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Up-and-down Efforts Produced Victories

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

March 24, 2003 DURHAM — After five months together, a journey that began with two free weeks of practice and four free exhibition games in England, this is what Duke has become: schizophrenic. There is a good Duke, and there is a bad Duke, and anyone who tells you they know how far the Blue Devils will go in the NCAA Tournament is either a psychiatrist or a liar, because otherwise there is simply no way to tell.

The Duke that won the ACC Tournament was the good Duke. The Blue Devils received an MVP performance not only from sophomore Daniel Ewing, whose confirmed transfer thoughts likely are finished now that he's getting 30-plus minutes a game and star billing, but also from J.J. Redick, whose final 10:07 of the championship game against N.C. State was simply the best 10:07 in the history of the ACC Tournament.

“I've seen him hot before, but nothing like that,” said Duke senior Dahntay Jones, referring to Redick's 23 points in the final 10:07 that rallied Duke from a 15-point deficit to victory. “Everything he shot, you expected it to go in, and I think it did.”

The Duke that defeated Colorado State
67-57 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament was the bad Duke — make that the terrible Duke. That Duke team couldn't have beaten Florida State, and in fact it looked a whole lot like the Duke team that didn't beat Florida State earlier this season in Tallahassee.

The Duke team that fended off the 19-14 Rams, a mediocre team from a mediocre conference, had four assists against 16 turnovers. The Devils also experienced the kind of “leadership” that has seen junior point guard and tri-captain Chris Duhon become something of a laughingstock for his (unfair) preseason status as the ACC player of the year. Duhon had one assist in 40 minutes against Colorado State, or as many as stone-handed Casey Sanders had in 24 minutes.

Colorado State rallied from 12 points down to get within a basket, and twice the Rams had chances to tie the game at 59 but couldn't convert, then gave out. Duke scored the final eight points for the final score, making it look easier than it was.

“We feel like we won a big game against a very good basketball team,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski coach. “Our kids had to play some outstanding defense and make some very big plays in the second half.”

The Duke team that beat Central Michigan 86-60 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament was the good Duke — maybe even the great Duke, if such an animal exists this season. The Blue Devils had 14 assists this time, including eight from Duhon, who actually looked like a candidate for ACC player of the year by scoring 16 points and hitting two of his three shots from outside the three-point arc.

Just as he did at the ACC Tournament, Krzyzewski had another plan that worked. The Blue Devils ran the Chippewas into exhaustion, especially seven-foot center Chris Kaman. Kaman finished with 25 points and 10 rebounds, but do not be fooled by those numbers. Between a strong start (hitting five of six shots) and a strong finish, Kaman was a non-factor in the middle segment of the game, when Duke turned a close contest into a rout. Kaman was huffing and puffing, and the Blue Devils continued to run subs in and out of the game, and Central Michigan was toast.

“We didn't want to relax at any point in time,” Jones said. “We didn't want them to catch their breath.”

The Duke that shows up against Kansas (and perhaps Arizona) had better be the good Duke, or the Blue Devils will be blown all the way back to Durham. Even if that happens, this has been a good season for the Blue Devils, all things considered.

Maybe even better than good.

Krzyzewski: Another Banner Year

This isn't Duke's best team under Krzyzewski, and it's probably not even among his top 10 in terms of its combination of talent and experience. But as the Blue Devils continued to limp, to lumber, to make their way in the postseason — winning the ACC Tournament, then reaching the Sweet 16 — it was starting to look like one of the best coaching jobs of Krzyzewski's career, even if it ends against Kansas or
Arizona.

Nothing has happened as it was supposed to happen. Duhon has not been the best player in the league (that would be Josh Howard), or on the team (Jones), or even in the backcourt (Redick, Ewing). Ewing did not play up to expectations until the final two weeks of the regular season. Shelden Williams was not the inside force he has become now until January, and Shavlik Randolph totally disappeared. The Coach K-Inspired Shav-O-Meter remained way down in March, with Randolph sidelined with ankle problems.

So what did the Blue Devils do? They won 11 games in the ACC, they won the conference tournament for the fifth straight year — that never had been done before, mind you — and they survived and advanced after two games of a typically crazy NCAA Tournament.

The public might not see this coaching job for what it is — some Duke fans have shown their bandwagon-ness by going on pro-Duke message boards and musing that Coach K has been the problem this season, if you can believe that — but the Duke players are on top of things.

That's why the post-game locker room after Duke's victory against N.C State in the ACC title game was virtually a Coach K love-fest. To a man, the Blue Devils laid the credit for the win not on Redick, whose final 10:07 clearly snatched victory from defeat, but on Krzyzewski, who imbued the team with the confidence to get it done.

“Every huddle, he would look in our eyes and tell us we were going to win,” Redick said. “I give him all the credit in the world. He won this tournament for us. He should be the MVP.”

Thompson Shows Exciting Glimpse

Assuming he doesn't transfer after this season, 6-11 freshman center Michael Thompson showed in the Central Michigan game that he can have an impact for Duke like Sanders has had, minus the fouls, and with more offensive potential. Anyone looking for an unsung MVP of the Blue Devils' victory against the Chippewas had to look no further than Thompson. Jones and Redick again deserved credit for combining for 54 points, but Thompson did some great things when Sanders and Williams went to the bench with foul trouble midway through the first half.

Thompson was summoned from his end-of-the-bench hibernation to defend Kaman, who was clearly the best true post player the Blue Devils had faced to that point in the season. Thompson held his ground, not scoring a single point but giving up just one field goal to Kaman. Even that was a disappointment to Thompson, who pounded his hands together and had a chagrined look on his face as he ran down the floor for offense.

You could see that Thompson was thinking about shutting out Kaman, and he almost did it. With Kaman held in check, the Blue Devils pulled away with their top two post players on the bench. Kudos, Michael Thompson.

Football: Another Ugly Defection

As if he didn't already have enough problems on his hands, Duke football coach Carl Franks is developing a terrible habit of misplacing his best players.

Three years ago, the best NFL prospect at Duke in years, tight end Ben Watson, transferred to Georgia. Two years ago, starting linebacker Todd DeLamielleure left the team after his father, Joe, was fired from Franks' staff. Now comes word that defensive end Shawn Johnson, the only Duke player on the 2002 All-ACC first team and the conference's leader in sacks and tackles for loss, is transferring to a Division I-AA program (possibly Fordham) for his senior season, reportedly because he didn't get along with Franks.

Taken on an individual basis, each transfer made some sense. Watson wanted to prepare for the NFL, and Georgia has a recent his-
tory of churning out high-level tight ends.
DeLamielleure clearly didn't want to play for the man who had fired his father. Johnson told reporters he was tired of losing at Duke, and he also wanted to play with his brother at a Division I-AA school closer to his home in New York.

Nevertheless, this would be taken as undeniably bad news at any legitimate football program. Taken as a whole, the trend is disturbing. Franks continues to lose high numbers of fourth-year juniors, players who prefer to graduate and get on with life rather than spend another year in the program, and he also is losing some of his best players via transfer.

Franks almost lost the key to the defense, Johnson's All-ACC honor notwithstanding, in linebacker Ryan Fowler. For two years, Fowler was told by friends and even family that he should consider transferring, but Fowler has stuck it out and will finish his career this season among the all-time tackling leaders in Duke
history.

Still, the moral of the story is this: How can Franks ever turn things around at Duke if he loses some of his best players, every year, to attrition?