a response to the summer’s Black Lives Matter protests.

Not only has the conference chosen to wear “BLM” patches on jerseys after pressure from black players and coaches, but rumors have been floating about the conference potentially adopting a rule similar to the “Rooney Rule” in the NFL which requires teams with head coaching vacancies to interview at least one minority candidate. It would be the first of its kind at the Division I level.

This year, things look rough for Providence. The Friars are 7-6, with road games against the conference’s two best teams next up on the docket. There has been one bright spot though. That hometown kid from the northwest side.

The now-junior has been shooting at a 47% clip from deep. He has made 82% of his shots from the free-throw line, and is passing and defending better than he ever has in his career.

You would be hard-pressed to find a college basketball writer in the country that has not tweeted something positive about Duke at some point this season, and NBA scouts have noticed.

A long, smart, athletic, two-way guard that is shooting well? That’s a recipe to skyrocket up draft boards, and Duke has, with many mock drafts placing him as a lottery pick in the upcoming 2021 NBA Draft.

In a 2018 interview with the Providence Journal, back when he was just a freshman with the Friars, Duke talked about his decision to keep his name. He said: “Someday I want people to look up ‘David Duke’ and see my face.”

In a few years, they very will might.