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Well, We Were Impressed


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The reports of Duke's demise are greatly exaggerated. Tonight we
got to see a  number of treats, not least of them Jason Williams bursting
onto the college scene like Athena from the skull of Zeus, fully formed and
ready to go.  Jason is remarkable. We had seen him in pickup, and he looked
nothing - nothing - like he looked tonight.  He was absolutely in control
of the game and made moves we've never seen a Duke player make before. His
potential is truly dazzling.  He has the capacity to imagine some
ridiculous things on the court and the ability to make them happen, and he is a
very, very gifted passer.  Someone said on the board that he was more
talented than Hurley.  He is. That doesn't mean he'll have a better career,
but his talent is enormous, and his passion for the game appealing.

We fully realize that the Five-Star Hawks are not that great of
a team, though they did beat Davidson last night and Davidson has competed well
with Duke the last few years.  But still. We didn't expect 18-2. We didn't
expect a 50 point lead.  Some of these guys are not bad players, but they
are older and may have been tired.  Still, we thought they were better than
they turned out to be. 

Jason Williams, with 25 points, 9 assists, 7 boards, a block and
a steal, was amazing. But he wasn't the only thing worth discussing. First and
foremost is a very exciting passing game.

Those of you who have been here a while know that we are huge
fans of the passing game.  When you have a creative, imaginative passer, it
tends to be contagious.  That seems to be the case here. We knew that there
were some guys on the team who could pass - Battier and C-well among them - and
we knew that Dunleavy was an excellent passer. The guys who surprised us a bit
were Horvath, who has a nice habit of dropping passes over the defense from the
high post for easy baskets, and Christensen, who made a number of smart
passes.  The ball movement, for this early in the season, especially
considering the number of newcomers, is really impressive.  Last season our
initial impression of the team was an overwhelming talent level, but that it
didn't communicate well early.  This season, the talent isn't as high, but
it's pretty good.  And the communication is really advanced.

Can we rave about Jason Williams some more? Can we relay to you
how aggressive he is as a penetrator, and how he sees angles that most people
don't see on passes? It's not that he's doing Bird/Magic/Pistol Pete passes, but
he's exceptionally quick, he handles the ball well, and he takes it and pushes
it right down the throat of the defense. What's nice is that when he penetrated,
the other guys were ready for either a layup or a spot-up jump shot - and the
ball moved around the horn with great alacrity.  Most pleasing. 
Having this guy on your side is a wonderful thing. He still has a lot to learn -
for instance, how will he deal with a very aggressive defense, and how will he
deal with a slower game? State, for instance, might make his life
miserable.  But on the other hand, a pressing school will play into this
kid's hands like an intern in Clinton's. We can think of one regular opponent
who is going to absolutely hate Williams.

So as we said, the passing bug has spread among this team
quickly, and a passing team is a happy team.  But there's more to be happy
about than just passing.

The three point attack, if tonight is evidence, is perhaps
better than last season. Battier, Williams, Dunleavy, Horvath,  James, and
C-well all were hitting from long range.  This has a very pleasant
corollary effect: it opens the middle up immensely.  So Williams has room
to power inside, and then people to kick it out to for J's.

We don't mean to discount Matt Christiansen's remarkable
performance - we were deeply impressed - but that spreading of the court may
also have something to do with some of his success.  However, that doesn't
explain the fact that he owned the first part of the game.  He was involved
in every play, scoring, rebounding, playing defense - and a key part of it as
well - in the first 3 minutes of the game.  We saw a lot of intelligence in
his game as a freshman, but we didn't see him playing as well as he did tonight.
Can that stand up against the Haywoods and the Baxters and the other power
players? Time will tell. But he played with a lot of strength tonight, and at
times, in situations where Domzalski, and Burgess and even Brand panicked last
year, the kid was a rock. 

Nate James had a super night tonight, but while he scored 19, we
were more impressed with his 8 rebounds and 3 blocks.  He's providing a
backbone to a  young team, and that's a key role. It's a role David
Henderson took on once upon a time.

Battier continues to nurture his game.  We saw him driving
across the lane at one point, lofting in a running hook shot. Not last
year.  He's much more aggressive offensively.

