April 3, 2007
DURHAM Josh McRoberts didn't keep Mike Krzyzewski waiting.
Barely a week after Duke's first-round elimination from the NCAA Tournament, the sophomore forward announced that he was moving on to the NBA. And just to be clear, this is not a test-the-waters scenario. McRoberts is gone and either has or soon will hire an agent (reportedly Arn Tellem).
On the surface, everybody involved in the situation handled McRoberts' departure graciously. Duke released the news with statements from the player and Krzyzewski that said all the right things.
"I am extremely grateful for the opportunities that I have had here at Duke," McRoberts said. "This was a difficult decision, but I feel it is the best one for me and my family at this point in time. I will miss Duke, the coaching staff and my teammates, but it has always been a goal of mine to play in the NBA."
And Krzyzewski's response?
"In the past couple of days, I've had the opportunity to meet with Josh and his mother," he said. "We had great conversations, and we are 100 percent behind his decision. Josh has been a terrific player for us for the past two years, and he will be even better in the future as a professional. Based on our information, it is time for him to move on to the next level, and we are ready to help him in any and every way during this process."
It all would have been a lot more convincing if McRoberts actually had established himself as a dominant player before leaving Duke. It's not that the former prep All-American was a flop. But a second-team All-ACC player who averaged 12.8 points and 7.8 rebounds for the least successful Duke team in a decade is hardly the kind of player who leaves NBA scouts drooling.
That's not to say it was a bizarre decision, like the one Duke's Shavlik Randolph made two years ago.
There are still NBA teams that prize McRoberts' unusual collection of skills, especially his superior ball-handling ability for a 6-10, 240-pounder. The best indications are that he will go in the latter part of the first round probably not in the lottery, but not that far outside it. He'll likely drop lower than he would have if he'd jumped straight from high school or left after his freshman season.
Still, his talent will be missed at Duke, which currently lacks a viable low-post option. Not that McRoberts was that viable down low, either, but he was the closest thing the Devils had in 2006-07. At least he did hold his own on the boards and on the defensive end. Without him, Krzyzewski could have to rely on the slowly developing skills of 6-8 Lance Thomas and/or 7-1 Brian Zoubek.
Yet for all the problems it could cause, there was a surprising lack of detectable anguish at Duke over the news that McRoberts was leaving.
That might have something to do with the rumors of personality issues. Author John Feinstein, a Duke grad who has remained close to Krzyzewski, wrote in the Washington Post during the ACC Tournament that McRoberts' departure would be welcomed in the team's locker room. Other sources have suggested that McRoberts was unpopular with his teammates and remained closer to ex-Duke standout J.J. Redick (now in Orlando) than with the current Duke players.
Many at Duke will feel that they've come out ahead if they can trade McRoberts for 6-8 prep All-American forward Patrick Patterson, a more traditional low-post performer. The Blue Devils remain one of six schools on Patterson's recruiting list.
Duke's chances of winning the Patterson sweepstakes improved when Kentucky coach Tubby Smith left Lexington for Minnesota. Smith had recruited Patterson and his family long and hard and was regarded as one of the favorites to land him. Now the race appears to be between Duke and Florida, although rumors that coach Billy Donovan will leave Gainesville to replace Smith at Kentucky could change that dynamic.
Patterson told Blue Devil Nation that he wasn't surprised by McRoberts' decision, that he expected it all along. But by getting the news out quickly, it can only prove to Duke's last remaining recruiting target that there's an open spot for him on the front line in Durham next season.
That's great for the Devils if Patterson signs with them. But if he picks Florida or ends up at another school, Duke might miss McRoberts next season, even if the locker room is a more cohesive place.
ROOF ADDS VETERAN ASSISTANTS
Ted Roof, working to fulfill his promise made last month at the Duke Football Summit that the Blue Devils will be bowl-eligible by 2008, recently added three very experienced assistant coaches to his staff.
Perhaps the most significant hire was Peter Vaas, a former head coach in NFL Europe. He spent the last two seasons at Notre Dame, where he tutored All-American quarterback Brady Quinn.
Roof first named Vaas as the team's quarterbacks coach, then gave him the offensive coordinator title when Bill O'Brien joined Bill Belichick's staff with the New England Patriots.
"When I hired Peter, I was aware that this situation might occur," Roof said. "We went through a very thorough search process that included former head coaches and current coordinators at BCS schools. This process confirmed my initial thoughts that Peter would do a great job in the role of offensive coordinator."
Indeed, Vaas is one of the more respected offensive minds in the business. His departure from Notre Dame was something of a surprise and reportedly was a result of mistakes he made in recruiting. Roof can only hope that hiring Vaas works out as well for him on the offensive side as it did for Georgia Tech when defensive whiz Jon Tenuta parted ways with UNC's John Bunting (over the former's recruiting shortcomings) and was picked up by the Yellow Jackets.
Roof also named a veteran coach with deep roots at Duke. John Gutekunst, a standout defensive back for the Blue Devils in the Bill Murray era and a long-time assistant in Durham under Mike McGee, will coach the secondary.
Gutekunst, the head coach at Minnesota for six years, was a finalist for the Duke head coaching job after the 1993 season, when the Devils instead hired Fred Goldsmith. Gutekunst spent several years under Bill Dooley at Virginia Tech and under Lou Holtz at South Carolina. Gutekunst most recently was an aide under Bunting at UNC, including one year as co-defensive coordinator.
The third coaching addition was Danny Pearman, who has coached in 16 bowl games and was on the staff at Alabama when the Crimson Tide captured the national championship in 1992. Pearman also was at UNC last year.
Pearman, who played for Danny Ford at Clemson, will coach the tight ends and serve as the special teams coordinator at Duke. In the latter role, Pearman must address a major area of concern for a winless team that lost between one (for sure) and four (potentially) games last season on special teams breakdowns.
The staff changes at Duke were interesting in that they appeared to be directed at improving the teaching and the x-and-o performance of the staff, perhaps at the cost of reducing the recruiting prowess of Roof's aides. That's likely an indication that Roof's future is going to depend on the players he has on hand more than the prospect of any future recruiting success.