April 12, 2004
DURHAM Chris Duhon will go down simultaneously as one of the most successful and most underappreciated players ever to wear a Duke uniform. Duhon capped off a terrific career by leading the Blue Devils to the Final Four in San Antonio, where their run was stopped by a Connecticut team bent on destruction in the NCAA Tournament. In four years at Duke, Duhon won more games than anyone in school history besides Shane Battier. Duhon set the the Blue Devils' record and finished second in NCAA Tournament history in career steals. As a point guard, Duhon will never be comparable to Bobby Hurley or Jason Williams. His offense was never consistent enough to merit an opponent's full attention. Duhon was more like former Duke player and current Michigan coach Tommy Amaker, a strong leader whose best skill was simply guarding the ball. Duhon's first three years were unspectacular at best, but few were quick to jump off his bandwagon because of the inordinate amount of praise heaped upon him by coach Mike Krzyzewski. Duhon sometimes struggled, particularly as a junior, but Krzyzewski defended his player by constantly pointing out the inexperience of his point guard's supporting cast. Krzyzewski ultimately revised his version of history and finally admitted that Duhon underachieved that season, but only after he began to flourish as the senior leader of the Blue Devils. Duke's main concern now becomes how it will replace Duhon, but not just in the sense that the Blue Devils will need a new point guard. The way he played with painful injured ribs in the NCAA Tournament was a rallying point for his teammates. He was a player who possessed so many positive intangible qualities that one person probably will not be able to pick up the slack. Here are the candidates: Daniel Ewing will be a senior next year, but he has never shown much in the way of overt leadership. He is an explosive offensive player and solid defender who can be relied upon to carry out whatever duty is required of him. For him to become the man out front for the Blue Devils, however, seems unlikely. J.J. Redick was almost forgotten by the end of the season because of another shooting slump, but the sophomore still led Duke in scoring. He has been known to show a great deal of emotion on the court, but whether the rest of the Blue Devils are willing to line up behind him remains to be seen. Especially last season, there was some resentment of Redick and his prominent role among his teammates. Rising juniors Shavlik Randolph and Shelden Williams, Duke's two big men, lack many of the characteristics required to lead the Blue Devils back to the Final Four. Randolph needs to feel more comfortable with what kind of player he is before branching out to try to affect his teammates. Williams is simply too reserved to do anything more than lead by example. Sean Dockery, another rising junior, has been described by Krzyzewski as "the perfect teammate." He is well-liked on the court, in the locker room and away from basketball. He is similar to Duhon in many respects, most notably in his proficiency with man-to-man defense. Dockery played a complementary role during his first two seasons but might be the Blue Devils' full-time point guard next year, especially if high school signee Shaun Livingston decides to skip college and jump straight to the NBA. (The latest word there, from sources close to Livingston, is that the smart money is on him turning pro.) Many already are wondering how Dockery will be able to handle it if indeed such responsibilities are placed on his shoulders next season. Luol Deng, although he will be just a sophomore, is the most likely candidate to blossom as Duke's leader next season. His impassioned speech at halftime of the Blue Devils' regional final win over Xavier was marveled at by members of the Duke coaching staff for its effectiveness and timeliness. Deng might be the most skilled offensive player in the country. He carries himself quietly for the most part but can become inflamed at times. The key will be for him to pick his spots in that regard. Of course, Deng's role for the Blue Devils is contingent on him returning to school, a prospect that is by no means a done deal, considering his status as a guaranteed top-10 and likely top-five NBA draft pick. Deng and his family have been quoted as saying he'll return to Duke for his sophomore season, but shoe company officials and other college basketball insiders at the Final Four said their information suggests he's likely to turn pro this year. Stay tuned. In the end, Krzyzewski will find one or more people to fill the leadership void. That's the way it always seems to work with the Blue Devils, who stand a good chance of getting back to the Final Four even after Duhon's departure. Foul Philosophy Bit Krzyzewski Before Duke's loss in the national semifinals, Krzyzewski was on the verge of tying Dean Smith for the most wins in NCAA Tournament history. The long-time rivals could not be more different on the surface, but Krzyzewski and Smith are looking more alike as the former reaches the apex of his career. They share a lot of the best coaching qualities and also the flaw of trusting their players a little too much, which is one of the reasons the Blue Devils went home before the championship game. In what was either a risky strategy or a gross miscalculation, Krzyzewski allowed his two best post players to pick up three fouls apiece in the first half of the loss to Connecticut. Duke was held together by tape and string until both Williams and Randolph were disqualified. With nobody to stop him, UConn center Emeka Okafor took over, and the Blue Devils squandered a significant lead in the final three minutes. "There's a discipline you can't learn in practice. You have to learn it in the game," Krzyzewski said. "I've never agreed with the theory of, 'He has two fouls. You can't play him,' or, 'He has three. Take him out.' There's no rule like that. If I know that's your rule, I'm going at that guy." It was difficult to tell the way the game was being refereed. Mild contact would result in a foul at one end, while a mugging at the other end did not merit a whistle. The unpredictability of the officials only lent support to the theory that Krzyzewski should have sat down his big men until the second half, so they could have been around for the inevitable moment of truth. As flaws go, it's not such a bad one to have. It certainly won't lose Krzyzewski any points in the locker room that he allowed his players to determine the outcome on their own. At the same time, they probably would have been happier with another appearance in the national title game.