February 10, 2003 DURHAM Dahntay Jones is the best player and J.J. Redick is the best shooter, but it is becoming increasingly clear that Chris Duhon is Duke's best chance at winning. When he plays well, the Blue Devils win. When he doesn't, they don't. It's not so much a matter of scoring, although Duhon's scoring average dips from 9.2 points per game in victories to 6.3 in losses. It's not even shooting, although again, Duhon has shot much worse in losses (23 percent) than in wins (38 percent). It's in terms of defensive pressure, leadership and decision-making, the intangibles of the point guard position, that Duhon fluctuates dramatically in wins and losses.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski finally tired of his junior captain's inconsistent and, worse, undependable play after Duke lost 75-70 at Florida State on Feb. 2. It was the Blue Devils' third loss in five games, with all three losses on the road. Krzyzewski's benching of Duhon for Duke's next game against North Carolina, of all teams delivered home the message that Duhon would improve, or else.
It was the right decision, Duhon said of not starting against the Tar Heels. Of course I wanted to start, so not being out there really got me to focus on what was important.
In Duke's first 15 victories, Duhon had an awesome assist-turnover ratio of three to one, easily the best in the ACC. In Duke's three losses, the ratio dropped by half (1.5 to one). Not only were the Blue Devils giving away the ball too much in losses to Maryland, N.C. State and Florida State, but they weren't taking it away as often, either. Forced turnovers dropped from 19 to 15.6 in those losses.
He hasn't played well, there's no question about that, Krzyzewski said, continuing his recent trends of public honesty and tough love toward Duhon. I don't think he's played defense as well, and our defense starts with (him). ... When he's not controlling the other guard with ball pressure, it breaks (us) down.
Duhon spent the first three minutes against North Carolina on the bench, and almost every second of the final 37 on the floor. He didn't exactly suffocate UNC point guard Raymond Felton, who scored 25 points against Duhon and a variety of other Duke defenders, but the Tar Heels were limited to an even assist-turnover ratio (14-14), and Duhon had his best offensive floor game at the other end. His 12 points, 10 assists and two turnovers suggested he got the gist of what Krzyzewski had been trying to say with his benching. So did their elongated hug after the game, after which it looked like Krzyzewski might cry a good cry.
That's what we need from Chris, Duke center Casey Sanders said. He doesn't have to score 20 points or get 10 steals or anything like that, but he has to be our leader on the court. He has to play with confidence, and we have to know his decisions are going to be the right ones.
Duhon probably never will be the superstar many observers assumed he would become, but he is good enough to lead Duke into contention for the ACC title. Krzyzewski has let him know it is time to show that.
Shav-O-Meter Going Haywire
If the Coach K-Inspired Shav-O-Meter were a pinball machine, it would have tilted in the past few weeks.
Shavlik Randolph, the freshman forward from Raleigh, went from the high of a 24-point, 10-rebound game against Butler to the low of being shut out in six minutes against Florida State. The next game, against North Carolina, saw Randolph play just five minutes and finish with four points and three rebounds.
Up and down? It's amazing Randolph isn't nauseous by now. He has scored in the 20s twice, and he has been shut out twice. Through 18 games he had blocked 19 shots, with eight coming in two games, 11 in the other 16. A lot of that is a function of his wacky playing time, which has ballooned from a season high of 30 minutes on down to six minutes in a handful of games.
At this pace, the Shav-O-Meter might break before this season is out.
Football Welcomes Good News
The Duke football team isn't accustomed to getting good news in late January, when most of the rest of the Southeast's football programs are cleaning the Blue Devils' clocks in recruiting, but Duke did get a great piece of news this year. And it did have to do with recruiting.
The North Carolina High School Athletic Association had agreed with Duke to allow the school to host state championship games in football. Assuming the NCHSAA board of directors approves the agreement in May, this is a huge coup for Duke, which last year saw Wallace Wade Stadium sit empty while North Carolina and N.C. State held three title games, and Wake Forest held the other two. Under the new agreement, all four ACC colleges will get two title games, leveling that part of the recruiting playing field somewhat.
Yes, it can matter. Say you're a high school player who wins, or even loses, in the state title game at Wallace Wade Stadium. Maybe that night was magical for you and your family. Maybe, in about five weeks when it comes time to select a school, that memory becomes a deciding factor. Or maybe, if you're an underclassman, a seed is planted.
Prospects ultimately make their decisions on a wild and sometimes unpredictable set of variables, but many mention their familiarity with a school as a factor in their initial interest. In football recruiting, especially at Duke, every little bit helps.
Franks Makes Special Addition
For the second consecutive year, Duke coach Carl Franks was able to take advantage of coaching turmoil elsewhere to upgrade his own staff.
Last season he capitalized on the George O'Leary disaster at Notre Dame by hiring O'Leary's defensive coordinator, Ted Roof, to run the Duke defense. Roof made the unit much faster, more aggressive and more productive in his first season.
Franks can only hope Don Yanowsky has a similar effect on the Duke special teams. Yanowsky became available when East Carolina fired Steve Logan and ECU's new coach, John Thompson, didn't retain Yanowsky, who had handled the Pirates' defensive line and shared responsibility for special teams.
Duke's special teams were awful last season, in every phase. Part of that was from the coaching instability stemming from assistant Denny Creehan's successful battle with prostate cancer. Creehan left the team before the first game, returned during the season and left again. He later resigned to pursue other opportunities.
Duke already has been running some of Yanowsky's schemes, thanks to an offseason visit Creehan paid to ECU in 2002, so the transition won't be difficult. Now it's up to Yanowsky to find the best players to plug into the slots, as Roof did a year earlier with the defense. Yanowsky also could pay dividends on the recruiting trail, given the scope of his recruiting duties at East Carolina and previous coaching stops.