Casey Sanders played as well as he has during his Duke career. The easy
explanation is that the freshmen didn't understand the defense completely, and
that's true, they don't. But that doesn't explain is increased
alertness, his confidence, his much smarter game. It was a great
The biggest lure was the freshman, and as always with freshman, it was a
mixed bag. J.J. Redick, called by Bob Gibbons the best shooter since Chris
Mullin, couldn't connect on anything but a layup. A lot of that was because
Dahntay Jones was tailing him, and he has defended much more experienced players
than Redick. But when he wasn't guarding him, Lee Melchionni was,
and Redick still didn't scratch. Chances are it was butterflies, or getting worn
out by Jones. We saw him hit about a 35 footer in warmups, so the range is there
and it's real.
Sean Dockery made a nice impression in some ways. For one, he's a really good
ballhandler. He's a tough defender as well. However, he at times dribbled
too long or too deep in the defense, and should have passed sooner.
He also has a somewhat awkward layup which can start just inside the free throw
line and ends with a very high bank of the board. Sometimes it works and
sometimes it doesn't. You can see the potential in him right
away though - he's strong, quick, and will be fearless before his career
Lee Melchionni is certainly a sharp player, though he's not as talented as
his classmates. Still, he made some smart moves and can find a niche on
this team. On one occasion, he stopped in the middle of a break, in the
key, and called for the ball: not a smart move when the ball was at half court.
Michael Thompson is a really big kid. He's strong, pretty athletic, and moves
well. He wasn't particularly effective in this game, but with his frame
and his athleticism, he's a kid who will turn out. Like the other
freshmen, he has things to learn. None of them will be as big as he is, though,
and he pulled down 8 boards in 11 minutes.
Shelden Williams is big and strong, as promised. Watching him bounce
people around in the paint was pleasant. He had a few nice offensive moves, but
his inside game is not anywhere near where Boozer's was at this point. He
doesn't really bend his knees on free throws, which was a bit surprising.
However, he probably has more talent than did Boozer, though when you want to be
good in Alaska, you have to do a lot of individual work because the competition
is simply not there. Williams ended up with 18 points, but it was a very
quiet 18. He also grabbed 7 boards.
In the first half, Shavlik Randolph was timid, and he fell away on his jump
shots. In the second half, he woke up. He had five blocked shots (GoDuke
missed one), 16 points, and 8 rebounds, and some fairly spectacular plays.
It was an amazing difference between halves. Clearly he needs to bulk up,
but he's a special player.
The upperclassmen were pretty much on target for what you'd expect.
Dahntay Jones was pretty dominant, hitting for 28 and totally shutting down J.J.
Redick, who will thank him for it later.
Chris Duhon had a nice battle with Sean Dockery, but ended up with 9
assists. He did a great job running his team. Daniel Ewing shot 7-15 and
played the game we've come to expect from him - smart, good shooting, solid
Nick Horvath played fairly well, with solid defense, though he didn't shoot
well, going 1-6.
Sanders, as we said, was a revelation, scoring the first 8 points for his
team, making smart basketball moves, and just basically outsmarting and
outplaying people. Part of that was just being more experienced, but that
wasn't the only part. He's probably playing as well as he has played at
So what's the scenario for Duke? Well, three positions are probably set -
Duhon, Ewing, and Jones - and the others are up for grabs. The defense (overall)
needs work, particularly inside, with two players with light experience and
three rookies. That could be a problem for the early part of the
season. It'll be really interesting to see how that pans out, because you
can make arguments for Sanders, Randolph, Williams, and Horvath. Thompson
probably isn't there yet, but he's not far behind, and he's really big.
You could even make an argument for a three-guard offense with Redick
starting, Jones at small foward, and one big man. Duke's done it before.
The main thing with this team is waiting while the pieces come together.
There are some really, really good pieces here, but it may take a little while
for everyone to understand their roles. Watching them grow will be fun,
and watching them take off will be more so. We looked at weaknesses, but
there are a lot of strengths, individually and collectively.
As always at Duke, it starts with defense, but this year more than
most. The offense can take care of itself.