January 5, 2004
DURHAM Although Mike Krzyzewski has proven over and over that he is capable of arrogance, there was none evident in his voice when he made a simple declaration before the season. We should be able to score a lot of points with this team, the Duke coach said. Krzyzewski and everybody else had reason to believe the Blue Devils would be a dominating offensive squad in 2003-04. There were then nine McDonald's All-Americans on the roster Michael Thompson later left over playing time concerns with a good combination of ball skills, quickness and size. Even though last year's leading scorer (Dahntay Jones) left for the NBA, he never was considered one of the more polished players on the roster. But the high-scoring machine Krzyzewski envisioned has remained theoretical. Duke lacked offensive chemistry as ACC play began in earnest, and that left its fortunes tied to two main factors: defense and the shooting of J.J. Redick. This year's Duke team is in position to be one of the best defensive units in Krzyzewski's 24 seasons in Durham. That would be a hard-earned superlative, considering that the coach always has preached 40 minutes of intense, and usually very effective, man-to-man defense. In the seven games following their only loss of the season, against Purdue, the Blue Devils allowed their opponents to score an average of 53 points. Not all of them were weak non-conference foes, either. Included in that streak were Michigan State (50) and Texas (61), plus Clemson (54) in the ACC opener for both schools. Duke has a realistic chance to break its own ACC record of 245 blocked shots in 1998-99 and also to surpass the school record of 411 steals in 2000-01. The starting frontcourt of sophomore Shelden Williams, sophomore Shavlik Randolph and freshman Luol Deng is an imposing shotblocking trio. Williams is averaging nearly four blocks per game, and if he continues that pace he will shatter Mike Gminski's school record of 97 blocks. The fact that they have those safety valves in the lane allows the Blue Devils to be that much more aggressive on the perimeter. Redick, a 6-3 sophomore, might be the best shooter in the ACC since the Blue Devils' own Trajan Langdon. He leads the team in scoring and needs to hover around his career average of 40 percent from three-point range for Duke to have success in ACC play. As the Blue Devils struggled through the Great Alaska Shootout, Redick endured the first prolonged shooting slump of his career. It continued through the Princeton game of Dec. 17, after which he had made just 16 of 55 attempts from long range. Meanwhile, Duke looked generally out of sorts on offense. I just think there were some people who were not shooting as well as they could, Randolph said. Sensitive Questions Irk Krzyzewski Krzyzewski insisted he was not worried about his shooting guard's slump, but if you don't think the coach was sensitive to Redick's struggles, consider his response to a reporter's question about that subject following the blowout win over Portland on Dec. 14. Were you watching the game? Krzyzewski said with a sniff, his point being that Redick was taking perfectly good shots and it was just a matter of time before they would start to go down. In fact, most of press row was empty for the second half of the game. But nobody needed to examine Redick with a microscope to determine that he was trying to shoot his way out of the slump. His shots often were rushed or came with hands in his face. I've had shooting slumps before, and I've gotten out of them, Redick said. It's nothing where I feel like I've lost my shot forever. Redick had what might have been his breakout game with 20 points against Texas on Dec. 20. Starting with that win, he made 13 of 25 three-pointers over a three-game span. Following Redick's 22-point performance against Davidson on Dec. 29, the Duke offense seemed to be back on track. Senior point guard Chris Duhon made an obvious if not overt observation about Redick's shooting habits. The difference is that we're taking good shots, Duhon said. Our shots are wide open and in rhythm, instead of everyone just trying to force their own. The Blue Devils must hope Redick can maintain his consistency. The only other player who strikes fear into opposing defenses is Deng, who seemingly can score from anywhere on the court when he's not deferring to his older teammates. Junior guard Daniel Ewing has flashes of brilliance with the ball but also has had a disturbing tendency to disappear as he continues to struggle with various injury concerns. Duhon's outside shot is almost completely gone, which is why he rarely tries it any more. Randolph and Williams need to receive the ball in an ideal position in order to score. There isn't much help coming from the bench. A rotation Krzyzewski thought might go 10-deep before the season has been pared to seven because of Thompson's departure and little to no help from senior forward Nick Horvath and sophomore forward Lee Melchionni. When Krzyzewski was asked an innocuous question about how comfortable he was with his rotation heading into ACC play, the coach responded in classic thin-skinned fashion. Veteran reporters usually can see it coming: When Coach K belittles, it is a sure sign he is addressing a sensitive topic. You all really sometimes don't understand completely what goes on, Krzyzewski said. That's why I guess you ask questions. People talk about developing depth, developing rotations or whatever. The main thing you do is develop a team. If you assume that you have a team from the outset, you're an idiot. A manager is not concerned so much about his middle relief as he is his four starters. You've got to develop your key guys. That's the way I've coached for 29 years, and that's the way I learned it from people like (Bob) Knight, (Henry) Iba, (Pete) Newell, people who really know what the hell is going on in the game of basketball. There was unmistakable smugness in his voice, just in time for another ACC season. As always, that means the Blue Devils have plenty of room for more development.