If one were to walk into Cameron Indoor Stadium out of the sweltering North Carolina humidity at the end of each June, they'd hear to sound of multiple
basketballs being dribbled about and squeaking sneakers echoing into night. They would smell the popcorn and candy from the concession stand upon entry and likely the smell of a
champion, which while indescribable, is quite evident.
Former players such as Chris Carrawell, Nate James and Marty Clark can be heard barking signals to youngsters fulfilling their dreams of playing on Coach K Court, as parents look on, some of them even camping outside in
Winnebagos, allowing them to wallow in Blue Devil ambiance. A quick look around and you will see many members of the Duke Basketball family, be it the team managers, conditioning coach, and our superb
assistants J.D., Wojo and Chris Collins, or even Ms. K and one or two of her daughters.
This well organized event is the annual Duke Basketball Camp which runs three sessions annually and that alone is enough to excite the many fortunate youngsters who are being taught discipline and the game of hoops. On this Saturday night though, there is much more to be excited about, that being the arrival of a vaunted
freshman class on campus.
The excitement has been there for weeks for those close to the program, the major sites that cover Duke Basketball and such. After a season where we were shy on depth, a few fans came hoping to see what the future would hold.
I haven't anticipated a class as much as this years since Williams, Dunleavy, Boozer and company came in after the mass defection
of Brand, Avery and Maggette from the '99 NCAA runner-up team, not to mention the loss of another great leader in Trajan Langdon.
Unlike that season, where Duke depended on a resurgent Carrawell, the steady Shane Battier and Nate Dogg, we have even more key holdovers to join the talented young cast in seniors JJ Redick, Shelden
Williams, Sean Dockery and Lee Melchionni. Throw in DeMarcus Nelson, and you
can rest assured that Duke will again be the consensus pre-season number one team in all of America.
I take my seat as the baskets are being lowered and the kids are being ushered to their stations. Parents and guests are encouraged to sit up top by Mike Schrage who is the voice of the camp and head of basketball operations, but as usual a few hang about downstairs shamelessly hawking autographs, some acting as if they are the actual campers.
While I have seen many of the newcomers play in AAU games, I am not as familiar as I have been in the past due to a busier than usual year, but it didn't take me long to recognize
Instead of going into who was on what side or who won the games, I will share my thoughts on the individual play of the players and what I saw over the ensuing three nights. I will also go ahead and tell fellow Blue
Devils that some players did not play and the reasons why, starting with DeMarcus Nelson, who has been playing in California with the Clippers and others. Markie will
arrive next week and I look forward to eventually seeing his off-season development.
Martynas Pocius has been in his native Lithuania playing and will arrive next week as well. He has been hobbled by a
knee injury and is on the mend and should be at full speed come the open of practice. David McClure is likely to be
red shirted, having had a second surgery, but you can see the natural maturity in his growth despite the setback.
Okay, let's start with JJ Reddick who seems to have slimmed down a bit more.
JJ played in Saturday's games only, since he will be in playing summer ball for the USA team. JJ had his usual deadeye accuracy from the outside, but what struck me was what seemed to be a better handle.
IMO, he was quicker with the ball than last season and yes, JJ can dunk.
His continued improvement has to have the opposition dreading the prolific shooter. His mere presence makes his teammates better.
Then there is Shelden Williams... I ventured through Cameron a month or so ago and saw him working on ten and fifteen foot jumpers with a manager and that work has helped him extend his already steady game. Shelden manhandled young Boateng the first night, as well as others, at times completely dominating the games over the three evenings. He was in McRoberts' head last evening early as well, altering many shots. Pencil him in on every
A-A first team in America.
On the way to work the other day, I heard ACC radio personality Packman say that Dockery had been a disappointment. Well, I am not sure what
qualifies as a disappointment in his eyes, but anyone who saw the three nights of games saw a vastly improved Dock, with more leadership and hustle than ever before. This kid will log major minutes and has become better in every aspect of the game. He will be one of the better guards in the league and before anyone says I am nuts, go back to me saying CC would be all ACC after watching pickups in 2000.
Lee Melchionni played but one night, and showed his usual hustle and touch from the outside and showed leadership with younger players.
