One-on-one with Duke’s ‘Tinkerbell’

Feb. 05, 2013 @ 04:43 PM

Tinkerbell flew through N.C. Central’s McDougald-McLendon Gymnasium the other night.

Former Duke forward Gene “Tinkerbell” Banks, who played in the NBA and now scouts for the Washington Wizards, was at the Jan. 28 Morgan State-NCCU game checking out the talent.

Once upon a time, all eyes were on Banks, the ACC rookie of the year in 1978, back when Duke lost to Kentucky in the NCAA championship game.

As a high school senior in West Philadelphia, Banks was among the top basketball prospects in the nation when college coaches also were drooling over a guy named Magic Johnson.

Duke, at the time, was not a basketball powerhouse.

Mike Krzyzewski hadn’t arrived yet, showing up in Durham to coach Banks during his final lap around the ACC. Banks led the league in scoring that year, and that was when Virginia’s Ralph Sampson and North Carolina’s James Worthy played in the league.

“I was really on my way to UCLA,” Banks said about his recruitment.

Bill Foster was Duke’s basketball coach back then, and he stopped by Banks’ high school and left a book about Duke’s campus and academics. Banks’ English teacher saw him with the book and suggested that he consider playing ball at Duke.

Banks was confused, trying to decide between N.C. State, UNC, Michigan and Notre Dame, too.

Long story short, Banks had a dream about winning a championship in a Duke uniform, and that’s why he became a Blue Devil.

“That’s exactly how it happened,” Banks said.

Banks, 53, said he chose Duke with the belief that he could be the start of big things there.

Looks like that went according to the script.

Oh, the Tinkerbell nickname?

Back in West Philly, Banks said he was with his cousin one day when they ditched school and went to see “Peter Pan.” That’s when Banks’ cousin started calling him Tinkerbell, because of the way he, like Disney’s Tinker Bell, flew threw the air.

Tinker Bell the movie fairy departs with a trail a pixie dust, while Tinkerbell the basketball player left a wake of defenders around the rim wishing they could’ve stopped him.

“I embraced it,” Banks said. “It was like Bruce Wayne-Batman; Clark Kent-Superman; Gene Banks-Tinkerbell.”