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Bizarre Randolph Drama Provoked Many Theories, Few Conclusions

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

By Dave Glenn and Staff
July 20, 2005 DURHAM - There was a moment, late in the first half of the ACC Tournament title game in Washington, D.C., when Shavlik Randolph dazzled the crowd at the MCI Center.

Duke's junior big man had the ball on the right wing when he faked his defender with a pump, then blew by him with a lightning-fast first step. He slashed through the Georgia Tech defense, covering the 20 or so feet to the basket with one dribble and two long strides. He soared into the air and windmilled a tomahawk dunk right in the face of 7-0 defender Luke Schenscher.

It was the most spectacular single play of the tournament - or it would have been, had Randolph not missed the dunk. Instead, he clanged the ball off the back of the rim.

That single play neatly summed up Randolph's three-year career at Duke - the bright promise of his talent, and the ultimate disappointment of his performance. Now the grandson of former N.C. State All-American Ronnie Shavlik will be remembered mostly for his seemingly inexplicable decision to put and keep his name on the NBA early entry list. As almost everyone except some in the player's camp expected, Randolph was not selected.

Let's back up. When Randolph first announced that he was putting his name on the NBA's list, he insisted that he was just using the rules to get a better read on his abilities and on the areas of his game that needed work. He repeatedly insisted that he would withdraw before the June 21 deadline, and most media outlets (the ACC Sports Journal and the Winston-Salem Journal being the exceptions in print) apparently believed him.

"My intentions are to come back to Duke," Randolph said at the time, "because I think we'll have a chance to do something special next year."

Randolph, who averaged just 4.4 points and 4.3 rebounds in a junior year spoiled by a long bout with mononucleosis, was widely ridiculed for his choice. One NBA website called it the funniest story of the year. But if his intention was really what he said - to work out for NBA teams, get their feedback, and return to Duke - he would have been, in fact, manipulating the system in a very wise way.

However, it wasn't long before he started to sound more and more like a kid determined to stay in the draft.

"I wouldn't be making this decision if I wasn't hearing good things," Randolph said after working out for the Charlotte Bobcats. Indeed, sources close to Shav privately insisted all along that the player had received very positive feedback on his private workouts.

"I have no idea who he was listening to," Kenny Williamson, Charlotte's director of scouting, told the Raleigh (N.C.) News and Observer. "I can't imagine any team that worked him out telling him he'd be selected."

When Randolph elected to stay in the draft, his wise decision suddenly appeared to be very foolish, especially when the NBA reached a new labor agreement on June 21. Among other things, the league's new rules will keep all American high school players and many talented foreigners out of next year's draft. As a result, it's likely to have the weakest talent pool in modern memory, an ideal situation for a marginal prospect such as Randolph.

Logic would dictate that he return to Duke, dedicate himself to a season of individual and team success, and point toward the 2006 draft. That's certainly what the Blue Devils suggested, with assistant Steve Wojciechowski even discussing with Randolph a plan to slim him down a bit in an attempt to rejuvenate his game.

"I'd like for him to have an uninterrupted summer and senior year, then go for it," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "I was surprised that he went. Would I like him to be back? Absolutely. But his dream is to do it right now, and he's committed to it. Who knows, he might be able to do that better now, because that's what he believes he should do. I can't fault him for that."

Marty Blake, the NBA's director of scouting and the man who didn't invite Randolph to the league's pre-draft camp in Chicago, sounded a little less understanding.

"I'm befuddled by this," Blake said. "Why wouldn't he stay and develop his skills at Duke? Maybe he doesn't want to go back to school. I don't know."

Ah, there's an idea that needs to be explored. Was Randolph running toward the NBA or away from Duke?

Randolph won't admit to any problems.

"You won't hear me say anything derogatory about the school or the program," Randolph said. "There's nothing derogatory to say. There's no way for me to describe what I learned about how to play basketball."

His outspoken father, Kenny Randolph, has echoed that attitude, although sources said he and Krzyzewski butted heads regularly over the last three years.

"Contrary to popular belief, Shavlik is extremely happy to be at Duke," Kenny Randolph said. "My wife and I and the whole family feel that way. This has nothing to do with (how) Shav's career at Duke has gone."

Those were nice words, but it would be naive to take them at face value. Numerous sources told the Sports Journal that, while the Randolphs were happy with numerous aspects of Shavlik's experience at Duke, they were extremely unhappy with others.

