Duke - you lose three guys to the NBA, a valuable though not much used senior
reserve, and what do you do? Well, since Coach K didn't get to where he is by
being foolish, you reload.
Duke has done that to an amazing extent, getting six freshmen in who will all
most likely contribute during their career. More on them in a bit.
Duke returns less than they would like, since they expected Mike Dunleavy
back, but Chris Duhon, Daniel Ewing, Dahntay Jones, Nick Horvath and Casey Sanders aren't exactly chopped liver. Andre Buckner never gets much time, but he's a quick little guard. That's not a pathetic group actually. Duhon and Jones are two of the better defenders around, and Horvath has become a pretty fair one. Sanders has been hit or miss, but still has the potential to be a
major defensive factor, and Ewing really showed he's a winner last year.
Still, the new talent is going to have a huge impact on the program, and it
will likely start up front. Shavlik Randolph and Shelden Williams are
ahead of Michael Thompson at this point, and they both bring different skills to
the game. Shelden brings a lot of power and explosiveness, though his overall
skills are behind Shavlik's (that's true for almost anyone - Shavlik's skills
are very refined). His post and defensive potential are really critical to
this year's team.
The immediate thing we thought about when Shavlik picked Duke was that he
would follow in Dunleavy's footsteps. He will in some ways, but he's not a
clone or anything. For one, he's definitely a frontcourt player. For
another, he's stronger on defense now than Dunleavy was as a freshman. We
were amazed at his shotblocking in the Blue-White game, but that could to an
extent be that he's familiar with his opponents. He has a lot of range, and his
skills and fundamentals are really impressive, particularly since not a lot of
other players have them at this point. One potential problem for Randolph
could be that he has said he prefers to practice alone. At this point, he
needs to be playing high-level competition as much as possible.
Michael Thompson has a bit farther to go than the other two, but he has a
huge body and moves well for a big guy. We expect him to progress
quickly. The only downside we saw was that he had an odd jump shot.
But that might not be a downside; sometimes an odd shot is really effective.
We were impressed with Sean Dockery, though he still needs to learn
discretion as a point guard. But he's quick, he's powerful, he's aggressive.
He's an excellent ballhandler, too. He tends to get a bit carried away
with dribbling, and he needs to work on finishing penetration, but all things
considered, he's a striking player. We really like his potential.
JJ Redick was called, by Bob Gibbons no less, the best shooter in college
basketball since Chris Mullin. Mullin was amazing, so that's high praise
indeed. He has range well out past the 3 point line, and could remind
long-time ACC fans of Brian Magid, a 3 point ace before the line was
At Duke, he'll be used to eliminate zone defenses, and to open up the inside
for assaults by Jones and Williams, among others. He'll also open up the
mid-range game for Ewing as well. Ewing didn't get a lot of credit for it,
but he has a really nice mid-range game.
Lee Melchionni gets less attention than the others, but he is a solid talent,
a smart team-first player, and guy you like having on your side.
Still, at the end of the day, the kids have to be incorporated by the older
players. At Duke, that will fall to Duhon and Jones, first of all, and
also to Horvath and Sanders. When Jason Williams was a freshman, and
laughed after losing two in New York, Shane Battier set him straight, and it was
a lesson Williams did not forget.
The returning players have to teach those kinds of lessons. For Duhon, who is
used to deferring to others, and Jones, who wasn't always as mature as he could
have been last year, it means a significant change in roles. For Ewing, he goes from being an understudy to a veteran, just like that. It's a big change
for Horvath as well, but perhaps most of all, it's a huge change for
Sanders. As a sophomore, when he was needed, he stepped
up. Perhaps now, as a senior, the same thing will happen again. He was
magnificent at times in the Blue-White game, and he knows the ropes. He could be
a huge difference for this team, and he probably knows that.
Really, as key as the freshmen obviously are, you could argue that this is
the hinge upon which the season will turn: will these guys be able to step up as
effectively as Battier, Carrawell, and James did?
Can the freshmen respond as effectively as Williams, Boozer, and Dunleavy
The talent is there, though it is still innocent. The question is how
it is directed. And that comes back to the returning players, and most of all,
Duhon and Jones.
Note - there's a cold going around DBR, and in our misery, we forgot to mention Daniel Ewing in the mix of returning players. Thanks to those who caught it.