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Duke: Cooking Up Another Title Run?

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

The Blue Devils were the most popular pick for first place in the ACC prior to the 2003-04 season, largely because of presumptions about their offensive firepower and quality depth. Neither of those story lines played out as expected, but Duke finished on top anyway. How did it happen? With Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski mixing the ingredients, the Devils made an early commitment to defense and never let up. Senior point guard Chris Duhon experienced a dream season. J.J. Redick fought through some tough crowds and a rare shooting slump. Shelden Williams patrolled the paint as a powerful two-way presence. Rookie phenom Luol Deng didn't play like a freshman very often. So, of course, Duke again is a Final Four favorite. “It's been a great year so far, and you want to keep it going and you want to end as champions,” Duhon said. “I'm just looking forward to it.” By Hermann Wendorff
Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer

March 15, 2004 ACC IN THE 2004 NCAA TOURNAMENT DURHAM — Thousands of miles away and about five decades ago, in a working-class neighborhood of Chicago, Mike Krzyzewski's coaching style and technique began to take shape in his mother's kitchen. You heard right. Krzyzewski's Hall of Fame career, brimming with championships and recognition, has its roots in flour and sugar rather than Xs and Os. “My mom used to bake cookies,” Krzyzewski said. “She had recipes, but she never followed them completely.” Of course not. Who blindly follows a recipe when there are things to consider like meteorological conditions and what season it is? Baking a good cookie is not as easy as slapping dough on a pan and turning on the oven. “Certain weeks there was more humidity,” Krzyzewski said, recalling the delicate undertaking. “Were you baking in the winter or the summer?” Yet Another Impressive Blend Krzyzewski sometimes sits hunched over on the Duke bench, elbow resting on his thigh and two fingers pressed against the side of his nose, bringing to mind “The Thinker” with a sinus problem. At these moments, he is contemplating the ingredients he must blend together in order to produce a winning basketball team. He also is keeping one eye on opposing forces such as injuries, the limitations of his players and the other team on the court. The opponent, by the way, is trying to sabotage the entire process. “That's why you as a coaching staff have to be alert, because things are always changing,” Krzyzewski said. “There's that one kid who's just ready to do something, and you see it maybe even before the kid does. There's something you're doing in your offensive or defensive systems that you're ready to do at a little bit higher level.” Measured against Duke's recent accomplishments, which include the perfect ACC season of 1998-99 and the national championship of 2001, this season has been just another in a long line of achievements for the Blue Devils. But factoring in all the variables, they may have as much to be proud of this year as in any other. The ACC was a difficult gauntlet, as evidenced by the fact that all but one team had at least six conference wins during the regular season. The league placed six teams in the NCAA Tournament, and the Blue Devils still won the regular season by a margin of two games. “It's been a great year so far, and you want to keep it going and you want to end as champions,” senior point guard Chris Duhon said. “I'm just looking forward to it.” Early Dedication To Defense The Blue Devils' future, now dazzling, looked about as bright as an Aleutian winter in late November. They had just returned from the Great Alaska Shootout, following two unimpressive victories and a loss in the championship game to NIT-bound Purdue. The experience brought to light a few things that would prove instructional. First, Duke had little offensive chemistry. That was mainly attributable to the slump endured by the normally deadly J.J. Redick. After finishing the previous season with the worst shooting game of his brief career, the sophomore guard found that his frustrating funk carried over into early December. For all their struggles with the ball, however, the Blue Devils were beginning to show signs that they could develop into one of Krzyzewski's best defensive teams in recent memory. With sophomore center Shelden Williams, freshman forward Luol Deng and sophomore forward Shavlik Randolph patrolling the lane, Duke's already capable perimeter defenders were given an even greater advantage. Deng, a freshman, started living up to his considerable hype early. He was the Blue Devils' leading scorer in his first two college games, and there appeared to be no weaknesses to his game. Redick Again Earns Spotlight Still, Duke was having trouble putting the ball in the basket. Krzyzewski was loath to mention individual players in connection with the team's struggles, but the frustration was beginning to mount for Redick as media, friends and even family began to wonder what was wrong. “It's frustrating to not shoot the way you're capable of, but I haven't really gotten too down about it,” Redick said. “I'm taking good shots, and I know Coach believes in me. Eventually, I know they're going to go in.” On a trip to Madison Square Garden on Dec. 20, Redick finally allowed Duke supporters to breathe a collective sigh of relief. He lit up Texas for 20 points and re-introduced himself to the smooth shooting stroke that had made him so feared as a freshman. Redick soon had to face the consequences of success, becoming a lightning rod for all haters of the Blue Devils. He was the subject of an organized and profane chant at Maryland, got involved in a scuffle at Georgia Tech and was described as effeminate by N.C. State guard Scooter Sherrill, who got torched for 28 points two days after his ill-advised statements. Redick seemed to revel in the villain's role, often inviting the derision