Welcome Guest. Login/Signup.

Forced To Play Center At Duke, Boozer Paid Dearly On Draft Day

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

By Dave Glenn and staff ACC Sports Journal
July 10, 2002 DURHAM – It's Casey Sanders' fault.

Sanders wasn't the only reason Duke junior Carlos Boozer plummeted all the way out of the first round of the NBA draft and into Korleone Young territory at No. 35 overall, but he may have been the biggest reason.

Think about it. Boozer didn't get selected in the first round – despite being a first-team All-ACC pick, a three-year starter for the top college basketball program of his era and the all-time leading shooter in Duke history – because he never proved his skills at power forward.

Why is that? Because he never played power forward. And why is that? Because Sanders wasn't good enough to start at center. The end result: Boozer missed his only opportunity for the guaranteed, three-year, multimillion deals that automatically go to first-round picks. Second-rounders usually get non-guaranteed contracts, for much less money. Unless they negotiate for better terms, if they don't make the team, they get nothing.

Sanders, like Boozer, was a McDonald's All-American who signed with Duke in 1998-99. Sanders, unlike Boozer, was supposed to become Duke's center of the future, especially after sophomore Elton Brand turned pro after the 1998-99 season.

But Sanders arrived in Durham as merely an above-average athlete and a subpar basketball player. He could run and he could jump, but he could not play the game. He couldn't catch, he couldn't shoot and he couldn't rebound – at least not against ACC-caliber big men, not at 6-11 and 215 pounds.

Boozer couldn't run like Sanders, but at 6-9 and 265 pounds (his freshman weight; he eventually grew to a well-defined 285) Boozer could rebound and defend. He also had an excellent shooting touch, though how far out that touch extends remained a mystery.

Why was it a mystery? Because Boozer almost never got to venture out of the lane at Duke. The perimeter already was clogged with the likes of Jason Williams, Mike Dunleavy, Chris Duhon, Nate James and even Dahntay Jones. Where, outside the lane, was Boozer supposed to position himself? The halfcourt circle?

There was plenty of blame to go around here. First, Boozer clearly didn't distinguish himself in pre-draft workouts, when he surely was given every opportunity to prove he could score while facing the basket. Second, there was Sanders' inability to develop into a first-rate, or even a second-rate, ACC center.

Finally, and this one certainly is intimately related to No. 2, the Duke program didn't give Boozer enough opportunities to hone his power forward skills.

That part was ironic, because the Blue Devils long ago earned a desirable reputation under Krzyzewski for allowing big men to develop a wide array of skills. On the recruiting trail, Duke often told its taller targets (see Danny Ferry, Christian Laettner) that they'd be encouraged to develop their perimeter games in Durham, whereas the guy in Chapel Hill generally forced his big men into more traditional post roles.

It worked out perfectly for Ferry and Laettner, who rapidly honed inside and outside games at Duke and eventually became high NBA lottery picks. It didn't work as well years later for 6-8 Elton Brand, who rarely showed his perimeter skills while with the Devils, but Brand proved gifted enough to overcome having to play strictly center at Duke.

Boozer was not as fortunate.

Hodge Remains Right On Point
RALEIGH – There seems to be a fair amount of hand-wringing around N.C. State circles about who will handle the ball as the Wolfpack's point guard this season. A local newspaper even did an on-line poll about it.

Is Clifford Crawford the answer? Can freshman Dominic Mejia step in immediately and handle the Wolfpack offense?

N.C. State coach Herb Sendek won't waste a whole lot of time pondering those questions, because the guy most likely to be in charge of the Wolfpack this coming year is Julius Hodge. The coach knows it, though he's not ready to say it publicly.

"To be honest with you, I am not nearly as concerned about that as the many questions I get regarding that topic that some would be led to believe," Sendek said in a summer interview.