Before I get into my thought on the freshman, I'd like to cover Jon Scheyer who attended the camp and played in these games. While certainly slender, Jon shows many skills and potential. His outside shot did not always fall, but there other aspects to his
game I was very impressed with: his on-ball defense and positioning. He stays in front of his assigned man well, and had difficult matchups at times, such as Carrawell. A few Dukies have said they are not impressed on the various boards, but anyone who excels in basketball-rich Chicago is good and those from that area will tell you he will be just fine. I concur.
Josh McRoberts had the pleasure of drawing Shelden Williams at times, but the kid never backed down, keeping a forearm in his back and working for position with the seasoned vet. To say this guy
finishes well is an understatement. He threw down some powerful dunks, including a tomahawk jam and had a beautiful spin move on Shelden and when others guarded him he took them to the hole. He has very quick bursts which will bring the Crazies to their feet ...wait a minute they are always on their feet, but I think fellow fans know what I mean.
He is also very efficient at passing the ball with just the right zip, and sets a very nice and solid screen. He is also very adept at the give and go, showing good hands. He seemed to tire towards the end of each evening, but that might be attributed to jet lag and getting accustomed to his surroundings.
I am going to be a little tougher on Greg Paulus, but only because we are depending on him so much. Greg played great in the first evening, constantly making nice passes and getting his team into the game and shot the ball well. He could be seen encouraging the freshman and showed that leadership by talking strategy
with and making suggestions to all teammates. He was faced up on defense by not getting outside quick enough and when teamed with Dockery the following nights seemed to lose that touch for getting guys into the game. This will be ironed out because they will play together at times. He had a little bit of the freshman
Hurleyitis, where he'd go too deep into the lane at times. His shot was a bit off last evening, but the key there for him IMO, is concentrating on D and getting his teammates the ball where they need it and getting accustomed to playing with Dock. One thing I noticed on the first night was that he gives no freebies, wrapping up his man if on the break rather than giving him an easy basket.
If you'd watched Eric Boateng on the first night alone, you would have seen a player that was trying to dribble through two defenders, and seemed lost versus Shelden. Then came the next two evenings where he showed his strengths. Get the ball to this kid four feet from the basket and he can finish. He dunks with authority and relative ease inside, but needs to keep that same intensity when coming in from the baseline. He is raw in some areas, but can clog the middle and rebound well. He scored a bushel in the third evening and
played very well alongside Jamal Boykin. While he has little business putting the ball on the floor, I like what I see in him, and yes, he has the potential to help right away.
While he will never have a gambling problem and it is all together another sport, I could not help but think of Charlie Hustle, Pete Rose, when seeing hard-nosed
Jamal Boykin's game. This kid was getting numerous floor burns in pickup and has a nose for the ball. While he is not a tremendous athlete, he is solid as a rock, makes very good decisions and is simply a
coach's players. Whether it be a shot from the baseline or a steal, he rarely stops hustling and has a well-rounded game. He was a pleasant surprise to many and is indeed destined to be a crowd favorite. He hit three straight shots in one stretch and plays with a quiet confidene. The staff got a good one.
I'd also like to mention that the team of Carrawell, Price and James won three straight at one point, wearing the youngsters out three games straight one evening.
Keep in mind that Coach K will tear each and every one of the newcomers game down, and will rebuild it, implementing their skills into the Duke system. While the newbies are impressive, we're yet to know how they will react in pressure situations, or how
well they shoot free-throws and all the intangibles that are a part of the
game. Rest assured though, on that top floor of the Schwartz Building that overlooks Cameron, a well-known Polish guy has a wide grin behind closed doors and is chomping at the bit to get the season rolling.
NOTES-The guys are taking a break on the last night of Camp to watch the NBA draft. Special kudos to Danny Ferry, who like Billy King, will represent Duke well in Cleveland ... anyone remember beating Mark Macon and #1 Temple in the Meadowlands? I was there:) Go Devils and as always GTHC!!!! Oh, and as usual this is of the top of my head, so again, forgive the ramble. Props to Daniel Ewing, the 2nd
player picked in round two, going to the Clippers.