May 24, 2005
DURHAM - Mike Krzyzewski certainly has had a roller-coaster ride when it comes to losing undergraduates to the NBA, but none of the dips and turns has been more thrilling or surprising than his experience this spring.
Through the 1998 season, Krzyzewski's Duke program seemed to be immune to the lure of the pro game. During an era when every other top program had to endure unexpected losses, Coach K kept every one of his star players for four years, from Johnny Dawkins to Danny Ferry to Christian Laettner to Grant Hill.
That changed after the 1999 Final Four, when three Duke underclassmen put their names into the NBA draft. The simultaneous losses of sophomore Elton Brand, sophomore Will Avery and freshman Corey Maggette staggered the program.
After years of immunity from NBA raids, the Blue Devils suddenly became their prime victim. From 1999-2004, nobody lost more eligible players than Krzyzewski. Jason Williams, Carlos Boozer and Mike Dunleavy delivered another triple blow in 2002, and the decisions of freshman Luol Deng and point guard recruit Shaun Livingston after the 2004 Final Four again knocked the Devils for a loop.
In sum, eight Duke players surrendered a potential 17 years of eligibility in one six-year span. That list included players picked No. 1 (Brand), No. 2 (Williams), No. 3 (Dunleavy), No. 4 (Livingston), No. 7 (Deng), No. 13 (Maggette) and No. 14 (Avery) in the first round.
The latest chapter in Duke's NBA early-entry story took a bizarre twist. The Blue Devils didn't lose consensus All-American J.J. Redick or national defensive player of the year Shelden Williams, both projected first-round picks. Even prime recruit Josh McRoberts, a 6-10 forward and another first-round lock, resisted the urge to test the waters.
But just when it seemed that Duke would avoid the tidal wave of underclassmen leaving the ACC this offseason, Krzyzewski was blindsided by the decision of junior forward Shavlik Randolph to put his name on the early entry list.
The star-crossed 6-10 forward from nearby Raleigh averaged just 4.4 points and 3.4 rebounds as a junior, missing more than a month at midseason with a bout of mononucleosis. The once-celebrated prep star might have been a first-round NBA choice out of high school, but nobody believes that after three mediocre years at Duke, the grandson of former N.C. State great Ronnie Shavlik will be drafted that high this summer.
That includes Kenny Randolph, Shavlik's very involved father, who insisted in May that his son was merely taking advantage of the NCAA rule that allows a one-time exemption for underclassmen to declare for the draft, work out for the pros and withdraw their names in time to be eligible to return to college.
"He wants to work out and get better, not so much to see where you would be drafted or anything like that," Kenny Randolph told the Durham Herald-Sun. "You get to work out for teams, and you get to work out against some of the players that are going to be in the NBA draft. He's putting his name in the draft with all intentions of coming back to Duke."
Of course, three years ago, Dunleavy said much the same thing when he put his name on the early entry list. It was only after he learned that he would be a top-five pick that he stayed in the draft. Randolph is not going to hear the same thing, but sources said that if there's any hint of NBA interest - even in the second round - he will be gone for good.
The same sources told the Sports Journal that, while there's no known personal animosity between the Randolph camp and Krzyzewski, any public claims that the coach and family also have been happy with each other in the basketball sense are absurd. A huge factor in Shavlik's recent NBA decision was that, now that he's healthy and has lost some of the bulk the Duke coaches told him to add in recent years, he has been able to showcase the shooting skills and perimeter game that made him famous in high school. His rebounder/rejector role has not allowed him that same platform in Durham, and another year in the post likely would do little to improve his stock.
Randolph has until June 21 to withdraw his name and retain his eligibility. The Randolphs insist that will happen, but sources said that will occur only if Shavlik cannot find a desirable NBA option, even potentially as an undrafted free agent for the right team. Sources said a transfer or a career overseas are not being considered at this point.
Krzyzewski issued a one-line statement, supporting Randolph's action "100 percent." He knows that while the veteran big man would be a useful player on a Duke team that hopes to contend for the NCAA title, the Blue Devils still can contend without Randolph.
That probably wouldn't have been the case if Williams had left early. Reportedly, the 6-9 Oklahoma native told Krzyzewski at one point that if he was projected as a lottery pick, he would go pro. Instead, Williams announced on April 26 that he would return to Duke, without thoroughly exploring his NBA options.