Read closely the collection of offseason stories about Hodge's manic workout schedule that ran in North Carolina newspapers in the last few weeks: Hodge expects this to be his team, whether he specifically owns the title of point guard or not.

That's why he is spending, according to one of the stories, up to five and a half hours a day working on his game, concentrating on his shooting, his defensive skills and his ball-handling. He has put on a few pounds (about eight) and is ready to start the season right now. And he doesn't particularly care where he plays.

"I will continue to play any position coach wants me to play, whether it is point guard, shooting guard or small forward, and do whatever it takes to get this team to the Final Four," Hodge said. "I have been hearing some rumors going around that I might be playing point guard. I hope they are true."

Hodge went into the summer believing he had something to prove, following the Wolfpack's final game of the year. State was eliminated from the second round of the NCAA Tournament when Connecticut's Caron Butler scored a career-high 34 points over Hodge, including three free throws after Hodge fouled him outside the three-point line in the last few seconds of the game.

"Whenever I am feeling highly about myself, or whenever I feel like my jump shot is coming along, I just think about No. 3 (Butler's number) clinching those three free throws at the end of the game and the way I felt at the end," Hodge told the Greensboro (N.C.) News & Record. "That is the lowest I have ever felt as a basketball player. I really let my teammates down. Ever since that day, I have been working twice as hard. I am sticking to my cliché: Champions are made while no one is watching."

Apparently, so are point guards.

Coach K: Williams Made Mistake
DURHAM – When Oklahoma City basketball star Shelden Williams was named as a potential defendant in an alleged rape case that arose while his high school team was in Ohio for a holiday tournament, many people immediately assumed there was no way he would ever play at Duke, where he signed in November.

Williams, a 6-9 power forward ranked fifth nationally by Brick Oettinger, was suspended from Midwest City High for two weeks and dropped from the team for the rest of the season, along with four teammates.

Williams was the only member of the quintet who was 18, and he was one of only three players to be identified by the police, who investigated after a 19-year-old female said she had been raped. Williams and two of his teammates were specified as participants, while two other individuals in the room were named as witnesses.

The woman never pressed the legal charges, although commenting, "they know exactly what they did, and they have to live with that." There was a lengthy period in which there was an investigation into whether or not to call a grand jury. When that possibility was dropped, Williams and the other potential defendants were at least temporarily (technically, the woman still could come forward at a later date) in the clear from a legal perspective.

Still, that didn't guarantee that Williams would be allowed to matriculate at Duke. He had to write a letter of explanation – his side of the story – and he interviewed with Duke's director of admissions, Christoph Guttentag. It was after that when Williams was officially admitted. Along with the other five incoming recruits, he now is attending the second semester of summer school.

Williams' only public statement on the case came when he spoke to Duke's student newspaper, The Chronicle: "We were in our room getting ready to go to bed, and someone came in, and things got out of hand. Then Coach came in and broke it up." He described the resulting case as "false" accusations. His father essentially admitted an error in judgment on his son's part in the matter, but he also generally avoided public comment.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said his position is that Williams "didn't do anything except exercise poor judgment. He wasn't suspended (by his school) for anything he did; he was suspended for breaking team rules."

Coach K is aware that things on the road in the ACC may well be difficult for Williams this season. He is certain to be the subject of catcalls in some arenas.

"He has learned quite a bit," Krzyzewski said. "He has learned to persevere. He's going to need support. That's just the way it is."

Krzyzewski described Williams as "a good student from a great family. He's really a quiet kid. He's gotten a lot of support at home. He made a mistake (letting the young woman in his room), and he paid a price. As far as Duke is concerned, it's over, but I'm aware of what might await him when we go on the road. This whole thing could draw us closer together as a group."

Wake Commitment Blossoming
WINSTON-SALEM – The major spring hoop events for prepsters are in the books. The consequences, predictably, were better for some individuals than for others. A handful of players markedly enhanced their reputations through stellar spring play, including one who already has decided to attend an ACC school.