It's clear that one or more in the Randolph camp has some very serious issues with the way Shavlik was used in Durham. It's equally clear that the deeply religious young man had problems with Krzyzewski's coaching style, especially the coach's colorful language and his sometimes-harsh treatment of players in practice situations.

Of course, many find it hard to feel much sympathy in the latter case. Randolph knew what he would be getting from Krzyzewski when he picked Duke in the fall of 2001. He was close to the program and to several Blue Devil players while still at Raleigh's Broughton High. He knew he'd be cursed and intensely challenged in practice. According to sources, Shav even listed Coach K's often-profane approach as a negative in his evaluation of Duke during the recruiting process, but that concern was overwhelmed at the time by a mountain of anticipated positives in favor of the Devils.

What Randolph didn't know four years ago was that he'd be converted from a versatile inside-outside player into a bulked-up post player, asked to rebound and play post defense and denied the chance to operate on the perimeter.

Randolph went to Duke thinking he would replace Mike Dunleavy in the rotation. He actually expected to spend a year as Dunleavy's backup, learning from his friend as a freshman. But when Dunleavy made his unexpected decision (to those at Duke, anyway) to jump to the NBA a year early, it gave Randolph an opportunity to start right away.

And, wow, did it appear that all of the recruiting hype was justified. Randolph had 23 points and seven rebounds in just 18 minutes in his debut against Army. He came back with 17 points and 12 rebounds in his second game, against Davidson.

Then Duke went to Indianapolis to play UCLA in the Wooden Tradition, and suddenly all of the good times ended. Randolph was abused by Bruins forward Dijon Thompson and chased to the bench. He was never the same player.

Of course, injuries and illness didn't help. It turned out that Randolph had a degenerative hip problem that had slowed him during his last year of high school and his first year at Duke.

After surgery in the spring of 2003, Randolph spent the entire offseason on crutches. The only work he could do was in the weight room, and he used the time to bulk up. He returned in 2003-04 as a different player - stronger, but also slower and more limited in his game.

Some blame Krzyzewski for converting Shavlik into a prototype power forward. If that's the case, it's hard to understand because over the years, no coach has gotten more from the kind of versatile inside-outside big man that Randolph wanted to be.

Coach K's first two national titles were won with Christian Laettner - the prototype inside-outside big man - as the only big man in the lineup. His third was won with the versatile Shane Battier at power forward. The year before Randolph arrived at Duke, Dunleavy was the team's power forward. Coach K also developed Mark Alarie, Cherokee Parks and, one of the best of all, Danny Ferry, into that kind of player.

Why would Krzyzewski want to make Randolph something else, unless the coach felt that was the only way Shav could help the team? It's one of the many questions in this story that doesn't have an easy or straightforward answer.

"His career didn't turn out how any of us wanted it to, and we're all responsible for that," Krzyzewski said. "But we're not ashamed of his time at Duke. Any time that happens, there's a 'What if?' I didn't find any fault in the way that we used him."

The undrafted Randolph is trying to pick up the pieces this summer, while working out with the Philadelphia 76ers. That, in itself, is a clue that the Randolph family hasn't burned its bridges with Krzyzewski or Duke. The 76ers' general manager is former Krzyzewski player Billy King.

"The support element is there all the time," Krzyzewski said. "We'll be there forever for him. We want him to be successful. He's part of our family."

With all of the ridicule directed at Randolph for leaving after a mediocre season and all of the speculation about his motives, few people have bothered to analyze how his departure will impact a team that will enter 2005-06 with national championship aspirations.

It's true that Duke is bringing in a highly touted big man in 6-10 Josh McRoberts, who many fans thought would steal Randolph's starting job anyway. And it's possible that the possibility of being beaten out by a freshman contributed to Randolph's desire to leave.

But if Randolph's experience teaches anything, it's that no freshman - no matter how highly hyped - is a sure thing. What if McRoberts endures the same kind of transition problems that plagued Shav? What if he's hurt? And even if he does step into the starting job and performs as the Blue Devils hope, might there not be times when a 6-11 senior with three years of experience and proven abilities as a rebounder and shotblocker would come in handy?

Remember, Duke lost both the 2004 ACC title and a very real chance at the 2004 NCAA title because the Devils ran out of big men in both the Maryland loss in the ACC championship game and the UConn loss in the national semifinals. If a similar problem costs Duke its chance in 2005-06, Randolph will be very missed indeed.

And if Randolph doesn't latch on with a pro team - at this point, he's not even a sure bet to land a spot in the NBDL - he might regret his decision to leave Duke.

