January 3, 2005
DURHAM When, or until, junior forward Shavlik Randolph recovers from his
mononucleosis, Duke will feature a lineup of four guards and
6-9 center Shelden Williams. They should be known as the Short Devils. But nobody on the top two floors of the Schwartz-Butters building five and six for those of you who never have made the trip was all that concerned. There have been crises before, most of them overcome. Duke lost three underclassmen to the NBA in 1999, and the only experienced players returning were forwards Chris Carrawell, Shane Battier and Nate James. The 6-6 Carrawell even played center against Wake Forest, and the Devils won on the road by 14. With all of the other contributors being freshmen, Duke won the ACC regular season and tournament and finished ranked No. 1 nationally. With sixth man, and freshman, Mike Dunleavy, coming off mono himself, the Devils lost to Florida in the Sweet 16. They wound up 29-5. The next season, starting center and No. 3 scorer Carlos Boozer broke his leg in the penultimate game of the regular season against Maryland. There were those who believed Duke's season was over. But coach Mike Krzyzewski replaced Boozer with non-scorer Casey Sanders, sent fifth-year senior and tri-captain James to the bench and played small and quick with freshman Chris Duhon. The Devils then won by 14 points at North Carolina, blitzed the Tar Heels 79-53 in the ACC final, and reached the Final Four. Boozer missed seven games and came off the bench when he returned. Duke rallied from 22 points down to defeat Maryland in the semifinals and then won its third national championship, over Arizona. The small lineup produced problems for opponents. This year, as Duke began another conference season in the changed, 11-team ACC, the Blue Devils again found themselves experimenting. They had no other choice. Freshman guard DeMarcus Nelson, who was on the threshold of starting because of his recent good play, will move into the opening lineup with post man Williams and guards J.J. Redick, Daniel Ewing and Sean Dockery. The bench will be short, with junior Lee Melchionni (12.6 mpg, 5.4 ppg, 44.1% FG, 39.1% threes) and rookie David McClure (10.4 mpg, 1.9 ppg, 36.8% FG) getting most of the minutes. Because of their obvious limitations, neither player would get much (if any) time this season at Georgia Tech, UNC or Wake Forest. Ex-footballer Reggie Love (9.8 mpg, 2.3 ppg, 2.8 rpg), a mere 6-4 himself, will be Duke's only other post man until Randolph returns. So, whenever Williams is off the floor for whatever reason, a relatively veteran team ranked in the top 10 often will not have a player on the court taller than Love. If there was a good time for Randolph's sickness, this was it. Duke was early in a 15-day holiday break that ended with a difficult, ACC-opening win over Clemson on Jan. 2. The last time the Blue Devils went that long between games was in December 1991, when they played on the 14th and again on the 30th. That team, of course, won its second consecutive national championship. It's difficult to say how good these Blue Devils will become. With Randolph out, they absolutely cannot afford any injuries. Williams has to remain out of foul trouble. And everybody will have to help in rebounding. Although Nelson is just 6-3, and maybe not that tall, he is a superior rebounder. Thick and strong, he may well average as many as the five boards Randolph was getting. One other area that favors Duke is the schedule. It is backloaded with most of the difficult games. From Feb. 2 until Feb. 23, the Devils, in succession, play at Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, at Maryland, at Virginia Tech, Wake Forest and at Georgia Tech. The hope is that Randolph will be healthy by then. In the meantime, Coach K will develop different strategies and take a look at various lineups. Duke still will play man-to-man and run when possible. With a short bench and no size, it's likely that there will be no fullcourt pressure.
Duke may lose some games it might otherwise have won, but, if Randolph recovers completely, the team may be better in March than it might have been. And March always has been what Krzyzewski considers the real season. Roof Raising Recruiting Level? There never has been a secret as to how Duke ever would get itself out of its football doldrums, the last-place-in-the-ACC routine that has become almost an annual situation. It would have to recruit well. It appears that first-year coach Ted Roof is doing just that. If the Blue Devils can finish off this class and that remains a great challenge they actually will have a chance to be rated in the middle of the ACC and among the top 40 in the nation. Nobody can remember the last time that happened. Duke has scoured the nation with rather astonishing results for a program that has been constantly down for 40 years. The latest commitment, Vince Oghobaase, is the jewel of the class. The 6-5, 295-pound Oghobaase is a defensive tackle from the Houston area who was rated by one service the third-best prospect in football-crazy Texas. To gain his services, Duke had to out-recruit Miami and Oklahoma, among dozens of others. Roof has said since the day he got the job that there were good students in the nation who were good players, and it was up to his staff to find them and sign them. Oghobaase not only carries a 3.96 GPA and a 1,000-plus SAT score, but he has graduated from high school and will be enrolled in Durham when Duke begins its second semester on Jan. 12. Although starting defensive tackle Casey Camero did the same thing three years ago, it is extremely rare for the Blue Devils to get an early graduate who can participate in spring practice. And why would a player with Oghobaase's credentials select a program that has been so downtrodden? "He's a smart kid,'' said Wade Luker, Oghobaase's coach at Hastings High. "Duke has been on him since last spring. The kid's parents want him to get a good education. Football is secondary to them." Meanwhile, Roof also made a big staff change. He fired offensive coordinator Marty Galbraith, whose play-calling became more suspect as the season went along. Duke finished last in the ACC in almost every offensive category in 2004, when most agreed that the Blue Devils had far less offensive talent than any other team in the conference. The replacement is Bill O'Brien, who was the running backs coach at Maryland but has previous experience as a coordinator. He's 20 years younger than Galbraith, but he's an old friend of Roof dating back to their Georgia Tech days. A Ralph Friedgen protÈgÈ, O'Brien has a reputation as one of the better young offensive minds in college football. Heading into Roof's second season, exactly half of his staff (including himself) will have connections to Tech, the coach's alma mater. These are the people with whom he is most comfortable. More high-profile signees, of course, only will improve that comfort level.