June 21, 2005
DURHAM -- The final results won't be tabulated until after the College World Series concludes in late June, but it's already clear that Duke is about to wrap up the best overall sports year in school history.
The Blue Devils are almost certain to finish fourth nationally in the Directors Cup (formerly the Sears Cup), a competition that measures overall sports excellence. That will be the best finish of any ACC school this season.
"It's exciting," Duke athletic director Joe Alleva said. "It's something we've worked very hard at. We've really improved our facilities in Olympic sports. We have good coaches. Our strength programs are improved. We've got nine or 10 programs that have a chance to win championships."
Duke's previous best national finish in the Directors Cup was No. 7 in 1999. In the last five years, the Blue Devils have finished 24th, 16th, 30th, 21st and 18th -- usually second in the ACC, behind North Carolina. But even though the Tar Heels ranked fifth in the most recent Directors Cup standings, Duke's strong national finishes in men's lacrosse (second) and men's golf (eighth) made it all but impossible for UNC to catch its rival in the standings. Duke is equally unlikely to catch the three teams ranked ahead of it: No. 1 Stanford, No. 2 Michigan and No. 3 UCLA.
The Blue Devils fielded strong teams across the board in 2004-05, including 10 that finished in the final top 10 national polls. That included No. 1 in women's golf, No. 2 in men's and women's lacrosse, No. 3 in men's basketball, No. 4 in field hockey and men's soccer, No. 5 in women's cross country, No. 7 in women's basketball and No. 9 in both men's tennis and men's golf.
Of course, points aren't based on rankings, but on NCAA finish. That's why football -- one sport Duke doesn't do well in -- is not included in the Directors Cup rankings, since there is no official NCAA playoff in that sport.
However, Alleva suggested that football -- and specifically the new Yoh Building -- played a significant role in Duke's all-sports renaissance. When the football team moved into its new facility, it started a trickle-down effect that opened up offices, strength rooms and other facilities for other sports.
"That was one of the selling points I made when I sold the Yoh Building to the university," Alleva said. "It didn't just help football. It helped everybody. Our men's and women's lacrosse and men's and women's soccer programs moved into the Murray Building (the former football center), and now they have one of the best situations in the country."
Alleva also is rhapsodic about the new golf facility, which he expects to help Duke's already strong women's golf program and improving men's program to new heights.
Indeed, the women's golf team claimed the Blue Devils' one national title last season. Duke also finished second in three other NCAA playoff events: field hockey, women's cross country and men's lacrosse. Two other teams, women's lacrosse and men's soccer, reached the Final Four in their sports.
Throw in a Final Eight for women's basketball, the eighth-place finish for men's golf and Sweet 16 appearances by men's basketball and women's soccer, and it's easy to see why Duke finished so high.
The prospects for next season are just as bright, especially since men's and women's tennis -- two teams that usually score well for Duke nationally -- both were crippled by injuries this season and fell short of their expectations. All of the teams that finished well return most of their top players. In addition, both men's and women's basketball will start next season expecting to improve on last year's
"I don't think this is a one-year thing," Alleva said. "I think Duke could be in the top 10 consistently from now on."
Alleva still has to find a new baseball coach to revive that stagnant sport at Duke, and he's hoping that Ted Roof can get football out of the doldrums in the next few years.
But aside from those two high-profile sports, Duke's athletic program has never been in better shape.
Football Earns Graduation Award
There's one area where Duke can hardly improve. Its football team won its 12th Academic Achievement Award from the American Football Coaches Association for having the nation's highest graduation rate for football recruits.
Actually, Duke shared the award with Northwestern, as both schools graduated 100 percent of their football players who entered school in 1999.
Duke has won or shared the graduation prize in 12 of the 25 years it has been awarded. The Blue Devils have won honorable mention honors in nine other seasons.
Comeback Possible For Williams?
Former Duke basketball standout Jason Williams may be on the verge of completing a remarkable comeback after a near-fatal motorcycle accident.
Several NBA sources indicated that Williams recently displayed surprising mobility and a deadly outside shot during a workout in Charlotte with prospective draftees Raymond Felton of UNC and Dee Brown of Illinois. According to reports from the closed workout, Williams held his own with two of the top backcourt prospects in the nation.
"He can cut, run backward, and his lateral movement is good," Williams' business manager Kevin Bradbury told the Chicago Tribune. "He just needs to continue strengthening his leg to get all his speed back. But he's close."
Of course, Bradbury is not the most objective source on this topic, but the Chicago newspaper cited two other sources who agreed that Williams was impressive in the workout.
Williams, who was cleared to resume full-speed workouts only six weeks ago, has been working with renowned Chicago trainer Tim Grover, often sharing the gym with Grover's most famous client, former UNC and NBA star Michael Jordan.
The former Duke All-American, the No. 2 pick in the 2002 NBA draft, was seriously injured on June 19, 2003, just weeks after completing his rookie season with the Chicago Bulls. He crashed his new Yamaha R6 motorcycle into a telephone pole, breaking his pelvis, tearing up his left knee and doing so much nerve damage to his left leg that doctors at first wanted to amputate it.
Williams avoid that fate, but he remained bedridden for months. He was still on crutches a little more than a year ago. He spent last season broadcasting college basketball games for ESPN and writing a blog for NBA.com.
Although Williams vowed to return to the NBA soon after his accident, that seemed unlikely at the time. The Bulls reached a reported $3 million financial settlement with their projected point guard of the future and moved on, taking Kansas guard Kirk Hinrich, UConn guard Ben Gordon and Williams' former Duke teammate Chris Duhon in the last two drafts.
Williams told the Tribune that he has a handshake agreement to give the Bulls the first shot at his services. However, the Chicago Tribune cited team sources as saying they would not be interested in his return. Technically, Williams is a free agent, able to sign with any team in the league.
He's still just 23 years old.