"Obviously, there's an element of uncertainty and doubt," Randolph said. "But there's an old saying that the reward is in the journey, and I'm a firm believer in that. I know I've got one heck of a journey in front of me."

Krzyzewski, for one, warns that it would be a mistake to dismiss Randolph's chances.

"It's not going to surprise me if some time Shav is in the NBA, even if it's not this summer or next year," Coach K said. "As long as he stays healthy, he's going to get better.

"He's a good kid who loves basketball."

On that last part, everyone agrees. On the rest of this story, however, clear answers remain hard to find.

Article Uncovered Durant Details

When North Carolina accepted a commitment from point guard Tywon Lawson on May 12, it was a foregone conclusion in many minds that the Tar Heels also would land his Oak Hill Academy teammate and fellow prep All-American, 6-8 forward Kevin Durant.

Until that time, Durant had shown no less interest in Carolina than Lawson, a fellow Maryland resident who had been on the delivery end of many of Durant's 70 dunks last season. And, in the days preceding Durant's planned June 23 announcement, North Carolina coach Roy Williams was notified of the player's desire to commit to the Heels.

What exactly was said next likely will remain between Williams and the Durants, but, when Durant made his college announcement, it came out "Texas."

Not long after that, Oak Hill coach Steve Smith confirmed that Durant will be returning to the Washington, D.C., suburbs with plans to spend his senior year at Montrose Christian School in Rockville, Md. Montrose Christian is coached by Smith's longtime rival Stu Vetter, formerly of Flint Hill, Harker Prep and St. John's at Prospect Hall.

There reportedly was no malice in Smith's voice when he reported that Durant's father had not been satisfied with his son's academic progress and wanted him closer to home, where he could monitor the situation personally.

"It would be accurate to say he wasn't doing well academically (at Oak Hill)," Smith told Doug Doughty of the Roanoke (Va.) Times. "If (Durant) had done what he did the first semester, he'd have been back. That comes directly from the dad."

On the subject of Durant's commitment to the Longhorns, Smith said, "Everybody thinks Texas out-recruited North Carolina and UConn. It really wasn't that way."

The story quickly made the rounds on North Carolina and Texas internet sites and provoked a backlash from Longhorn fans, who felt that Smith and/or Doughty were besmirching Texas' academic reputation.

"Fact is, you have a crappy job and do a crappy job at it," a self-described Texas alum told Doughty. "Keep up the crappy work!"

The truth of the matter is, Texas has a pretty strong academic reputation, as does North Carolina. However, having just lost four underclassmen to the NBA draft, Carolina was not in a position to take a potential non-qualifier when it might scare off other quality (and qualified) players at the same position. Texas, at this point, is much deeper.

If Durant's father can have a better handle on his son's academics at Montrose Christian, who could argue with him? Now that the NBA has installed a new age limit, 19, Durant won't have the option of going directly to the NBA in 2006.

If he doesn't meet NCAA requirements for freshman eligibility, his best options will be prep school or the National Basketball Development League. Clearly, Division I ball is a more favorable alternative, whether it's at Texas, UNC or wherever.

Durant led top-ranked Oak Hill in scoring (19.6) and rebounding (8.6) in 2004-05 but was not chosen as the team's most valuable player. That honor went to Lawson.

"People think, 'You're crazy, Kevin Durant's like, No. 2 in the country," Smith said. "He's a really nice kid, but he's too nice."

To some, that sounded like sour grapes, given Smith's history with Vetter. Then, there's another twist, Vetter's friendship with Texas coach Rick Barnes, an assistant at George Mason when Vetter was at nearby Flint Hill. On top of that, there's the strain between Barnes and Carolina, dating back to Barnes' infamous run-ins with Dean Smith.

At this point, nobody can predict how this one will play out, or if there are other untold twists to this already interesting tale.

Boston College: Summer Notes

CHESTNUT HILL - June 30 was a party day at Boston College.

"We feel we have secured our future for the next 50 to 60 years, and it really gives us a chance to become a national athletic institution," BC athletic director Gene DeFilippo said at a luncheon hailing the Eagles' entry into the ACC, a move that officially took place at midnight that night. "It's been a long road at times, and at times we didn't think it would ever happen. But, at last, it's come."

ACC commissioner John Swofford and members of his staff attended the luncheon, which took place in the new Yawkey Center. BC's new football facility includes locker and meeting rooms, as well as a soon-to-open Hall of Fame. The building's completion and modern facilities are seen as a key to the school's success in the new league.

