December 2, 2002 DURHAM Back-to-back basketball games involving Duke showed how crucial coaching and not just recruiting, as some think is to a college basketball team. The Blue Devils had to scramble to hold off Davidson, an unimpressive team physically that is coached by the underrated Bob McKillop. The Devils routed UCLA, a team with big-time athletes and an overrated (nationally, if not in Los Angeles) coach, Steve Lavin.
Those games also showed how Duke apparently will respond when pushed this season. For all of the preseason talk about the Devils being able to trot out some leviathan lineups, thanks to the presence of 6-11 Casey Sanders and Michael Thompson, 6-10 Nick Horvath and Shavlik Randolph, and 6-8 Shelden Williams, coach Mike Krzyzewski clearly will go for smaller, quicker lineups in a pinch.
That's what Krzyzewski did in the 95-80 victory against Davidson, when the Wildcats drew to 86-80 in the final minute. Down the stretch, Krzyzewski went with a lineup featuring Randolph as the center, surrounded by wings Dahntay Jones, J.J. Redick and Daniel Ewing, and point guard Chris Duhon. Krzyzewski went with those same four small players against UCLA, coupling them with a post player (Williams, Sanders or Horvath) for most of the second half.
The missing ingredient in that 84-73 win against the Bruins and, trust us, the Davidson game was closer was Randolph, who was taken out of his game by UCLA's 6-7, 195-pound Dijon Thompson. Randolph has more athletic ability than people want to give him credit for, but he's not in Thompson's class, and Thompson made him pay at both ends. After Thompson scored 10 points to help the Bruins take a 12-2 lead, Randolph was benched and finished with no points in eight minutes. Previously, Randolph had been Duke's leading scorer at 20 points per game, and he will continue to be a factor for the Blue Devils, but UCLA did show ACC foes the blueprint for getting the better of Randolph.
How many ACC teams have a power forward as athletic as Thompson? Not many. The closest thing may be North Carolina with Jawad Williams, and if Randolph does struggle against him or any other matchup, Krzyzewski can do what he did to UCLA win with Plan B. Horvath and Redick came off the bench to score 36 points, joining a bench brigade that also included Sanders and 6-2 Sean Dockery in turning the game around early.
The four kids coming off the bench did an incredible job of changing the game, Krzyzewski said. But we can play better, no question.
Even Media Ignoring Football
The apathy toward the Duke football program extends from the best recruits to most college football fans and even to the mainstream media. The latter group treated the announcement that Carl Franks would return for his fifth season with the Blue Devils about like they treat the salad bowl in the buffet line: They mostly ignored it.
Duke athletic director Joe Alleva made that announcement a few hours after the most painful loss in Duke's 10-loss season, the 23-21 defeat to North Carolina. He said Franks, with a 5-40 career record that includes an ACC-record 25 consecutive losses, will be back in 2003.
I really believe Carl deserves another year, Alleva said. These are his kids now, and we've gone from losing by 30 or 40 points to (losing by) two or four. We were so bad.
So was the coverage of that piece of news. In the hometown Durham (N.C.) Herald-Sun, the Franks story only obliquely merited a headline. It was mentioned most prominently in a column by columnist Frank Dascenzo, who laid the blame for the state of Duke football at the feet of Alleva for mistakenly hiring Franks four years ago and being unwilling to admit his mistake. Alleva's announcement was reported as news only in the middle of the Herald-Sun's game story, which was how the Raleigh and Charlotte papers handled it, too.
The downplaying of the most important story of the 2002 Duke football season wasn't a surprise, given the blasÈ way the mainstream press covered the Blue Devils for much of the season. Unlike the weekly football news conferences at North Carolina and N.C. State, which always draw a crowd, the weekly Duke event usually is attended by more Duke people than media people. Some of the state's biggest papers Charlotte, Greensboro, Winston-Salem, Fayetteville routinely blow off the conference at Duke, reasoning that there will be little said of interest to its readers.
It's not Franks' fault, in terms of public relations. He is an open book to the media, answering almost every question honestly and creatively, and often going off the record to discuss taboo topics. And there's no question the team has improved in the past three years under Franks, as Alleva noted going from losing games by blowout to losing them by heartbreak.
We were in the crawling stages, and we're working our way back, Alleva said. It's like Lou Holtz said: ëYou lose by a lot, then a little, then you begin winning.'
The flip side to that argument is that, while Duke has improved since going 0-11 in 2000 and 2001, it was Franks who led the Blue Devils to those two straight awful seasons.
Whether he has enough going for him as a recruiter and coach to make continued improvement remains to be seen, but next year's schedule ought to give him that opportunity. Duke plays Western Carolina, Rice and Northwestern out of conference, and at the very least the ACC games against Wake Forest and North Carolina should be winnable in 2003. Throw in the fact that every Duke player who saw the field against North Carolina was a freshman, sophomore or junior, and Franks has his best chance at fielding a competitive team.
It also might be his last chance.
Offseason Priority: Retain Roof
If Duke has any shot at retaining defensive coordinator Ted Roof this offseason, it must do so. Exceed any financial offer another school might make if the money is equal, why wouldn't Roof leave Duke for the same position at another school? to ensure the person most responsible for Duke's turnaround comes back.
Roof is the best hire Franks has made in his four seasons, and keeping him would be the best move Franks could make between now and next fall.
Under Roof, the former coordinator from Georgia Tech who became available after the George O'Leary mess at Notre Dame, defensive end Shawn Johnson led the ACC in sacks and made first-team all-league, while nose guard Matt Zielinski and linebacker Ryan Fowler received honorable mention, and safety Terrell Smith should have done the same.
On offense, the only Duke player worthy of all-league consideration was tailback Alex Wade, who ran for 979 yards the No. 6 season total in Duke history and made second-team All-ACC.