April 11, 2005
DURHAM Duke fans didn't exactly celebrate North Carolina's national championship in St. Louis. The Duke Basketball Report, the most popular Duke internet site, even temporarily changed the background of its message boards to black in response to the Tar Heels' triumph.
Oddly enough, though, there were a couple of positives to come out of the Final Four from the Duke point of view:
- UNC's victory in the title game denied Illinois its NCAA-record 38th victory on the season. That allowed the Blue Devils to retain a share of one of their most cherished records: most wins in a season. Mike Krzyzewski's 1986 and 1999 NCAA runners-up each won 37 games, a record for victories the Devils now share with 1987 UNLV and 2005 Illinois.
- UNC's victory over Michigan State vaulted Krzyzewski back to the top of the list of active coaches with the best NCAA Tournament winning percentage. The Duke coach passed Dean Smith on the list of all-time wins when the Blue Devils beat Mississippi State in the second round, but Michigan State's Tom Izzo tied Krzyzewski on the winning percentage list when his Spartans beat the Devils in Austin. Izzo passed the Duke coach when MSU followed that win by knocking off Kentucky in the regional final.
But Izzo's stay at the top of the list was short-lived, thanks to the Tar Heels. After Michigan's State's loss to UNC in St. Louis, the top of the list for active coaches looked like this:
Mike Krzyzewski, Duke (66-18, .786)
Tom Izzo, Michigan State (23-7, .767)
So Krzyzewski has the all-time record for NCAA wins and leads all active coaches in NCAA Tournament winning percentage for now.
The question is whether or not he can position his team in the offseason to improve on those numbers next year, or whether he'll go into March Madness in 2006 worried about defending his records from the likes of Izzo or hard-charging rival Roy Williams (41-15, .732).
On the surface, Duke appears to be in good shape for 2005-06. Four starters off the 2005 ACC champs are slated to return, including consensus first-team All-American J.J. Redick and national defensive player of the year Shelden Williams. That's a pretty good anchor for a team that also appears to have a budding talent in freshman DeMarcus Nelson and a five-man recruiting class that's rated No. 1 in the nation in just about every survey.
Is it any wonder that both Dick Vitale and Andy Katz of ESPN recently made Duke their No. 2 pick in their early 2006 projections?
But the outlook for the Blue Devils is not necessarily that rosy.
Redick repeatedly has stated that he'll be back for his senior year. Importantly, NBA personnel people believe him, which wasn't the case in recent years when Luol Deng, Mike Dunleavy and others made similar I'll-be-back claims only to change their minds, as the scouts predicted all along.
The questions start with Williams, who was clearly the one indispensable player for the Blue Devils last season. The ACC's leader in blocks and rebounds anchored the league's best defense, provided enough of an inside scoring threat to open things up for the Devils' three-point shooters, and was the only thing that allowed them to be competitive on the boards.
There may be an official announcement by the time you read this, but early indications are that the 6-9 junior will test the NBA market this spring. He's expected to take advantage of NCAA rules to declare himself eligible for the draft but not hire an agent. He'll be able to work out for the pros, gauge their interest, then make an informed decision as to whether or not to return to Duke for his senior season.
According to sources close to Williams, he'll leave only if NBA officials tell him he'll be a lottery pick. Mock drafts in early April pegged him anywhere from No. 7 overall to outside the first round, but those projections meant nothing at a time when many elite underclassmen, high school players and international prospects hadn't yet made their decisions about early entry. Pro sources said Williams' status likely will depend heavily on his pre-draft performances, including at an NBA-sponsored camp in Chicago (assuming he attends) on June 7-10. The withdrawal deadline for those who put their names in as early entries is June 21, one week before the draft.
There are a few other rumblings about possible offseason defections from Duke's roster Nelson was seriously contemplating a transfer before a postseason meeting with Coach K, and nobody is sure what to expect from frustrated rising senior Shavlik Randolph but none will have the impact of Williams' decision. It's crucial.
With Williams and Redick, all of those lofty projections for the Blue Devils will be justified. But if Williams jumps to the NBA, as Deng and key recruit Shaun Livingston did last year, Duke likely would drop from being a legitimate national contender in 2006 to maybe a borderline top-10 team.
Incoming Class Fuels Optimism
Krzyzewski has had four No. 1-ranked recruiting classes in the last decade.
His four-man 1997 class produced two national players of the year (Elton Brand in 1999, Shane Battier in 2001), three NBA lottery picks (Brand, Battier, guard Will Avery) and players that played huge roles for Duke's 1999 runners-up and 2001 national champs.
His six-man 1999 class produced one national player of the year (Jason Williams), three future pros (Williams, Dunleavy, Carlos Boozer) and players who anchored four straight ACC championships and one national title (2001).
His six-man 2002 class is still a work in progress, but it's yielded one consensus first-team All-American (Redick), a national defensive player of the year (Shelden Williams), and it has been at the heart of two ACC championships, three Sweet 16 trips and a Final Four.
So how will the Class of 2005 compare?
Krzyzewski has signed five players, including three McDonald's All-Americans. He's still out there working on a sixth; late-blooming 6-6 forward Geoff McDermott took an official visit to Durham in the week after Duke's NCAA loss to Michigan State. McDermott originally was rated higher as a football quarterback, but his athleticism and some strong performances this spring made him a prized late basketball recruit.
Still, the heart of this class is 6-10 forward Josh McRoberts of Carmel, Ind., and 6-2 point guard Greg Paulus of upstate New York. Their skills were on display as they teamed to lead the East All-Stars to a victory in the McDonald's All-American Game. McRoberts is a skilled, smooth, ambidextrous big man who can play inside (where he also passes well) and out (where he hits three-pointers), while Paulus is a hard-nosed, gritty, smart, unselfish floor leader with unsurpassed competitiveness and leadership skills.
One word of warning: Many NBA scouts have pegged McRoberts as a 2005 lottery pick, and one published report indicated that the player's family was pushing him to consider a jump straight to the pros. McRoberts himself, however, repeatedly has stated that he will play for the Blue Devils in 2005-06. He has listed his relationship with Krzyzewski as a very strong factor in that mindset.
Thus, there's at least a very good chance that both McRoberts and Paulus will be in Duke's starting lineup next season no matter who else leaves or returns.
The rest of the class also is intriguing.
Eric Boateng, an athletic 6-10 center from England who played his prep basketball at an elite academic prep school in Delaware, also made the McDonald's All-American Game, although he probably shouldn't have. His skills aren't yet polished enough to contend with the nation's best prospects.
However, 6-7 Jamal Boykin probably should have made the McDonald's team, after winning player of the year honors in California. Boykin, a somewhat undersized power forward, may lack Boateng's long-term potential, but he is a far more polished player at the moment. It's a safe bet that he'll have more impact at Duke next season than his more celebrated teammate, especially if Williams and/or McRoberts opts for the NBA.
The wild card in the class is Martynas "Hocus" Pocius. The 6-4 shooting guard from Lithuania hasn't made the rounds of the AAU circuit and thus remains a relative unknown. Touted as a deadly spot-up shooter when he signed last fall, Pocius was called the sleeper in this recruiting class by an NBA scout who watched him finish a 360-degree slam dunk in a recent game. He looked outstanding at the Nike Hoop Summit all-star game in mid-April.
Each of Krzyzewski's first three No. 1 classes included at least one player who failed to deliver on his promise Chris Burgess in 1997, Casey Sanders in 1999, Randolph and Michael Thompson in 2002. So, there probably will be a disappointment or two in the Class of 2005.
At the same time, if history is any gauge, Krzyzewski's latest haul will be the foundation for another impressive run by the Blue Devils.