Former Duke coach Vic Bubas, who led the Blue Devils to their first ACC men’s basketball championship in 1960 and built the school into a basketball powerhouse, died Monday. He was 91.
“Duke basketball lost a true legend earlier today,” said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. “When I first arrived at Duke, Coach Bubas gave me the best advice. Essentially, he told me to be myself and to focus solely on Duke, while not getting caught up in everything going on around us. We have tried to honor him over the years by playing a level of basketball that lived up to his very high standards, and to those of the program he built here in the 1960s.
“We offer our deepest sympathy to the Bubas family, particularly to his wife Tootie, as well as their friends and the multitude of great players who attended this university during Coach Bubas’ tenure. He was a terrific coach, and more importantly, a special leader who will be missed greatly.”
Bubas coached the Blue Devils from 1959 to 1969 and recorded 213 wins, including a 128-38 record in league play. Bubas’ teams won the ACC championship four times, and he went 22-6 in ACC tournament games. He led Duke to the NCAA Final Four three times (1963, 1964 and 1966).
Bubas’ .761 winning percentage ranks 10th all-time among NCAA coaches. By percentage, Bubas is the program’s second-winningest coach in the modern era behind Krzyzewski (.786). He ranks third at Duke in total wins behind Krzyzewski (1,027-279) and Eddie Cameron (226-99).
His impact went beyond the on-court success. Bubas revolutionized recruiting, homing in on prospects when they were juniors. He would send them newspaper clippings of Duke wins. He or one of his assistants would fly around the country to watch them play and meet them face-to-face. He went beyond the usual ACC boundaries, picking up players from Texas, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Indiana.
“Vic taught us all how to recruit,” the late North Carolina coach Dean Smith once said. “We had been starting on prospects in the fall of their senior years while Vic was working on them their junior year. For a while, all of us were trying to catch up with him.”
Bubas required his assistants to dress sharply when they were on the job, added players’ names to their jerseys, and brought in a pep band.
Bubas retired from coaching in 1969, when he was only 42 years old, then served as Duke’s vice president for community affairs. In 1976, he left Duke to become the first commissioner of the Sun Belt Conference. He held that position for 14 years before retiring.
In 2007, Bubas was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.