October 23, 2007
DURHAM Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski endured a worrisome offseason, as five of his 11 recruited players underwent surgery after the end of last season.
But when preseason practice opened on Oct. 12, Krzyzewski could breathe a little easier. Three of those five players were at 100 percent, a fourth was fully physically recovered and needed only to recover his conditioning, while the fifth injured player was recovering ahead of schedule.
"We'll start with 12 players, including our two walk-ons," Krzyzewski said. "We've had more offseason surgery than ever."
It started just days after Duke was eliminated from the 2007 NCAA Tournament by Virginia Commonwealth. Both starting point guard Greg Paulus and backup wing guard Marty Pocius went under the knife.
Pocius was operated on to repair a knee. Paulus, who played his entire sophomore season with an injured left foot, had that foot repaired.
"It's 100 percent. The surgery was definitely a real positive," Paulus said. "It was frustrating sitting out a couple of months, but I feel great. It's been feeling great for the last couple of months. No pain. Cutting is not a problem. Strength is not an issue any more."
Senior guard DeMarcus Nelson, who was plagued by injuries during his freshman and sophomore campaigns, had to drop out of the trials for the U.S. Pan Am team in July when he suffered a broken left wrist. He was sidelined for more than a month after surgery to repair the injury.
Soon after that injury, sophomore center Brian Zoubek suffered a "Jones fracture" breaking the small, outside bone on his left foot. It's the same injury that sidelined Elton Brand and Carlos Boozer during their time at Duke. Zoubek had a screw inserted during surgery to facilitate healing, and he was back at full speed by the start of practice.
However, he was not yet back in the same shape he was in before the injury.
"Right before the injury, I was playing the best I've ever played," Zoubek said. "It's been tough mentally and physically, and there has been a lot of rehab involved. It just takes time, and I have to keep playing, and I'll get everything back."
Junior swingman David McClure, who missed the entire 2005-06 season while recovering from knee surgery, injured his other knee during a pickup game in August and had to undergo a late surgery. He's the only Blue Devil not quite ready to go.
"David is ahead of where he should be, but he's not 100 percent," Krzyzewski said. "He's doing well. We expect him to be 100 percent (soon)."
Krzyzewski is fortunate that the team's health issues are breaking in his favor. The Duke coach needs this preseason period to integrate his three freshman recruits and to install the running, pressing game that he claims will replace the patient, halfcourt game the Devils have used the last couple of years.
"We're looking to play a lot more up-tempo than we did last year," Krzyzewski said. "I'm not saying (more up-tempo) than we ever did, because we've been one of the nation's leaders in offense most seasons."
To do that, he'll need most of his 11 recruited players to be healthy. A year ago, Paulus suffered his foot injury on the second day of practice and was sidelined for more than a month, and he clearly was hobbled for another month. That injury had a lot to do with the offensive struggles the 2007 Devils endured.
So far, it looks as if Krzyzewski won't have to go through that again.
NELSON BECOMES CAPTAIN SOLO
A year ago, Krzyzewski named tri-captains, with sophomores Paulus and Josh McRoberts joining Nelson as the team's leaders. It continued a trend under Coach K that has seen the Blue Devils split the captaincy among two, three and sometimes four players.
That is going to change. This season, Nelson will be the team's only captain. He was chosen by a vote of the team.
"You get accustomed to doing certain things, and you sometimes forget why you are doing it," Krzyzewski said. "The captaincy of our team was not elevated to the level that it should be. It was diluted a little bit. So we decided it would be one guy. I think it gives us pinpoint responsibility. It's your team, you're the leader, it's on you.'"
Paulus said he had no problems giving up the share of the captaincy that he held a year ago. He suggested that as the team's starting point guard, he'll still carry part of the leadership burden.
"It doesn't change what I'm going to do, how I'm going to perform, or what I can do out there for our team," Paulus said. "Coach has talked to me about being more assertive and being more aggressive. So that's what I'm going to do, whether there's a title or not."
INJURIES MOUNTING FOR ROOF
Duke football has a lot less ability to handle injuries than the school's basketball team. And the recent injury news hasn't been as good for football coach Ted Roof as it has been for Krzyzewski.
Since the opening game, the Blue Devils have lost both starting defensive ends, a starting linebacker, the starting fullback and one of the team's three outstanding wide receivers.
Coincidentally, both end Patrick Bailey and receiver Raphael Chestnut were lost for the year with non-contact knee injuries, both suffered while covering punts.
Bailey's loss in the Wake Forest game, coupled with the loss of fellow end Ryan Radloff in the opener, was especially painful. The fourth-year senior was probably Duke's best all-around defender, and his loss left a hole that Roof is scrambling to fill.
Redshirt freshman Wes Oglesby has done a credible job replacing Radloff, and junior Greg Akinbiyi has taken over Bailey's spot. The problem is that the moves stripped Roof's depth at the two end positions, forcing him into some desperate measures, such as moving freshman linebacker Adam Banks to end. That's the same Banks who already was filling in at linebacker for injured starter Charles Robinson.
The loss of senior fullback Tielor Robinson in Duke's third game was another major blow. The former Army standout was a terrific blocker who stood out on scrimmage plays and as a key part of Duke's success on kickoff returns. He also caught four touchdown passes out of the backfield a year ago.
Sophomore Brandon King and junior Clifford Harris, who have replaced Robinson at fullback, can match his production as a receiver (King already has three touchdown receptions), but neither is in his class as a blocker or as a power back in short-yardage situations.
Chestnut's spot as Duke's third wide receiver was passed on to true freshman Austin Kelly, who was impressive in the last two games with four catches for 77 yards and a touchdown.
As it now stands, Charles Robinson is the only injured starter who is close to returning. Bailey, Chestnut and Tielor Robinson are done for the year. Radloff could return, but he is weeks away, at best.
Duke can apply for a sixth year of eligibility for Tielor Robinson, but Bailey's injury came too late to earn him a chance at an extra year.