Carrawell had a quiet game, but we caught him on the bench at
one point - Casey was about to run over to the table to check in, and Chris
waved at him to sit down. Then he waved him through. Traffic control!  In a
similar vein, at one point a freshman - maybe Buckner - checked in, and someone
on the bench had to go over and tell him to move farther over.  Rookie

One other note worth passing on, and not at ALL typical when you
think about it - Dunleavy, Williams, and Boozer all hit shots with their
off-hand. Now that's pleasing to baskeball junkies like us.

Speaking of Dunleavy, who played some point tonight, along with
Carrawell and Buckner, he had what we thought was the high IQ play of the night:
a Hawks player faked right, then turned back left to go to the baseline, which
Junior had sealed off, with the intention of drawing a charge on Junior. 
But au contraire - Mike saw it coming and just stepped back. The Hawk player
stumbled. Advantage Dunleavy!  He also had a number of savvy passes, and
was the recipient of a gorgeous high post pass from Horvath, which he caught on
the way up and laid in.

Boozer continues to play himself into shape. He's getting up and
down the court well, but his leaping isn't there yet. For example, Williams hit
him with a perfect pass for a dunk. His timing was off and he rimmed out. 
He also fouled out in 11 minutes, more an indication of lack of conditioning
than a lack of sense. He'll come around. He had a couple of nice pivot moves,
but until he plays his way back into shape, he may well struggle.  However,
on one switch he didn't step out, and we didn't have to even look: someone was
off the bench and Boozer was soon on it.

Horvath continued his Freddy Kruger look, wearing a face mask to
protect his multiple injuries.  He is a bit tense on the court, still, but
confidence will come. In the meantime, he can shoot lights-out from outside, and
those high post passes are a great compliment. In addition, we're beginning to
suspect a bit of a nascent nasty streak in his personality.

Sanders played 11 minutes. The box score is not aligned
correctly, but looks like he had four blocks.  One of them was on Sweet
Pea, who drove the lane and thought he had an easy shot.

Guess again.

Buckner played enough to show us that a) he can contribute at
this level, b) he's a solid backup, and c) at least for now, he should keep it
simple and not try to emulate Williams.  He tried some fancy passes, and
while this is a prime example of the passing  we're so excited about, the
corollary should be to know your limits.

All things considered, this is a team we already like
enormously. We enjoyed last year's team, but we never liked it as much as we do
this one already. That's probably largely because of the passing contagion we
mentioned, but also because this is a group of kids who seem to understand the
game on a nice level, and also to like each other, to judge by their
interactions, and by the unselfishness. 

There were some negatives tonight - there were a few defensive
breakdowns.  There were a few rushed shots.  The biggest negative to
us was the attendance.  The Crazies have a great reputation, largely
deserved. But you guys need to fill the student section up.  This is a team
which will be fun to bond with, and you missed some really great ball
tonight.  There is a common misconception around Duke that Cameron is
always going to be full, that the passion will never diminish.  For those
of us who were there in the bad times, and we don't mean 1995, we can tell you
that the passion can die.  For those who were there when McGeachy was
there, and those who were there for Coach K's rough first few years, you know
what we mean. Here's a vision of Cameron which sucked then and could happen
again: tickets bought up by UNC and State fans, the gym half-filled for ACC
games, and an intense dislike for the coaching staff. By that we don't mean to
suggest that the crowd will turn on Coach K.  That's highly unlikely. 
But things can and do change. For God sakes, the seats are free. Fill them up!

But all in all, considering where this team is now, and what
it's potential is, it's far ahead of last year's team. Does it mean they'll win
37 games and compete for the Title? No, not necesssarily. But it does mean that
they may come closer to fulfilling their potential. What that potential is isn't
entirely clear.  But if tonight was an example of what we can expect this
season, we're not going to miss a minute of what these guys do. This could be
the best passing Duke team since the Duke Power Company, when Gene Banks and
Kenny Dennard ushered Duke hoops into the modern era, and after the kind of
thuggish basketball which has been practiced the last few years from the NBA on
down, we are looking forward to a team which can move the ball like this one
promises to do. 

And how about that Jason Williams?