"I came to the conclusion that I still have some unfinished business to take care of here on the college scene," Williams said. "The past few weeks, I've been going back and forth, looking at the advantages and disadvantages of me going or not going."
Ironically, Williams suggested that the deciding factor in his decision was the success Duke's rival North Carolina had last season.
"We have a good chance of doing some of the same things that Carolina did," he said. "I think we have a chance to do something special."
Williams was Duke's big concern. It's hard to tell exactly where he would have gone in the draft, but there are some pro scouts who prefer the Duke star - with his superior athleticism and superb defense - to UNC's Sean May, a more skilled offensive player. The lottery was not a lock for Williams, but it wasn't out of the question, either.
Basketball Schedule Shaping Up
There was a time when no one questioned Duke's non-conference schedules.
Krzyzewski's 1986 ACC champs played five ranked non-ACC foes. His 1991 national champs played four top-10 teams outside the league - two on the road, one on a neutral court. The next year, Duke played at Michigan (the eventual NCAA runner-up), at LSU (with Shaquille O'Neal) and at No. 4 UCLA. As recently as 2001, Duke played Texas, Villanova, Temple, Michigan and Stanford in the first month of the season.
But starting in 2003, Duke began to dial back its non-conference slate. Part of it was a philosophical decision by Krzyzewski. He decided to schedule more non-conference games at neutral sites, where Duke could draw bigger paydays and face the kind of crowds they would see in NCAA play. He figured that the ACC alone would provide enough road tests to temper his team.
Bad timing also has weakened Duke schedules. UCLA's Steve Lavin backed out of a home-and-home with the Devils. St. John's, which has maintained an annual series against Duke, slumped badly. Coach K dropped a decade-long series with Michigan after his protégé Tommy Amaker took over in Ann Arbor.
Duke's last four non-conference schedules have been interesting, but hardly as challenging as what earlier teams faced.
According to Jerry Palm's RPI calculations, Duke's last three schedules fared fairly well in his Strength of Schedule rankings: No. 32 in 2003; No. 4 in 2004, No. 4 in 2005. Of course, that includes the team's always-tough 16-game ACC march. In terms of non-conference SOS, the last three slates ranked No. 109, No. 24 and No. 34 nationally.
Those schedules have included few true road games. The 2003 Devils played UCLA and Ohio State on neutral courts, but the only non-ACC road game was a loss to St. John's in Madison Square Garden. The 2004 Devils played three games in Alaska and beat Texas in Madison Square Garden but played just two road games, winning at Michigan State and at Georgetown. Last year, Duke returned to St. John's, but that was the only road test as the Devils played neutra1-court games in Madison Square Garden (Oklahoma), in Charlotte (Davidson) and in Chicago's United Center (Valparaiso).
Early indications are that this year's schedule - it will showcase a team likely to be No. 1 or No. 2 in most preseason polls - is shaping up to be very similar.
Duke will play in the Preseason NIT, which means two home games and two games in its home-away-from-home, Madison Square Garden. Of course, the Devils will have to win twice to reach New York. Reportedly, the opener will be in Cameron against Boston University. The field also includes teams such as Memphis, UCLA, Alabama, Missouri, Seton Hall and Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Because Duke expects to play two games in the Garden in late November, the early December Dreyfus Classic - which matched Duke against Texas two years ago and Oklahoma last year - probably will move across the Hudson River to the Meadowlands. Early indications are that the Devils will match up again with the Longhorns.
Duke's draw in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge has not been determined yet, but the Devils are due a road game. So is Illinois, which probably rules out a meeting with the Illini. Instead, it looks as if Duke will play at Iowa or at Indiana, although don't rule out a neutral site (would Duke-IU in Indianapolis qualify as neutral?) for the game.
Although the schedule won't be finalized until late this summer, it appears that the ACC's new expanded conference lineup will throw the fans another glitch. For the second year in a row, the two top teams in the preseason - last year Wake and UNC, this year Duke and Boston College - are scheduled to meet only once. In this case, the Devils will visit the Eagles in Chestnut Hill, but there will be no return trip to Cameron.