Among rising high school seniors (Class of 2003), the four players who proved this spring to be a good deal better than their March reputations were 6-5 Lisbon (La.) Pineview swingman Vakeaton "Von" Wafer, 6-7 Baton Rouge (La.) Capital power forward Brandon Bass, 7-0 Appleton (Wis.) West center Brian Butch and 6-0 Clemmons (N.C.) West Forsyth point guard Chris Paul (committed to Wake Forest). Each is clearly among the nation's top 30 seniors-to-be and a serious early contender for the prestigious McDonald's All-American Team.

Wafer (like the other three) actually had a big junior season, averaging 32 points, eight rebounds and seven assists per game, but questions were raised about the caliber of his small-school competition. However, his sensational play for the Arkansas Wings at the Kingwood Classic in Houston and the Nike Memorial Day Classic in Indiana quickly dispelled those doubts. Facing strong foes at both venues, he rammed home 30 points per contest in Houston and 27 in Bloomington.

For the New Orleans Jazz at both the Kingwood Classic and the Tournament of Champions (TOC) in North Carolina, 225-pound Bass proved to be a highly athletic warrior who plays much taller than his height. At the TOC, the Jazz reached the semifinals of the powerful National bracket. Like Wafer, he's being very widely recruited at the big-time level.

Butch and Paul have consistently posted big numbers against touted opponents. The former remains quite thin at 217 pounds, but he was just 185 a year ago, and his excellent work ethic and soft shooting touch almost ensure that he'll be in the NBA prior to completing four years of college. Playing for the Wisconsin-based Fox Valley Skillz in the TOC, he tallied 33 points when matched up with 6-10 Mississippi blue-chipper Jackie Butler and 36 versus ultimate tournament champion Tim Thomas Playaz Gold, which included 6-11 New Jersey big-timer Darryl Watkins.

Extra-quick Paul erupted onto the national scene via consistently superb performances at the North Carolina AAU 17-under tournament, the TOC and the Five-Star Camp's June session at Hampden-Sydney, Va. Wake Forest, which outdueled North Carolina and N.C. State to gain Chris' early commitment, will be gaining a winner who combines outstanding skills, athleticism, decision-making and court leadership.

Here are 11 other rising seniors (for a total of 15) who considerably upgraded their national reputations this spring: 6-8 Rockville (Md.) Montrose Christian power forward Linas Kleiza, 5-11 Seattle (Wash.) Ben Franklin point guard Aaron Brooks, 6-7 Laurinburg (N.C.) Institute wing forward Regis Koundjia, 7-0 Winchendon (Mass.) School center Martin Iti (committed to Charlotte), 6-1 Elizabeth (N.J.) St. Patrick's point guard Mike Nardi, 6-8 Miami (Fla.) Christian power forward Ivan Lopez, 6-9 San Diego (Calif.) Rancho Bernardo power forward Mohamed Abukar (committed to Georgia), 6-7 Oradell (N.J.) Bergen Catholic wing forward Sean Banks, 6-6 Raleigh (N.C.) Enloe power forward P.J. Tucker, 6-7 Bradenton (Fla.) Pendleton wing forward Renaldo Balkman and 6-4 Mableton (Ga.) Whitefield Academy wing guard Tim Morris (committed to Stanford).

Other highly touted rising high school seniors saw their reputations slip somewhat this spring, for a wide variety of reasons.

Note that the 20 individuals we singled out below include some individuals who are likely to be selected as prestigious McDonald's All-Americans. Still, their reputations are presently in decline, based upon the quality of their play (or lack thereof) in premier spring tournaments.

Perhaps the most bizarre example is sturdy Texas big man Kendrick Perkins, a 260-pound insider who's commonly listed as 6-11 in height but appears to us more like 6-9. Perkins earned a huge national reputation via a series of outstanding performances at the adidas ABCD Camp in July 2001. Frankly, the only underclassman who was more impressive than Perkins last summer was sensational 6-8 Ohio superstar LeBron James.

