Black & Blue Tuesday


It’s bad enough taking a shot to the gut, but to have it followed up with a jab to the face, ouch. That’s how my Tuesday went, when I learned that John Wall was headed to Lexington and Gerald Henderson signed with an agent, thus ending his career as a Blue Devil.

First, let me take the high road just this once. Congratulations to Kentucky. You got a solid talent in Wall. There is no doubt, with or without Meeks, Kentucky is now an instant top-10 team. I know some of you Blue Grass faithful will want to stick them No 1 right now, but let’s let these kids earn something before we award them the title.

The talent is certainly there, with four ‘for-sure’ NBA players (if Meeks comes back), with potentially three more future NBA players as well. However, I see four challenges for Kentucky:

A) Who are you going to cut? If Meeks comes back, the Wildcats will be four over the scholarship limit. That means four players have to give up their scholarship. Coach Cal will have to tell a few players they won’t be seeing any playing time, hoping they will then transfer out. It’s a little rough, it’s pretty cold, but Coach Cal wanted to bring in his own boys, plus keep Gillispie’s recruits, and that’s that.

B) If Kentucky wants the title, there’s little time for growing pains. While Patterson and Meeks were the stars last year, let’s not forget, these two have yet to taste the NCAA tournament. Obviously, that won’t be an issue this season, but if they want a title, the two most important players will be two freshmen; Cousins and Wall. If you recall last year’s Final Four, there weren’t a lot of freshman playing the important minutes.

C) The Wildcats are oozing with talent, but don’t forget, talent doesn’t just automatically jell. If that was the case, then this past summer, the U.S.A. basketball team would have won their fifth straight gold medal in China, and not just their first in a long time. These guys will have to learn to check those mighty egos at the door to make a deep run in the tournament.

D) Calipari still needs to prove he’s a championship coach. There is no doubt he’s the man in recruiting, but this is also a man who’s already had some pretty talented players in the past already, yet he still has the same amount of championships as I do (that would be none). It’s hard to imagine Coach Cal not eventually winning one at Kentucky, but stranger things have happened

Having said all that…it sure would be nice to have those problems. Good luck, Kentucky and good luck, John Wall.

As for Henderson, I’m certainly disappointed, but I can’t blame the guy. For the first time in his career, he was completely healthy and he proved how good he could be. His dream has always been to be in the NBA, so why not go now. In reality, with next season’s freshman class, plus with so few freshman going early this year, there is little doubt Henderson could really improve his draft status by playing one more season of college basketball.

Obviously, I think he will be a solid pro, however, I still feel like he needed some work. He struggled to go to his left last year and he has not shown that he can hit the NBA three-point shot consistently. Worse yet, he’ll have to live with the fact his best friend, Wayne Ellington got an NCAA championship and he didn’t.

Word is, Henderson will end up in Charlotte, who is desperate for a two-guard. Good luck, Gerald. I’ll be cheering for you.

So what now for Duke? Size, size, oh and more size.

First, the good news. Duke just got a lot bigger by subtraction. Singler will switch to his natural position at small forward. At power forward and center, it doesn’t really matter who starts, but my best guess is Lance Thomas and freshman, Mason Plumlee. In reality though, you’re going to see a six-man rotation of Thomas, Zoubek, Kelly and the two Plumlee brothers. I don’t really know where Czyz fits in right now, although I’m sure the coaching staff will figure out his role soon enough.

The inside actually excites me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as good as Carolina’s Ed Davis, Deon Thompson, Tyler Zeller and John Henson (and you can thrown in the Wear brothers, although I don’t see them playing too much their freshman years). However, our six-man front-court rotation has size, a 7-footer and three 6-10 guys, experience; Thomas and Zoubek, pure talent (Mason Plumlee) and a three-point shooter (Kelly). Obviously, it will be up to the freshman to walk right in and do all the things missing in the paint the past few years; defending, rebounding and most importantly, scoring in the post. We will see if that’s asking too much.

