Despite losing Shane Battier and Nate James to graduation, the Blue Devils can expect leadership, not early exits to the NBA, from their players.
By BRIAN LANDMAN
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 4, 2001
MINNEAPOLIS -- Although all-everything Shane Battier played his final game Monday, don't think for a moment the Duke Blue Devils won't be a Final Four contender next season.
Barring unexpected defections to the NBA, they should be.
"I think everyone's coming back; we don't have any signs (to the contrary)," coach Mike Krzyzewski said Tuesday morning after receiving the Sears Trophy as the national champion. "Jason (Williams) has already said he's coming back. ... So I think we'll be very good again."
Williams, a sophomore and first-team All-American, is a good building block. So, too, are sophomore forward Mike Dunleavy and sophomore center Carlos Boozer.
Just ask the Arizona Wildcats.
Dunleavy had struggled with his long-range shot, making 1 of 9 three-pointers in his three previous games. But against Arizona he hit 5 of 9 threes, including three in 45 seconds in the second half of Duke's 82-72 win. It's no wonder that as he cut down the net, he paused to kiss the rim.
Boozer, who had missed six games with a broken bone in his right foot and returned for the Sweet 16, came off the bench to be a force at both ends. He had 12 points, 12 rebounds and 2 blocks in 30 minutes.
He also helped contain Arizona's powerful inside attack of 7-foot-1 center Loren Woods and 6-7 forward Michael Wright.
Perhaps lost given the performances of Battier, Dunleavy and Boozer was another harbinger of future Duke success:
Freshman guard Chris Duhon.
"Personally, I feel the biggest story out of last night was Duhon," Krzyzewski said. "He is only 18 years old. He's playing in front of 46,000 people. The guy he depends on the most in the backcourt (Williams) is in foul trouble. I'm bringing him in and out all game. And he's guarding one of the best guards (Jason Gardner) in the country."
Duhon also sustained a mild concussion, his second of the NCAA Tournament, when he collided with Maryland point guard Steve Blake in the waning minutes of Saturday's semifinal and hit his head on the hardwood.
"Before the game it was still hurting," Duhon said. "This was the last game of the season. This was for everything. Once the ball went up, I wasn't thinking about my head. I was thinking about what I had to do to be successful."
Duhon finished with 9 points -- including a key three-point play when he drove the baseline and drew a foul from Woods that made the score 71-65 -- 6 assists and 1 turnover in 39 minutes. Gardner hit 2 of 11 shots.
"I could not have done that at 18," Krzyzewski said. "It's obvious that Dunleavy's shots and Battier's dunk are big, but as a coach watching the game, you had to be mesmerized with Duhon and what he accomplished. And that certainly bodes well for the future."
So, too, does the development of sophomore center Casey Sanders, a former Tampa Prep standout who was pressed into a far larger role when Boozer broke his foot.
"We changed the system, and Casey in particular stepped up," Krzyzewski said. "Casey is going to be really good."
He needs to add muscle to his 6-11, 218-pound frame, as does Dunleavy to his svelte frame, but Krzyzewski said both are diligent workers.
Duke also will have 6-10 sophomore Nick Horvath back. He sat out the season with an injured right foot.
Although swingman Nate James graduates, Duke will add junior Dahntay Jones, who will be eligible after transferring from Rutgers, and another McDonald's All-American, guard Daniel Ewing.
The one thing that won't be easily replaced is Battier's leadership.
Unless he leaves some behind.
"It'll be interesting for me to see next year how much of Shane is still with the team," Krzyzewski said. "I wonder how Nick Horvath will react? Mike Dunleavy? Will I see some of those characteristics in them? I think I will. It's something I'm already looking forward to."