But during his high school season at Beaumont (Texas) Ozen, Perkins appeared at times somewhat sluggish and less athletic, perhaps because of the 10 extra pounds of beef he added. Then, this spring he seemed to dodge some major events, where the competition would have been stiff. In the process, he went from a strong No. 2 in our national rankings of the Class of 2003 to a shaky No. 3, at best. That may not sound like much of a drop, but it is certainly worth noting.

Others, of course, fell much more precipitously than Perkins. Examples included 6-8 Los Angeles (Calif.) Westchester combination forward Trevor Ariza; 6-5 Seattle (Wash.) Rainier Beach lefty swingman Lodrick Stewart (who a year ago, but no longer, looked to be the best of the Stewart twins); 6-8 Peoria (Ill.) Notre Dame wing forward Brian Randle (whose progress has been slowed by injuries); 6-8 Wheaton (Md.) Good Counsel combo forward Omari Isreal (plagued by poor shot selection when we observed him this spring); and slender 6-10 Tallahassee (Fla.) Leon power forward Akini Adkins, whose spring play was disappointing. Somewhat similar to Perkins, Ariza soared upon the national scene at the 2001 adidas ABCD Camp. However, an inconsistent jump shot detracted from more recent performances.

Two extremely promising big men on our list of declining reputations were each thoroughly outplayed at the Tournament of Champions in North Carolina by angular Wisconsin seven-foot marksman Brian Butch. We're referring to Butler and Watkins, who were torched by Butch for 33 and 36 points, respectively. Regardless, each remains an excellent prospect, and Butler conceivably could enter the 2003 NBA draft.

One of the most talented yet frustrating seniors to watch is 6-10, 250-pound center Major Wingate of Florence (S.C.) Wilson. He shows glimpses of brilliance, but too often they are overshadowed by lazy effort and bone-headed decision-making, especially (and regrettably) in the clutch. Among the others on the list, 6-8 Stone Mountain (Ga.) Redan combo forward Corey Gibbs has gotten stronger but is less explosive and still needs to upgrade his perimeter game. Springfield (Ill.) Lanphier wing guard Richard McBride (6-3), who has committed to Illinois, physically matured very early and thus has been over-hyped by some since the ninth grade. Now, others have caught and even passed him.

Lawrence Carrier, a California native who's a 6-9 fifth-year combo forward at Salisbury (Conn.) School, is a beautiful perimeter shooter but has lost some quickness and bounce as he's gained weight. Also slipping reputationally were 6-2 West Orange (N.J.) Seton Hall Prep wing guard Jamar Nutter (who lacks a point guard handle and appears to have stopped growing);

6-8 Durham (N.C.) Hillside wing forward Bobby Perry (a Kentucky commitment who can shoot and handle but needs more athleticism to succeed at the Wildcats' level); 6-3 Kinston (N.C.) High combo guard Jeremy Ingram (an excellent talent who often plays unassertively and thus underachieves); 6-8, 250-pound New Orleans (La.) Abramson power forward Jarvelle Scott (formerly known as Warren Scott, he's aggressive and a reliable jump shooter, but he gets far too many shots rejected inside); and 6-9, 240-pound Hockessin (Del.) Sanford School center Will Sheridan (another who was over-introduced and has improved very slowly, especially on offense).

Rounding out our list are husky 6-3 Louisville (Ky.) Male southpaw swingman Mike Bush (a football blue-chipper whose promising roundball game hasn't been helped by his grid focus) and 6-9 Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei power forward Harrison Schaen, a fine student who was an intriguing hoop prospect two years ago but now may be appropriately headed to the Ivy League.

In all fairness, remember that it's still early in the assessment process, and at least some of the 20 individuals singled out above will regain their luster via strong performances in the major July national events and/or the 2002-03 high school season.
Brick Oettinger