"I am absolutely thrilled that we are joining the ACC as the 12th member, making it a conference that truly stretches down the Atlantic seaboard," DeFilippo said. "It's been a bumpy road and a roller-coaster ride, but we are joining the best academic and athletic conference in the nation."

Said Swofford: "This truly is a historic point in the 53-year history of the ACC. It's a marriage that works. It strengthens both of us enormously."

The afternoon gathering was just the start of the fun, as the school wasn't about to let this very important day pass quietly.

That night, BC, which recently entered a marketing partnership with the Boston Red Sox, had a party at Fenway Park, with guests posing for a group picture in front of the Green Monster and the giant message board flashing ACC notes throughout the evening. Fenway, of course, could be the site of the ACC baseball tournament as early as 2007.

"It would be a great opportunity for the players," Swofford said. "Fenway is one of the special venues in all of sports."

The Eagles officially flew into their new world the next day. They will host Florida State on Sept. 17 in their first all-ACC matchup on the gridiron.

"We're lucky," football coach Tom O'Brien said. "We play Florida State first, and they don't change a whole lot, or haven't in the last couple of years. They have to figure us out, too. Football is football. ... It's just a matter of playing personnel."

In other summer news, the Eagles had to re-shoot the cover of their 2005 media guide right around the time they left the Big East for the ACC. Why? All-American defensive end and cover boy Mathias Kiwanuka had lost his familiar dreadlocks as he prepared for his final year at the Heights. Kiwanuka could have left the picture the way it was, but he decided to re-shoot and sport his new short-haired look.

Kiwanuka is projected very high in the first round of next year's NFL draft, and he also is seen as a favorite to set a new ACC record for sacks in a season. Florida State's Peter Boulware holds the record, with 19 in 1996. Kiwanuka led the Big East in sacks in both 2003 and 2004, notching 11.5 in both seasons. He picked up five more as a redshirt freshman, second-best on the 2002 team.

On the advice of O'Brien and with all signs pointing to him not going in the first round of the 2005 NFL draft, Kiwanuka has used the offseason to get bigger and stronger. Most preseason prognosticators have tabbed him as one of the best players in the country entering this, his fifth season at Boston College.

Elsewhere, DeFilippo continued to downplay any geographic problems caused by BC leaving the Big East for the ACC.

"People are always concerned about travel and we are, too," DeFilippo told EagleAction.com, "but had we remained in the Big East we would have had a lot of travel as well. Whether we stayed or whether we left, the Big East has changed forever.

"South Florida, Louisville, Cincinnati, Marquette and DePaul had entered the league. Now, when you add a trip to Notre Dame with your Olympic sports, and then you go to South Florida, Louisville, Cincinnati, Marquette and DePaul, you've got six trips that are not very easy to make."

At the ACC welcome luncheon, DeFilippo said, "There will be more travel by airplane than there ever has been." BC reached Providence and UConn by bus and often did the same to New York and New Jersey. There will be none of that in the new league.

On the basketball side, Craig Smith was one of 13 players - he and Duke's Shelden Williams were the only choices from the ACC - invited to the July 28-Aug. 4 World University Games trials in Colorado Springs.

Smith could be joined there by teammate Jared Dudley, if Dudley fails in his July 21-23 bid to land a spot on the 2005 USA Basketball U21 World Championship Team. Dudley is charged up about the move to the ACC.

"It's definitely going to be a dream come true," Dudley said. "I remember when I was growing up (in southern California), I wanted to go to North Carolina. I have family down there, and I'm a big Michael Jordan fan. To go back now and really be against them is going to be a dream come true."

While Dudley loved UNC, he couldn't say the same about Duke, which will visit BC on Feb. 1. The Eagles are at Carolina this season, on Jan. 25.

"I never liked Duke growing up," Dudley said. "So to be able to play them and hopefully beat them ... all those times when I wanted other teams to beat them, now it's in my hands."

Akida McLain, arrested in his native Penn Hill, Pa., for passing two counterfeit $20 bills, pled guilty to two counts of disorderly conduct and is expected to be with the Eagles during the upcoming season.

Used sparingly as a freshman, McLain may even be in the starting lineup for 2005-06. He had been penciled in as the team's sixth man, but the loss of center Sean Williams (suspended from school for at least the fall semester after being arrested for marijuana and alcohol possession on campus) means McLain is at least as likely to take the team's fifth starting spot as anyone else on the roster.

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