February 21, 2006
DURHAM -- A funny thing didn't happen Feb. 19 at Cameron Indoor Stadium: Duke didn't retire J.J. Redick's No. 4 jersey before the Blue Devils' next-to-last home game of the season.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski has run his program in a very consistent manner over the years, and one of the trademarks of his tenure is that his great players are honored in their next-to-last home games. Not the last home game, because that's reserved for the senior class as a whole.
Johnny Dawkins' No. 24 was honored on Feb. 22, 1986, just before Duke beat Oklahoma. Christian Laettner's No. 32 was honored Feb. 26, 1992, just before Duke beat Virginia. Bobby Hurley's No. 11 was honored Feb. 28, 1993, just before Duke beat UCLA. Grant Hill's No. 33 was honored Feb. 27, 1994, just before Duke beat Temple. Shane Battier's No. 31 was honored Feb. 21, 2001, just before Duke lost to Maryland.
The only two exceptions to Krzyzewski's pattern were Feb. 18, 1989, when Danny Ferry's No. 35 was retired in his second-to-last-home game against Kansas, and Feb. 5, 2003, when Jason Williams returned from the NBA to watch his No. 22 retired before a game with North Carolina. Williams' ceremony was delayed because he was leaving after his junior year, and Coach K wanted to wait until he actually graduated before honoring his jersey.
That excuse didn't apply in Redick's case. He's a four-year player who is, by all accounts, on track to graduate with his class. And there's certainly no excuse about his credentials. He's almost certain to end his career as the leading scoring in Duke and ACC history; a two-time consensus first-team All-American; a two-time ACC player of the year; and the winner of somewhere between one (which he already has) and six major national player of year awards.
Make no mistake about it: His No. 4 jersey will never be worn by another Duke player. So what's the holdup?
The answer apparently is the dilemma presented by senior big man Shelden Williams. Is his No. 23 worthy of retirement and, if not, would honoring Redick cause the Blue Devils' other star to feel resentment and perhaps upset the team's chemistry heading into the postseason?
The case for Williams' jersey retirement is not clear-cut.
On one hand, the Oklahoma native has set the Duke career record for blocked shots (fifth in ACC history) and has a chance to set the school record for career rebounds (which would land him sixth in ACC history). He's 18th on the Duke career scoring list (and should finish around 12th). He won the national defensive player of the year award last season. He'll be a two-time first-team All-ACC performer and was a consensus second-team All-American last season.
On the other hand, several Duke players with similar credentials have not been honored. Randy Denton has very similar scoring and rebounding stats, and he played in an era when blocked shots weren't counted. Tommy Amaker, Billy King and Steve Wojciechowski all won national player of the year awards. Trajan Landon was a three-time first-team All-ACC pick. Bob Verga and Chris Carrawell were consensus first-team All-Americans. None of their jerseys hangs from the rafters.
The Redick/Williams situation is similar to the dilemma that confronted Krzyzewski in 1986, when Dawkins and senior Mark Alarie wound down their careers together. Clearly, Dawkins deserved to have his jersey retired. Alarie, who finished his career as the No. 3 scorer in Duke history (he's since slipped to sixth), certainly was a viable candidate.
Krzyzewski went ahead and honored Dawkins, while passing over Alarie. The difference this year could be the fact that Williams' case remains to be decided. Will he actually catch Mike Gminski as the school's all-time leading rebounder? Will he win a second national defensive player of the year? Will he be a consensus first-team All-American?
Most importantly, will he help Duke earn a fourth national title?
Accomplish those things -- especially the latter -- and it's a pretty safe bet that No. 23 will join No. 4 in the rafters. Fall a little short on each, and Williams will become one of those excellent players -- such as Verga, Alarie, Langdon -- who falls just short of enshrinement.
Still, that raises the question: Why not honor Redick now, and wait and make the decision on Williams later?
Is it possible that the Duke coach is worried about how his No. 2 star is handling all the adulation that's coming Redick's way? You only have to turn on ESPN's SportsCenter or pick up a newspaper to see another story about the Redick versus Adam Morrison duel for national player of the year, or to hear about another milestone Redick has passed or is passing -- Curtis Staples' NCAA three-point record, Johnny Dawkins' Duke scoring record, Dickie Hemric's ACC scoring record, etc.
The ACC hasn't seen a legitimate first-team All-America candidate so overshadowed since Sam Perkins was lost in the glare of the spotlight on teammate Michael Jordan in 1984.
COACHES LIKE LANDLORD'S DEFENSE
When you do hear Williams' name come up, it's often in connection with the big offensive games some of his rivals have put up this season against the Blue Devils.
Indiana's Marco Killingsworth, Virginia Tech's Coleman Collins and N.C. State's Cedric Simmons all posted career scoring highs against the reigning national defensive player of the year. It got so bad that when Al Thornton hung 37 on the Devils, Williams got the blame, even though he rarely guarded the Florida State forward during that overtime game.
That raises another question: What kind of year is Williams having? Well, he's leading the ACC in rebounding for the second straight year (by a full rebound a game), and his scoring average of 18.4 is tied for fourth in the league. He's leading the ACC in blocked shots again and ranks third in steals. He's a lock for first-team all-conference.
But is "The Landlord" still the defensive monster he was supposed to be, or is that merely a product of the Duke hype?
"Shelden Williams is a great defender ... a terrific defender," Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg said. "He's so effective, not guarding his man as much as guarding away from the basketball. He does such a great job of helping. He's so quick to help. He challenges and blocks shots."
The Virginia Tech coach was asked why, if Williams is such a good defender, opposing big men have put up such big numbers on him this season?
"I think you guys (in the media) have a tendency to look at how many points somebody scores on somebody else," Greenberg said. "It's not about individual defense a lot of times. It's about team defense. If someone is quick to help, then he needs someone to help him. Maybe he's not getting that help and maybe that's why his man is scoring some."
When questioned privately, other ACC coaches have said similar things. Is Williams a better defender when he's closer to the basket? Absolutely. But he's still a very good athlete for his size, and he doesn't give up much in one-on-one situations. More importantly, some league coaches call his shot-blocking coordination in the post -- the ability to block with either hand, and usually without fouling -- is as good as they've seen in many years.
Williams demonstrated his defensive prowess in the two big road games in the first week of February. It was not so much the four blocked shots and four steals he had against Carolina or the seven blocks and two steals he had against Maryland. It was about the shots he altered and discouraged in the paint.
"Even if he was not blocking our shot, he was adjusting it to where we could not make it," Maryland guard D.J. Strawberry said. "It's real frustrating when you back in there and back in there and he's right there."
No. 23 is clearly a presence in the lane for the Blue Devils. The only question is whether No. 23 will some day join No. 4 in the Cameron rafters.