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CBA Is DOA, Duke By 30

Box Score

What an interesting game!  Duke's exhibition against the Grand Rapids
Hoops was probably the most useful exhibition since the Australians came through
a few times.  Those people know how to play this game.

The CBA team wasn't in that category, at least not in terms of sharp
fundamentals and basic smart hoops, but they were all grown men, strong,
experienced, and just a step or two below the NBA.  Many of the names we
had heard before of course - Antonio Lang, who got a warm reception from the
crowd, Corey Beck of Arkansas, who knocked Lang and Hill out in the championship
game in 1994 and then followed that up by almost knocking Casey Sanders out in
2000,  Eric Riley of Michigan fame, who was once painfully skinny
but who is now a big, big man, and Antonio Smith, late of Michigan State unless
there are two guys by the same name in pro basketball.

In the first half, the pro-oriented nature of Grand Rapids seemed a bit of an
adjustment for Duke, though they started out quickly.  But the greater
experience of the Hoops kept them close and they made some pretty smart plays
throughout the game which spoke of savvy gathered in gyms across the plains and
small towns of America.  Duke pulled out front early, but couldn't pull
away for the longest time.

Partly this was because Jason Williams had a frustrating first half. 
Jason, who came to understand that he had a sincere gift later than many
talented players, has a correspondingly smaller sense of self, and his
imagination, while exuberant, gets him in trouble at times and so he finds
himself spinning incredibly quickly into a trap he didn't realize was
there.  He's gotten better about it, but he's still inclined to try to make
something harder than it has to be.  Coach K noticed, and at one point sat
him down with some, uh, animated gesticulating. 

There's no question Jason was more talented than any guard on the other team,
but at times he needs to do the basic, smart thing rather than the slick, ooh-ah
move. Shortly into the second half, he picked up his third and fourth foul, and
sat for a good, long time.

Enter Duhon.

Duhon came in and really sparked the team.  He passed the ball very well
(the official total of four assists seems low), hit two threes to kick things
off in the second half, and played tough defense.  He's a real player. If
you haven't seen him yet, you'll be very impressed.  He and Jason had one
give and go on a fast break which was just perfect, and he threw a pass over
Grand Rapids which dropped right in Boozer's hands like Montana to Rice. 
He's also about as quick as anyone we've seen recently in these parts. 
People are looking to Johnny Dawkins for comparisons. Quick-wise, we're not sure
anyone at Duke has ever been any quicker than Ricky Price, just in terms of
reaction time, but Duhon is pretty close. 

When Williams returned later, he was a different player. He darted in the
lane, made smart passes, was aggressive on defense, and ran the break
beautifully.  The aggressiveness and the sweet moves were there, but they
were used when they were effective, not when he wanted to be flashy.  Jason
ended up with 10 assists, and though he had a miserable shooting night, his
second half performance  was remarkable. He did one move in the lane where
he went behind his back in traffic and darted forward. Hard to explain, but
beautiful to watch.  When he fully harnesses the exuberance and imagination
he has for this game with a sense of craftsmanship he's going to be as good as
anyone anywhere.

This is going to be a very tough tandem to deal with.  It's really
amazing to have two guys who are pretty much equally good to slip in and out of
the backcourt.

Boozer continues his impressive early performance. He's a very different
player from last year: he can step out and hit the jumper, or work underneath,
and he's in much better shape.  We have to remember last season we saw him in recuperation for
much of the year.  He pulled the defenders out, drove past them.  He
shot 10-14 from the floor and had 6 boards.  One particularly impressive
shot was over 7-4 Priest Lauderdale, and although he's not exactly Air Florida,
he is 7-4 and can dunk almost without jumping.  For Boozer, it's great to
be on a team with Battier, Duhon, James, and Williams, not to mention Horvath,
because they can open it all up for him, and as he is showing now, he can blow
by bigger, slower post players and step out and shoot over them, too.

Against big, physical teams like this, Mike Dunleavy at times disappears, or
at least did last year. For part of the first half, he did tonight.  But
for the rest of the game, he was really on, pulling up for threes, dishing in
the lane, and throwing one absolutely gorgeous out-of-bounds alley-oop pass for
a slam.  Grant Wahl, who said Duke would regret taking Dunleavy over Casey Jacobsen, should watch his game more closely before deciding. Regular readers will know we think very highly of Dunleavy's game.  In the last 25 minutes tonight, the
A game was on display.  There was a flip pass in traffic, another in the
second half, excellent ball movement, rebounding - just solid play.

As for the seniors, Battier, having less need to be dominant, seemed content
to step back a bit from last season's level.  +hat's not to say he was
passive: at one point one of the Grand Rapids guys challenged him and Shane came
back down on his end and took it right to him.  But the simple (and
fortunate) fact of the matter is that he doesn't have to be the end-all and
b-all that he was last season, at least at the end. There's tons of help, not
least of all Nate James, who had a really solid, rugged game, rebounding well,
hitting threes, and playing very solid defense.

Casey Sanders came in and got some solid minutes, including 7 free throw
attempts.  It seems incongruous that Casey, as slender as he is, has been
getting to the line more than Boozer (though tonight they were even in that
regard), but maybe this is it: he moves too fast to be guarded effectively, and
so all that is left is to hack him.  Two plays stand out tonight: one where
he got the rebound and beat the ball down court after passing it to a guard (he
didn't get it back unfortunately), and the other when Corey Beck coldcocked him.
Beck was immediately ejected. Casey ended up with 12 points and 7 rebounds
against a CBA team.  That's pretty respectable we'd say, particularly in 14

Nick Horvath sat out with an ankle injury but it's minor and he is expected
back for Tuesday's game with Princeton.

One of the things which is striking to us about this team is how
fundamentally sound the players are.  There are quibbles - Jason's form
isn't textbook, Carlos goes up kind of funny sometimes, Nate's ballhandling is
not his strong point - but all in all, this is the most fundamentally skilled
group we've seen in some time.

In the first half, we got the impression that Coach K wasn't thrilled with
the defense, but the second half was much better, and when they began to pull
away (when Duhon was at the point), the defense solidified nicely. 

You could look at this group and pick out a different thing to admire each
time, but tonight we were particularly taken with Duhon and Boozer, both of whom
played brilliantly.

Notes - Lang wandered by the Duke bench a time or two, but no one was sure
what he was saying....too bad Priest Lauderdale is a worse athlete than your
dad...he has a huge frame....when we saw Eric Riley at Michigan, we never
imagined he could get this big....Dunleavy, who usually has the face of a
gunslinger, at one point was shocked by a call and went looking to appeal
it...fortunately it wasn't against him afterall...