After playing last season with a dangerously thin roster, a situation which
grew worse after a series of injuries, Duke nonetheless won the ACC Tournament
and advanced to the Sweet 16.
This after Shavlik Randolph came down with mono, Reggie Love broke a foot,
DeMarcus Nelson broke a bone in his hand, Dave McClure seriously injured his
knee - did we miss anyone? Oh yeah, Sean Dockery finished the season playing
hurt as well.
Despite it all, they had an amazing year. And with a significant
infusion of talent, this year is expected to be much, much better. Duke is
generally ranked first in most pre-season polls.
Aside from J.J. Redick, a brilliant shooter who has made himself into a solid
all-around player, Shelden Williams, a dominant defender and emerging offensive
powerhouse, Lee Melchionni, Sean Dockery, DeMarcus Nelson, and Patrick Johnson,
who has earned a scholarship, (Dave McClure is still recuperating from knee
surgery and will not play this year), Duke welcomes in 6-11 Josh McRoberts, 6-1
Greg Paulus, 6-7 Jamal Boykin, 6-4, Martynas Pocius, and 6-10 Eric Boateng.
Suddenly depth is not a problem.
Josh "if it's not Scottish it's crap!" McRoberts was an admired
player as a senior, but he has really opened some eyes since getting to
Duke. He was seen as a good athlete, but his athleticism was probably
underrated. He also has a very high basketball IQ and passes as well as
any big man at Duke since Danny Ferry.
Paulus gets comparisons to Bobby Hurley, which is hard to live up to, but he
has superb court vision. His weakness now is his defense, which will pick
Boykin has already carved a niche as an energy player, a guy who will play
with absolute abandon and a reckless disregard for personal safety. He
gets comparisons to Shane Battier, which may be apt personality wise, but game
wise, you have to look at a different sport to find the right comparison: Pete
Whatever his later difficulties, Pete Rose won immense respect for his desire
to play hard and to never quit. Boykin has that same kind of mentality.
Pocius is 6-4, and calls himself a shooting guard, which he is, but he's also
athletic enough to be a slasher, which is something Duke can always use.
Eric Boateng usually is the last recruit discussed, but early looks suggest
he is not the project he was once thought to be. He's not a finished
project, but the comparisons to Casey Sanders, another athletic, raw big
recruit, are not on the money either.
Boateng already has better hands and has the potential to fill out more
quickly than Sanders did.
So there is a lot of talent on hand. The question is how to use it, and
given Krzyzewski's oft-stated belief that an eight-man rotation is best, who
will sit and how will they handle it.
There is no question that Redick and Williams will start, and McRoberts will
almost certainly as well. Nelson and Dockery will probably start too, at least
at the beginning of the season, and Melchionni may, or he may be used as an
ideal sixth man.
Melchionni shocked a lot of people with his play last season, though not us:
we had noticed that in what a lot of people would consider meaningless minutes,
the kid played with heart and passion and got results. So we were not
surprised to see him step up when he got the chance.
Dockery, too, improved dramatically last year. At one point, we heard a
story from practice: Coach K said, "son, you're doing things that I've
never seen in 35 years of basketball, and I don't want to ever see them
You may remember seeing him make some unusual offensive forays as a
freshman. No more: he's a button-down, ball hawking point guard who has
developed a reliable jump shot.
Nelson, who was injured quite early last year, had a frustating season, with
lots of ups and downs. He learned, as so many have before him in this
conference, that being a great athlete is not enough. Look for him to
apply those lessons this year and to be a vastly improved defender, ballhandler,
Last year, Melchionni (hey, someone stop that guy!) benefited from the
intense defensive attention Redick got. This year, Nelson may be next in
Williams, McRoberts, Redick and Melchionni are all potent offensively.
So if anyone gets a double-team, that opens the court up for Nelson, who is a
powerful player and a guy who should be able to break inside quite
frequently. And with an improved handle and jumper, he just makes it that
much more difficult to defend Duke.
By now, pretty much everyone is familiar with Redick and Williams, so the
main question is how they have improved. Williams has spoken of showing a
mid-range game, and Redick, who has spectacular range and who often makes the
crowd ooh and ahh over incredibly long shots, seems determined that he isn't
going to be a specialist. He's won games on defense, and has improved as a
penetrator and a passer.
A key question for both guys, actually, is this: will they get their jerseys
retired? Our guess is that Redick is a pretty good bet, and Williams is
not too far behind.
After McRoberts, the question is how to incorporate the other freshmen.
Paulus will play, and play a lot. In fact, if his defense were as good
as Dockery's, he'd start. He may win the spot by the end of the year, and
Dockery, who is as good a teammate as Nate James was, will likely accept
whatever role he gets and continue to be a great teammate. Coach K has
spoken glowingly of his desire to be a member of a team, and his willingness to
subordinate himself. Not everyone does that very well.
Paulus has unusual court vision - Bob Gibbons called him a new Bob Cousy
(that's really good for all those of you who have no idea who Cousy was), and
he'll earn minutes. He's very, very good, and he's got a lot of leadership
Boykin, like Dockery, is going to be a great teammate. He's a guy who
will do the dirty work or whatever he is asked to do, and he'll do a great job
or kill himself trying. He's pretty relentless, and we really admire his drive
Pocius is a highly athletic guard, and a guy who may not be able to carve out
an immediate niche. As far as bigger guards go, Redick will not be
supplanted, and Nelson has a year under his belt and is also highly
athletic. If he becomes a superior defender, Pocius can carve out a role
in a big hurry. Otherwise, things may take longer.
And Boateng is a fun player. The comparisons with Sanders seemed fair
at the time, but Boateng is much better as a freshman and will be much better
throughout his career. All he really has to do this year is to establish
himself as a solid defender and rebounder. If he does that, Duke has a lot
of flexibility to move other people around should either Williams or McRoberts
run into problems.
It's a bit of an unusual almalgamation - virtually all seniors and freshmen -
and the last team which we can think of which had that sort of chemistry (UNC
with the Montross class and the Wallace/Stackhouse/McInnis class) pretty much
blew up at the end. But with two jerks in the freshman class, maybe that
McRoberts and Paulus will play; there's really no question about that.
But for Pocius and Boateng, the role model may be Boykin.
In fact, Boykin could, along with Melchionni, turn into a major
catalyst. Both guys play with enormous passion, and if you rotated them in
at the same time, you'd have a major infusion of defense, intensity, and
determination. If Pocius and Boateng pick up that bug, Duke is going to be
very, very tough.
Just a thought.
We'll have to wait a while to see how things play out, but certainly in the
early going, the predictions that Duke will be dominant are euphonious. If
the chemistry is equally pleasing, this could be a truly great year in Durham.