November 1, 2004 DURHAM On the most startling football weekend in ACC history, Duke was the lone underdog not to win. The Blue Devils did come close in their best performance yet, a 24-22 defeat at Wake Forest. They were the only one of the four expected losers to play on the road.
Thus it was that the Devils, entering November, were the only ACC team out of 11 with a losing record. Five others were 4-4, and Georgia Tech was 4-3.
For the first time, Duke out-gained a Division I-A opponent. The Devils had a season-high 433 yards against the Demon Deacons, including 300 yards passing by sophomore quarterback Mike Schneider. Oft-injured tailback Cedric Dargan had his third 100-yard game in four tries this season, but none of it was enough.
Duke fumbled at the Wake one-yard line on its opening possession, fumbled again inside the Deacs' 30 on the next try, failed to make a first down on third-and-one from the two and had to kick a short field goal, missed a 31-yard attempt after running the ball to the center of the field on third down, and over-threw on a two-point attempt.
Those are the things that losing teams do, and with Florida State, Clemson and surprising UNC left to play, odds are long that the Devils will finish 1-10 and in the basement again.
Lack of depth is among the most serious problems. Schneider is the only healthy quarterback. Chris Dapolito suits up, but he has a broken bone in his passing hand. Curt Dukes, who's really a halfback who occasionally plays QB, is sidelined with an injured knee. Fourth-stringer Kevin Cronin, a walk-on who wears No. 88, has mononucleosis.
Dargan, who missed four games with a damaged nerve in his leg, has had to go all the way in the past two games, although freshman Justin Boyle did suit up against the Deacs.
On a positive note, Schneider definitely has improved and is spreading the ball around, making the passing game more effective. Almost all of his receivers are freshmen and sophomores, and unlike the past few years, they have done a good job of catching the ball.
In a league with 10 teams at .500 or better, Duke obviously still has a long way to go, and it isn't going to happen this season.
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When Duke was voted 12th in the preseason basketball poll, it was the first time since 1996, the year that Mike Krzyzewski returned to coaching, that the Blue Devils had been out of the top 10. They also were ranked fourth among ACC schools.
All of that pleased the coaches. For a rare change, they can begin the season as the hunter rather than the hunted. A master motivator, even from his familiar place at or near the top of the national rankings, Coach K likely will be able to utilize the fourth-place projection to his advantage.
Meanwhile, unless something extraordinary occurs, Duke completed its basketball recruiting for the Class of 2005 just a few weeks before the early signing period. That's when 6-4 shooting guard Martynas Pocius committed to the Blue Devils, three days after he witnessed the Blue-White game in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
When he matriculates, Pocius will become the first-ever Duke player from the European mainland. He's a native of Lithuania who's playing his second season for The Holderness School, a small private school in Plymouth, N.H. This does not exactly signal a change in Duke's recruiting philosophy, but Pocius completes what will be the most geographically diverse class in school history.
While the Blue Devils rarely sign in-state players junior forward Shavlik Randolph is a notable exception from this year's team they also have recruited almost exclusively among American-born players. Alaa Abdelnaby, who played in the late 1980s, was born in Egypt but moved to New Jersey when he was two years old.
Last year, Duke brought in its first player from London in Luol Deng, who, after his freshman year, left school to become a first-round draft pick in the NBA. Deng already is turning heads with the Chicago Bulls. But he was a very high-profile prep player and certainly wasn't under anybody's radar.
Next year, the Blue Devils will bring in another London native in 6-10 Eric Boateng, a slim post player whose American address for the last two years has been St. Andrews in Middletown, Del. While Boateng is highly rated, he's not considered a finished product and quite likely could remain at Duke for three years or more.
The other commitments have come from Josh McRoberts, a forward from Carmel, Ind., who had a mammoth summer and has moved up on the recruiting charts. He's a top-10 prospect who reminds some of Christian Laettner. Greg Paulus of Syracuse is No. 1 in the nation, as a football quarterback, but he'll play point guard for Coach K. Jamal Boykin is from Los Angeles, a wing player who also could move up the recruiting charts if he has a big senior year.
Pocius is different. He did not take part in the summer circuit. Most of the recruiting gurus have yet to see him play. Kansas was the first school to track him and, at the end, it came down to KU and Duke. The Jayhawks actually pulled their offer, but the Blue Devils believe Pocius is the real deal.
The assistant coaches loved his outside shooting, and when Krzyzewski saw him he agreed. Actually, Pocius will fill a need. Daniel Ewing will graduate after the 2004-05 season; J.J. Redick will be a senior next year. The other perimeter shooter is freshman DeMarcus Nelson, who is more of a slasher/scorer type.
Originally, Duke planned to bring in six players next fall, which would have pushed the Devils up to the maximum of 13 scholarships if everybody who's currently on the team returned next season. But even though nobody would be surprised if somebody junior center Shelden Williams is the most logical possibility turned pro early, the staff elected not to go for the additional recruit.
However, after seeing its numbers reduced by early departures for the third time since 1999, Duke is certain to recruit more players than in the past. The Devils were recruiting Jon Brockman, who stayed at home in Seattle (with Washington), at the same time they were looking at Pocius. The European A League also was after the 18-year-old guard, but he wants to play in the NBA some day. He apparently decided he didn't want to begin his pro career now, or overseas near his homeland.
Nelson has proved his toughness before he ever plays a game. In the Blue-White scrimmage, he injured the thumb on his (right) shooting hand. He played the rest of the way, then practiced two days later. After the practice, he asked the trainer to examine the thumb, which was swollen. An MRI showed a ruptured ligament, and surgery was performed immediately. Doctors said he'll be out for up to four weeks, but Nelson insists he'll be ready to go before then.