James, a former Duke player in the 1990s and early 2000s, rejoined the program after an overseas hoops career. He started as a conditioning coach in 2008, moving up to the assistant coach level the following year, remaining on the Duke bench until taking the Austin Peay job this year.
Now, Nolan Smith continues along a similar trajectory. After a great career at Duke, he was a late first round pick by the Portland Trail Blazers, playing two seasons with the club. He had a few cups of coffee in the G-League and overseas, and returned to Duke as a special assistant in 2016, taking over the director of basketball operations role. Now, he has been promoted to the coaching bench alongside Coach K.
"Nolan is a rising star," Krzyzewski said in Duke's release. "To get him on the court with our players on a day-to-day basis will mean so much to our program. Our players will benefit immensely from his enthusiasm to teach, but also the fact that he's young enough, he can show them. He can still play. We're very fortunate that he and his wife Cheyna are so involved in our program and our community."
“I’ve always had aspirations of becoming a head coach,” Smith said in 2019. “And I think in a way that’s why I chose to come to Duke, I wanted to learn from the best and play for the best."
He will continue to have that opportunity up close and personal on staff at Duke. It doesn't get better than Mike Krzyzewski, who has had many former players become assistants and then head coaches elsewhere.
Of course, their success has been a mixed bag, and there is no true heir apparent to take over at Duke when he retires at some point in the coming years. Perhaps Smith can prove himself a candidate down the road, if he thrives in this new role.