upon himself by interacting with opposing fans. “On the road, he lets you know about it,” Duhon said. “He'll look in the crowd and smile and let you know that you can tell him anything that you want, but here, just take this three.” Duhon Finds Peace, Success The Blue Devils began to gather momentum, and by mid-January they had taken over the No. 1 ranking in both polls. Their winning streak going into the first of two regular-season meetings with North Carolina had grown to 15 games. In Chapel Hill, Duke came back from seven points down late in the game to force overtime. Duhon's coast-to-coast reverse layup with 6.5 seconds remaining provided another classic end to the ACC's showcase rivalry. “Duhon's play right there at the end,” Krzyzewski said, “will go down as one of the great plays ever.” It was a seminal moment in Duhon's development. Always cast as a complementary player, despite his McDonald's All-American pedigree, he saw his first three years in Durham marked by triumph and disappointment. He won a national championship as a freshman, and after Jason Williams left for the NBA, Duhon was expected as a junior to run a team with five talented but obviously inexperienced freshmen in heavy rotation. The result was an unsatisfactory performance, and it showed in the worry lines and scowls adorning Duhon's face. He made a vow over the summer to stop chasing perfection and just be, a transcendental philosophy that ultimately made him a first-team All-ACC selection as a senior. Duhon excels in the department of intangibles. He is Duke's best defender on and off the ball. Even though he rarely takes it upon himself to find his shot, he made huge ones to beat Florida State and North Carolina this season. Before Senior Night at Cameron Indoor Stadium, Krzyzewski expressed exactly what Duhon meant to him and the program. “Chris has been a special guy for me,” Krzyzewski said. “To see him develop and have his best year now as a senior and develop into the leader that he is, it will be a happy-sad kind of thing. You're happy you had him. You're sad to see this be the ending. Each team we've had (during Duhon's career) has been different. He's seen unbelievable talent to unbelievable youth to where now we have somewhere in between. He's been at his best right now.” Late Tinkering Benefits Deng Duke won 18 consecutive games before falling at N.C. State on Feb. 15. It was the first of two losses in a span of four days that saw the home fans storm the court as the Blue Devils walked off dejectedly. Sensing that a change was needed, Krzyzewski made one of his patented late-season adjustments by getting Deng more involved offensively. Although his skill was always apparent, Deng had settled into a role that failed to take advantage of his considerable talents. He mainly roamed the baseline, waiting for passes from teammates or getting into position for offensive rebounds. Krzyzewski began utilizing two big men to leave Deng free to freelance with the ball. In the three games following a loss at Wake Forest on Feb. 18, Deng scored 17, 18 and 20 points. “Mostly, when I was defended by a bigger guy, I could come out on the perimeter and use my quickness off the dribble,” Deng said. “Now that smaller guys are guarding me, I'm looking to post up or curl around a screen to get open.” Deng's run hit a roadblock when he converted only one of 14 field goal attempts for three points in Georgia Tech's upset of Duke on March 4. That game ended the Blue Devils' 41-game winning streak at Cameron Indoor Stadium. With a maturity that belied his 19 years, Deng bounced back like a veteran. In the incredibly hyped second matchup with the Tar Heels, he scored 26 points on 12-for-16 shooting as Duke prevailed on Senior Night. “I took a step back,” Deng said, “and let things come to me.” The performance came the night before votes for ACC rookie of the year were due to be collected and surely swung some sentiment in Deng's favor. Krzyzewski made sure it was possible by using his West Point background to massage his star freshman's confidence. “My thing always gets back to the military and some of my examples — not always, but a lot of times — I'm going to try to get a guy at the top of a hill that's shooting at me,” Krzyzewski said. “Well, I have the will to do that. Now do I charge up the hill? Sometimes you do, but if you do all the time you're probably going to get shot. The will is there, so you should never destroy the will. But you try to figure out different ways to get to the top of the hill. That's what we're trying to do with Luol.” New Recipe, Familiar Result? While somewhat disheartening, the Georgia Tech loss could be chalked up to the vagaries of playing in the powerful ACC. It served only to inspire the Blue Devils for the finale against North Carolina and beyond. In the days before the ACC Tournament, Duhon also took it upon himself to make sure his teammates knew the plan for the postseason, when reporters asked him the significance of Duke's five consecutive conference championships. “It just sends a message that we've dominated this conference over the last eight years,” Duhon said, “and that we're going to keep continuing to do it.” Now the focus turns to the NCAA Tournament, which is exactly how Krzyzewski likes it. The regular season for him is just a rehearsal for March Madness, where his tinkering often produces the best teams in the seething cauldron of college basketball's championship. “The thing that he does is he doesn't do anything different. He does the same thing that we do before every game,” Randolph said. “I think that's why we've been so successful, especially in postseason play, because it's not like he prepares any different.” If all goes well for the Blue Devils, the preparation will result in a trip to San Antonio, where the ending could be as sweet as any confection from the Krzyzewski household. “They were pretty damn good cookies,” Krzyzewski said. “If you followed the recipe every time, you wouldn't have that. That's what I like to do in coaching.”