Obviously, the best move is Singler going to small forward. Thanks to his experience inside the past two years, he’s stronger, tougher and can play inside when the situation calls for it, but now he’ll be where he should be and he’ll be a match up nightmare for a lot of opposing small forwards.

Now the bad news. Duke will only have three legit guards on the 2009-10 roster. I shudder the thought of foul trouble or dare I even think it, an injury to either Scheyer, Williams or Smith.

Like last year, Duke’s problem is at the point, where we don’t have a point guard, which is pretty sad considering we have what seems like 85 McDonald’s All-Americans on our roster . Of course if John Wall picks Duke, PG is not an issue and the Devils are ranked preseason No 1 this fall. Without him (and Henderson), we have some issues.

So who will play the point? Obviously Scheyer did a nice job, but his limitations were exposed against a athletic Nova team and trust me, it will happen again in 2009-10, if Johnny finds himself back running the point. Elliot Williams is a natural two-guard. Sure he proved he can guard the point, but Duke needs a man who can run the offense and get into the lane and make the decisions. He is not that guy. This leaves Nolan Smith.

I think Nolan’s a great kid. You can’t read an article about him and not like him. I also believe he CAN play the point for Duke. Don’t get me wrong, he’s no Jason Williams. He never will be. However, there is no reason why he can’t be as good as Chris Duhon.

Last year, late in the season, after returning from the concussion, he finally looked relax. He was coming off the bench, doing his job and it looked like he was enjoying himself again. The question is, can he relax, perform and simply have fun playing the point for Duke? Can he get into the lane with the ball? Can he keep opposing point guards out of the lane? All great questions, with the same answer. I don’t know. He hasn’t really done it yet in his career. My best uneducated guess is, we’ll find out soon enough. This is the route Coach K will most likely take to start the 2009-10 season; Smith, Scheyer, Singler, Thomas, Mason Plumlee as out starting five, with Williams, Zoubek, Miles Plumlee, Kelly and Czyz coming off the bench.

Let’s think deeper and talk recruiting and about the future beyond the 2009-10 season.

This past recruiting season was a frustrating one…to say the least. In fact, the past five or six years has been tough for any loyal fan of the Blue Devils. Too many stars; Patterson (2007), Monroe (2008), Kenny Boynton (Florida ’09), John Wall (Kentucky ’09), Leslie McDonald (Carolina ’09) and Erik Murphy (Florida ’09) have gone elsewhere. Not to mention, solid point guards like Darius Smith and Eric Bledsoe, weren’t ever seriously chased, even though they were interested in Duke. It just seems like the coaching staff only goes after a handful of studs and when they fail to land them, it’s too late in the recruiting process to recover.

The 2010 class will tell us a lot. By the look of things, Coach K has already learned his lesson and got the ball rolling early. He has nailed down three solid commits; five-star (SG) Andre Dawkins, four-star (PF) Joshua Hairston and three-star (PG) Tyler Thornton. Not to be forgotten is Liberty transfer, Seth Curry. These four are solid grabs and you can already put Duke down for a top-ten recruiting class (obviously excluding Curry), but the true test for the coaching staff will be their ability to land one of the superstars in the 2010 class. I’m talking of couese about (according to Rivals), No 1 Brandon Knight, No 2 Harrison Barnes and No 5 Josh Smith. If the Devils can land one of these players, then there’s nothing more to talk about.

In the end, it was a disappointing Tuesday in May. We got knocked down today, but we’re not out. Duke has a solid team next year. If a couple players can really develop into the players we had hoped they be (Nolan, anyone?), then a Final Four trip is not out of the question.

Until I see who stays in the NBA draft and who comes back for other teams, I won’t make any predictions, but Duke is certainly a top-15 team, maybe top-10. Look for the ACC title to be wide open, with Carolina and Duke again competing with Wake (if Teague comes back) and Clemson. However, watch out for Florida State. They are my mid-range sleeper who could sneak up and take down the big boys.