December 1, 2003
DURHAM At Duke, the searches continue. In basketball, for consistency and depth. In football, for a permanent coach. The latter will be resolved long before the hoops team develops into whatever it will become. There is this thing about Duke basketball and No. 1 in the polls. For a record four consecutive seasons (1999-2002), the Blue Devils were rated first in the nation at the end of the regular season. At some point in each of the past six years, the team has been first in the nation. Arizona is next with three times. Duke was poised to make it seven in a row in the final of the (not-so) Great Alaska Shootout. Despite playing a couple of horrible first halves against Pacific and Liberty, all the Devils had to do was defeat Purdue in the championship game. UConn already had been blasted by Georgia Tech by 20 points. Michigan State and Arizona had lost. The No. 2 Devils would have advanced to the top had they beaten the Boilermakers, but it would have been based on reputation, not actual play. It didn't happen, as Purdue blasted Duke in the second half and won easily, 78-68. The team Mike Krzyzewski said should score a lot of points this year had posted 67, 82 and 76 against extremely modest competition prior to Purdue. While Coach K doesn't like to lose, not being No. 1 wasn't a concern. The only time he likes that position is when the team has earned it, and clearly this team hasn't yet come close. Going into the contest at Michigan State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, the Blue Devils had yet to play a complete game. That doesn't mean they aren't capable; it does mean the veteran coach in his 25th year in Durham has some issues that need to be resolved. Hoops: Depth One Early Concern The first is depth. The announcers for the Alaska final, Bob Carpenter and Jimmy Dykes, mentioned that before the game. The Blue Devils were only seven deep, and No. 7, sophomore point guard Sean Dockery, hadn't scored a point all season. He still hasn't. Against Purdue, Duke was playing its third game in as many nights. The Boilermakers did have depth, size and experience. They were not pretty, but they had bulk and seniors, and in today's college game, seniors make a difference. Duke has been starting senior point guard Chris Duhon, junior wing Daniel Ewing, sophomores J.J. Redick (on the other wing) and Shelden Williams (at center) and touted freshman forward Luol Deng. Typically, rookies have more fatigue issues than veterans. Deng looked lost for most of the Purdue game, and at one time he was one-for-11 from the field. He is, however, every bit as talented as he's been hyped to be. Sophomores Shavlik Randolph and Dockery back up that starting five. But where is everybody else? Michael Thompson is 6-11, but somehow he often manages to make a boneheaded play almost immediately upon being inserted into the game, which promptly gains him a seat on the bench. Fifth-year senior Nick Horvath has bulked up, but he's been awful on offense, bricking threes and missing layups. Lee Melchionni was touted before the year by the coaching staff, but since the season began, he's looked a step slow and hasn't made shots. Coach K played Duhon for 40 minutes against Pacific in a game Duke should have won easily. Actually, Duhon played well in Alaska, but he isn't seeking to score, so the options that might be available don't exist, especially if Dockery also is in the game. Redick still hasn't missed a free throw, but he's shot three-pointers the same way he did against Kansas in Duke's NCAA loss last season. Nobody, including Redick, thinks that will continue, but he is having to work awfully hard to get open looks as opponents zero in on him. Ewing mostly has played well, although he's missed too many free throws. Williams has had his moments, but he hasn't rebounded as well as he can, and he hasn't been able to build off the quick starts, as he did against Purdue. Randolph has halves when he does nothing (no points or rebounds against Pacific) and then periods in which he plays superbly (11 points, six boards in the second half of the Pacific game). He is still getting into game shape after spring surgery on his hip, but he has yet to show the complete package he had as a junior in high school. Where all this leads to is anybody's guess. When Duke lost to Purdue, it was still November. There's plenty of time. But the Devils obviously have issues that will not be solved overnight. Of the three present benchwarmers Thompson, Horvath and Melchionni at least one will have to provide a spark. That player's identity is currently unknown, but even for Coach K, who has been known to shorten his bench as the season goes on, seven is not enough, and certainly not this early. Eventually, Duke will go no further than Duhon takes the team. The point guard is trying. Give him that. His hustle has been terrific, and mostly he's avoided taking bad shots. He actually may have to shoot more to take some of the pressure off Redick and Ewing, and he needs to continue to work on his leadership. This is his team, and he knows it. In a nutshell, Duke is struggling to get all the pieces together. Integrating a talent such as Deng into the mix isn't easy. But that will come with time. Whether the depth issue is resolved is less certain. When you have just seven, and a couple of them don't score, the pressure on the others continues to build. But the upsets of the opening weeks simply pointed out the obvious: At this stage of the campaign, most teams still are trying to figure everything out. That's especially true of young teams, and despite the preseason hype, Duke is a fairly young team. Football: Big Name Coming Soon? Meanwhile, the football search also continues. Interim coach Ted Roof and Washington Redskins offensive coordinator Hue Jackson (a minority candidate) already have interviewed. It would seem unlikely that Duke would hire Jackson over Roof, since AD Joe Alleva insisted he really wanted a proven head coach. Navy's Paul Johnson is out of the mix after a recent contract extension in Annapolis. Louisiana Tech's Jack Bicknell Jr. is not, but his 5-7 team somehow allowed 692 yards rushing to a Rice squad that lost to Duke when Carl Franks was the coach. That would take some explaining, although Bicknell may have the offensive expertise the Devils need. Southern Cal offensive coordinator Norm Chow may or may not be interested. He didn't get the Arizona job. He's 57, and his reputation has never been stronger. But would he want to gamble at a school that has won so rarely in 40 years? And is he really ready to leave the West Coast, where he has spent his entire career but for one season in Raleigh? Dick Biddle, currently 13-0 at Colgate and a Duke alum, also will benefit from an interview, but he's the longest of the longshots. The most intriguing known candidate is Bobby Ross, who coached the Detroit Lions after winning at Maryland and Georgia Tech. He's 67, lives in Virginia and has a son coaching under Al Groh with the Cavaliers. He was a passionate coach who may still have that intensity in a mid-November interview, he stated unequivocally that he had retired prematurely and wanted to return to coaching but there are those who look at Lou Holtz and Joe Paterno and wonder. Duke has indicated it will pay a competitive wage for the first time. There are coaches on this list most of them, actually who don't merit that consideration.