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No Reason To Worry, Basketball's Here

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

October 28, 2002 DURHAM — All those things whispered about the Duke basketball freshmen, all those fabulous things you might have heard but figured they couldn't be true? It appears they're true.

After a few weeks of practice, teammates said J.J. Redick really is one of the best shooters they've ever seen, and Shelden Williams really is a threat to lead the ACC in rebounds, and Shavlik Randolph really does have the prototypical NBA basketball skills of a 6-10 wing forward.

If they're right, if all of those things you've heard about the Duke freshmen are true, guess what? Duke is right back in the national championship hunt.

“We can be an outstanding team,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “We're not one yet, but we could do that.”

With six freshmen — all of whom are going to play this season — Duke will remain a puzzle until it has played its first regular-season game. But this is a puzzle with a lot of nice pieces.

Point guard Chris Duhon is a preseason national player of the year candidate, and even if that is laughably optimistic for someone who averaged 8.9 points per game last season, he's pretty good. Small forward Dahntay Jones is an NBA athlete and an NBA defender, even if he's not an NBA shooter — or even an ACC shooter, judging from last season, when he hit 23.1 percent of his three-pointers. Shooting guard Daniel Ewing could be Duke's next big scorer, a shooter whose 45.7 percent accuracy from three-point range would have led the ACC had he taken a few more shots to qualify for the standings.

And, oh, those freshmen. There's Redick, whose five-for-six performance on three-pointers won him the MVP award at the McDonald's All-American game last year. There's Williams, the most likely freshman to win a starting position, and a don't-laugh contender for the ACC rebounding title. There's Randolph, the versatile wing in the Michael Dunleavy mold. There's point guard Sean Dockery, another jet for the backcourt who will be paired at times with Duhon.

“Both point guards played together in London,” Krzyzewski said, referring to the team's 3-1 exhibition trip to England, which occurred while the rest of the college basketball-playing country was waking up from its summer slumber. “They were together for three, four minutes at a time, and those were some of our best spurts over there.”

There's also 6-11 Michael Thompson and 6-7 Lee Melchionni, who will give Duke unspeakable depth. The original plan was to redshirt Melchionni, who is walking on to the team this season to help the Blue Devils skirt the NCAA's five-newcomer limit, but Krzyzewski said Dunleavy's early departure for the NBA and the team's status with just 11 scholarship players makes redshirting Melchionni unfeasible.

Krzyzewski also took a shot at the rule he was able to get around with more success than anyone in the country not named Matt Doherty. UNC's coach convinced a talented wing, David Noel, to walk on as the sixth member of the Tar Heels' freshman class.

“We only have 11 scholarship players — why can't (Melchionni) have one?” Krzyzewski said. “You're allowed 13. That's supposed to be the restriction.”

Krzyzewski also bristled last week at Duke's media day when a reporter asked him about his public treatment of Duhon, then wouldn't get the hint that Krzyzewski didn't want to talk about it. Krzyzewski, the reporter kept noting, has been more critical of Duhon in public than he has of other players, noting several times that he “has to play better.” Was that a method to get Duhon, a junior captain, ready for leadership?

“Yeah, he has to play better,” Krzyzewski finally said, after avoiding the issue. “But that's a compliment, because you believe he can. It's a statement of belief, not frustration.”

Right. And you pull this leg, Coach K, and it will play “Devil in a blue dress.”

With Jones Scoring, Watch Out

Until last week, if you'd said Jones would have to lead Duke in scoring, people — knowledgeable basketball people — would have said Duke was in trouble.

But that was before the Blue and White game, which Jones dominated not only with his defense (he locked down Redick, holding him to two points on one-for-eight shooting) but with his (gulp) offense, scoring 28 points on 10-for-15 shooting.

If Jones can score like that — not 28 points a game, obviously, but somewhere in the 20 range — Duke will be dastardly. You already know Ewing can score, and freshmen Williams, Randolph and Redick will get their points, too. Throw in a 20-spot from Jones on a nightly basis? That's nasty.

“I'm just going to try to be as much of a leader as possible for this team, both offensively and defensively,” Jones said. “I'm going to do more offensively. I have to be in more of a scoring position.”

Football: One Drama, One Dud

Until it played Maryland, the Duke football team seemingly had done enough to guarantee the return of coach Carl Franks for his fifth season in Durham.

Seemingly.

After that 45-12 stinker of a loss — the Blue Devils trailed 45-0 in the third quarter, then scored twice, and converted neither extra point — Franks' security might again be in doubt. Really, how can a team that nearly stunned No. 9 N.C. State, in Raleigh, roll over and play dead one week later, at home, against unranked Maryland?

“I could tell we weren't there when we kicked off,” Franks said. “Maybe we were overconfident after last week.”

Duke, overconfident? That's a good one. The Devils' 24-22 loss to N.C. State tied the ACC record at 21 league defeats in a row, which means their loss to Maryland broke the mark. The total breakdown made Duke look a lot like a team that hasn't been coached very well, a surprise considering Duke has won two games this season and almost beat a very good N.C. State and pretty good Virginia.

Duke gave up 421 yards of offense, and the Terps basically stopped trying to move the ball late in the third quarter. Duke accounted for only 331 yards of offense, but half of that came in the final 10 minutes against Maryland's scout team. Duke missed a 40-yard field goal, had an extra point blocked and missed another one off the upright. The Blue Devils even suffered more penalty yardage.

Throw in some questionable coaching decisions — why did Alex Wade get just five carries, and why was backup quarterback Chris Dapolito inserted into the game with the ball at the Duke nine-yard line, where he immediately threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown? — and you've got one of the worst showings of the Franks era.

And that's saying something.